North Carolina at NC State, 8:00 PM. ACC Network
UNC heads down the road to Raleigh for its second meeting with the Wolfpack. Here are the focal points.
Another Marcus Paige gem?
It's no secret by now that not only does Marcus Paige like shooting with the Wilson basketballs NC State uses but also plays well at PNC Arena. With the exception of his freshman season when he struggled early on(and was said to not even be an ACC caliber player in the comments section here) Paige has been very, very good in the last two trips to Raleigh.
In 2014 during Paige's First Team All-ACC season, he scored 35 points and hit seven threes in an 85-84 overtime win over the Wolfpack which included this game winner.
Last season, despite dealing with foot and ankle problems, Paige lit NC State up for 23 points and nine assists including 5-5 from three to secure an 81-79 win in Raleigh. Paige has played NCSU well in general over his career with 15 points and 5 assists in the game at Chapel Hill in 2014. In 2013 his 14 points and eight assists to help UNC to a 76-65 win at home is considered to be the breakout game of his Tar Heel career.
This season has been a different animal for Paige. He's been very good and not so good, sometimes within the same week. Could a trip to Raleigh get him cured of his shooting ills? Or could more time at point guard be helpful? About the latter....
Will Marcus Paige play more point guard?
Paige said after UNC's trouncing of Miami on Saturday he felt more comfortable playing point guard. With Joel Berry playing just 18 minutes due to foul trouble, Paige had some longer than normal runs at the point guard versus the Hurricanes. Even before that occurred, there was an undercurrent among fans that Paige should get more minutes at point guard, if not get the outright start there over Joel Berry.
While there is some merit to this thought, it tends to ignore several factors. The first is how the original plan was for Paige to play some at the one but dribbling issues with his healing right hand once he returned nixed that. It also didn't appear Paige needed to play point guard. UNC didn't seem to have much trouble offensively once Paige returned, in fact the Tar Heels were off the charts good. His first game back was a performance against Maryland that had everyone thinking UNC and Paige were exactly who we thought they were. Nothing that happened over the next month(even the loss at Texas) dissuaded anyone from the notion that the backcourt configuration was an issue.
Starting with the win at Syracuse, Paige began to struggle with his shot and over the next several games, the offense in general was inconsistent. Paige's shooting was a problem and eventually that spread to Joel Berry. Nate Britt became a less reliable perimeter shooter and people openly screamed for Theo Pinson to not even think about shooting. Paige seemed to snap out of the slump for three games starting with the loss at Notre Dame but versus Duke and Miami the shots stop falling again.
As much as it seems like a simple matter to move Paige back to the one to see if it solves his shooting problems, it is far more complicated than that. The early season success in this configuration gives credence to the idea it should still work. There is also the matter of what you do with Joel Berry who has been in double figures in 12 of UNC's 14 ACC games. Per Roy Williams, Berry isn't prepared to move to the two guard so Paige at the PG means benching him in favor of Britt or Pinson who both have functioned really well coming off the bench. Whether it works is also contingent if Justin Jackson continues to play well though Jackson said yesterday Paige understands where he likes to score from so that might actually help Jackson.
Ultimately I think Williams will offer up a little bit of everything. Much like the Kennedy Meeks vs Isaiah Hicks who should start or play, this isn't an "either or" scenario. UNC needs the top eight players to perform at a high level and Williams needs to figure out the best way to do that in given scenarios. There will be times when Berry at the PG will be the best option and times when it could be Paige or Britt. The bottom like is it doesn't need to be one thing or the other, the lineup should be what UNC needs to win games.
The concern in facing NC State is the Wolfpack have the size on the interior and on the wings to effectively curtail UNC as a rebounding team. Abdul-Malik Abu is a tremendous athlete who shows great second jump capabilities not to mention high energy. Alongside BeeJay Anya and Lennard Freeman, NCSU has the ability to be physical with UNC and control the boards.
UNC on the other hand has had some troubling moments on the defensive glass this season even when the team wasn't imposing in terms of size. UNC has given up a opposing offensive rebounding rate of 39.5 or better six times this season. Three of those game on the road. UNC's worst defensive rebounding rate of the season came against NC State on January 16th when the Wolfpack grabbed 50% of its own misses. UNC countered that with an ORB% of 51.2 on the other end.
UNC 85 NCSU 75