Included in the news that the ACC would be launching a television network in 2019 was the news that ACC basketball schedule would be expanding. Starting in 2019-20, ACC teams will be playing 20 conference games.
As a marquee team in the sport, North Carolina will probably be playing in one of the non-conference, exempt tournaments every season. That means they’ll probably play about 31 regular season games every season. This is obviously a few years off, but it does leave a question of how this will affect UNC’s future schedules.
In 2016-17, North Carolina has three power conference opponents definitely scheduled. (That does not count the Maui Invitational, which will likely see that number rise.) UNC plays at Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. They play Tennessee at home, and will face Kentucky in Las Vegas.
North Carolina will also play three teams from the second tier basketball conferences. Like last season, UNC will face Tulane, Davidson, and Northern Iowa. (Tulane technically counts because they’re in the AAC, but they are more realistically a small conference program in a bigger league.)
The remaining games are all against teams from smaller conferences. With fewer spaces available, North Carolina will have to decide which of those three categories they take from.
Despite Roy Williams claiming the contrary, the obvious answer seems to be the small conference teams. With all due respect to December 4th opponent Radford, it seems unlikely that UNC would keep that type of game on the schedule instead of a big match-up against a power conference team.
However, Williams did claim that he wouldn’t play as many marquee non-conference games should the schedule expand. But obviously, there’s still a couple years to find out if he sticks to that. Keeping a game on the schedule like Tennessee would seemingly do more for the program than dropping it and keeping a Radford-type, even if it does lead to a couple extra losses over the years.
If that is the case, starting in 2019, the Radfords on UNC’s schedule may be replaced by two more conference games. In all likelihood, that will make the schedule tougher on the average. Some years, UNC might draw two games against an ACC team that is going through a rough year. Hello, 2016 Boston College. However, it also increases the chances that they’ll play a good team twice in a year.
There were some arguments that UNC faced a weak ACC slate this past season. Roy Williams even felt inclined to argue against that notion in a press conference. Whether you agree with that or not, playing two more teams home-and-home will reduce the possibility of any team getting an particularly easy ACC schedule.
A 20-game ACC schedule means that UNC will play six of the other 14 conference opponents twice. Some years, those two extra games might come against the bottom feeders of the ACC. Some will come against the top teams. But on average, the odds are that UNC’s schedule will be a bit tougher starting in 2019.