North Carolina looks much more balanced offensively this season, though its potential could be stunted if turnovers continue to be a problem.
The 12th-ranked Tar Heels will look to put a cleaner performance together Wednesday night when they host Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
North Carolina (5-1) was the favorite to win last week's Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, but was upset 74-66 by Butler in Wednesday's first-round matchup. The Tar Heels, who were outscored 42-31 in the second half, responded with 22- and 11-point victories over No. 22 UCLA and No. 18 Florida to claim fifth place in the event.
"Losing reinforces the fact that you need to play at a much higher level," Iowa native Marcus Paige told the school's official website after defeating the Gators. "It's frustrating. I'm happy we won those two games against ranked opponents. But it's frustrating we needed that lesson, because we've had losses like that before."
The Tar Heels still haven't learned their lesson in terms of turnovers, committing 19 versus Florida two days after they had as many against Butler. They were charged with 11 turnovers against UCLA.
They averaged 10.3 turnovers in three games before heading to the Bahamas.
"At times we moved the ball effectively, and at times we looked like we have never worked on press offense," coach Roy Williams said.
Offensive balance has been a strength for the Tar Heels, who have had four different players score at least 18 points in one game. Each starter scored in double figures versus Florida, led by Kennedy Meeks' 18 points and a career best-matching 13 rebounds.
North Carolina often struggled to complement Paige in 2013-14 as he averaged a team-high 17.5 points. He still leads the team this season at 15.2 points per game, but he's joined by three other players averaging at least 11.5 after only one did last season.
The Tar Heels are also assisting on 64.5 percent of their field goals after doing so on 54.9 percent of their baskets in 2013-14.
They'll likely need to take better care of the ball, though, with Iowa (5-2) forcing 16.7 turnovers per game. The Hawkeyes scored 21 points off a season-high 20 turnovers in Saturday's 77-44 win over Longwood. They also cleaned up their own offense, committing a season-low seven turnovers after averaging 15.3 in their first six games.
"We're a good team," said Aaron White, who scored 19 points and leads Iowa with 16.7 points per game. "We've lost to two good teams, but we've picked ourselves up and bounced back like good teams do."
Iowa is still looking to find its shooting touch away from home, however. It shot a combined 34.9 percent in losses to No. 10 Texas and No. 23 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. The Hawkeyes, who have dropped 26 of their last 28 road games against ranked teams, have hit 46.2 percent of their shots in five home games.
Iowa leads the series 2-1 but lost the last meeting 106-92 in the 2004 Maui Invitational championship game. North Carolina is 8-7 all-time in the Challenge while Iowa's 3-10 record is the worst among Big Ten teams. The Hawkeyes had dropped seven straight games in the event prior to last season's 98-93 win over Notre Dame.