One of the most inexplicable quirks of Carolina's 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference season is the strange split between Marcus Paige's production in the first half and the second half.
During the two-game Tar Heel ACC winning streak, Paige is shooting 10-for-11 from the field and six-of-seven from the three-point line in the final 20 minutes. He's carried Carolina for stretches of both of those games, and his second-half warming trend is consistent throughout conference play so far.
In the first half of ACC games, Paige is shooting just 13-for-44 (29.5 percent) from the field. In the second half, that mark increases to 47.8% (22-for-46). The split is even more noticeable from long distance, as Paige has made just three-of-22 first-half three-pointers in ACC games, a meager 13.6% accuracy rate. In the second half, however, he's a much warmer 11-for-25 (44.0%).
It's not a trend that just appeared in league play. For example, Paige was 1-for-6 in the first half at Michigan State and 0-for-5 in the first 20 minutes against Kentucky. The Iowa native is aware of the disparity.
"I just want to win," Paige said. "And in the second half, my level of focus or attention seems to increase. I have to find a way to change my pregame routine or my mental preparation so I won't struggle so much in the first half."
In his Friday afternoon press conference, Roy Williams mentioned the continuing need for other players to screen for Paige. "Marcus is doing a great job," Williams said. "Other guys have to help him by making shots and by screening for him."
Marquee matchup: Saturday's game against NC State features T.J. Warren, a player Roy Williams called, "as efficient a player as there may be in the league." Warren is central to everything the Wolfpack does, and according to Ken Pomeroy's statistics, takes a whopping 35 percent of his team's shots when he is on the floor, one of the highest ratios in the country.
Williams said he "anticipates" starting the game with J.P. Tokoto defending Warren. The sophomore has drawn some tough defensive assignments this year, including facing off against Virginia's Joe Harris in Charlottesville (Harris shot 4-for-10 in that game but also made eight trips to the free throw line. Foul issues have been a problem for Tokoto; he fouled out of that game against Virginia and racked up four fouls early in the second half at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night.
However, Williams sees significant promise in Tokoto's defensive future. "He's getting better and better defensively," the head coach said. "He, as well as a lot of guys on our team, have to stop fouling as much. But before he quits, he could be one of the best defenders we've ever had."
And what makes Williams, who mentioned Dudley Bradley and Jackie Manuel as players who set the perimeter defensive standard, think that?
"The biggest thing is I hope he wants to be," the coach said. "That's a big part of it. He has the athleticism and tremendous length. He has jumping ability, he can block shots. He can move his feet. He has every attribute you need to be a really good perimeter standard."
Briefly: Remember that Saturday's game against the Wolfpack has been changed to a 1 p.m. start due to television requests...Roy Williams will participate in the "Autism Speaks" campaign tomorrow, and will have an autism awareness pin on his jacket...A different Tar Heel has won the defensive award from the coaches in six of the past seven games. Winners during that stretch have included Isaiah Hicks, J.P. Tokoto, Nate Britt, James Michael McAdoo (twice), Kennedy Meeks and Marcus Paige...McAdoo has attempted at least nine free throws in three of Carolina's last four games. "The more times you attack, the more opportunities that are there," he said on Friday. "Like Coach says, I try to attack not just for myself, but to open things up for my teammates."
Adam Lucas is the editor of CAROLINA.