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November 23, 2012

Maui Invitational Review

The EA Sports Maui Invitational tournament ended Wednesday night, with Illinois taking home the grand prize as they defeated Butler in the championship game.

The Tar Heels weren't able to get where they wanted to at the end of the day, failing to make it to the championship game, where many people had projected them to be.

North Carolina (5-1) ended the tournament with a victory of Chaminade 112-70, which allowed them to take third place.

Even though most fans say that not winning the tournament is a failure, UNC displayed its offensive potential at times, putting up a lot of points in most of the games while being able to put the ball in the net, especially from outside the arc.

The Tar Heels averaged a shy less than 93 points a game, showing that this team is capable of putting up points the way that Roy Williams wants them to.

But what might have been a more valuable lesson is what could happen to UNC when they are not on top of their game.

It also gave Roy and his boys a chance to see how some opponents in the future might play against them, playing a more half-court kind of game and what the players need to do during a game such as the one against Butler.

In past years, UNC has always been able to dominate down low, showing their true presence and ability on both the offensive and defensive side.

This year, the three point shot has been a key play with this group of players, as Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston, and Leslie McDonald have been the main feature in the offense, along with James Michael McAdoo of course.

UNC was able to knock down 35 3 pointers throughout the Maui tournament, with Bullock, Hairston, and McDonald knocking down most of them.

The guards increased their points per game all throughout the tournament, giving McAdoo a break on having to score so much down low.

Bullock averaged 15 points, McDonald averaged 13 points, and Hairston averaged 14 points a game, all above their season average this year and even last year.

If one looks at this stat, in the five good quarters that UNC played in the tournament, they averaged 52 points each half, showing what they could do against teams.

However, the first half of the Butler game is what they should focus on the most, as it showed how lost this team is capable of being against a talented, well-coached opponent that breaks down UNC's transition ability with a solid halfcourt offense and relentless defense.

UNC's defense played a key part in most of the games, but it also seemed to hurt them in some cases.

Butler exploited them during the second game, showing how teams could defeat this team and that they still have quite a bit of work to do to get better.

Teams that will stretch the defense out, especially with the big fellows down low, shoot the ball well especially outside the arc, and play solid defense will be the teams that can give the Heels some trouble.

That's not a huge surprise to those who have scouted UNC teams in the past, but those areas of weakness were glaring Tuesday afternoon in the Lahaina Civic Center as Butler broke down UNC and built a lead that even a strong Tar Heel rally couldn't overcome.

"I think last night's game had a great effect on how we played today," Williams said after Tuesday's loss. "We were all extremely upset, extremely mad."

This is how the Tar Heels must play all 40 minutes, knowing that at any time, a team will take it to them and give them your best effort on the court.

They have the target on their back and teams will be gunning for them day in and day out.

Brice Johnson, who started the third game in Maui against host school Chaminade, gave the Tar Heels a great presence down low opposite of McAdoo and a presence they have been missing in the first few games.

And given Johnson's solid performance against the Silverswords, we might be seeing him in the starting lineup a lot more in the coming weeks. Johnson is averaging a shy under 9 points a game this year, which should increase with the more playing time he receives.

Desmond Hubert was able to give solid minutes for the Heels but it was more on the defensive end with blocks and rebounds.

Marcus Paige played well for the most part in Maui, but one has to recognize that the amount of playing time especially in the Maui tournament seemed to affect him on the court physically.

With all this playing time, one has to see that Luke Davis might need to step in a few more minutes to help out the young freshman, especially if he is able to provide seven assists like he did against Chaminade.

This is still a young team that is still growing and learning how to play with each other and within what Williams wants them to do. They do show their talent that they have, with their main guy being McAdoo, who has all the talent in the world and when playing his best is as good as anyone in the country.

With the development and athleticism of the guards, this UNC team could become even more dangerous down the line, but will need to learn how to play with each other avoid the types of all-around letdown over an extended period of a game that cost them against Butler.

Their next game will be coming up on Nov. 27 when they head to Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. The head-to-head matchup between McAdoo and Indiana's Cody Zeller, brother of former UNC standout Tyler Zeller, is one of the more intriguing most battles of the young season in college basketball.

This will be the ultimate test for this edition of the Tar Heels so far and will give them a measurement for where they are so far this year. This could be an ultimate resume boost coming March for the tournament selection committee if they are able to topple the Hoosiers on its home court.

They will need their shots to fall, their defense to be as intense as ever, and Coach Williams has to make the right moves to help push the Tar Heels over the top.





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