CHARLOTTE, N.C. — At last year's ACC Tipoff, North Carolina women's basketball head coach Courtney Banghart remembers feeling as if her team was "flying under the radar."
But after starting last season on a 13-game win streak and returning to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2015, it's impossible not to pay attention to UNC. During Tuesday's interviews at the ACC's annual preseason event, Banghart acknowledged that her team isn't being underestimated this season.
"Now, the target is big on our back," she said.
This UNC squad has all the makings of a team well-equipped for a deep postseason run: defensive anchors, experienced guards and a coach that has had plenty of time to implement her system. The Tar Heels enter this season with plenty of expectations from both themselves and their opponents, and the burden is on them to make it over the hump into national contention.
Banghart – entering her fourth season at North Carolina – said she was used to having a target on her back while dominating the Ivy League at Princeton. The UNC players on the other hand? Not so much.
“I don't know if they (are ready for a target on their back) in the form of the adversity that comes with that," Banghart said. "I don't know how they'll handle that because they haven't seen it yet.”
Last season, UNC played a weak non-conference schedule that garnered very few wins of the sort that would catch the eye of the NCAA Tournament selection committee. That's all changing this fall, as UNC will face off against formidable power five opponents like Oregon, Indiana and Michigan away from the comfort of Carmichael Arena.
Banghart said she crafted this schedule with the goal of earning a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. Now that UNC's roster isn't so young anymore, Banghart thinks that her team has the big-game experience to handle such a tough non-conference slate.
"You work so hard to get a good team, and when you have a good team, you want to go out and play anybody and everybody," Banghart said. "And so it was intentional. And I bit off a big, big bite, but I know (the team) will be ready.”