North Carolina showed championship form Friday in the Sweet 16, blowing past fourth-seeded Butler 92-80 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee.
Even Brad Stevens walking back through the door wouldn't have saved the Bulldogs against the top-seeded Tar Heels, not with a size and speed disparity made apparent as soon as the anticipated encounter tipped off. North Carolina grabbed a double-digit advantage near the 12-minute mark and never looked back.
Joel Berry II laughed off ankle concerns and collapsed the Butler defense with his penetration while scoring a game-high 26 points. Justin Jackson flanked him with 24, and Luke Maye came out of nowhere off the bench to post a double-double with 16 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Meaning, in short, it was just one of those days for Butler, as the Bulldogs couldn't counteract the Tar Heels' 54.4 percent shooting from the floor (31-of-57). North Carolina's size pushed the disparity, as the Tar Heels won the battle on the glass (38-26) and forced seven steals.
Perhaps no team in the nation can beat the Tar Heels when Roy Williams' team fires on all cylinders. The Bulldogs tried with senior Andrew Chrabascz, who scored 21, while Kamar Baldwin added 14. The team's leading scorer, Kelan Martin (16 points per game), managed 16 on 5-of-12 shooting as the offense settled into disheveled isolation looks most of the night.
CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein detailed what North Carolina's performance means for bracket hierarchy:
North Carolina (fifth in ESPN's RPI rankings) entered needing a strong shooting performance after slipping past eighth-seeded Arkansas, 72-65, while only getting 10 points from Berry as he battled the ankle issue. Butler (RPI 14) entered looking to make a statement after failing to overly impress after a 76-64 win against 13th-seeded Winthrop and a 74-65 escape of 12th-seeded Middle Tennessee.
Butler had a tough question going into the halftime tunnel—how do you stop the seemingly unstoppable? North Carolina took a 52-36 advantage after one half while shooting 54.5 percent from the floor (18-of-34) and 8-of-17 from deep. The Tar Heels had the size advantage and controlled the tempo via the hot shooting.
So the answer was simple—Butler couldn't.
Berry was hitting his perimeter shot early on, and the Bulldogs had to know they were in trouble. He started 2-of-2 from deep before entering the half with 10 points. Jackson added another 17, and at one point the two combined to take a 16-12 lead against Butler as a whole.
Jackson was so hot, he didn't seem to care how far back his looks came from:
Maye came off the bench and dropped 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting and a 3-of-4 effort from deep. Not bad for a guy who entered averaging 5.1 points per game.
One could do a simple search on social media to see the basketball world blowing up over Maye's outburst, but this sums up the reaction in a nutshell:
Jared Grubbs of ButlerHoops.com summed up Butler's rough half well: "The Bulldogs are clearly rattled now. I've lost count of the shots that haven't hit rim. Unusual for this program."
Which isn't to suggest the Bulldogs weren't putting up a fight. Chrabascz paced the team with 11 points (4-of-8), and Kethan Savage provided one of the top highlights of the half:
The same theme defined the second half. Butler would get a basket here or there after struggling through iso looks thanks to pressure, then suffer for it because the Tar Heels are more athletic than perhaps any team it faced all year.
Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis explained this rare problem:
Indeed, even when Butler got back, it often led to awkward situations like this:
The Indianapolis Star's David Woods noted the tempo never failed to favor the Tar Heels: "This game has been played at North Carolina's tempo from the beginning. Not a Butler type of game. At all."
Even when things slowed to Butler's style, North Carolina simply employed the size advantage:
Butler did pull to within 10 points, a closeness briefly enjoyed before the Tar Heels pulled away again.
North Carolina advances to the Elite Eight to meet either third-seeded UCLA or second-seeded Kentucky. There, the Tar Heels won't enjoy a similar size or speed advantage, but they have to feel comfortable with Berry back to full strength.
Williams and the Tar Heels had plenty to address after the rout.
Maye, of course, came up in discussions with the media early, as captured by CBS Sports Network:
The media tried to dig, though, asking about whether the Tar Heels match up better against UCLA or Kentucky. According to R.L. Bynum of RaleighCo.com, he wouldn’t say. Bynum also captured some classic Williams nitpicking despite a dominant performance:
Jackson explained where Butler struggled to keep him in check: "They were late off the screen. To start the game, I felt like I was moving freely. It was up to me to make the shots."
On the other end of the spectrum, Chris Holtmann made a point to take a positive look at the outcome, per Woods:
According to Woods’ colleague Zak Keefer, Holtmann spoke on the sudden ending for a strong crop of players: "This is a sudden end to one of the most special teams I’ve ever been a part of."
Advanced metrics courtesy of ESPN.com.