North Carolina star and All-American candidate Marcus Paige will reportedly make his season debut on Tuesday against Maryland in Chapel Hill, according to Andy Katz of ESPN.com.
Paige has yet to play a game this season after breaking a bone in his hand before the start of the year.
Reports last week had said that Paige was "very close" to returning and his original timetable appeared to put him back sometime around the Maryland game, so considering the stakes of a No. 2 vs. No. 9 matchup, it's not surprising that Paige is scheduled to be on the floor.
The question that follows is how healthy Paige feels. If anyone knows about star players getting injured and still working toward full health even after being cleared to play, it's Maryland. Star guard Dez Wells returned from a wrist injury last season but was not back to his all-conference self for several weeks.
“The basketball part – the passing, catching, dribbling, all that stuff feels good now,” Paige told the News & Observer last week. “Now it's just a matter if (the hand) hits somebody or if I fall, is it in a good-enough place healing-wise to not be affected by that?"
If Paige is playing at a high level -- or even slightly less, considering his talent -- he changes what North Carolina can do offensively. He is an elite scorer and outside shooter, which spaces the floor and makes everything else easier for the Tar Heels.
UNC's young guards were solid in his absence and perhaps that will help them down the line, having had to be thrown into the fire for major minutes without him, but the team shot 32 percent from three-point range.
Paige, a career 38 percent three-point shooter, will help.
In addition, this is largely a North Carolina team with few seniors and a handful of younger players in key spots. It showed in the second half of the team's loss to Northern Iowa. Paige brings leadership and stability.