At this point in the season it seems safe to say that North Carolina has just one consistent perimeter shooter in sophomore point guard Marcus Paige. Entering Wednesday’s game at No. 1 Michigan State, Paige was responsible for 18 of the Tar Heels’ 21 made three-pointers. And with Paige also being their best overall perimeter scorer, it’s clear that he will be the focus of opponents’ defensive game plans.
While Paige is needed to score North Carolina will be at its best when there’s a collective effort on the offensive end, and that was the case in their 79-65 upset victory in East Lansing. Paige shot just 4-for-13 from the field but he was one of five North Carolina players to finish in double figures, with forward Kennedy Meeks leading the way with a career-high 15 points. Just as important was their collective effort on the glass, as North Carolina showed greater resolve (and toughness) than they did in Sunday’s loss at UAB.
Against the Blazers North Carolina was out-rebounded 52-37 with UAB grabbing 44.7% of its missed shots, and a similar effort against Michigan State would have resulted in Roy Williams’ team getting run out of the Breslin Center. But that didn’t happen, as North Carolina grabbed 16 offensive rebounds (rebounding 39% of their missed shots). After being called out by Williams following Sunday’s defeat for not competing on the glass, that wasn’t a problem against Michigan State.
And Wednesday’s performance reveals what North Carolina will need to do in order to enjoy a successful 2013-14 campaign.
At this point in the season there should be a good idea of who North Carolina is. This is a young team that, as a result, will have bouts with inconsistency and the lack of multiple consistent perimeter shooters will be an issue as well. But they can make up for those areas by doing the little things well. Attacking the glass on both ends, hustling for loose balls and using their athleticism to limit the number of quality shots their opponents take (Michigan State shot 36.5% from the field) are the things North Carolina will have to do on a consistent basis.
The Tar Heels have put together some mind-boggling results this season, with wins over two teams ranked in the Top 5 at the time (Louisville, Michigan State) and losses to two teams (Belmont and UAB) they were expected to beat. While a lack of experience can be used as a reason for physical mistakes, that shouldn’t impact how hard a team competes.
North Carolina showed up ready to go on Wednesday night, jumping out to an 18-6 lead, and the end result was their second big win of the season.