This is the first in a position-by-position look at the Tar Heels.
Point guard is arguably the toughest position to play in coach Roy Williams’ system. It’s also generally the barometer to indicate what kind of team resides in Chapel Hill. When point guard has been a strength (Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson, Kendall Marshall), the Heels have competed at the highest levels. When it has been a bad fit (Larry Drew), the Heels ended up in the NIT.
And when it’s been inexperienced, as Marcus Paige was last season, they haven’t progressed past a second game in the NCAA Tournament. (That includes Williams’ first year back in Chapel Hill when Felton got acclimated to the system and Bobby Frasor’s season as the starting point guard in 2005-06.)
Paige, who was just the eighth point guard in school history to start his first game as a freshman, came on strong at the end of the season. Over the first 24 games last season, he shot 32.1 percent from the floor, 30.8 percent from the free throw line and averaged 3.4 assists. During the final 11 games including the postseason, Paige improved his shooting from the floor to 42.5 percent -- including 44.5 from behind the arc – and also averaged 3.5 assists.
Williams expects to see the version of Paige that closed out last season when this season begins.
“The initial stages -- particularly if you put a freshman at point guard and say, ‘Here’s the ball’ -- you’re thinking so much more than you’re doing something instinctively,” Williams said. “Hopefully after a year, he’ll do those things instinctively, bypass that thinking part and that’ll make the decision smoother and quicker, more successful and all those kind of things. Nate’s going through the same thing right now.”
Nate Britt will at least give the Heels a true point guard as a second option, unlike the past few seasons when Dexter Strickland was a functioning backup point guard. Williams has said he plans on playing Paige and Britt in the same lineup, which will encourage a faster tempo as either guard can push the pace.
“(Britt’s) a distributor, a guy that tries to get everybody else involved and a guy who tries to do exactly what I’m asking him to do,” Williams said. “I mean he’s really forcing the pace of the game. Now he’s just got to be able to make the successful play at the end. He’s a guy who is really going to help us.”
With plans to use both Paige and Britt, expect Luke Davis to continue to log minutes in reserve. The junior appeared in 20 games last season and had a 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio.
UNC point guards:
Paige: 6-1, 175, So., 8.2 ppg, 4.6 apg
Britt: 5-11, 165, Fr.
Davis: 6-0, 175, Jr., 0.4 ppg, 1.2 apg