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UNC 80 Northwestern 69: Three Things We Learned

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

UNC knocked off Northwestern 80-69 in an uneven effort that saw Justin Jackson played arguably his best game of the season. Here's what we learned.

Justin Jackson's slump is over

For the first three games of the season, Jackson probably could not have played worst if he tried. He was 0-9 from three, 2-8 from the line and save for a handful of layups during garbage time in the win over Fairfield, he had generally not shot the ball well. That all changed Saturday with 25 points in the loss to Northern Iowa. Jackson was 9-15 from the floor and a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line.

The sophomore wing followed up that performance with a 21 point outburst against Northwestern. Jackson showed him versatility as a scorer getting baskets from all over the court. He repeatedly found holes in the Wildcat zone and exploited those for points. He went to the line four times and hit all four free throws. However, almost as impressive as the scoring was the rebounding. UNC's offensive rebounding so far this season had been good but  not at quite the same level as last season. The main culprit for that appeared to be a lack of rebounding from the perimeter players. Tonight versus Northwestern, UNC posted an offensive rebounding rate of 40.6% keyed by Jackson's six offensive boards.

Jackson has begun filling the gap left by Marcus Paige's injury which UNC needs badly during the senior guard's absence.

Paige is missed on both ends of the floor

Simply put UNC is just a tad out of kilter on both ends of the floor without Marcus Paige. The team isn't totally inept and when the sophomore trio steps up the offensive production, UNC can compensate for Paige's absence to some extent. However UNC is still struggling with overall consistency over the course of the game. The offense is good at times and at other times looks lost. Defensively, UNC has been torn apart by experienced lead guards who are able to penetrate the land and compromise the whole defense.

Paige's presence on the floor obviously helps in terms of offensive production. It provides UNC with a reliable three point shooter and a guard that can create offense for himself and others. Since Paige plays over 30 minutes per game, even at this time of the season, he is out there most of the game facilitating the offense and providing a steady offensive threat that must be accounted for.  On defense, Paige has the ability to slow down opposing guards.

The return of Paige won't be a cure all since UNC still needs to grow as a team. However he can and should make everyone better as he draws the focus of the defense.

Speaking of Paige's return, it might be as soon as next week

The original prognosis was 3-4 weeks. Next week when Maryland arrives in Chapel Hill will be four weeks since the injury. That is apparently the target for Paige's return.