ACC Notebook

ACC Player of Year? Marcus Paige, T.J. Warren make strong cases

acarter@newsobserver.comFebruary 28, 2014 


UNC's Marcus Paige (5) tries to steal the basketball from N.C. State's T.J. Warren (24) in the second half of their game on Wednesday February 26, 2014 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.


In the early hours of Thursday morning, after North Carolina and N.C. State put on a show that won’t soon be forgotten, a colleague raised the question over postgame brews and chicken wings: Who will be the other three players to make first-team All-ACC?

The presumption was that two spots are already accounted for: Marcus Paige, the Tar Heels’ guard who scored 35 points in UNC’s 85-84 victory against the Wolfpack; and T.J. Warren, the N.C. State sophomore forward who was every bit Paige’s equal. He finished with 36 and came close to blocking Paige’s game-winning shot at the rim.

After Wednesday night there should be no question that Paige and Warren deserve to be first-team All-ACC. More than that, though, they also should be considered the two favorites to earn ACC Player of the Year honors.

There might be better players in the conference, more talented players. If you were starting an NBA franchise from scratch and had your pick of players in the ACC, you would be foolish not to take Jabari Parker, the Duke freshman, with your first pick.

The Player of the Year race, though, isn’t about pro potential, or who’s the most talented. It’s about the guy who has had the best year.

Have any players in the ACC had better years than Paige and Warren? They have never been better than they were Wednesday night, but their performances were more a continuation of what they have been doing rather than an anomaly.

Paige has two 30-point games this season – the other coming in UNC’s victory against then-No. 4 Louisville – and time and again he has carried the Tar Heels offensively, usually in the second half. Warren has scored at least 30 points seven times, and until Wednesday night the Wolfpack was undefeated, 9-0, when he scored at least 27.

This isn’t just about points, though. Among those who play at least 12 minutes per game, Warren leads N.C. State in field goal percentage and he’s the Wolfpack’s best rebounder. Paige, meanwhile, leads the Tar Heels in all aspects, and no UNC player – ever – has played more minutes per game under Roy Williams than Paige.

Sure, Paige and Warren have benefited from circumstance. Without P.J. Hairston, UNC entered the season without a dominant go-to scorer – the kind that Paige has become. And after losing five of its top six players from last season, N.C. State entered the season with voids everywhere.

Parker has a stronger supporting cast at Duke. Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair have created arguably the best tandem – or the second-best, behind Parker and Rodney Hood at Duke – in the ACC. Individually, Parker, Hood, Ennis and Fair don’t have as much of a chance to produce numbers as impressive as the ones Paige and Warren have compiled.

Even so, there’s something to be said about making the most of opportunity. Paige and Warren have made the most of theirs, and they have emerged as two of the most feared and respected players in the ACC. And they have done that going against defenses that have tried their best to limit their effectiveness.

Another way to look at this: Where would UNC be without Paige, and where would the Wolfpack be without Warren? Paige has elevated the Tar Heels, almost single-handedly at times, to one of the ACC’s three or four best teams. Warren has kept the Wolfpack in the NCAA tournament picture – no small feat given everything N.C. State lost.

So who wins the race? Who knows. Parker will receive plenty of consideration. Fair and Ennis will, too. Paige and Warren, though, deserve as much consideration as any of them – if not more.

Unbalanced schedule benefits Cavs

Ah, the benefits – and drawbacks – of an unbalanced conference schedule. Virginia enters the final week (or so) of the regular season atop the league standings at 15-1. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Cavaliers haven’t played more than once against any ACC team with a winning record.

And they have yet to play Syracuse, which visits Charlottesville on Saturday. Virginia has played Duke, UNC, Pittsburgh and Clemson once, and the Cavaliers are finished with those teams.

The four teams Virginia will have played twice by the end of the season: Florida State, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Maryland are a combined 22-39 in the ACC.

Virginia can’t be faulted for its schedule. It has played well against the top of the league, too. But the Cavaliers’ conference record reflects in part their relatively easy road.

Bubble watch

We wrote in this space last week that the ACC was looking more and more like a five-bid league for the NCAA tournament. Nothing changed that perception in the past week.

Clemson (17-10, 8-7, 71 RPI) and N.C. State (17-11, 7-8, 66 RPI) remain alive, though the Wolfpack has to be reeling after its loss against UNC. Both Clemson and N.C. State have winnable games ahead.

Clemson hosts Maryland, Miami and Pitt during the next eight days. The Wolfpack closes the season against Miami at home, at Pitt, and against Boston College.

If both Clemson and N.C. State beat Pitt, the Panthers could suddenly find themselves on the bubble, too. They’ve lost five of their past eight, and they’ll likely end the season with one victory against a top-50 team in the RPI (Stanford, on Nov. 26).


Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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