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Thursday September 29th

Analysis: Three takeaways from the UNC women's basketball schedule release

UNC sophomore guard Alyssa Utsby (1) drives for a layup during the second round of the NCAA Tournament against the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, on Saturday, March 21, 2022. Carolina won 63-45 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Buy Photos UNC sophomore guard Alyssa Utsby (1) drives for a layup during the second round of the NCAA Tournament against the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, on Saturday, March 21, 2022. Carolina won 63-45 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

Last week, the North Carolina women's basketball team unveiled its full 2022-2023 schedule.

With former top high school prospects like Teonni Key and Kayla McPherson returning from injury, North Carolina will have new weapons at their disposal. Combine this with the returning core of juniors Deja Kelly, Alyssa Ustby, Kennedy Todd-Williams and Anya Poole, and UNC will look to reach another Sweet 16 — if not trek further into March. 

Here are a few takeaways from North Carolina’s schedule:

A more challenging non-conference schedule

Last year, UNC powered through its 10-game non-conference schedule, beating its opponents by an average of 36.2 points. None of those teams were ranked by the end of the season, while North Carolina finished the season at No. 17 in the final AP poll.

With several competitive invitationals and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in the opening months of the season, the Tar Heels will not be taking the easy path this year. 

In July, UNC announced its matchup against Indiana on Dec. 1, and has since added the Phil Knight Invitational tournament and a Jumpman Invitational bout against Michigan to its non-conference schedule. 

These difficult matchups against Power Five teams should get UNC primed for another tough ACC schedule, as well as increase the team’s likelihood of securing a higher seed in postseason play.

Another year of tough conference tests

Much like recent seasons, this year will feature a tough slate of conference opponents for the Tar Heels.

Seven other ACC teams made the 2022 NCAA Tournament last season. Furthermore, UNC and three other ACC teams — Louisville, N.C. State and Notre Dame — advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. 

Immediately following the Jumpman Invitational, the Tar Heels will jump into ACC play with a home matchup against Florida State on Dec. 29. UNC will then travel to Blacksburg, Virginia, to take on the Hokies — a team sitting in the top 15 of ESPN’s Way-Too-Early rankings.

In January and February, UNC will compete in six games against teams that were ranked in the AP Top 25 at the end of last season. Half of these games will be on the road, including what should be demanding matches against N.C. State, Virginia Tech and Louisville.

Seeking revenge in the ACC Tournament

After a difficult slate of conference competition, the Tar Heels will head to Greensboro to compete in the 2023 ACC Tournament. The event will be held March 1-5 at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex.

In last year’s ACC Tournament, UNC earned a double-bye into the quarterfinal round. Head coach Courtney Banghart credited this at the time to her team proving themselves "week after week."

Despite the team's hard work to reach that point, then-No. 16 UNC eventually lost in overtime against No. 21 Virginia Tech after allowing a 14-2 Hokies scoring run in the game's final minutes.

Come March, the Tar Heels will look to avenge last year’s early exit and break their streak of three-straight conference tournament losses under Banghart.

With added depth at center thanks to Key, UNC should be better fit to contend with the powerful forwards of the conference such as Elizabeth Kitley of Virginia Tech, Eleah Parker of the University of Virginia, Maddy Westbeld of Notre Dame and Nerea Hermosa of Georgia Tech. Add in McPherson and incoming first-year guard Paulina Paris, and North Carolina will be more equipped to keep its legs fresh throughout the tournament's grueling schedule.

@shelbymswanson 

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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