Here it is, Tar Heels. This is the first step we can take together in moving on from last season. The 2016-2017 UNC Basketball schedule was released on Monday, and it is now time to take the first glimpse into how this season is going to play out. There are few positive story lines coming from this offseason. NBA prospect Justin Jackson removed his name from the draft, and he is back make an impact in his junior season at Carolina. The team collectively agrees that guard Theo Pinson is poised for a break out year. Also, ACC Sixth Man of the Year Isaiah Hicks is looking to easily transition into a starting role. It is going to be a good year, but there is work to be done. Take a look at my thoughts, but first, check out this season’s slate courtesy of GoHeels.com.
- In typical Roy Williams fashion, Carolina will break up the long road trip to the Maui Invitational by stopping in New Orleans for a matchup with Tulane. The Green Wave should not be a problem for a UNC team that will likely be ranked in the top ten. On the other hand, I think we all remember what happened last time we played a non-conference away game against a mid-major school. Hint: It wasn't exactly the homecoming senior Marcus Paige was looking for. The Heels will hopefully take care of business before heading to Maui, where they have historically played well.
- In a time where early season tournaments are common, Carolina will head to Maui to play in one of the sport’s oldest. UNC has won the tournament three times, most recently in 2008, and previously in 2004. As I’m sure you know, these Maui Invitational victories kicked off pretty good seasons for the Heels. In addition to getting this season into full swing in a familiar place for Coach Williams, Carolina could play some fairly good competition. They have guaranteed meetings with Hawaii and Chaminade in mid November. Also, possible match ups against UConn, Oklahoma State, Georgetown, or Wisconsin (potential top ten team).
- Some more mid-season pageantries come the Tar Heels’ way with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and the CBS Sports Classic. This could be two of Carolina’s toughest games, by playing AT Indiana November 30th, and then Kentucky on December 17th in Las Vegas. Playing in an atmosphere like the one in Bloomington is tough for even the most battle-tested teams. Furthermore, Kentucky has the best incoming freshman class in the country (again), and John Calapari will surely have them adjusted to college ball by mid December.
- Early ACC play should be fairly routine for this year’s Carolina team. Some games to highlight include a January 14th date against Florida State, and Syracuse two days later on the 16th. Both these games are at home, but could be tricky for Carolina. Florida State is looking to crack the top 25 at the beginning of the season, and will lean heavily on sensational sophomore Dwayne Bacon. Even with Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson gone from the ‘Cuse team, they have some tournament experience that could carry them in the Dean Dome.
- Duke, NC State, Virginia, Louisville, Pitt, Virginia, Duke. Which of these don't belong? (NC State...haha.) What do these teams have in common? They are all the last seven opponents in the regular season for Carolina, coming all in a month and some change. These teams also have the potential to make UNC stumble right before postseason play. This is especially evident in the FOUR possible top 5 meetings with Duke and Virginia. Even without Chinanu Onuaku, Louisville should be a strong team with some tools to try and beat the Tar Heels. This will be a pivotal end-of-season stretch for UNC Basketball. A few wins against some highly ranked opponents, and Carolina is sitting pretty with a sharp tournament resume. A few losses, and the Tar Heels lower their chances for a high NCAA Tournament seed.
As always, Late Night With Roy will kick off the 2016-2017 season on October 14th. Pack the Dean Dome, and show this team that you're excited for what’s to come. The schedule posting and preseason workout reports are only the beginning. With redemption on the minds of UNC Basketball, this season will be a wild ride.