|UNC's Desmond Hubert, left, Butler's Andrew Smith, center, and Khyle Marshall, right, get tangled up in blue. (AP)|
I don't know whether to make this about Butler or UNC, but wow, what a surprising showing by both teams in Maui on Tuesday night.
Butler's first trip to the Maui Invitational includes giving North Carolina -- in its sixth appearance -- an Invitational first by not reaching the title game.
For Butler, it was all good until things got hairy in the waning minutes -- before the bulldogs put North Carolina away, 82-71. North Carolina on the other hand, well, there are questions, but I don't think this is completely worrisome. The young Tar Heels were abused and outplayed from the start of the game, when the Bulldogs got off to a 10-2 lead that ballooned into a 35-18 lead at the half.
I think we'll save the North Carolina take for Tuesday night's Night Court, which will be up a little after midnight. So let's go the Butler way, because this was a good win, the type of one I don't think many thought this team was capable of. Yes, Butler is a nationally recognized program now, but it did get slaughtered by a hampered Xavier team just a week ago and needed the most miraculous of bailouts to beat Marquette in Maui's quarterfinals on Monday.
Three games in -- just three -- Butler wasn't strong offensive or defensively, was barely clearing 50 percent from the foul line and overall looked like it lacked the kind of killer it had in Chrishawn Hopkins, who was kicked off the team over the summer.
Tuesday night, Butler was 20-of-24 from the line, had no issues running offense and looked much more talented than UNC. For most of the game, Butler just ran game, a clinic really, and the Heels looked disinterested. The biggest lead came at 60-31, and the talent of UNC came roaring back.
Rotnei Clarke had an injured hand. Didn't matter too much for Brad Stevens' team.
Point is this. I'm not sure what kind of consistency we're going to get from Butler this year, but it's going to be much improved from last season. And we've seen the kind of ceiling it can have, and since we know it can play like it did Tuesday night, just about any and every team is a threat to lose to this iteration of the Butler Bulldogs.