The North Carolina Tar Heels are now 10 games into the season with a record of 7-3 and as the Heels get ready for their final three non-conference opponents before ACC play starts, we are handing out some awards for the first part of the season.
MVP: Marcus Paige: While some of the other awards that will be given out have several choices to choose from, this one is an easy choice. It is scary to think where the Heels might be this season without the sophomore star. He is the Heel’s leading scorer, averaging 19.6 points per game, to go along with 4 assists and 3 rebounds. With the early season suspensions of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, Paige was forced to move from his natural point guard position to shooting guard. He has responded by being the Tar Heels leading scorer in half of their games so far this season and becoming the team’s go-to scorer.
Paige has been at his best in the Heels biggest games this season; in the 3 wins over ranked teams he is averaging 22 points per game. In his star-making performance against Louisville he dropped a career-high 32 points on the defending national champions while being matched up with national player of the year candidate Russ Smith. Against Kentucky, after struggling with the size and length of the Wildcat guards in the first half, the Iowa native would score 21 points in the second half and provide the play of the year so far on a beautiful lob pass to Brice Johnson on a 2-on-1 fast break. He has played like an All-American thorough the first 10 games and should be an ACC Player of the Year candidate at season’s end if he continues to play at this outstanding level.
Best Freshman: Kennedy Meeks: The Charlotte native has possibly been the biggest surprise this season. Not much was expected from the rookie big man this season, as many felt it would at least take one season for Meeks to improve his body enough to play in the high-octane Tar Heel offense. However, Meeks went to work as soon as he arrived on campus, losing almost 40 pounds. The freshman forward is playing 15 minutes per game while he continues to improve his body and his conditioning. Just like MVP Marcus Paige, Meeks has played his best this season in the Heels biggest games. Against Louisville he had 13 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists, showcasing his outstanding passing skills while also getting his first career double-double. Against then top-ranked Michigan State, Meeks had 15 points and 7 rebounds and at times had his way in the paint against traditionally one toughest team’s in the country. The freshman still struggles at times like he did in games against Kentucky and Richmond where he only scored 1 point in both games but the future is certainly bright for the 6’9, 280 pound freshman.
Most Improved: Marcus Paige: This time last season Paige was freshman point guard struggling to adjust to the college game at the most important position on the floor for the Heels. This season, he is arguably one of the best guards in the country. He has improved his scoring average from 8 points a game last year to 19 points this season. Also, his field goal percent along with his free throw and 3-point percent have increased this season. But perhaps the biggest improvement his been in the role he has taken on as leader. Last season the Heels did not seem to have a leader, at least not a vocal one. Paige has step up to that role this season and has grown to be the unquestioned leader of this team. He is truly an extension of Coach Williams on the court, in the locker room, even in interviews. His play and leadership has turned him into the Tar Heels most important and indispensable player this season. Also worth mentioning is Paige’s classmates Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto, both of whom have also shown outstanding improvement this season for a recruiting class that is starting to prove a lot people wrong.