UNC wrapped up non-conference play with a 10-3 record. Here is a preview of what the Heels can expect in league play in January.
January 6 at Virginia: Carolina opens league play on the road at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, where Carolina has posted a perfect 4-0 record. Virginia's brand of basketball under Tony Bennett may be aesthetically unpleasing, but the Hoos have jumped out to a 10-3 record thus far this season, though mostly against cupcakes. Virginia lost to in-state rivals George Mason and Old Dominion as well as Delaware. UNC will have to contain leading scorer and 3-point shooter Joe Harris and keep Akil Mitchell off the boards, but Carolina has a chance to steal a road win early.
January 10 vs. Miami: UNC welcomes an injury-depleted Miami team for the ACC opener in the Smith Center. Miami has looked good in spots, including a signature win over Michigan State. There is also a bad loss to Florida Gulf Coast. Star center Reggie Johnson injured his thumb before Christmas and is not expected to be available when the Canes come to Chapel Hill. If Carolina can keep Durand Scott under wraps, the Heels should be in good shape to pull out a win.
January 12 at Florida State: UNC returns to the scene of one of the most infamous moments in its storied basketball history with a visit to Tallahassee to face the Seminoles. Last season Roy Williams famously pulled his team off the floor before the end of the butt-whipping the Heels received. There is no doubt that scene will be recounted many times even though this is not anywhere near last year's FSU team. Michael Snaer is the key remaining cog of last year's ACC Tournament champions and the Seminoles have stumbled and bumbled through non-conference play. Tallahassee has always been a tough place for UNC to play, regardless of how good either team is.
January 19 vs. Maryland: Pop quiz: The team with the second-best record in the ACC heading into conference play is...Maryland, who made it through November and December with a 12-1 record, with the only loss being a 3-point defeat at Kentucky in the season opener. The Terps under Mark Turgeon have a balanced attack and are led by Alex Len in the post and Dez Wells on the wing. Maryland does not shoot well from the outside and have posted most of their 12 wins on cupcakes, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to the actual grind of ACC play.
January 23 vs. Georgia Tech: The ship appears to be somewhat righted in Atlanta as the Jackets posted a 10-2 non-conference record for Brian Gregory. Georgia Tech has a balanced attack with four players averaging nearly 10 points per game. The Jackets have been making their bones on the defensive end, holding their opponents to just over 35% shooting from the floor, but outside shooting is also a concern on the offensive end.
January 26 at NC State: In what will likely be a raucous atmosphere in PNC Arena for a Saturday night tilt, the newly big-time Wolfpack will welcome Carolina in the biggest State-UNC game in years. The Wolfpack have largely lived up to the preseason hype behind C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell, and Lorenzo Brown, and has five players averaging double-digits in scoring. If nothing else, this one should be fun.
January 29 at Boston College: Carolina will go from the inferno of a rivalry game at PNC to the relative calm of Chestnut HIll and the Conte Forum to face a BC team that has struggled in non-conference play. Ryan Anderson leads the Eagles in averaging almost a double-double but it is going to be a tough season for BC in ACC play.
On paper, all seven games are certainly winnable, especially if the Heels put forth the effort on the defensive end that they showed against UNLV. On the other hand, this team has not played well away from the Smith Center, and there are at least two road games that could cause some real trouble for Carolina, at FSU and NC State. Still, heading into February at 15-5 overall and 5-2 in the ACC would not be a bad slate for the young Heels, especially if they are improving each game.