Film Session: What’s plaguing Marcus Paige?

1 Comment
source:
Marcus Paige (Getty Images)

Marcus Paige was supposed to turn into a star this year. He was the Preseason ACC Player of the Year. He was an NBCSports.com Preseason All-American, and that was far from the only All-American team he was named to. He was supposed to be the focal point offensively for a North Carolina team that was going to compete with Duke and Virginia and Louisville for an ACC title.

But here we are, more than a month into the season, and North Carolina is only in the Top 25 because there really aren’t 25 teams deserving of being ranked. They’re 7-3 overall with losses to Butler, Iowa (at home) and Kentucky. Those wins against Davidson, Florida and UCLA are solid — and will likely look better as the season progresses — but you can watch this team play and realize they’re not the North Carolina we expected them to be.

Paige isn’t the Marcus Paige we expected him to be, either. He’s averaging just 13.5 points, down from 17.1 last season, and shooting 34.8 percent from the floor and 35.4 percent from three.

To get to the bottom of what’s ailing the Heels, you first have to understand what they want to do.

North Carolina, as always, wants to run off of misses and off of makes. They’re 12th nationally in tempo, according to Kenpom.com, and that’s not by accident. And while it may seem unorganized at times, there really is a method to the madness. It works like this: the point guard is supposed to receive the outlet pass on the right side of the floor at or above the free throw line. As he’s receiving the ball, the two is streaking up the right side of the floor and the three is streaking up the left side of the court while the four-man is sprinting to the block:

source:
Screengrab via CBS Broadcast

Ideally, the one will hit ahead to one of those three, getting an easy look at the rim … :

Or an open three or driving lane on the wing:

If nothing is there, North Carolina can pull the ball out and run their secondary break, which is essentially a four-out, one-in system that has a number of different reads, set plays and quick-hitters:

source:
Screengrab via CBS Broadcast

Now the problem with this is that Paige is, by far, the best offensive weapon that North Carolina has on their perimeter. In an ideal world, he’s not the guy making the pass-ahead, he’s the guy spotting up on the wing. He’s the guy looking to finish in transition, not the guy sparking the fast break. He’s not bad at it, per se, but J.P. Tokoto and is not Rashad McCants. Justin Jackson is not P.J. Hairston. Theo Pinson is not Wayne Ellington.

In other words, the guys that Paige is putting into a position to score in transition aren’t your typical, high-scoring Carolina wings.

The other problem is that Roy Williams doesn’t appear to trust the other two point guards on UNC’s roster — sophomore Nate Britt and freshman Joel Berry — with the reins offensively quite yet, meaning that Paige is, in a sense, being asked to play out of position. He’s a scorer at heart, not a facilitator. Kendall Marshall he is not.

That limits their effectiveness in transition, which is only half of the problem right now.

source:
Justin Jackson (Getty Images)

North Carolina just does not have any weapons on their perimeter outside of Paige, and all you have to do is look at their three-point shooting to understand that. On the season, the Tar Heels have hit 44 three-pointers. Paige has 23 of them. No one else has more than six, and that number belongs to Nate Britt, who is shooting 28.6 percent from three on the season and actually had to change which hand he shot with during the offseason because he’s struggled so much. He’s right-handed this year. Last season, he was a lefty.

That not only allows teams to focus their defense on Paige beyond the arc, it allows them to sag off of the other non-shooters, crowding the paint for North Carolina’s big men, namely Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson. That front court in UNC’s strength this season, which means that lack of shooting not only limits Carolina’s ability in transition, it hurts them when they can’t get easy buckets off the break.

All of this leads me to believe that, more than anything, we overrated North Carolina in the preseason.

You see, the two players that made the biggest improvements during the summer were Meeks and Johnson, but having those two get better without adding any perimeter firepower didn’t really solve any of the major issues that last season’s No. 6 seed had. Justin Jackson was supposed to be the guy that would provide some perimeter scoring pop, be he’s 4-for-22 from beyond the arc this year and doing most of his damage as a slasher, scoring in the mid-range and around the rim.

And unless Jackson makes a notable improvement once we hit ACC play, it looks that is going to be an issue for the Heels all year long.

Now, the Tar Heels do have some problem areas where they can improve. They are abysmal of the defensive glass right now, allowing opponents to collect 35.6 percent of the available offensive rebounds. And to be frank, Paige is missing a lot of clean looks from the perimeter, shots that he’s going to make far more often than he misses. Those will eventually start going down, and at some point, you have to think a team with this big of a front line and this many athletes on the wing will get better on the defensive glass.

In other words, the trio of Paige, Meeks and Johnson will be enough to keep Carolina in the top 25 and ensure them a spot in the NCAA tournament. The sky isn’t falling just yet.

But unless one of the young point guards becomes a viable option to play starter’s minutes, and unless Williams can find some kind of consistent production from his wings, the Tar Heels look much more like a No. 6 seed again than they do a legitimate ACC title contender.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
7 Comments

LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

Getty Images
4 Comments

The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.