Coming into the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic over the weekend, North Carolina had generated plenty of concern from a fervent fan base after a less-than-stellar start to the season. Uneven performances against Oakland and Holy Cross were worrisome enough, but then the Tar Heels dropped a home game to Belmont that caused a plummet in the rankings and had pundits predicting a very long year for the storied program. While many blamed the ongoing suspensions of PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald for a startling lack of offensive continuity and inability to put lesser competition away, there were other major questions for the team as it headed into the tournament. Could the team continue to rely so heavily on Marcus Paige, a point guard by nature, as its primary scoring threat playing off the ball? Would the freshmen and sophomores begin to show the promise and consistency expected of them? Had Roy Williams suddenly been exposed as a mediocre in-game coach, unwilling to make adjustments when his system doesn’t run smoothly?
All three questions were answered over the course of the weekend, none more dramatically than when the Tar Heels shocked the world by upsetting defending national champion Louisville in the tournament title game on Sunday. Paige continued his torrid scoring stretch over the weekend, netting a career-high 26 points against Richmond on Saturday in the semifinals and then topping that mark with 32 against the Cardinals. While the converted shooting guard remains the team’s lone outside threat, his noticeable improvement from long range has proven to be a godsend during the absence of the team’s primary perimeter shooters. While holdover James Michael McAdoo has proven inconsistent in this young season, Paige has been Carolina’s go-to guy in all the critical moments and right now he’s producing with that burden on his shoulders.