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Assessing UNC basketball’s 2018-2019 ACC opponents

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic following the release of next season’s ACC opponents.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, the ACC released men’s basketball opponents for the 2018-2019 season. Though not a final product, it helped put together a few more pieces of the puzzle for an experienced Tar Heel squad. We do not know the times or dates of the games, so waiting for verification that UNC will not be forced to play three games in five days will require some patience. No need to worry though. A quick glance at the few details we currently have should make most Tar Heel fans optimistic.

This past season saw an incredibly difficult schedule culminate in an 11-7 ACC reccord, thanks to road losses at NCAA Tournament participants Florida State, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Clemson, and Duke. Only the Blue Devils and Tigers had to return the favors and play in Chapel Hill (both UNC wins). Using this season as a barometer for next season’s teams (which is dangerous, but all we have at the moment), next year’s slate may not quite measure up to that difficult standard.

Home and Home (8 games): Duke, NC State, Louisville, Miami
Home (5 games): Florida State, Notre Dame, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Syracuse
Road (5 games): Georgia Tech, Clemson, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Boston College

It’s early. Rosters aren’t settled. Players will explore their NBA draft options and recruting classes aren’t quite finalized. Teams can and will drastically improve or regress from one season to the next. However, it’s hard not to breathe a sigh of relief after last season’s adventures.

Four of the five teams that will host UNC, without having to visit the Dean Dome, finished in the bottom four of the league this past season. Only Clemson had a winning ACC record, and will lose at least two senior starters, Gabe Devoe and Donte Grantham. They are awaiting final word from their two junior guards, Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell, who will enter the NBA draft without hiring an agent. There is never an off night in the ACC, but those opponents carry a very different aura than this past winter’s road games.

Of course, that means that UNC’s home-only opponents can be expected to be a little more stout. Of those five opponents, only Notre Dame didn’t make the NCAA tournament, thanks to Bonzie Colson’s extended absence with a broken foot. It’s a fair assumption that next year’s UNC team, after losing their battle-hardened leaders in Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson, will likely need the encouragement from the Tar Heel faithful for key stretches of those games.

Finally, UNC may have received another small favor from the ACC headquarters in Greensboro. The home-and-home series with NC State and Duke are always guaranteed, but Louisville and Miami may prove to be beneficial pairings. Louisville’s current turmoil and player defections could make it difficult for new head coach Chris Mack to improve on David Padgett’s impressive season. Down in Coral Gables, Miami has already bid farewell to Lonnie Walker and Bruce Bowen to the NBA draft, and replacing their production will prove problematic. Even the most doom-and-gloom fans have to realize that there are plenty of reasons to think positive thoughts.

Here’s the deal: the ACC is always tough. Nobody is prediciting a cake walk through the league. Injuries happen (sorry, Bonzie). Players emerge into starrring roles (hi, Luke!). Coaches can find first year success (looking at you, Keatts). Teams can finally find that elusive chemistry (everyone wave at Clemson). Not to mention, UNC has two major question marks (point guard, low-post production).

However, we all watched Duke take advantage of their home-and-home series with Pitt (winless in the ACC) and Wake Forest (4 ACC wins) in four out of their first eight games last season, Meanwhile, UNC stumbled to a 5-5 start, thanks in part to losses at UVA, FSU, Virginia Tech and Clemson. Schedules do impact the season, but early analysis makes this particular schedule seem manageable.

Without a true round-robin schedule, these unbalanced formats can be maddening. Some years, they’re borderline depressing. Fortunately, if you’re looking for optimism heading into next season, yesterday delivered.