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Wednesday September 28th

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

<p>The UNC Men's Basketball Team celebrates after beating St. Peter's in the Elite 8 game of the NCAA tournament &nbsp;at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. UNC won 69-49 and advanced to the Final Four. &nbsp;</p>
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The UNC Men's Basketball Team celebrates after beating St. Peter's in the Elite 8 game of the NCAA tournament  at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. UNC won 69-49 and advanced to the Final Four.  

With the men's basketball season right around the corner, North Carolina's schedule was released on Tuesday afternoon, giving fans a glimpse at what’s to come this season.

Just months removed from reaching the national championship game, the Tar Heels will officially tip off the new campaign on Oct. 28 when they take on Johnson C. Smith in an exhibition matchup.

Here’s a look at a few takeaways from the new schedule:

Elite non-conference exposure

Before last season’s March breakthrough, the Tar Heels struggled to defeat quality opponents, evident in losses to Purdue and Tennessee in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off and a 29-point drubbing to Kentucky in Las Vegas. This year, the team will have plenty of early opportunities to see how it stacks up against the nation’s best programs.

Following four particularly light home games to open the year, UNC will head to Portland, Ore. to partake in the Phil Knight Invitational, which features Villanova, Alabama, Connecticut, Michigan State and Iowa State – five teams that made the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Just three days later, the Tar Heels will face Indiana, another tournament team, on the road in a raucous Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

After opening ACC play with a road game at Virginia Tech and hosting Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels will play The Citadel at home before traveling once again to face two other imposing non-conference foes – Ohio State and Michigan.

Head coach Hubert Davis said at last year’s ACC Basketball Tipoff that he wanted his team to play a game at Madison Square Garden. When the Tar Heels take on the Buckeyes in the CBS Sports Classic on Dec. 17, he’ll get his wish. 

The team will then go to Charlotte to face Michigan in the inaugural Jumpman Invitational in a rematch of UNC’s 72-51 win in Chapel Hill last December.

For a team that will likely be looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament throughout much of the regular season, the daunting slate of non-conference opponents should give the Tar Heels a chance to match up against unfamiliar teams to prepare for the unpredictability of tournament scheduling.

Early ACC tests

Many college basketball pundits were quick to announce last season as a “down year” for the ACC, but those claims were quickly put to rest when the conference boasted three teams in the Elite Eight.

Following the ACC/Big Ten matchup against Indiana, the Tar Heels will instantly be tested at Virginia Tech, the reigning ACC Tournament champions, who trounced UNC with a convincing 72-59 win in the semifinals.

North Carolina will begin its long stretch of conference play at Pittsburgh on either Dec. 30 or 31 before coming back home to face Wake Forest and Notre Dame, two teams that finished in the top 5 of the ACC and defeated the Tar Heels a season ago. In its next game, UNC will hit the road to face Virginia – a perennial contender looking to bounce back from last year’s underwhelming 21-14 record. 

Big final month

If the Tar Heels want to secure their first regular season ACC title since 2019, they’re going to have to earn it down the stretch. 

The second half of January will be mostly calm, but UNC’s final six games will arguably be the toughest run of the season, where the team will face a compilation of rivals and tournament mainstays.

The Tar Heels will begin their quest at home on Feb. 13 when they play Miami, a team that led eventual national champion Kansas at halftime in the Elite Eight. After a road game against N.C. State on Feb. 19, UNC will have two more meetings against Notre Dame and Virginia. 

In the final two games of the regular season, UNC will play Florida State in Tallahassee and Duke at home on Senior Night, with the latter contest likely playing a key role in crowning the conference champion.

With a bevy of challenging opponents on the docket heading into the ACC Tournament, the Tar Heels could potentially use these games as a final tune-up before postseason play.  

@hunternelson_1 

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com 

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