Yesterday afternoon, UNC released their 2017-18 men’s basketball schedule. In terms of who UNC is playing or how many times they are playing some teams in the ACC, there are no surprises to be found with those match-ups having been available to the public for quite some time now. What is new on this schedule, however, are the dates, times, and networks that each game will be featured on.
Looking specifically at the ACC schedule, we finally know the order in which UNC will play all of their conference games. After review, there are three things that stand out in the schedule that are worth noting.
The First 5 Games
Fans of any ACC team know that the conference schedule leaves very little room to be kind to any team due to how strong the conference is every year. Some teams may have a good mix of home and away games without too many away games back to back, some may be in a home-and-home rotation with weaker teams in the conference, and some might avoid getting the cream of the crop right at the tail end of their schedule.
UNC does not have a particularly easy five-game stretch at the beginning of ACC play. While it absolutely could be a worse situation for the Heels, this is still going to be a beginning to conference play that will test them early.
The first game in conference play is against Wake Forest in the Dean Smith Center, which will be followed by a trip to Tallahassee less than a week later to take on Florida State. These two games by themselves don’t look very daunting, but then UNC will have a three-day turnaround before they end up in Charlottesville to take on the Virginia Cavaliers. This will be the first time that they have had to face Virginia on the road in January since 2014. The Heels then come home on January 9th to take on Boston College, and will top off the first five games by heading to South Bend to face Bonzie Colson and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The good news about this part of the schedule is that, while there will be freshmen in vital roles that will be experiencing ACC play for the first time, there is also plenty of veteran leadership that will be able to guide the them. On top of the returning UNC upperclassmen, graduate transfer Cameron Johnson will also make his debut in conference play wearing Carolina Blue. There should be no surprises awaiting Johnson, who is expected to fill some pretty big shoes left behind by Justin Jackson.
The bad news about this part of the schedule: these are rather difficult venues to play in. While this is something that can be said about a lot of places in the conference, Virginia has been especially unkind to UNC in recent history. The saving grace during this stretch will be playing Boston College at home. Should UNC struggle on the road, they will at least have that game to hopefully gain some composure before they head out to South Bend.
The 3 True Road Games in Non-Conference
If there is one thing that UNC fans should forever be thankful for when it comes to Roy Williams, it is that he is not afraid to schedule true road games for the non-conference schedule. This year, three true road games were scheduled against Stanford, Davidson, and Tennessee.
Last year UNC faced Tulane, Hawaii, and Indiana for their road games. The first two games went really well for UNC, as they won both of those games by comfortable margins. However, things did not go so well when they travelled to Bloomington to face Indiana. In a matchup part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, UNC looked completely out of sorts the entire game. A good amount of this could be attributed to the fact that Hoosier fans made things very difficult on them the entire game.
Looking at these three games, it is safe to say that Stanford and Tennessee will prove to be reasonable challenges for UNC. Tennessee specifically is a team that is already familiar with the Heels, as they took them down to the wire in the Dean Smith Center before eventually losing the game 73-71 last season. These should be fun games to watch, and hopefully will be beneficial to the team’s growth as they prepare for ACC play.
The Final 7 Games
UNC’s last seven games of the season presents quite the gauntlet that begins and ends with Duke. Following the Duke game UNC gets one day of rest before having to take on NC State, and then following that with yet another day of rest before taking on Notre Dame. While we don’t really know what to expect from NC State under new head coach Kevin Keatts, these are still rough turnarounds nonetheless especially considering two of the games involve both Tobacco Road rivals.
Following the Notre Dame game, UNC does get a few days of rest (finally) but things do not get any easier. The final stretch of the schedule consists of Louisville at the Yum! Center, Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, Miami at home, and finally: Duke at Cameron for Grayson Allen’s Senior Night.
One can expect that Roy Williams will have his team at the top of their game come February, as that has more often than not been the case during his tenure at UNC. However, this will still be quite a task to take on in the final stretch of the season - especially considering that the final games will weigh that much heavier on seeding for the ACC Tournament (and the regular season title in general). It will be very interesting to see how UNC handles it, and it could potentially paint a clearer picture as to what to expect from them in the NCAA Tournament in March.