Don’t look now but the North Carolina Tar Heels are charging towards Selection Sunday and they have freshman Marcus Paige to thank.
Paige, a freshman point guard, has turned it up of late and it’s shown for the Tar Heels, who have won five straight and eight of their past 10 to climb into a third-place tie in the ACC. He’s started every game this season, but his impact wasn’t always felt.
Averaging just 7.7 points per game this season, Paige has stepped it up recently, averaging 11 ppg during the current winning streak. He’s also become a legit facilitator for the rest of the Heels, handing out 5.8 assists (4.6 apg on the season).
Since head coach Roy Williams switched to a smaller lineup, Paige has truly emerged as a little giant. Generously listed as 6-feet tall, Paige has been playing much bigger than his diminutive size. He had big shoes to fill coming into the season, replacing Kendall Marshall, an NBA lottery pick following his freshman year.
The Heels have been more aggressive offensively and are a tougher matchup for opponents thanks to more up-and-down-the-floor play. They look like the UNC teams of years past, teams that can just out-athlete you.
Experience is important, as Paige can attest. He’s grown as a player throughout the season and is currently fifth in the ACC in assists per game and assist-to-turnover ratio. Many left the Heels for dead following a 1-2 start in the ACC, a start which saw Paige commit 10 turnovers while dishing out only 11 assists.
And not only is Paige creating shots for teammates, he’s making big shots of his own. A week ago, in a 76-65 win over NC State, Paige has himself quite a second half. Over the final 13 minutes, he was 4-6 shooting–two buckets on three-pointers and two on drives to the bucket. His defense in that win was a huge boost for the Tar Heels as well, as the 157-pound point guard limited NC State’s Lorenzo Brown to just 12 points and four turnovers.
For North Carolina, it’s looking good with Selection Sunday looming less that two weeks from now and they have the smallest player on their roster to thank. The Heels are playing well and are certainly capable of making a run deep into March.