Inside College Hoops: UNC’s Paige to miss own homecoming game at UNI

One cool North Carolina tradition that’s being carried on by coach Roy Williams is scheduling games in places the Tar Heels would never normally visit simply to give a player an opportunity to compete near his hometown. That’s why UNC played at Saint Louis back in 2006 — so that Tyler Hansbrough, from nearby Poplar Bluff, Mo., could have a homecoming game. And that’s why the Tar Heels are playing at Northern Iowa on Saturday — so that Marcus Paige, from nearby Marion, Iowa, could have a homecoming game.

The only problem?

Paige is hurt and will not play.

That’s the result of a broken hand suffered in the preseason.

“I’m so hurt for Marcus right now,” Williams told me. “He’s one of the greatest kids I’ve ever coached. I feel very lucky everyday to get to have coached him. And to have something like that happen to him just irritates the dickens out of me.”

Regardless, the game, as they say, must go on. And it’s a tricky situation for the Tar Heels, if only because true road games against quality opponents are difficult, especially when your leading returning scorer is sidelined, and this is a true road game against a quality opponent. So pay attention to UNC-UNI. The nation’s top-ranked team might get tested.

Marcus Paige (USATSI)
North Carolina guard Marcus Paige is still sidelined with a hand injury. (USATSI)

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BEST GAME OF THE WEEKEND: The exact matchup remains to be determined. But the Puerto Rico Tip-off’s championship game will feature No. 20 Butler vs. either No. 16 Utah or a Miami team that just destroyed Mississippi State. In other words, Sunday’s title game will be between two projected NCAA Tournament teams, and that’s always fun.

NEXT BEST GAME OF THE WEEKEND: The Georgetown Hoyas beat Wisconsin Friday and ended any chance we had of seeing a rematch of last season’s national championship game in Sunday’s title game of the 2K Classic. But it’s not like Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Quinn Cook, Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker or Josh Gasser — i.e., seven of the 10 starters from last season’s title game — are still in college. So whatever. Now, on Sunday, we’ll get Georgetown vs. either No. 5 Duke or VCU. And, if it’s Georgetown-Duke, that’s still two big brands and programs that’ve won national championships.

NEXT-NEXT BEST GAME OF THE WEEKEND: You probably won’t watch it because you probably don’t have the Pac-12 Network. Still, I’m telling you, Valparaiso at No. 25 Oregon on Sunday is a treat between likely NCAA Tournament teams. Valpo is already 5-0 and 29th in the KenPom ratings. The Crusaders are experienced and good. So don’t be surprised when they run through the Horizon League, earn a bid to the Field of 68 and beat a Power 5 school in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament.

INTRIGUING GAME BETWEEN TWO UNRANKED TEAMS: Neither New Mexico nor USC is ranked. But both are top-90 teams at KenPom. And both are undefeated. The Lobos and Trojans play Saturday at the Galen Center. One of them will exit with a quality win.

ONE PLAYER TO KEEP AN EYE ON: I’m reasonably sure you have no idea who’s leading the nation in scoring. But I do. (Because I just looked it up.) His name is Jack Gibbs. He plays for Davidson. And he’s averaging 35.0 points per game right now because A) he scored 35 in the season-opener against UCF last Saturday, and B) Davidson hasn’t played since. But Davidson does play again Saturday. The opponent is College of Charleston. It’ll be interesting to see if Gibbs can get loose. He averaged 16.2 points last season.

LOCK OF THE CENTURY: I’ve watched enough of the College Football Playoff rankings shows to know teams can’t perform properly at odd hours relative to their home time zones because their #bodyclocks are all off. So shouldn’t we, on the basketball-betting side of things, take advantage of this? I think we should! And that’s why we’re taking No. 15 California -18.5 against East Carolina late Friday. Because the game is being played in Berkeley and tipping at 11 p.m. ET, and ECU’s #bodyclocks will be totally screwed up.

FIVE THINGS WORTH NOTING

1. Freshman star Ben Simmons is performing to expectations so far this season. LSU‘s 6-foot-10 forward is averaging 18.7 points and 12.7 rebounds thanks to a 23-point, 16-rebound effort in Thursday’s win over South Alabama. His next game is Monday against Marquette.

2. Speaking of Marquette, the Golden Eagles also have an elite freshman — namely Henry Ellenson. He averaged 19.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in his first two games. But the 6-foot-10 forward struggled Thursday, missed seven of eight shots and finished with just three points and eight rebounds in a blowout loss to Iowa.

3. The nation’s most underrated team, according to KenPom, is … Cincinnati. The Bearcats are 3-0 and ranked 10th at KenPom. Regardless, they’re unranked in the AP poll — even though they’re 24th in the Top 25 (and one). UC plays Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Sunday.

4. Former VCU coach Shaka Smart is still looking for his first win at Texas thanks to last weekend’s surprising loss to Washington in China. But he should get that first win Saturday when the Longhorns play Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at the Erwin Center.

5. It’s already been a big week for Kentucky — what with that win over Duke in the Champions Classic and the addition of two five-star prospects — Malik Monk and Edrice ‘Bam’ Adebayo — to a recruiting class that ensures the second-ranked Wildcats should be great again next season no matter who leaves or stays. Now UK has a chance to close the week strong with a win over Wright State inside Rupp Arena. Wright State enters 1-2 with losses to Cal State Northridge and Northern Illinois.

FINAL THOUGHT: The great thing about being a high-major coach is that you make enough money to ensure your family lives a fortunate life. But the bad thing is that the travel forces you away from home more than you’d probably prefer, and you miss things.

Sometimes really awesome things.

Like this …

That’s Xavier‘s Chris Mack tweeting about his baby boy, Brayden, taking his first steps.

The Musketeers play at No. 24 Michigan on Friday night.

Brayden turns 1 year old early next month. So, like Chris said, shoutout to him. Little dude should be dribbling a basketball in no time. Top 100 point guard. Class of 2032.

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