North Carolina, the preseason No. 1 team in the country, is already dealing with injury woes.
The school announced on Wednesday that point guard Marcus Paige, a preseason All-American and the No. 15 player on CBS Sports’ preseason Top 100 (and one) ranking, will miss three-to-four weeks with a fracture in the third metacarpal of his right (non-shooting) hand.
“I hate it for Marcus,” coach Roy Williams said in a release. “He’s such a wonderful young man – one of the most outstanding people I have been lucky to coach. I know he’ll handle this with the same level of maturity and responsibility that he does everything else.
“Our team will certainly be challenged in his absence. We will need everyone up and down the roster to step up their games and take care of each other and our team until he gets back.”
Paige was also named the co-preseason player of the year in the ACC by the media. He averaged 14.1 points and 4.5 assists per game last season despite struggling through injuries last season.
In the grand scheme, Paige is the one player this North Carolina team seems ill-equipped to lose. There’s enough returning depth both on the wings and in the frontcourt to handle the losses of a Brice Johnson or a Justin Jackson, but Paige is the catalyst for the team. He’s the guy who gets them in and out of their sets, and the guy who creates looks for others late in the shot clock. Also, it’s worth noting he’s the only player returning to North Carolina’s roster this season that can be consistently counted upon to shoot from beyond the 3-point line and space out the floor for big men like Johnson and Kennedy Meeks.
In his absence, look for Joel Berry II to get the bulk of the minutes. Berry is a former five-star recruit that struggled at times in his freshman campaign, but was also beset by nagging injuries and improved by the end of the year. The competition for the final starting spot in North Carolina’s lineup seemed to have been reduced to him and Theo Pinson, but now look for both to get major minutes early on. For the long-term outlook of this team, it’s definitely not a bad thing to get those two further experience early. Nate Britt should also see some time as Paige’s replacement in the lead ball-handler role.
As far as games Paige could miss, it seems likely he will miss the opener against, Temple on Nov. 13 as well as games against Fairfield, Wofford and Northern Iowa the following week. On November 23, the Heels go to Kansas City to play in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, where they will first play Northwestern, then follow that up with one of Kansas State or Missouri. None of those games seem particularly difficult for this roster. However, the next one is the big one, as on Dec. 1 the Heels host fellow top-five team Maryland in Chapel Hill. Roy Williams and company will likely hope Paige is back by that date, as it’ll be tough to beat the Terps without him in the fold.