Mark you calendars.
Here ya go. UNC has released the full schedule for the 2008-09 season. The two time defending ACC Champions will open the season on November 15th versus Penn in Chapel Hill and host Kentucky three days later in a 9 PM ESPN game before heading to Maui via UC Santa Barbara. Similar to last season UNC will spend some time on the road though not four straight weeks as they did last season. The Heels will play Valpo in Chicago and Nevada in Reno on New Year's Eve. The big game early on, besides the ones in Maui, will be the trip to Ford Field in Detroit to play Michigan State. Ford Field will host the Final Four in 2009 and for a team with designs on a national title I can think of no greater advantage for UNC than to play a game there, especially given the issues shooters can have in larger arenas.
The ACC schedule is what we have come to expect from the unbalanced conference schedule most of us traditional ACC fans loather. If you asked me to name the trap games based on the schedule I would look squarely at Feb 15th at Miami and March 4th at Virginia Tech. The road games at Wake Forest on Jan. 11 as are the games at Maryland and NC State. Why? Those two games are 3:30 Saturday games on ABC. We all know how those go.
The games with Duke are likely to be a little tougher this season. For some reason the first game with Duke seems to drift later and later into February. Tyler Hansbrough and his senior cohorts will try to make it a clean sweep at Cameron on Feb. 11th. The juniors will be looking to do the same since most of them will not be back next season. And the hottest ticket in many, many years of UNC basketball will be March 8th in Chapel Hill as UNC says farewell to Tyler Hansbrough along with Danny Green, Marcus Ginyard and possibly Bobby Frasor. No word on if that day will include Hansbrough's jersey retirement.
In my opinion, this schedule is fairly strong. Part of that is owed to the Maui Invitational and the probability is that the Heels will either face Texas or Notre Dame for their third game. Oregon or Alabama in the second game is not an easy matchup either. I expect Kentucky to be somewhat improved and a game the Heels should be paying attention to since it is only the 2nd one of the season. It goes without saying that the game at Michigan State will be a tough one given the style Tom Izzo's boys play. The rest of the schedule should be manageable. Playing on the road against Valpo and Nevada would have been scarier two years ago than it is now with a team that I expect will be fully focused on the task at hand.
At first glance, I see no reason that UNC does not make it through this schedule with more than about two losses. Both of those could come in the ACC though dropping one in Maui or the game at Ford Field would not be shocking. As the season progesses, the question will not be about whether UNC wins 28-29 games in the regular season but the manner in which they win them. A team coming in with this much hype will catch a great deal of flack if they are not routinely dominating many of the opponents on this schedule. The microscope will be on the Heels from the first tip versus Penn.