There is no greater feeling as a North Carolina Tar Heel fan than checking the calendar and seeing that the opening game of the season is only days away. If it feels like the season is starting earlier this year than normal, it’s because it’s true.
But just because the season is starting earlier, it does not mean the Tar Heels will be able to ease their way into the schedule with cupcakes. This year, the season will open up against Notre Dame, a team who is much improved over last year. They bring back John Mooney and Rex Pflueger to lead one of the most experienced teams in the ACC.
However, the tough schedule to begin the season could become a real blessing in disguise for the Tar Heels. It’s no secret that this year’s team will rely heavily on a group of guys who aren’t the most experienced. When you just look at the starting five from the Friday night exhibition, four guys made their first start in a Tar Heel jersey, with Garrison Brooks being the only one with previous starting experience.
That’s not to say the Tar Heels lack talent. They have a guy in Cole Anthony whom many are calling the best freshman in the country. But there is a good chance that this team could experience growing pains as they try to fit a lot of pieces into the puzzle that is the 2019-2020 team.
At first glance of the schedule this year, there seems to be many chances for this North Carolina team to prove themselves before the turn of the year. Normally the saying would be “before conference play begins”, but the Tar Heels will play Notre Dame and Virginia before the calendar strikes 2020, so they will need to be sharp early on if they hope to contend for an ACC championship again.
All of these schedule changes are due to the conference changing to a twenty game conference schedule, which caused some of the games to be pushed up into the first half of the season.
But even looking outside of the two conference games the Tar Heels will play before January, there are also a handful of games on the schedule against some really good teams. In fact, there’s a chance that North Carolina could face off against Gonzaga twice in a span of twenty days, due to the Bulldogs being in the field for the Battle4Atlantis.
With the amount of roster flux the Tar Heels had, I’m sure that the coaching staff is excited about putting this team to the test early. The Tar Heels have had tougher non-conference schedules before, but with the roster outlook of this year’s team, I don’t think that they could have dialed up a better schedule for this team. They will have some chances to get their feet wet against lesser-talented teams, but they will undoubtedly be tested against the likes of Gonzaga, Ohio State, and UCLA.
And on top of that, we all know that Roy Williams-led teams are like a fine wine, they get better with time. Incorporating a freshman point guard, albeit a talented one, as well as a new shooting guard and center into the starting lineup will be a challenge.
There will be moments where, as fans, we will want to yank our hair out, because that is how these things always go early in the year. We still may not know how good this team truly is until the calendar flips to January. But one thing I think we will be able to confirm early on is that this year’s version of the North Carolina Tar Heels will be one of the more exciting, hungry, and competitive teams we have seen in a few years.