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UNC basketball: Tar Heels ranked #9 in preseason AP poll

Expectations are high for the Tar Heels following their championship season.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina Midnight Madness Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Late Night With Roy. The exhibition game. The calendar flip from October to November. And now the preseason AP poll. With the release of the first Associated Press poll of the 2017-18 season, the start of UNC’s sixth title defense season is now closer than ever. Let’s break down the first poll of the season. First-place votes are shown in parentheses, and their ranking in the final AP poll of last season is shown in brackets.

  1. Duke Blue Devils (33) [7]
  2. Michigan State Spartans (13) [NR]
  3. Arizona Wildcats (18) [4]
  4. Kansas Jayhawks (1) [3]
  5. Kentucky Wildcats [6]
  6. Villanova Wildcats [1]
  7. Wichita State Shockers [19]
  8. Florida Gators [20]
  9. The 2017 National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels [5]
  10. USC Trojans [NR]
  11. West Virginia Mountaineers [13]
  12. Cincinnati Bearcats [18]
  13. Miami-Florida Hurricanes [NR]
  14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish [14]
  15. Minnesota Golden Gophers [NR]
  16. Louisville Cardinals [10]
  17. Xavier Musketeers [NR]
  18. Gonzaga Bulldogs [2]
  19. Northwestern Wildcats [NR]
  20. Purdue Boilermakers [15]
  21. UCLA Bruins [8]
  22. St Marys-CA Gaels [22]
  23. Seton Hall Pirates [NR]
  24. Baylor Bears [12]
  25. Texas A&M Aggies [NR]

Other teams receiving votes: Alabama 86, Virginia 57, Rhode Island 49, TCU 46, Providence 34, Missouri 19, Virginia Tech 16, Wisconsin 14, Butler 13, Texas 10, Maryland 7, Oklahoma 7, Nevada 7, Michigan 6, Dayton 5, Middle Tennessee 4, Ball St. 4, SMU 3, Oakland 2, Oregon 2, South Carolina 1, Harvard 1, UCF 1

A Familiar Foe at the Top

For the second consecutive season, Duke tops the preseason AP poll. This is likely because returning senior Grayson Allen is back to ostensibly lead the team, although in his three years in Durham I cannot recall one instance in which he has shown any type of leadership qualities whatsoever. This is the 9th time Duke has topped the preseason AP poll, tying UNC for most all-time. However, they have only won the national title in one of those seasons: 1992. The last time a preseason #1 went on to win the title? Why, none other than the 2009 Tar Heels.

Diversity Reigns Supreme

The top seven schools in the preseason poll all hail from different conferences. In order: ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12, SEC, Big East, and AAC. As for the whole poll, the ACC has the most selections with five (Duke, UNC, Miami, Notre Dame, Louisville), all in the top 16. Both the SEC and Pac-12 have two schools each in the top 10. The ACC projects to be a very top-heavy conference this year, with a widening gap between the haves and have-nots; only two other ACC teams (Virginia and Virginia Tech) received any votes at all.

Protecting the Belt

In the year following a national championship, the Heels are historically well-regarded in the preseason poll. Aside from 2006, where almost the entire team went pro and the team entered the next season unranked, the Heels have ranked in the top ten each time. In 1957, there was no preseason poll but UNC was ranked #1 in the first poll of the season. In Michael Jordan’s sophomore season of 1983 the Heels came in ranked #3. 1994 was the only season in which the Heels won a title and were named the top preseason team the next year. And in 2010 the Heels were slotted at #6.

Looking Back

Against teams ranked in this year’s preseason top 25, the Heels were 6-4 last year. This includes ACC Tournament games against Miami (win) and Duke in the semifinal (loss). It also includes the two wins in the NCAA Tournament against Kentucky and Gonzaga. In the regular season, the figure was 3-3: a split with Duke, wins against Notre Dame and Louisville and losses against Kentucky and Miami. Interesting to note: UNC was undefeated at home against this year’s preseason top 25 (3-0).

Looking Forward

UNC’s schedule currently features six games against teams currently in the top 25, all of which come during conference play. That means UNC’s schedule gets significantly tougher in February and March; four of UNC’s last five games will be against teams ranked in the preseason top 25. UNC has home-and-homes against Duke and Notre Dame, with a visit to Louisville and a hosting of Miami also looming. As of right now, the earliest game on UNC’s schedule against a top 25 opponent is the trip to Notre Dame, which will take place on January 13.

A lot can change over the course of a season, however. UNC also has a few games on its schedule featuring teams which did not make the top 25 but still received votes. UNC visits both Virginia and Virginia Tech, who could easily be ranked by the time they welcome the Tar Heels to Charlottesville and Blacksburg, respectively. And if you want to see more respect placed on the Heels’ non-conference schedule, pull for Michigan to start off strong. The Heels face the Wolverines in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, who enter the season ranked 39th.

Quick Hits

  • Two of the top five teams are guaranteed to lose their first game. In the Champions Classic on November 14, #1 Duke faces #2 Michigan State and #4 Kansas faces #5 Kentucky. Cancel whatever plans you have that Tuesday night.
  • Kansas has been ranked in 162 consecutive AP polls, the longest active streak. It dates back to February 3, 2009. UNC’s current streak is 61.
  • #19 Northwestern is ranked in the preseason poll for the first time in school history.
  • #2 Michigan State was unranked in the final poll last year. This is the first time a team has gone from unranked at the end of one year to #2 at the beginning of the next year since Texas in 2006. (Kentucky ended both the 2013 and 2014 seasons unranked but started the 2014 and 2015 seasons at #1.)
  • UNC opens their season November 10th against Northern Iowa. The first in-season AP poll will post three days later on November 13.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that UNC was #9 in the preseason poll of the 1958-59 season. There was no preseason poll at the time; the first poll of the season came after games had already been played. The 1957-58 season was the one in which UNC defended a title. They were ranked #1 in the first poll taken that year.