The North Carolina Tar Heels have had a number of different players contributing to the season-high 8-game winning streak. From James Michael McAdoo to Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks to Leslie McDonald’s great performance in the rivalry win over Duke, its been different guys every night stepping up for UNC Basketball. Although all these players and the rest of the Carolina team have played roles in the winning streak, there has been one constant throughout the entire season. That would be sophomore guard Marcus Paige.
From the second game of the season against Oakland, when he was one of only two players to score in double figures, to his clutch plays down the stretch against Duke, Paige has been the most reliable player on the Tar Heels this season. For that reason and others, he is the team’s MVP this season.
This season, Paige is averaging 17 points per game along with 4.6 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals. He is ranked in the top 10 of the ACC in scoring, steals, minutes played, assists, three-point fields and accuracy as well as assist-turnover ratio. The Iowa native had his coming out party in the Heels first victory over a ranked opponent this season against defending National Champion Louisville, who was ranked third at the time. The sophomore guard was outstanding in that game, scoring a career-high 32 points after finishing with 26 points against Richmond the day before. He would score 13 points while playing 38 minutes in the team’s 79-65 upset win over then top-ranked Michigan State, then he would follow that up by starting his trend of great performances in the second half against Kentucky. After scoring only 2 points in the first against the Wildcats, he responded with 21 2nd half points in the victory. His strong second half performances continued in conference play, he scored 13 of his 15 points against Clemson in the second half as well as 18 of his 25 points in the second half against Maryland.
His best second half performance may of been the team’s recent game against Duke. After being held scoreless on only two shot attempts Paige scored 13 points including a critical 3-pointer to cut the lead to one and several important baskets that kept the Blue Devils from tying the game including a beautiful crossover move and finish against Rodney Hood. He also had the assist on the go-ahead jumper by Leslie McDonald.
With the lack of guard depth on the roster this season Paige is playing both guard positions and has played the most minutes of anyone this season. Right now he is averaging 35.8 minutes per game, which would set a record for minutes played under Coach Williams at UNC right now (its held by Raymond Felton who played 34 minutes per game in Coach Williams’ first season). He has grown into become a leader on this team both on and off the court- this past week Paige was named to 2014 Capital One Academic All-America second team. He was the only ACC player to receive that honor.
The guard has shown great improvement from his freshman to sophomore season, becoming one of the best guards in the nation and is a likely lock for first-team All-ACC. On a team that some were questioning if they would make the NCAA Tournament this season, he has led the team back from a 1-4 ACC start to a 10-4 record now. Marcus Paige has been the team’s best and most important player and that is why he is the Tar Heels MVP this season.