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Breaking down UNC’s 2019-2020 non-conference schedule

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The Heels have 11 non-conference games. Let’s check them out.

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

Yesterday, UNC men’s basketball released their 2019-2020 non-conference schedule. The release always feels like an early Christmas present, especially because UNC often plays a tough, challenging slate. Per KenPom, among power conference programs last season, only Kansas and Oklahoma played a tougher non-conference slate. Guess that road game at Wofford wasn’t such a bad idea, eh? But I digress.

Next year’s lineup consists of the usual mix of big name programs, a early-season tournament, and some mid and low-major money games. In total, there are eight regularly schedule games and three games to played at the Battle for Atlantis. If that seems a little light compared to recent years, you would be correct.

The ACC will expand their season from 18 to 20 games, taking away two dates that used to be available for the non-conference schedule. We can all thank the ACC Network for that decision. We can also thank the new conference network for the Heels opening their season against Notre Dame, before the non-conference schedule even begins. (In case you weren’t aware, Duke is the only ACC team not opening their season against an ACC opponent).

With those formalities out of the way, here’s a quick analysis of the opponents. I’m sure we’ll go more in depth as the season draws closer. Away games are in bold. Neutral games are in italics.

November 8th, AT UNC-Wilmington
2018-19 Record: 10-23
KenPom: 272

As has turned into a regular tradition, the Heels will travel inside the state of North Carolina and serve as the main attractions for a smaller program. Following in the footsteps of UNC-Asheville, Elon, and Davidson in recent years, the Seahawks will host the Tar Heels. Former UNC assistant C.B. McGrath will be entering his third season as the head coach for UNC-W. You can connect the dots.

November 15th, vs Gardner-Webb
2018-2019 Record: 23-10 (#16 seed)
KenPom: 163

Gardner-Webb will make the trip to Chapel Hill for UNC’s first home game of the season. The Bulldogs from the Big South conference made the NCAA Tournament last year, where they fell about 20 minutes short of upsetting Virginia as the #16 seed.

November 20th, vs Elon
2018-2019 Record: 11-21
KenPom: 309

Last year the Heels went to Elon to christen a brand new arena. The Phoenix will make the return trip prior to Thanksgiving. It will be the only game over a 12 day stretch after the Gardner-Webb game ad before the Battle for Atlantis.

November 27-29th, Battle for Atlantis (Paradise Islands, Bahamas)
Participants: Gonzaga(#1), Oregon(#12), Seton Hall(#10), Southern Mississippi, Michigan(#2), Iowa State(#6), Alabama

The eight-team format will give the Heels three games against *potentially* quality opponents. The matchups aren’t known yet, but it’s a safe bet that Gonzaga and UNC will be on opposite sides of the bracket as they’ll play each other three weeks after this event. With six total 2019 NCAA participants in the field (including UNC), there’s no guarantee either of those teams make the title game. (The seeds of each team in last year’s NCAAT are listed).

December 4th, vs Ohio State (ACC-B1G Challenge)
2018-19 Record: 20-15 (#11 Seed)
KenPom: 44

Chris Holtman enters his third season as the Buckeye head coach. The Heels defeated Ohio State in Holtman’s first season, back in 2017 on a neutral court. This time the ACC-B1G Challenge sends the Buckeyes to Chapel Hill. North Carolina is is only .500 all-time in the series with a 10-10 record. They are 5-4 at home. Ohio State is even worse at 7-11 all-time and 2-5 on the road.

December 15th, vs Wofford
2018-19 Record: 30-5 (#7 Seed)
KenPom: 18

For the third straight season, the Terriers and Heels will face off. Wofford walked away victorious the last time they came to Chapel Hill, earning a 79-75 decision. This time though, there is no Fletcher McGee or Cameron Jackson. They don’t eve have the same head coach after Mike Young left for Virginia Tech after last season’s Elite Eight run.

December 18th, AT Gonzaga
2018-19 Record: 33-4 (#1 Seed)
KenPom: 2

North Carolina will head west and repay the Zags for making the cross-country trek last year to the Dean Dome. It won’t be an easy task. Since the McCarthy Athletic Center opened in 2003, Gonzaga has an overall record of 209-15 and 96-8 in non-conference games. Some of that is boosted by dominating a weaker conference and some of that is caused by opponents ducking the Zags. Whatever the reason, The Kennel has proven to be one of the toughest environments to play.=

December 21st, vs UCLA (CBS Champions Classic, Las Vegas, NV)
2018-19 Record: 17-16
KenPom: 102

These two teams met last season in Las Vegas when both squads had their sights set on a deep March run. North Carolina made it March. UCLA did not. Neither did their coach, Steve Alford. With new Mick Cronin facing a rebuild for the Bruins, this game could lose some of its luster by the time December comes around. North Carolina leads the all-time series 9-3 and have won the last four meetings between the two teams

December 30th, vs Yale
2018-19 Record: 22-8 (#14 Seed)
KenPom: 77

It will be the first meeting between the programs since 1980. North Carolina holds a 6-0 all-time series lead. Yale has won the Ivy League three times in the last five years, so the program will bring a strong pedigree when they close out 2019 at UNC. It was Yale that bounced Baylor in 2016 and gave us this all-time quote.

There you have it. At a minimum, North Carolina play five teams that made the NCAA Tournament last season. Depending how the Battle for Atlantis evolves, UNC could play as many as 8 of their 11 non-conference games against 2019 NCAA Tournament teams. Not too shabby.

Of course, we would be failing you if we didn’t point out that Roy will take the team on two more true road games. It is the third straight year that North Carolina has independently scheduled multiple “true” road games (games that are at an opponents actual home gym and not a part of the ACC-B1G Challenge). That should be commended since many programs can be pretty stubborn when it comes to traveling. Duke, for example, hasn’t played on an opposing campus since 2008.

However, before we can get to any of that, circle your calendars for November 6th. The ACC season will tip-off two days before the trip to UNC-Wilmington, when Notre Dame travels to Chapel Hill to take on the Heels. Because nothing says ACC basketball like Heels-Irish in November. Right?

(Note: I originally stated that UNC will travel to Notre Dame to open the season. That was incorrect. Please forgive me.)