Fans of UNC basketball got a clearer picture of what the team’s 2017-2018 schedule would look like on Thursday, as the team’s non-conference schedule and conference home-away splits were announced. The former can be found here, and the latter can be found here. Let’s take a look at the most interesting parts:
- The biggest story of UNC’s non-conference schedule is the Phil Knight Invitational Tournament, or PK80. While UNC and Duke are participating, the event has two separate brackets, and as such, there will be no Tobacco Road matchup before ACC play. This doesn’t mean there isn’t storyline potential, though: Two of UNC’s potential opponents in the PK80 were teams that the Heels beat on their way to the 2017 National Championship, namely Arkansas and Oregon. Both programs will undoubtedly be looking for revenge, especially given how close those games were. Michigan State is also in UNC’s bracket, and for UNC fans, watching Roy Williams continue his dominance of Tom Izzo will never get old. Additionally, MSU has been getting press as an early Final Four favorite, and if the UNC-MSU match does happen, it might be one of the best games of the year.
- Two teams that gave the 2016-17 Heels a couple of unexpected scares in the Dean Dome last year will try their luck again, at home this time. On December 1st, UNC will play Davidson in Charlotte for the first time since the 2014-15 season. Two weeks later, after exams, the team will travel to Knoxville and take on Tennessee. UNC did play against both of those teams without Joel Berry, which surely had an effect on how close the games were, but Bob McKillop will be looking to improve upon a down year and Rick Barnes can’t be underestimated, especially coming off of exam week. Roy Williams should be commended for scheduling non-cupcake road games, because with big name coaches and programs, that is far from given.
- As the first part of a home-and-home agreed upon last December, UNC will fly to California to play Stanford for the first time since 2002. This coincides with former Roy Williams assistant Jerod Haase’s second year with the Cardinal. It’s always heartwarming to see how Roy Williams continues to check up on his coaching tree, even if it means a cross-country flight. Additionally, this matchup will provide the chance for some catharsis for UNC football fans after the narrow loss to Stanford in the 2016 Sun Bowl.
- The ACC-Big Ten Challenge will bring Michigan to Chapel Hill, which will be the first time the two programs have met since, well, this:
I think that says plenty.
- Compared to last year, during which the Heels played most of their toughest opponents at home, the Heels have a somewhat friendlier home slate this time around. The ACC is never easy, but of the ACC opponents that UNC will only face once, they will play against Miami, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and Pittsburgh at home. UNC will hopefully be looking to avenge last year’s worst losses, namely the ones against Miami and Georgia Tech. The Pittsburgh game, of course, will carry special importance for Cameron Johnson, who will have no shortage of motivation to play against the school that tried to rob him of the freedom he deserved. Boston College and Wake Forest seem to be on the way up after several down years. As the ACC goes, however, this is a fairly kind home lineup, the kind that hopefully will give a largely young team some confidence in their ability to protect home court.
- Of course, the other side to this is that Carolina has some tough travels coming in the ACC. The Heels will play Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Louisville on the road. That group of five contains a #3 seed (FSU), a #5 seed (Virginia), and a #2 seed (Louisville) from the 2017 NCAA Tournament, which pretty much speaks for itself. All three teams have significant rebuilding to do, but they are all well-coached and very good at maintaining excellence. Jim Boeheim of Syracuse can never be counted out, especially at the Carrier Dome, even if he didn’t have the best 2016-17 season. The Tar Heels had just better hope these games aren’t scheduled too cruelly.
- Clemson and Notre Dame are UNC’s two home-and-away opponents that have been decided by the scheduling cycle, joining Duke and NCSU as opponents that UNC will play twice during the regular season. This means, of course, that it is once again time for UNC to try to maintain its homecourt dominance of Clemson, a story that endlessly repeats but never gets old. Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson will be one of the best tests all year for UNC’s young interior, and getting to play him twice is both blessing and curse. It will be a valuable learning experience, but it might also be painful for fans to watch at times. And I don’t think I need to add anything to the in-state rivalry games to increase your anticipation for them.
The season draws ever closer. As always, Go Heels!