Here is a look back at the 2014-15 season for the returning Tar Heels. Today we look at junior Marcus Paige.
Plantar faciitis, basically.
Paige's season can be defined almost entirely by the presence or absence of the aforementioned inflammation in the foot. When he had it, he was a shell of the player we saw last season; when he (finally) didn't, he was brilliant.
Marcus' season started in somewhat eye-raising fashion with 8 points on 2 of 8 shooting against North Carolina Central. While it would have been easy to write that off as one game, as the season progressed, Paige continued to play at a level that was significantly lower than what was expected, or even previously observed. In time, it became known that Paige was indeed suffering from plantar faciitis, which can be debilitatingly painful and had reduced Paige's participation in practice to almost nil. As a result, Paige was essentially relegated to being a distributor and jump shooter, as his 2PA dropped from 6.3 per game last year to just 4.7 this season. Even worse, Marcus' efficiency on those shots plummeted, shooting only 43.8% from inside the arc as opposed to the nearly 50% he hit last season.
Fortunately for both Paige and UNC, the pain in his foot did eventually subside, and the results were nothing short of spectacular. Paige averaged 17.1 points per game over the team's final 8 contests, shooting 45.5% from behind the arc, 96% from the line, and posting an ORtg of at least 110 in each contest. So good were his last eight games that he raised his ORtg for the season to 118.8, nearly matching last season's mark (120.1), despite being well under for the first 30 games of the season.
What to expect next season
There are any number of things that could be written here, but everything about next season boils down to one word: health.
Okay, I'll admit, that is more of a hope than it is an expectation, but with Paige health is really the only thing that matters. Marcus Paige was an All-American last season for a reason, and the last 8 games of this season he showed why that was absolutely justified. When healthy, Marcus Paige is an elite college scorer, and next season he will be an elite college scorer with a chip on his shoulder (and perhaps a second point-guard to play most of his minutes alongside).
Paige will enter next season with 1416 career points, putting him very good position to reach the 2,000-point milestone that has only been accomplished by six other players in North Carolina history: Tyler Hansbrough, Phil Ford, Sam Perkins, Lennie Rosenbluth, Al Wood and Charles Scott. Little needs to be written to describe the level of royalty possessed by that group, but it should be mentioned that all six of those players reached at least one Final Four during their career. With a healthy season, Paige will have an excellent shot to match both accomplishments and officially join the pantheon of legendary UNC players.
And you can also book it that he will be the "Academic All-American of the Year."