UNC Now

Here’s one way to evaluate UNC’s 2017-18 basketball schedule

North Carolina's Theo Pinson (1), left, and Justin Jackson (44) celebrate UNC's victory over Gonzaga in the NCAA Division I men's basketball national championship game at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ, on April 3, 2017.
North Carolina's Theo Pinson (1), left, and Justin Jackson (44) celebrate UNC's victory over Gonzaga in the NCAA Division I men's basketball national championship game at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ, on April 3, 2017. ehyman@newsobserver.com

The slow-drip release of the ACC men’s basketball schedule – and college basketball schedules in general – has become something of an annual tradition. These days schedules come out in pieces, with individual announcements about such things as November tournaments, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the non-conference schedule, the home-and-away distribution of conference opponents.

At last, after all of it, the ACC released the full schedule on Thursday – a little less than two months before teams play their first games. We’ve known for some time about a lot of the highlights of UNC’s schedule: That, for instance, the Tar Heels will playing in Portland in November in the Nike tournament honoring Phil Knight; that UNC is playing against Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge; that the Tar Heels are back in the CBS Sports Classic, and playing against Ohio State in New Orleans.

We’ve known, too, which ACC teams UNC would play. And so the news of the day is that now we know the order of those conference games (outside of the regular-season finale against Duke, which is another annual tradition). And so here’s a quick look at UNC’s most difficult stretch of conference games, its “easiest,” if any stretch of ACC games can be called that, and some key dates to know:

“Easiest” conference stretch: Jan. 16 to Feb. 3

The Tar Heels play six games between those dates, and those six games – vs. Clemson, vs. Georgia Tech, at Virginia Tech, vs. N.C. State, at Clemson, vs. Pittsburgh – should offer UNC a chance to build a cushion at or near the top of the conference standings. Let’s look at these six games further:

UNC has never lost at home against Clemson, so there’s that. The other home games, against Georgia Tech, N.C. State and Pittsburgh, should all be UNC victories (though the one against N.C. State can’t possibly be as lopsided as it was last season, can it?).

And then the road games, at Virginia Tech and at Clemson, are about as manageable as any conference road game can be. Last season, UNC used a softer early ACC schedule to get off to a 7-1 start. This season the very beginning is more challenging – with games at Florida State, Virginia and Notre Dame – but Jan. 16 through Feb. 3 should be a get-well stretch for the Tar Heels.

Most difficult conference stretch: Feb. 8 through March 3

UNC’s “easiest” (relatively speaking) portion of the schedule precedes what appears to be its most difficult – the final seven games of the regular season. Those games: vs. Duke, at N.C. State, vs. Notre Dame, at Louisville, at Syracuse, vs. Miami, at Duke.

Once again, as has been the case in recent years, the two games against Duke are bunched together in the second half of the conference schedule, with five games in between. That first Duke game, by the way, will be on a Thursday night, followed by a Saturday game at N.C. State, followed by a Monday night game against Notre Dame. UNC’s travel, at least, will light during that busy stretch.

When the “easiest” of any seven-game stretch is a road game against a rival whose passion for defeating you, as rare as it is, is unmatched, then that’s a highly-difficult seven games. And these will be for UNC, which plays three of its final four regular-season games on the road.

Dates to know

Dec. 30 vs. Wake Forest: UNC’s conference opener.

Jan. 6 at Virginia: UNC’s first January road game in Charlottesville since 2014.

Jan. 27 vs. N.C. State: Kevin Keatts’ first game in the Smith Center has to be better than Mark Gottfried’s last. Right?

Feb. 8 vs. Duke: Always the most electric environment in the Smith Center.

Feb. 27 vs. Miami: A senior night send-off for Joel Berry and Theo Pinson.

Random reactions

▪ UNC’s game at Florida State on Jan. 3 comes almost exactly two years after the Tar Heels’ most recent trip to Tallahassee. Brice Johnson had 39 points and 23 rebounds in that game, a 106-90 UNC victory on Jan. 4, 2016.

▪ Only one 9 p.m. conference game on the schedule (Feb. 27 vs. Miami). Why, that’s enough to bring a smile to even the most weathered and venerable of newspaper scribes.

▪ UNC with a tour of the old Big East in mid-to-late February, with back-to-back road games at Louisville and Syracuse. Syracuse in February sounds as charming to me as Greensboro, any time, might sound to Jim Boeheim.

▪ The Tar Heels play just twice on ESPN’s Big Monday: at Virginia Tech on Jan. 22, and against Notre Dame on Feb. 12. This is the second consecutive season that UNC is playing only two Big Monday games, after playing three in both 2015 and 2014, the first year of Monday night ACC games.

UNC schedule

Oct. 27 x- Barton College 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 10 Northern Iowa 7 p.m.

Nov. 15 y-Bucknell TBA

Nov. 20 y-at Stanford 11:30 p.m.

Nov. 23 y-vs. University of Portland 2:30 p.m.

Nov. 24 y-vs. Arkansas OR Oklahoma TBA

Nov. 26 y-vs. Connecticut, Depaul, Michigan State or Oregon

Nov. 29 Michigan 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 1 at Davidson 8 p.m.

Dec. 3 Tulane 2 p.m.

Dec. 6 Western Carolina 7 p.m.

Dec. 17 at Tennessee 3 p.m.

Dec. 20 Wofford 9 p.m.

Dec. 23 Ohio State 1:30 p.m.

Dec. 30 Wake Forest TBA

Jan. 3 at Florida State 7 p.m.

Jan. 6 at Virginia TBA

Jan. 9 Boston College 8 p.m.

Jan. 13 at Notre Dame 6 p.m.

Jan. 16 Clemson 7 p.m.

Jan. 20 Georgia Tech 2 p.m.

Jan. 22 at Virginia Tech 7 p.m.

Jan. 27 N.C. State 12 p.m.

Jan. 30 at Clemson 7 p.m.

Feb. 3 Pittsburgh 8 p.m.

Feb. 8 Duke 8 p.m.

Feb. 10 at N.C. State 2 p.m.

Feb. 12 Notre Dame 7 p.m.

Feb. 17 at Louisville 8 p.m.

Feb. 21 at Syracuse 7 p.m.

Feb. 27 Miami 9 p.m.

March 3 at Duke 8:15 p.m.

Notes: x-preseason, y-PK80 tournament (moves to Portland Nov. 23-26)

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