Basketball is right around the corner, so what better time to look at UNC’s schedule and rank some of the toughest games on it. Not to get all Buzzfeed-y, but here is a list of the six toughest games on UNC’s schedule this year.
November 30th at #12 Indiana
UNC starts their season off with a non-conference trip to Bloomington for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Assembly Hall is one of the toughest places to play at in all of college basketball, which is one of the reasons the Hoosiers didn’t lose a game at home last season. On top of this is the fact that IU will view this as a revenge game for the 101-86 drubbing UNC gave them back in March during the NCAA tournament. The last time UNC travelled to Bloomington was back in 2012 for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which ended in a 83-59 loss for the Tar Heels.
This should be a matchup of two top 15 teams, featuring similar styles of play. Indiana isn’t the same team they were last year, as they will be missing five players (Yogi Ferrell, Nick Zeisloft, Troy Williams, Max Bielfeldt, and Collin Hartman) who made a total of 228 threes last year. However, they return preseason All-Big Ten guard James Blackmon Jr., who missed most of last year with a knee injury, and center Thomas Bryant. IU fans are also very excited for last year’s breakout freshman OG Anunoby to get more minutes this year with the departure of Troy Williams. Assembly Hall will be rocking for this game, but an experienced Tar Heels squad should be able to handle the noise and pressure on the road.
December 17th vs. #4 Kentucky
UNC will travel to Las Vegas for the CBS Sports Classic to take on the University of Kentucky. As of now, Kentucky is a top 5 team in every preseason poll out there. Barring a UNC loss to Indiana and a Kentucky loss to Michigan State early in the season, both teams should come in to this matchup undefeated. Kentucky once again brings in a stellar top five recruiting class, consisting of five five-star players. By now we know that these players will mesh just fine under John Calipari’s one-and-done system. This could very well be a top five matchup on a national stage between two blue-blood programs. This will be a fun game to watch, and one the Heels are capable of winning.
February 9th at #1 Duke
Whether you like it or not, Duke is without a doubt the team to beat this year. They have future lottery picks across the team and are drawing comparisons to the 2014-15 Kentucky team that went undefeated in regular season play, only to lose in the Final Four to Wisconsin. Is Duke really that good? We won’t truly know until the season gets going, but they definitely have the talent to win it all this year.
The Blue Devils return first team All-ACC player Grayson Allen, who many analysts are picking to be the favorite to win the National Player of the Year. On top of this, Duke is bringing in the number one recruiting class, which is composed of four five-star prospects. The stud of this recruiting haul is projected future number one overall pick, Harry Giles. After undergoing knee surgery back in early October, Giles should be back before ACC play begins. Duke will try their best to mesh veteran players with an incredible freshman class, just as Kentucky did in 2014-2015. Escaping Cameron with a win will be difficult, but not impossible.
February 15th at NC State
NC State is going to be good this year. They have top ten talent on their roster, there is no doubt about that. The Wolfpack are brining in a top five recruiting class including two five stars in Dennis Smith Jr., and Omer Yurtseven. NC State has only beaten UNC three times under Roy Williams who has a 25-3 record all-time against the Wolfpack. They will be gunning for a win for the first time since 2015, and the 4th time since 2004. NC State boats their most talented roster on paper since Williams became the coach at UNC, and expectations are high this year. If Yurtseven is cleared to play and the team meshes as everyone in Raleigh thinks they can, then they could be a very dangerous team in the ACC.
February 22nd vs. #14 Louisville
Surprisingly, Louisville really isn’t much of a mess despite the NCAA breathing down their neck. This claim is backed up by the fact that recruiting really hasn’t died down at all. Louisville is bringing in one player in their most recent recruiting class in five-star freshman, V.J. King. Overall the Cardinals are young and inexperienced, but they will still be a top team in the ACC. Louisville only returns two starters but they have the players to make some real noise this season. They will press and press and will most likely rank in the top 5 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency ranking, just as they have the past six seasons.
The fact that this meeting comes in the middle of UNC’s stretch that includes; at Duke, at NC State, Virginia, Louisville, at Pitt, at Virginia, and concludes with Duke at home, doesn’t bode well for the Tar Heels. Louisville has the athleticism and depth to press the Tar Heels and get after them physically. The timing of this matchup isn’t great for UNC, but playing at home should help them escape with a victory.
February 27th at #7 Virginia
Playing at Virginia is always difficult, but this is heightened as this game comes towards the end of UNC’s seven-game stretch. Virginia did lose starters Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, but this is still a tough Virginia team that is being picked to finish in the top five of the ACC rankings. Coach Tony Bennett’s teams are legit year in and year out (as long as they don’t meet Michigan State in the NCAA tournament), and this game will come when the Heels may be gassed and beaten up, making this matchup one of the toughest of the season.