Coming into the season, there were a whole lot of question marks surrounding all of the sophomores on this squad. With over half of the season behind them, no time is better than the present to evaluate the progression or lack there of from this group.
Marcus Paige: At the end of last season, the “light” came on for Marcus. So entering this campaign he had the highest expectations out of the second year players and he hasn’t disappointed. Paige started the season off with a bang, scoring in multiple ways, assuming the leadership role and he became the one Tar Heel who could be counted on. Although the team was having its ups and downs, #5 was the steady hand, leading Carolina to an impressive trio of non conference victories.With that being said, things have changed a little bit as of late. Over the last several games(excluding vs Boston College), Marcus has started off slow and it really has hurt UNC. This team doesn’t have the firepower to play catch up, so its vital that Paige score buckets early and often. For most of the season Marcus has done his damage playing off the ball, but with point guard Nate Britt looking clueless at times, it has put more point guard responsibility on him. The sophomore from Marion,Iowa leads UNC in scoring,assists and by far is the team’s best player…so he’s doing his part. If Carolina has real NCAA tournament aspirations, he’s got to get some help but Marcus also needs to step his game back up! Grade:B+
J.P. Tokoto: On the bright side, this young man continues to get better but on the other hand it’s clear that his game is a work in progress. Athletically, the Vince Carter comparisons are right on- this kid does things only a few to ever play the game has been able to do. He attacks the offensive glass and finishes put backs with thunderous dunks, not to mention the highlights he provides when on a fast break. All the dunks are nice but Carolina needs more out of him. Although J.P. is gaining more confidence in his perimeter game, the fact remains that he can’t shoot. Whether it’s from the free throw line or from the outside, he haven’t made shots and that really hampers this team. His awful free throw shooting keeps him for attacking the basket on a regular basis, which in return has limited his scoring output. Defensively, you’d think he would be great considering his superior athleticism. However, it comes and goes like most things in Carolina Blue this season. Sometimes J.P. will block a shot or make some other insane defensive play and I’ll say “wow this guy is going to be an elite defender”, and other times he’s totally lost, leaving shooters open like he did routinely at Virginia. I expect Tokoto’s overall game to continue to get better like it has since arriving in Chapel Hill. If his shot ever catches up, Carolina will have a special player but until then the UNC faithful should expect more ups and downs from him. Grade:C+
Brice Johnson: Other than Marcus Paige, the slim 6’9 210lb forward has been the Tar Heels top offensive threat. He’s silky smooth around the basket and jumps as quick as anyone I’ve ever seen. With Johnson’s natural ability to score, it’s hard to figure out why he doesn’t produce more. One reason is his skinny frame. It’s evident that Brice has bulked up, but he is still too thin to bang with the big boys for 25 or more minutes a game. The energy he plays with from game to game has also been an issue. I know that Johnson leads Carolina in rebounding, However far too often he can be seen just standing still instead of being aggressive,when attacking the basket or playing “D”. When this young man plays with passion and energy, his game goes to the next level and so does UNC as a team. As of late, Brice hasn’t taken advantage of his playing time. With the Heels struggling to get production from the center position, Johnson hasn’t stepped up and seized the opportunity. Roy Williams needs to light a fire under this guy, because if he starts to play well Carolina could still make a little noise. Grade:B-
Joel James: After a year and a half of college hoops… Joel James is still not ready. Overall, his game has gotten a little better but not even close to where it needs to be. To be fair, James missed a couple of weeks with a knee injury. While he has been on the court, its been much of the same from last season. Silly turnovers, no real inside presence and looking uncomfortable. Every so often, Joel will make an impressive offensive move or snatch a few boards but for the most part he’s been pretty disappointing. He lacks a go to move in the post, he can be a liability on defense and when he’s playing with no confidence, it’s no reason for him to be getting PT. Were all well aware that UNC hasn’t found the answer in the middle. If it was up to me, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson would get majority of the minutes at the “5” because Joel doesn’t have it yet. Grade:D