Friday the program announced a major uniform change for its game against UCLA December 19 in Brooklyn. North Carolina will be wearing black jerseys for the first time in school history. Senior guard Marcus Paige showed off the new look to his teammates, and it’s safe to say that they’re happy with the new uniforms.
Traditionalists probably won’t like the uniforms, and that’s fine. Changes such as these tend to focus more on the younger crowd (especially recruits), which in some instances like the status that can come with having something that’s both new and exclusive.
Loss of Marcus Paige a tough hit for North Carolina
While North Carolina doesn’t lack for depth on a team many expect to contend for a national title this season, senior guard Marcus Paige is an incredibly important piece of the puzzle. That’s what makes Wednesday’s news, as the program announced that he will be out 3-4 weeks due to a broken right hand, so important for a team with designs on winning head coach Roy Williams’ third national title.
Paige fractured the third metacarpal on his non-shooting hand in practice on Tuesday, according to the school announcement. While the fact that the injury won’t impact his shooting hand can be seen as a positive, not having Paige means that North Carolina’s other perimeter figures will need to step forward.
“I hate it for Marcus,” Williams said in the release. “He’s such a wonderful young man – one of the most outstanding people I have been lucky to coach. I know he’ll handle this with the same level of maturity and responsibility that he does everything else.
“Our team will certainly be challenged in his absence. We will need everyone up and down the roster to step up their games and take care of each other and our team until he gets back.”
Both Joel Berry II and Nate Britt have experience playing the point, so that will help the Tar Heels in their adjustment to playing without Paige running the show. However, there area of greatest concern in this is perimeter shooting, as the senior captain was clearly North Carolina’s best option in that department.
Justin Jackson (30.4 percent) and Britt (36.6 percent) were second and third on the team in made three-pointers a season ago with twenty-eight and twenty-six, respectively. Combined those two made forty fewer three-pointers than Paige (94), and having a credible perimeter shooting threat can open things up for North Carolina’s front court as well. And with that being the case freshman Kenny Williams, a top 100 prospect lauded for his perimeter shooting ability, could see some opportunities with Paige sidelined.
Given the timeframe Paige will miss North Carolina’s game at Northern Iowa on November 21, which was scheduled as a homecoming game for the Iowa native. North Carolina’s showdown with fellow national title contender Maryland is scheduled for December 1, which falls four weeks to the day on which Paige suffered the injury.
There’s only one way the NCAA gets UNC investigation wrong: a 2016 postseason ban
The saga of North Carolina’s academic scandal finally took a step towards completion on Friday, as the school announced that it had finally received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA.
It’s been nearly a year since the association announced last June that they would be reopening the investigation into UNC’s so-called ‘paper classes’, and based on the recent evidence that has been unearthed — from Rashad McCants’ claims that he and his 2005 national title-winning teammates were steered towards the sham classes to the number of people willing to speak now that the Wainstein Report has been made public — the Tar Heels could be looking at a myriad of potential sanctions.
Scholarships may be pulled. Recruiting sanctions could be implemented. Wins might be vacated. Hell, even that 2005 national title banner could be in jeopardy. No one will know until the school decides to make the Notice of Allegations public, and that has not happened yet.
It’s the threat of the unknown, the fear of what could be coming when the NCAA finally does punish the program.
And if the NCAA is to get this punishment right, than under no circumstances should the Tar Heels be given a 2016 postseason ban.
Because the people that would be bearing the brunt of that bludgeoning would be the athletes themselves. Not the ones that used those paper classes to stay eligible, win a national title and launch their NBA careers — like McCants, Ray Felton, Marvin Williams and Sean May did — but the ones that returned to school this spring, that decided to forgo the chance to turn pro and instead have the Tar Heels sitting at No. 1 in NBCSports.com preseason top 25.
It would be guys like Marcus Paige, a rising senior — and a double-major in journalism and history that will probably be taking my job in a decade and certainly doesn’t need to lean on fake classes to thrive in school — that was a ten-year old in Iowa when McCants was (allegedly) cheating his way to a ring.
It would be guys like Brice Johnson — who went from being too skinny to be effective to having arguably the best turnaround jumper in college basketball — and Kennedy Meeks — who has last 70 pounds of fat since he arrived on campus — that would miss out on trying to win that ring. Isaiah Hicks went from being too shy and nervous to live up to the hype of being a top 20 recruit to being North Carolina’s best big man in practice more often than not. Nate Britt literally changed shooting hands between his freshman and sophomore seasons to try to get better.
What did they do to deserve having a postseason taken away from them?
Roy Williams’ legacy has already been tarnished with this scandal. Fair or not, regardless of what the NCAA is able to make stick, he’s always going to be known as the coach that made a mockery of the ‘Carolina Way’. Having to take a national title banner down is embarrassing, but losing two Final Fours hasn’t slowed John Calipari down yet.
But that’s all in the past.
Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, Joel James, Theo Pinson.
Those are the people that would be punished if the NCAA were to ban North Carolina from the 2016 postseason. Those are the people that would be hurt the most if the university, like Syracuse back in February, opted midseason to self-impose a postseason ban.
Now, to be fair, the situation with Syracuse was different.
The Orange weren’t going to be competing for a national title like North Carolina will be next season. They likely would not have even made the NCAA tournament, and implementing a postseason ban last season meant giving up the NIT and being eligible for the NCAA tournament in 2015-16. It accelerated the process without any tangible punishment; one could argue that, for a program like Syracuse, no postseason is less embarrassing than an NIT.
And that’s not to say that North Carolina shouldn’t ever be banned from the postseason.
If the NCAA wants to take away the 2017 ACC and NCAA tournaments from the Tar Heels, have at it. It gives the players currently on the team fair warning. They’d be able to transfer, or turn pro, or even remain a Tar Heel knowing full-well what the future held for them.
That’s not the case for next March. Here’s the current timeline for the NCAA’s investigation: the due date for UNC’s response to the Notice of Allegations, barring an extension, is August 22nd, 90 days after it was received. The NCAA would then have 60 days — until October 22nd, assuming there were no extensions granted — to reply. From there, UNC will need to get placed on the docket for the Committee on Infractions.
This is where it gets complicated. Following the COI hearing, the NCAA will usually takes two-to-three months to hand down a ruling. Selection Sunday next season is March 13th. The NCAA is required to five advanced notice for any COI hearing, and with the holidays in November and December, it’s unclear when UNC would actually get their date in the NCAA’s Kangaroo Court.
But regardless of when that times comes, the Tar Heels will already be in the throes of their season.
They will have already started conference play. They will have already been placed in every Bracketology that gets published. They will have already gotten themselves into a position to earn a No. 1 seed.
Marcus Paige — a senior, a preseason all-american and a potential National Player of the Year — will be weeks away from his best, and final, shot at taking home a national championship.
To take that away from him is considerably more evil than a basketball program enabling bad students that didn’t give a damn about their education in the first place.
North Carolina’s Marcus Paige undergoes arthroscopic ankle surgery
North Carolina junior Marcus Paige is returning to school for his senior season and the Tar Heels will be major contenders next season. This summer will first involve recovering from injury as the school announced on Monday that Paige underwent successful arthroscopic ankle surgery.
According to the release, Paige is expected to resume basketball activity later this summer.
The 6-foot-1 Paige was named the team MVP for the second consecutive season after the year averaging 14.1 points, 4.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game.
Although this injury isn’t ideal, it gives Paige time to rest and heal his body a bit before heading into the summer. The Tar Heels will need a strong senior season from him if they have big aspirations next season.
Marcus Paige returning to North Carolina for senior season, his father says
Following a Sweet 16 loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament, Paige left little doubt as to where he would be for next season.
“I really enjoy being here and being a part of this program,” Paige said at the time. “And now I only have one more chance, so I’m going to try to use that as fuel. I can’t tell you how much it means to be a part of this place and I only get one more year and it goes so fast.
“I’m going to give everything I have, every single day this offseason to be the best player I can be to help my team. And I hope that’s kind of infectious and contagious in the locker room.”
Paige averaged 14.1 points per game, leading the Tar Heels in scoring for the second season in a row. The return of Paige makes North Carolina arguably the top team in the country, given the players it brings back. Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson. Earlier this week, starting guard J.P. Tokoto entered the 2015 NBA Draft. That production is expected to be replaced by Jackson and fellow sophomore Theo Pinson, who suffered a foot injury in January.
LOS ANGELES — There’s no denying the fact that the 2014-15 season was a difficult one for North Carolina head coach Roy Williams. There was the passing of his friend and mentor Dean Smith, and there was also the NCAA investigation that’s still ongoing. Add in the fact that his team didn’t truly hit its stride until March, and Williams certainly had his hands full throughout the 2014-15 campaign.
North Carolina’s season came to an end Thursday night in the Sweet 16, as they fell 79-72 to West regional champion No. 1 Wisconsin, but the finish to the season is something that Williams and his players can build on this offseason. The Tar Heels hung with the Badgers throughout, but a couple key lapses on the defensive end proved costly down the stretch. Wisconsin rebounded nearly 39 percent of its misses Thursday night, and while the Badgers scored just ten second-chance points having to defend Bo Ryan’s team for longer stretches than one would want can add up over the course of a game.
North Carolina played arguably its best basketball of the season in March, winning three games in Greensboro before falling in the ACC tournament final to Notre Dame and then beating Harvard and Arkansas to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012. Outside of center Desmond Hubert, who missed the final 16 games due to a torn ACL, everyone should be back next season led by guard Marcus Paige, wing Justin Jackson and big men Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks.
With that being the case the Tar Heels will be one of the early favorites in the ACC. And as we’ve seen, being a favorite in the ACC means that you’re a national title contender as well.
“If you think about it, you take away six minutes in the Notre Dame game and we would have had a great run here in the end, but you can’t take away the six minutes,” Williams said following Thursday’s defeat. “You take away the 7- or 9-0 stretch (in the second half), and we had a great run today.
“I want them to use this as fuel. The little lapses that Justin mentioned and that I mentioned to a failed boxout here or missed free throw there were important,” Williams continued. “And if we can take care of those little lapses, then we’ve got a chance to be one of those teams that has a chance to talk about winning the whole thing.”
The biggest development for North Carolina was the growth displayed by some of their supplementary options, with Johnson and Meeks being two of those players. While Meeks was hobbled by a sprained knee suffered against Arkansas Johnson played well against Wisconsin, accounting for 15 points and four rebounds despite playing just 22 minutes due to foul trouble. Both players made noticeable strides this season, with Johnson (13.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg) raising his scoring and rebounding averages by nearly three points and two rebounds per game and Meeks (11.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg) improving his scoring by nearly four points per contest while also being able to play more minutes.
Receiving increased offense from those two, not to mention the freshman Jackson (10.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.3 apg), ensured that North Carolina would have a fighting chance against quality competition on nights in which Paige wasn’t at his best offensively. Against Wisconsin the junior guard scored six of his 12 points in the final two minutes, with the shots keeping the Heels within striking distance, but it was the play of players such as Johnson and Jackson (15 points) that kept North Carolina afloat.
That should only help the program moving forward, as a more potent rotation means that Paige won’t be required to save the day as often as he has in the past. What will also help North Carolina is the bond they managed to create in the midst of what was a tough season for reasons both on and off the court.
“It was a tough year for us as a program and for coach especially with everything that happened,” Paige said. “But we have a great group of kids that enjoy being around each other more so than my freshman year, more so than last year. And we’re going to have a lot of the same kids next year.
“It hurts for the seniors because they don’t get another opportunity at this, and in college it goes so fast in those four years. You only get four cracks at it,” Paige continued. “Obviously it hurts right now because we’re such a close group of guys. But for the guys that do get to come back next year, we’re going to try to come together even more as a team and try to execute better and make something special out of it.”
North Carolina had to navigate a lot this season, including multiple injuries and an NCAA inquiry that has yet to be completed, but by the end still managed to finish a couple plays away from the Elite Eight. And the status of that NCAA inquiry will have an impact on what the Tar Heels are able to do next season.
But even with that cloud hovering over the program, with no one having much of an idea as to what will happen, the players can’t control that. What they can control is how they prepare for 2015-16, a year in which much will be expected of them. The depth and talent are there for North Carolina to put together a special season. What the Tar Heels do this offseason will determine whether or not that turns out to be the case.