Their rivalry, if it can be called such a thing, began not long after they entered high school. Marcus Paige was the best point guard in Iowa. Yogi Ferrell the best in Indiana. Both of them two of the best in the Midwest, and beyond.
“I’ve been playing against him since ninth grade,” Paige, the North Carolina senior guard, said earlier this week of Ferrell, the Indiana senior guard.
And now they’ll be back at it again Friday night when the Tar Heels, the top seed in the East Region, play No. 5 Indiana in an NCAA tournament regional semifinal.
There’s an old cliché about games in March, in the NCAA tournament: guard play matters most.
And UNC and Indiana just happen to have two senior guards who at various points in their college careers have earned All-American honors. Paige did it as a sophomore. Ferrell has done it this season. In a lot of ways – more than can be quantified by numbers – as Paige and Ferrell go, so go their teams.
Paige recently described the history he shares with Ferrell. The competition in AAU games. The time together during the McDonald’s All-American game in their senior year of high school.
“I’ve been around him for years, (but) not since I guess freshman year (in college), when we played up at Indiana,” Paige said. “But yeah, he’s a good player and me and him have been going at it, trying to be the best point guard in our class, for a long time.
“So it’ll be a good to see him out on the court again.”
The last time UNC saw Ferrell on the court, it did not go well for the Tar Heels. It was November 2012, Paige’s and Ferrell’s freshman season. Indiana was ranked No. 1. UNC was trying to find its way after the departure of four first-round NBA draft picks.
The teams met in the ACC Big/Ten Challenge in Bloomington, Ind. UNC left with a humbling 83-59 loss. Paige finished with 11 points and three assists, Ferrell with two points and six assists. He has become much more of a scorer since then.
“His freshman year, he was a distributor because their team was stacked,” Paige said. “They had a bunch of different pros that he could throw the ball to. This year he needs to be more aggressive, more of a scorer. So having him off the ball gives him a chance to do some of those things.”
Ferrell has remained Indiana’s primary point guard, though he at times plays off the ball, too. Paige, meanwhile, has almost exclusively played at shooting guard this season. Paige and Ferrell used to compete to be the best point guard and their class.
Even after they arrived in college, Paige kept up with Ferrell. Back in their high school days they competed against each other “basically every other weekend,” Paige said, and so he has followed Ferrell’s evolution at Indiana.
“I always follow people in our class,” Paige said. “Because you play so much with them in the summer circuit and stuff that everyone goes their separate ways. You always follow them from afar and see how they’re doing and you see them on TV and you’ll watch and just see what’s going on.
“And he’s had a great career.”
Paige’s hasn’t been too bad, either. Now their paths will intersect one final time, at least in college, with a trip to the East Regional championship game at stake.Andrew
No. 1 UNC vs. No. 5 Indiana
When: 9:57 p.m. Friday