UNC plays 12 non-conference opponents this season for certain. A couple of other schools are known possibilities (i.e., preseason tournament, marked by asterisk below). Here is a quick look at all of the programs in schedule order, touching on the head-to-head history in the modern era (since 1949-50):
Wofford College Terriers (Tue., Nov. 6, in Spartanburg, SC)
Location: Spartanburg, SC
Head coach: Mike Young
2017-18 record: 21-13 (11-7 Southern Conference)
Head-to-head: tied 1-1
First matchup: Nov. 11, 2015 (UNC W 75-58)
Most recent matchup: Dec. 20, 2017 (WOFF W 79-75)
Most memorable matchup: Dec. 20, 2017 (WOFF W 79-75)
UNC has the opportunity to confront their biggest recent nightmare when they kick off the season by traveling three hours down I-85 to take on Wofford in Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. The Terriers, representing the third-smallest school in Division I sports, ripped through the Dean Dome last December to stun Carolina and the nation with a 79-75 victory. Fletcher McGee scored 27 points to lead Wofford to an unthinkable upset, as the visitors built a 14-point lead with 13 minutes to play before holding on in the final minutes. The only prior matchup between the programs came in 2015, when UNC rightfully devoured the intended-cupcake for a 17-point home win behind 16 points each from Joel Berry and Brice Johnson.
Elon University Phoenix (Fri., Nov. 9, in Elon, NC)
Location: Elon, NC
Head coach: Matt Matheny
2017-18 record: 14-18 (6-12 Colonial Athletic Association)
Head-to-head: UNC 1-0
First/most recent/most memorable matchup: Dec. 29, 2011 (UNC W 100-62)
Elon is one of three teams on this season’s non-conference schedule that UNC has previously played only once. That was in the Dean Dome over winter break in late 2011, a 38-point rout led by Carolina’s imposing frontcourt – 19 points and 13 rebounds from Tyler Zeller, as well as 16 and 11 from John Henson.
Stanford University Cardinal (Mon., Nov. 12, in Chapel Hill, NC)
Location: Stanford, CA
Head coach: Jerod Haase
2017-18 record: 19-16 (11-7 Pac-12)
Head-to-head: UNC 11-0
First matchup: Dec. 28, 1967 (UNC W 87-78)
Most recent matchup: Nov. 20, 2017 (UNC W 96-72)
Most memorable matchup: Mar. 19, 2000 (UNC W 57-49) (NCAA Second Round)
Carolina has absolutely dominated the Cardinal over the past half-century, sweeping all 11 meetings by a combined 189 points, and has a good chance to make it an even dozen in their home opener this season. Most recently, a first-half three-point barrage by Kenny Williams set up the Heels for an easy victory in their first road game last year, but no win over Stanford comes close in importance to the 2000 coup.
A mediocre UNC team coached by Bill Guthridge in his final season arguably should not have received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament – just ask Virginia, who swept the Heels in the regular season and tied them in the ACC standings, but was snubbed. UNC snuck into the Big Dance as an eight-seed and took full advantage, sliding past the top-seeded Cardinal in a second-round battle to advance to the Sweet 16. A rare Carolina Cinderella made it all the way to its third Final Four in four seasons before falling to Florida.
Tennessee Technological University Golden Eagles (Fri., Nov. 16, in Chapel Hill, NC)
Location: Cookeville, TN
Head coach: Steve Payne
2017-18 record: 19-14 (10-8 Ohio Valley Conference)
Head-to-head: UNC 1-0
First/most recent/most memorable matchup: Dec. 12, 1999 (UNC W 85-59)
During that dream season is also the only time Carolina has played Tennessee Tech. Ed Cota scored 15 points and dished out seven assists in the 26-point win, joining Phil Ford and Kenny Smith as the only Heels at the time to record at least 1,000 points and 500 assists in their careers (Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson, and Marcus Paige have since joined the club — Joel Berry was 50 assists short). Jason Capel scored 21 points, Brendan Haywood added 16, and freshman Joseph Forte chipped in 11. Julius Peppers also made a hook shot and the Heels improved to 7-2 on the young season.
St. Francis (PA) University Red Flash (Mon., Nov. 19, in Chapel Hill, NC)
Location: Loretto, PA
Head coach: Rob Krimmel
2017-18 record: 18-13 (12-6 Northeast Conference)
Head-to-head: UNC 1-0
First/most recent/most memorable matchup: Jan. 2, 2011 (UNC W 103-54)
Carolina will play St. Francis in its third straight Dean Dome outing, the only time the schedule calls for that until a trio of consecutive ACC home games in the beginning of February. Coach Roy Williams hopes this meeting goes as smoothly and balanced as the only prior one with the Red Flash, when a young Heels team pounced on the visitors for a 49-point win behind eight players scoring in double figures. John Henson and Dexter Strickland each scored 13, Leslie McDonald and Reggie Bullock each had 12, Tyler Zeller pitched in 11, and Harrison Barnes, Larry Drew, and Justin Knox each offered 10.
University of Texas Longhorns (Thu., Nov. 22, in Las Vegas, NV) (Las Vegas Invitational)
Location: Austin, TX
Head coach: Shaka Smart
2017-18 record: 19-15 (8-10 Big 12) (L NCAA First Round)
Head-to-head: UT 7-3
First matchup: Dec. 5, 1992 (UNC W 104-68)
Most recent matchup: Dec. 12, 2015 (UT W 84-82)
Most memorable matchup: Mar. 20, 2004 (UT W 78-75) (NCAA Second Round)
Texas is the only foe on UNC’s non-conference slate that holds the edge in the all-time series. It has been particularly troubling for the Heels of late, as the Longhorns have won six of the last seven matchups dating to 1995 (and five since 2009) despite typically fielding inferior teams. The most recent letdown came three years ago in Austin, when the Heels tied the game twice in the final minute but the Longhorns beat them at the horn on an uncontested jumper to squeak out an 84-82 win (because Marcus Paige was fouled down-low on UT’s offensive rebound, but it’s OK).
The most notable contest was in Coach Williams’ first NCAA tournament at UNC in 2004, when third-seeded Texas held off sixth-seeded UNC 78-75 to advance to the Sweet 16. Rashad McCants threw up an airball on the last shot of the season; his toe was on the three-point line anyway. Please, Carolina, let us be able to digest our Thanksgiving meals this year.
*Michigan State University Spartans* (Fri., Nov. 23 or Sat., Nov. 24, in Las Vegas, NV) (Las Vegas Invitational)
Location: Lansing, MI
Head Coach: Tom Izzo
2017-18 record: 30-5 (16-2 Big Ten) (L NCAA Second Round)
Head-to-head: UNC 12-4
First matchup: Mar. 22, 1957 (UNC W 74-70 3OT) (National Semifinal)
Most recent matchup: Nov. 26, 2017 (MSU W 63-45)
Most memorable matchup: Apr. 6, 2009 (UNC W 89-72) (NCAA Championship Game)
Izzo and the Spartans finally defeated Coach Williams last November on their eighth try since the latter Hall of Famer arrived in Chapel Hill. MSU stifled the Heels in the championship game of the PK80 Invitational to win by 18 points, outclassing the defending champs throughout in one of their worst performances of the season (along with Wofford, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, etc., but I digress).
Other than that, the memories come up all roses against the green and white. First, in 1957, Coach Frank McGuire and star Lennie Rosenbluth guided the Heels over the Spartans 74-70 in triple overtime for their 31st of 32 wins in a perfect season. UNC again needed three extra sessions in the final game to prevail 54-53, wrestling away the school’s first national championship in the modern era from Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas. (Sorry, dad, for not marking this one “most memorable,” even though you were only three years old and can’t claim memories, either.)
UNC also defeated the Spartans 87-71 in the Final Four in 2005 on the way to Coach Williams’ first national championship, then sacked them again for all the marbles in 2009 for his second crown. The 17-point title game win was not nearly as close as the final score indicated – it was one of the most thorough destructions on the grandest stage by one of the grandest teams ever.
*University of California, Los Angeles Bruins (UCLA)* (Fri., Nov. 23 or Sat., Nov. 24, in Las Vegas, NV) (Las Vegas Invitational)
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Head coach: Steve Alford
2017-18 record: 21-12 (11-7 Pac-12) (L NCAA First Four)
Head-to-head: UNC 8-3
First matchup: Mar. 23, 1968 (UCLA W 78-55) (NCAA Championship Game)
Most recent matchup: Dec. 19, 2015 (UNC W 89-76)
Most memorable matchup: Mar. 23, 1968 (UCLA W 78-55) (NCAA Championship Game)
Speaking of one of the grandest teams ever: an excellent UNC team had just about no shot against this juggernaut in the 1968 title game. Larry Miller’s 14 points and Charlie Scott’s 12 were dwarfed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who scored 34 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to lead the Bruins to their fourth national championship in five years; UCLA would go on to win five more titles in a row.
Since then, though, Carolina has controlled the series, losing only one game since 1986. Three years ago, Brice Johnson scored 27 points and tallied nine rebounds to help UNC break out of a halftime tie and cruise to a win over the Bruins in the CBS Sports Classic in Brooklyn.
University of Michigan Wolverines (Wed., Nov. 28, in Ann Arbor, MI)
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Head coach: John Beilein
2017-18 record: 33-8 (13-5 Big Ten) (L NCAA Championship Game)
Head-to-head: UNC 4-2
First matchup: Mar. 14, 1987 (UNC W 109-97) (NCAA Second Round)
Most recent matchup: Nov. 29, 2017 (UNC W 86-71)
Most memorable matchup: Apr. 5, 1993 (UNC W 77-71) (NCAA Championship Game)
Carolina welcomed Michigan to the Dean Dome last season as part of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. While both teams shot the lights out early, the Heels stormed past the Wolverines for a comfortable win, and now they will return the favor with a trip up north to visit the defending national runner-up.
On that topic of Michigan as a finalist, last year’s game was the first showdown between the schools since the infamous 1993 title game, which could explain precisely why it took so long for Michigan to schedule the Heels. Chris Webber took a timeout the Wolverines didn’t have in the final seconds, causing a technical foul that effectively ended any chance Michigan had to tie and/or win the championship. After all, that’s all Webber’s blunder did, despite the decades-long bellyaching that ignores the fact that Michigan was trailing the game by two points at the time anyway. If you ask me, an error like JR Smith’s in a tie game is far worse.
University of North Carolina, Wilmington Seahawks (UNC-W) (Wed., Dec. 5, in Chapel Hill, NC)
Location: Wilmington, NC
Head coach: C.B. McGrath
2017-18 record: 11-21 (7-11 Colonial Athletic Association)
Head-to-Head: UNC 3-0
First matchup: Dec. 28, 2003 (UNC W 71-54)
Most recent matchup: Dec. 31, 2013 (UNC W 84-51)
Most memorable matchup: Dec. 28, 2003 (UNC W 71-54)
All three previous meetings with the Seahawks have been relative snooze fests, all played the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. In 2003, Melvin Scott scored a team-high 19 points to lead a 17-point win in Coach Williams’ eighth game at UNC to bounce back from a heartbreaking triple-overtime defeat to Wake Forest. The next season, Carolina stretched the margin of victory to 21 points behind 25 from Jawad Williams. Lastly, in 2013, James Michael McAdoo scored 23 points, Marcus Paige had 15, and Brice Johnson and Leslie McDonald each added 14 as the Heels cruised to a 33-point whooping.
Gonzaga University Bulldogs (Sat., Dec. 15, in Chapel Hill, NC)
Location: Spokane, WA
Head coach: Mark Few
2017-18 record: 32-5 (17-1 West Coast Conference) (L Elite Eight)
Head-to-head: UNC 2-1
First matchup: Nov. 22, 2006 (GONZ W 82-74)
Most recent matchup: Apr. 3, 2017 (UNC W 71-65) (NCAA Championship Game)
Most memorable matchup: Apr. 3, 2017 (UNC W 71-65) (NCAA Championship Game)
UNC overcame Gonzaga in an ugly foul-filled title game in 2017 to win Williams’ third national championship. Down two points with under two minutes left, Theo Pinson found a cutting Justin Jackson for a layup plus a foul to take the lead. Then followed some stifling Carolina defense, clutch offensive execution, and a controversial missed call when Kennedy Meeks’ hand touched out of bounds but UNC kept possession. The Heels prevailed by six points, and the existential importance of this victory for the program following a gut-wrenching loss in the 2016 national final cannot be understated (although no doubt Gonzaga fans are thinking, “Can’t we have just one?”).
Carolina also passed through Gonzaga on its way to the 2009 championship, downing the Bulldogs 98-77 in the Sweet 16. These two victories have done more than enough to make up for losing the first meeting in the series in the 2006 NIT Season Tip-Off in Madison Square Garden.
University of Kentucky Wildcats (Sat., Dec. 22, in Chicago, IL) (CBS Sports Classic)
Location: Lexington, KY
Head coach: John Calipari
2017-18 record: 26-11 (10-8 Southeastern Conference) (L NCAA Sweet 16)
Head-to-head: UNC 21-15
First matchup: Jan. 9, 1950 (UK W 83-44)
Most recent matchup: Mar. 26, 2017 (UNC W 75-73) (NCAA Elite Eight)
Most memorable matchup: Mar. 26, 2017 (UNC W 75-73) (NCAA Elite Eight)
Before the Heels could even reach the 2017 title game, though, they had to engage in an all-time classic against Kentucky in the regional final. It looked as if the Heels were going to fade down the stretch, but a key (and welcome!) timeout by Coach Williams around the five-minute mark turned the tide. Carolina then raced past the Wildcats to build a seven-point lead in the final minute before promptly blowing it with help from a white hot Malik Monk. A UNC sophomore reserve by the name of Luke Maye then saved the day, taking a pass from Pinson in transition and swishing a long two-pointer with 0.3 seconds on the clock to avoid overtime and send the Heels to the Final Four.
I am trying to resist my millennial instincts in fairness to the lengthy history of this Blue Blood rivalry, but I think this truly was the most classic of the 36 matchups in the modern era. A shout out mention to the 1995 Elite Eight, when Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, and company led the Heels to a 74-61 win to beat Kentucky for the sixth-straight time and advance to the Final Four.
I imagine Wildcats fans would offer a few options of their own with the opposite result, since this is indeed one of the premiere non-conference, non-division rivalries in all of sports. One might be the contest just three months before the Luke Maye legend, when Monk exploded for 47 points including the game-winning three-pointer in the final 20 seconds of a 103-100 shootout at the CBS Sports Classic. This year’s game will again be part of that event, only in Chicago instead of Las Vegas. There has been a glut of epic battles between the two schools, both regular and postseason, both UNC wins and losses. The Heels have a more extensive history with Kentucky than any other team on their non-conference slate. Surprisingly, though, none of the three dozen showdowns has gone to overtime.
Davidson College Wildcats (Sat., Dec. 29, in Chapel Hill, NC)
Location: Davidson, NC
Head coach: Bob McKillop
2017-18 record: 21-12 (13-5 Atlantic 10) (L NCAA First Round)
Head-to-head: UNC 20-2
First matchup: Jan. 7, 1950 (UNC W 63-53)
Most recent matchup: Dec. 1, 2017 (UNC W 85-75)
Most memorable matchup: Mar. 16, 1968 (UNC W 70-66) (NCAA Regional Final)
UNC also has quite a track record with in-state Davidson. For only the second time, though, that historical script was flipped in 2001. Coming off a brutal season-opening loss at home to Hampton, Carolina fell again in the Dean Dome to the Wildcats by four points for Davidson’s first and only victory in the series since 1952. In 92 years, the Heels had never started a season by dropping their first two games at home. Then again, UNC would go on to finish the season with a pitiful 8-20 record, the worst season in school history.
Interestingly enough, while Carolina hasn’t lost to Davidson since, doing so these days wouldn’t be very embarrassing at all. The Wildcats, who have lost by more than 12 points to the Heels (which was in overtime) just twice in the last six outings, have developed into one of the finest mid-major programs in the country. That was on display last season when Davidson made UNC scratch and claw its way to a 10-point win in Charlotte, and now the Wildcats return to the Dean Dome this year.
In fact, back in Coach Smith’s first decade at UNC, the Heels defeated the Wildcats in consecutive Regional Finals in 1968 and 1969 by respective scores of 70-66 and 87-85. Charlie Scott and Rusty Clark scored a combined 88 points in the two narrow wins. UNC was crushed by Purdue by 27 points in the 1969 Final Four after naturally falling to UCLA in the 1968 title game, so perhaps Baby Boomer Heels fans more fondly remember the first postseason triumph over Davidson. In any event, the Wildcats have been pushing the Heels for some time.
Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry also made his mark on this friendly rivalry. He scored 24 points to nearly shock the No. 1 Heels early in the 2007-08 season as the Davidson program was just starting to gain national recognition. UNC survived in Charlotte 72-68 behind 20 points from Wayne Ellington.
Harvard University Crimson (Wed., Jan. 2, in Chapel Hill, NC)
Location: Cambridge, MA
Head coach: Tommy Amaker
2017-18 record: 18-14 (12-2 Ivy League)
Head-to-head: UNC 3-0
First matchup: Dec. 29, 1969 (UNC W 92-74)
Most recent matchup: Mar. 19, 2015 (UNC W 67-65) (NCAA First Round)
Most memorable matchup: Mar. 19, 2015 (UNC W 67-65) (NCAA First Round)
True story: Before the brackets were unveiled in 2015, I knew UNC would play Harvard in the first round. I can’t say why, other than educated guesses on the seeds, locations, etc. But I knew and I knew it would not be easy. Lo and behold, the Crimson did not go away and just about near won the game. Harvard erased a 16-point second-half deficit to take a 65-63 lead on a three-point play with 1:15 to go, but ex-Dukie Amaker’s squad couldn’t hold on.
Justin Jackson scored two huge buckets in the last minute and the Crimson missed a three-point attempt in the final seconds as Carolina lived on. The Heels won their next game over Arkansas before succumbing to top-seeded Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. Other than that, though, the history between the schools is limited, with the only other contests being a pair of 18-point UNC victories in the Charlie Scott/Bob McAdoo era.