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UNC Versus the Sub-100

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A win is all but guaranteed, but biscuits aren't always on the menu.

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

One of the hallmarks of every non-conference schedule is a number of match-ups against teams who are (or should be) completely over-matched by the talent on North Carolina's roster. These games almost always result in a win for the Tar Heels, and often result in significant playing time for the deep end of the bench. For the purposes of this essay, we will define these teams as those who are ranked below 100 in the KenPom rating system. In simpler terms, this could be taken to mean teams who likely will not make the NCAA Tournament, and if they do, will find themselves as a 15/16-seed.

Since Roy has been at Chapel Hill, UNC has had predictably remarkable success against sub-100 teams, compiling a record of 95-4 (0.960), with all four losses occurring in "true road" games. However, given the aforementioned gap in talent between the Heels and this type of opponent, perhaps "just winning" shouldn't be the entire gauge of success; it might be more appropriate to also look at how "easily" the games were won. With that in mind, if we apply a (somewhat arbitrary) 20-point spread to each of UNC's 99 non-conference games against sub-100 teams since the start of the 2004 season, then the overall record drops to 68-31 (0.687)... still quite good, but not as dominant as some would imagine/expect.

But what happens when one breaks down the program's overall success by season (see below) is even more interesting.

Season Record ATS Actual Record
2003-04 4-3 7-0
2004-05 6-1 6-1
2005-06 3-5 7-1
2006-07 8-0 8-0
2007-08 8-2 10-0
2008-09 7-3 10-0
2009-10 3-5 7-1
2010-11 4-2 6-0
2011-12 7-2 9-0
2012-13 5-4 9-0
2013-14 3-4 6-1
2014-15 5-0 5-0
2015-16* 5-0 5-0

(*Still one game remaining against UNCG on 12/28)

Looking at this, two things jump out almost immediately. The first is that this current group of Tar Heels has done a really good job against the teams they are supposed to beat. This stands in stark contrast to the still somewhat pervasive stigma that they struggle against those same teams. That was true two years ago, with a team that was both very young, and without its expected superstar (thanks, P.J.); but it is no longer the case, and the numbers bear that out. Over the last two seasons, the Tar Heels have not only gone 10-0 against sub-100 non-conference opponents, but they’ve won each of those ten by at least 20 points.

The second thing one should notice is how much easier the non-conference schedules were for the 2008 and 2009 squads, arguably the greatest two-year stretch in Carolina history. Those teams faced 10 sub-100 teams in November/December EACH season, while this current group will play a total of 11 in past two seasons, combined. With the ACC as stacked as it now is, one has to wonder if hedging back in that direction may be a prudent move.

As the schedule stands now, UNC will play 10 ACC games against Top-50 opponents this season, with 6 of those games coming on the road. That type of grueling schedule all but guarantees that even a great team will incur 2-3 losses, with 4-5 an absolute possibility. While the NCAA committee should, and supposedly does, take strength of schedule, and strength of record, into consideration when it comes to seeding, they are still human; and as the polls show, there is still a natural knee-jerk reaction to a loss. It is possible that adding 1-2 lopsided wins in the early part of the season (without going full-blown "Duke") would be enough to offset the "extra" losses the new ACC schedule is likely to generate.