UNC Basketball: The Most Valuable Players in the ACC Tournament


What a great run by the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament this past weekend in Greensboro. Even though they did not win the event, with a upset wins over Virginia and Louisville, the Heels proved that they are still among the best programs in the ACC and the country. Over the four games there were two players who played at an All-ACC level and a freshman who had perhaps the most memorable performance of the season.

Here is a scary thought for the rest of the country, Marcus Paige is getting healthy. The star guard has dealt with a laundry list of injuries this season but has battled through it and showed over the weekend why he is arguably the best guard in the ACC and the country when healthy. During the tournament, the Tar Heels leader averaged 17 points and 6 assists. After the opening game against Boston College, Paige said that it was the first game all season that he was pain-free and it showed. The Iowa native was the most aggressive he has been all season on the offensive end looking for his shot and setting up his teammates. He also provided the signature play of the tournament for UNC with his up and under floater in the lane while the shot clock ran down late in the 2nd half against Cavaliers to ice the game for Carolina.

The Heels other all conference performer, Brice Johnson, played to at that level in Greensboro as well. Johnson has become one of the most improved players in the country this season, and his good play continued in the ACC Tourney. The athletic big man has had a great finish to the season scoring in double figures in 11 of the Heels last 13 games. Over the course of 4 games, the 3rd team All-ACC forward averaged 18 points and 6.5 rebounds. His best game was the Heels quarterfinals win over Louisville when Johnson manned up after being challenged by a visibly angry Coach Williams in the first half. The big man responded by scoring 18 of his game-high 22 points in the second half.

Of course you cannot write about the Heels run without mention the incredible performance by freshman Justin Jackson in the Heels’ 71-67 win over #3 team in the nation Virginia. The forward has had an up and down season until the last few weeks, when he has scored in double figures in 8 of the last 9 games for the Heels providing the team with a 3rd scorer. Against the Cavs, Jackson played easily his best game as a Tar Heel scoring 22 points on 8-10 shooting from the floor, along with 4-5 from the 3-point line. It is easy to see the confidence growing in the silky smooth freshman with each game.

Over the four game run, the Heels played some of their basketball season while beating two teams that were ranked ahead of them in the polls. They also proved that they have the toughness to finish close games which has been a major problem for the team throughout the season. The Tar Heels picked a great time to start playing their best basketball of the season as they get ready for the NCAA Tournament this week.

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