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November 5, 2013North Carolina basketball is right around the corner, with their first game coming Friday night in the Smith Center against Oakland.
With game week and the regular season finally upon us, Tar Heel Illustrated is kicking the season off with an outlook of the players heading into the 2013-2014 season, as we start with the all-important point guard position.
Marcus Paige is one of only a few freshman to ever start at point guard for North Carolina right out of the gate, and in the beginning he struggled at times as he adjusted to his prominent role.
However, after starting 34 games last year at point guard and really being the only option at that position, Paige became a leader for the Tar Heels while becoming Williams' "Tough Little Nut."
In the end, Paige was averaging 29.2 minutes, contributing 8.2 points per game, while dishing out 4.6 assists and leading the Tar Heels to a 25-11 record, before of course losing to Kansas in the round of 32.
But now, heading into his second season at the helm of the UNC offense, the true test will be what improvement Paige has been able to make from his freshman to sophomore year, as he will be a true leader on the floor (named one of the captains on the team), directing and distributing the ball to his teammates.
Paige came in at the start of the season last year around 150 pounds but now has bulked up to around 175 pounds for the start of the season, something that was needed for him guard bigger opponents, which something that Paige did struggle at times last season against players such as Lorenzo Brown from N.C. State.
Now with his bulk, Paige will be able to hold his own a little better at the guard position, while even contributing at the shooting guard position, a place where he will play at times with the Tar Heels being short at the shooting guard position in the start of the season.
In fact, Paige spent several minutes at the 'two' in this past Friday night's exhibition game against UNC-Pembroke, where he looked natural shooting from the wing and working the ball inside to Carolina's post players.
WHAT'S NEEDED FROM PAIGE
Paige will certainly need to contribute like he did later on in the season in the scoring area. Realistically, the Tar Heels may need him to average double digits by the end of the season in order to reach its lofty goals, such as returning to the Final Four.
Areas where he can improve is getting more to the free throw line, as Paige only went 51 of 61 there last year, shooting 83.6 percent from the charity stripe.
His 51 points at the free throw line only made up 17.8 percent of his total points last year, and that clearly needs to go up. The hope on UNC's side is that his bulk will help with him when he drives into the lane and possibly getting some additional calls.
Paige, at the end of the season, was a true threat from behind the arc for the Tar Heels and hit several key shots from three, but unfortunately his sluggish start from the perimeter poisoned his season shooting numbers.
His ability and confidence to shoot the three should continue to grow this season, but obviously he will want to shoot better than 34.4 percent from three to become a real threat from that area this winter.
If Paige can become just that---a real threat from the perimeter---especially when Paige plays the two position, while freshman Nate Britt takes over at the point guard position, it can definitely deepen UNC's thin backcourt and create more opportunities for Coach Williams to try and exploit.
For someone that had to come in straight out of high school and almost lead a one-man band at the Tar Heel point guard position a year ago, there is no doubt that Paige has gained the experience needed to now become a major factor coming into his sophomore season.
After going into Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, and all the other places UNC played at last season, Paige can now be reasonably classified as a seasoned veteran capable of leading the Tar Heels onto the court and patiently controlling the game while also triggering UNC's high-tempo philosophy.
The coaches have looked and spoke with Paige about being a more selfish player at times, while being aggressive.
But in a Roy Williams' offense, he wants his point guards to be aggressive but under control, knowing when to pick your spots on the floor.
Paige has the ability to become one of the Tar Heels' clutch players at the end of games with his decision making and ability to score late, which he proved multiple times late in the season and in the ACC Tournament.
Fans were also able to see a little glimpse of that at "Late Night with Roy", as Paige was the one that drained a floater to end the game in a 50-50 tie.
That kind of ability is something the Tar Heels might need early on in the season with Hairston not being able to play for several games to start the season, and UNC facing a brutal schedule against the likes of Michigan State, Kentucky, and potentially Louisville, all before Christmas.
Paige's scoring, 1.9 assist to turnover ratio, and leadership will all look to improve throughout the season, as Tar Heel fans will look to see if he can continue an outstanding line of great point guards for the Tar Heels under Williams.
Britt's presence certainly has a beneficial factor for both the Tar Heels and for Paige, relieving some of the pressure that came with being the only viable point guard at times last year.
Britt displayed his ability in last week's exhibition to run the team with his speed and bounce, but still can learn from Paige his freshman season.
Paige will have to be a leader both on and off the court for the North Carolina this season, while also being expected to produce for the Tar Heels in multiple categories.
A challenging role, no doubt, but the poised, mature Paige seems more than ready for the challenge. And he'll be needed more than ever early in the season to help the Tar Heels get over the hump with a thin guards rotation.