Yesterday was the release of the 2018-19 UNC non-conference schedule. We’ll go over all of the games in more detail later today, but one game caused a bit of a stir:
It turns out that Carolina will help Elon open up their brand new Schar Center on November 9th. The 5,000+ seat arena couldn’t have asked for a better opponent, and the draw certainly will help the Phoenix for the rest of the season as the only way to guarantee a seat at the game is to buy a season ticket. It’s an extraordinary event that is rare in college basketball these days.
Normally, a team at the level of Elon will never get a home game against a P5 opponent, let alone one that is in their back yard. It also never would have happened under Roy Williams’ mentor Dean Smith.
Famously, one of the biggest pieces of advice that Frank McGuire gave Smith was to never schedule in-state opponents. Smith strictly held to that philosophy, as the only game late in his career he intentionally scheduled with an in-state opponent was when Randy Wiel was the head coach at UNC-Asheville, and the Tar Heels played UNCA in 1994 and 1995. Beyond that, in-state non-conference opponents would only see Carolina in the NCAA Tournament.
That changed under Roy Williams. In his first season, 2003, Williams took his team to Charlotte to face Davidson and played UNC-Wilmington on a neutral court later on. Unlike the game against Asheville, there was no direct tie to this in-state opponent, it was just quality competition.
The theory behind both philosophies is the actually the same, just applied in different ways. An in-state opponent will have some extra motivation against the “big brother” of the state, which increases the level of competition against a team that otherwise should provide an easy game. It was a chance that Smith didn’t want to take, as he knew his other non-conference opponents and the ACC would pose a difficult enough challenge without throwing that wrench in their path.
Williams, on the other hand, seems to feel that the extra level of competition is exactly what the team needs to face. One could argue it provides a very real simulation to the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. So, starting with that 2003 contest against Davidson, Williams has made it a point to include at least one in-state opponent on the slate. The games have provided the challenges that Williams would have wanted, not allowing the team to nap in a game that otherwise may be taken lightly.
This won’t even be the first time that Carolina has helped an in-state opponent open a brand new arena. In 2011, Carolina stopped over in Asheville to open up the Kimmel Arena. It was a contest that was 48 hours after the famous game on the deck of the aircraft carrier, and a prime opportunity for a let down. That team went on to win against a sellout crowd after traveling across the country to play.
That said, is there any reason why Williams would provide such a big favor to one of the other schools in state? A possible answer for this could be found on the Elon coaching roster. There are two former Tar Heels on the staff, including Jack Wooten and J.B. Tanner. Both were on the 2009 squad that won Williams his second national title, and both have been at Elon for multiple seasons. There’s also a connection to their other in-state opponent, UNC-Wilimington, as longtime assistant C.B. McGrath will be entering his second season helming the Seahawks squad. It’s absolutely possible the Tar Heels will travel down to Wilmington at some point.
The scene at Elon ought to be electric on November 9th, as its not every day a school gets to open a new basketball arena. Hopefully this christening will go as well as the last one Carolina went to seven years ago.