When the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season wraps up on Sunday, the best five players will be chosen to represent the conference on the All-ACC First Team. This is quite an honor and, with the exception of being the conference's Player of the Year, is the highest honor a player can receive from the ACC.
There is just a small group of players who will even be considered for such a distinction. North Carolina State's T.J. Warren is almost assuredly grabbing one of the five slots, as is Duke's Jabari Parker. Clemson's K.J. McDaniels also has a great case for making the squad. The same can be said for Syracuse's C.J. Fair (initials must be one of the criteria) and Duke's Rodney Hood.
However, for that all-important point-guard spot, no one is more deserving than North Carolina's Marcus Paige.
Prior to the season, the ACC media did a solid job of predicting this final quintet. For the preseason All-ACC team, they tabbed Fair, Parker and Hood, all of whom have a good shot to make the actual list. They also named Notre Dame's Jerian Grant, who was on his way until being kicked off the team, and Virginia's Joe Harris.
According to one Cavalier writer though, Harris didn't end up being even the team's best player. That distinction goes to sophomore Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon is also one of his picks to make the All-ACC First Team. (Full disclosure: He also selected Paige to make it.)
The other main competitor for a guard spot on the First Team is Syracuse's freshman point guard Tyler Ennis. Ennis has been stellar in his first (and only?) season at Syracuse. He currently leads the conference in assists and steals. But the recent collapse of the Orange has to alarm folks, even if Ennis personally has played okay.
However, none of these other guards have been as important to their squad or to the conference landscape as has Marcus Paige. The fact that ACC voters are struggling over who is UVA's best player and that Ennis' teammate is also in consideration for a First-Team slot help to back up this point.
With Paige and North Carolina, there is no debate.
On the surface, the numbers speak for themselves. Paige is among the top players in the ACC in all the scoring categories: eighth in field goals, sixth in attempts, 10th in field-goal percentage, fourth in threes, second in free-throw percentage, fourth in assists, fifth in points. The list goes on.
In terms of advanced stats, Paige also excels. His effective field-goal percentage, which takes into account all types of shots, is third in the conference at 53 percent. He is second overall in offensive win shares and third in total win shares behind just McDaniels and Warren.
The pure statistical domination might have been enough to warrant Paige's inclusion on the First Team. However, he has done more this season than the numbers could even represent.
Because of the complete lack of shooting and offensive weapons on this Carolina team, Paige has been the only reliable scorer on a game-to-game basis. His ability to hit outside shots has really been the only thing keeping Carolina out of the NIT.
Paige is also an anchor for this squad, playing 35.5 minutes per game (fifth in the ACC). His elite free-throw shooting and the lack of such on the rest of the team means coach Roy Williams needs Paige at the end of every contest, even if they're ahead.
His distribution skills and court presence means he must play nearly every possession in first halves to get Carolina's offense rolling. His big-shot capability, though, means he must also play nearly every minute of second halves to keep UNC in ballgames or put opponents away.
In the team's recent overtime win over NC State, everything that makes Paige great was on display. UNC was a combined 7-of-15 from three; Paige made all seven of those threes. He also picked up his game to overcome a struggling James Michael McAdoo and Leslie McDonald, the team's second and third-leading scorers respectively this season.
That has been the M.O. for Marcus Paige all year. He has been magnificent, but also capable of raising his game to another level when it was needed. Paige has been more than just the main reason for the Tar Heels' current 12-game winning streak.
For good measure, and to add some depth to his character, Paige was also just named to the All-ACC Academic team. And to top it all off, UNC is on the precipice of grabbing the second seed in the conference, a feat that would have been tossed off as ludicrous when the Heels began 1-4 in the ACC.
If the team in first place has any questions about who its best player is, the team reaching second certainly doesn't.