Luke DeCock

Paige puts up numbers for UNC, then crunches them

UNC's Marcus Paige talks about reaction to the Final Four around campus

VIDEO: University of North Carolina guard Marcus Paige talks about the positive energy on the Chapel Hill campus as the Tar Heels head into the NCAA Final Four.
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VIDEO: University of North Carolina guard Marcus Paige talks about the positive energy on the Chapel Hill campus as the Tar Heels head into the NCAA Final Four.

The North Carolina coaching staff has an account with Synergy, a company that tapes, analyzes, breaks down and otherwise dissects basketball video, then puts that searchable library of clips and statistics online. If a coach wants to see, say, all of Syracuse’s ball-screen defense in February, it’s easy to call up those clips with a quick series of clicks.

Marcus Paige doesn’t have his own account, but the North Carolina guard spends as much time fiddling with Synergy as any of the coaches whose passwords he borrows.

“A lot of this stuff he’s just watching on his own,” said Brad Frederick, North Carolina’s director of basketball operations and informal chief analytics officer. “He’s watching players he might guard or teams we have upcoming. Rather than us having to make a breakdown, he just does it.”

This is not something other players do frequently, if at all. Frederick called it “kind of a Marcus thing,” a tribute to the senior’s interest in the growing community of advanced basketball analysis and his future potential career as a coach or broadcaster.

Paige’s embrace of Synergy and other advanced basketball analytics dates to his freshman year, when he first became aware of the secret underground of advanced statistics whose disciples talk about points per possession, rebounding percentage instead of rebounding margin, tempo, effective field-goal percentage and so on.

The Twitter debates of sportswriters, many of whom cannot afford Synergy but rely heavily on the more affordable information at KenPom.com, the website of advanced-stats guru Ken Pomeroy, further piqued Paige’s interest. Now, as a senior, he can converse knowledgeably about some of the more advanced concepts in the basketball stat community.

“The more you know, the more prepared you are for any situation,” Paige said. “Maybe I’ll want to be a coach someday, maybe I’ll want to talk about basketball on TV. The more I know about that kind of stuff, the more well-rounded I’ll be in that regard.”

This information overload plays into the cerebral side of Paige’s personality, which can be both an asset and a liability. He freely admits now he was overthinking the game during his midseason slump. And yet he’s also the kind of player who will spend hours watching video and crunching numbers in search of any advantage. There are Division I coaches who don’t have as good a handle on some of this stuff as Paige does.

As an example, Paige might use Synergy to call up all of his pick-and-roll possessions to see what kind of shots they’re creating for himself or his teammates. In terms of raw numbers, he pays particular attention to effective field-goal percentage, which weights 3-pointers more heavily.

“I’ve learned a lot about stuff like that – how to be more efficient, even if I haven’t been this year,” Paige said.

This isn’t technically true: Per KenPom, Paige is more efficient (119.8 – a measure of points generated per 100 possessions) than he was last season (118.8) but not as efficient as he was as a sophomore (120.1). Paige would know that if he had a KenPom account.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he did,” Brice Johnson said.

“I don’t think I could afford it,” Paige said.

“It’s $20 a year,” he was told.

“I’m in college,” Paige said.

Paige mostly keeps the insights he gleans to himself. Frederick has a KenPom account and does most of the statistical heavy lifting for the coaching staff, distributing information as he sees fit, but North Carolina coach Roy Williams acknowledged Paige has piped up about “a couple of things.”

“I know Marcus is very analytical,” Williams said. “I’m more than I ever was, but still there would be a huge majority of the people in the basketball world between me and Marcus and the rest of the guys that are way out there.”

After the ACC tournament win over Notre Dame, Paige was told that the Tar Heels had held the Irish to their lowest points-per-possession of the entire season, with the addendum that of all people, he’d probably appreciate that fact.

“I like that,” Paige said. “And I do appreciate it.”

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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