Fans knew it would be tough sledding for Marcus Paige once conference play began. After all, for the first two months of the season, he had been North Carolina's only consistent weapon. Once ACC opponents got a hold of game tape and developed strategies to stop Paige, he would have a tough go of things.
Through the Tar Heels' first two ACC games, that much is painfully obvious.
Paige has gone a combined 5-of-27 from the field in the Heels' two conference losses. He has made just three of his 19 three-point attempts. Nothing has been easy for UNC's leading scorer.
There is not a silver lining in this inauspicious start, because things are only going to get harder for Paige and North Carolina. With a number of very difficult matchups still remaining, coach Roy Williams must come up with some new game plans in order to get his best player back on track.
Here are Paige's five most difficult upcoming matchups to watch out for in ACC play, listed in chronological order of when the game takes place.
UNC travels to Syracuse on Saturday, Jan. 11. In that game, Paige will match up against freshman guard Tyler Ennis.
Ennis is off to a tremendous start. Playing more than 32 minutes per game, Ennis is averaging 11.7 points and 5.6 assists per game. What Paige should be most worried about, though, are the 2.6 steals per game Ennis grabs.
Playing at the top of Syracuse's 2-3 zone, Ennis will not be directly guarding Paige all game. However, he is the focal point of the defense that is giving up just 48 points per game early on in ACC play.
With Paige's shot not falling right now and the trouble opponents have driving against the zone, Syracuse and Ennis are a terrible matchup for Paige.
Carolina will face Olivier Hanlan and Boston College on Jan. 18.
While BC is off to a horrendous start to the year, Hanlan is not. The returning ACC rookie of the year is averaging 19.9 points per game in his sophomore season. He has scored in double figures in all but one game.
The tough part for Paige is that Hanlan has a similar game. He just does it slightly better.
First, Hanlan is bigger than Paige by a couple of inches. Both players attempt exactly 12.5 field goals per contest, but while Paige is hitting just 41 percent of them, Hanlan makes 43 percent.
Neither player is lighting it up from behind the arc right now, but Hanlan's huge advantage comes at the free-throw line. Paige is a great shooter from the foul line, shooting the best percentage in the conference. However, he takes fewer than five foul shots per game. Hanlan, on the other hand, gets to the line 8.5 times per game and also shoots very well from there.
While it is hard to be too critical of Paige's offensive game this season since he is carrying the Heels, the thing he must do is get to the line more. Hanlan is playing a more effective offensive game right now.
UNC faces the Maryland Terrapins on Feb. 4.
While Dez Wells occasionally shifts to small forward and Nick Faust comes off the bench, Maryland rotates many different lineups. A lot of the time, one of these two guys is playing the shooting guard spot, which would make life tough for Marcus Paige.
Although Paige finished with a great line against Kentucky in mid-December, he struggled for much of the game to get good shots off. The length of the Kentucky defenders bothered him. Wells and Faust are 6'5" and 6'6", respectively. They are both more than 200 pounds and can create their own shot.
It will be hard for Paige on both ends of the court against Maryland. Not only will he have to shoot over one of these two big bodies, but on the defensive end he will also have to attempt to keep them out of the paint.
Notre Dame will host the Tar Heels on Feb. 8 and then travel to Chapel Hill on March 3.
The Fighting Irish's best player and leading scorer, Jerian Grant, played his final game of the season Dec. 21. Since that point, ND has played three games, going 2-1. In those three contests, guard Eric Atkins averaged 21 points and 7.7 assists and took 14 shots per game.
For the season, his averages are considerably lower than those figures, but ever since the team lost its best player, Atkins has stepped up and filled the void. He is an experienced senior who has played at least 37 minutes per game for three years running now.
For Paige, it will be about keeping the ball out of Atkins' hands as much as possible. In Notre Dame's win over Duke, Atkins scored 19 points and assisted on 11 other baskets for his first double-double of the season.
With Grant gone, Atkins has slid into top billing on this team, and Paige can relate to that pressure and expectation.
Carolina and Duke face off twice: on Feb. 12 and again in the season's final game on March 8.
In those two matchups, Paige will go head-to-head against one of the more underrated guards in the country. Duke's Quinn Cook is all the things people hate about Duke guards every year: He's tough and obnoxious and can get under opponents' skin. But he is also very good and getting better.
After scoring just 4.4 points per game on 40.5 percent shooting as a freshman, Cook averages 14.0 points on 46.5 percent shooting during his junior year. He leads this Duke team in assists by a wide margin. While he dishes out 6.1 assists per game, no other Blue Devils player averages more than 2.1 dimes.
Last year, both Cook and Paige were afterthoughts on their own teams. In 2013-14, though, each has risen to a special place on their respective team. Paige is UNC's go-to scorer. Cook is Duke's heart and soul. Jabari Parker is certainly a better player than Cook, but Duke would not be where it is without Cook playing as well as he is.