CHAPEL HILL – The University of North Carolina men's basketball team will play at least 14 games against schools that participated in last year's NCAA Tournament, including non-conference matchups against Iowa, Kentucky and Ohio State and either UCLA or Oklahoma. The Atlantic Coast Conference released its entire 2014-15 schedule on Wednesday.
Carolina's 18-game ACC schedule includes home-and-home matchups against Duke, Georgia Tech, Louisville and NC State; home games at the Dean E. Smith Center against Florida State, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Virginia and Virginia Tech; and road contests at Boston College, Clemson, Miami, Pitt and Wake Forest.
"We want a great schedule," says head coach Roy Williams, who enters the season with a 724-190 overall record in 26 years and a 306-89 mark at UNC. "This is my 12th year (as head coach at Carolina). In our previous 11 years our schedule has been in the top 50 in the country every year and in 10 it's been in the top 25 according to strength of schedule. This one may be a little off the charts."
A trio of special events highlights the non-conference portion of the schedule, which begins with the regular-season opener on November 14 against NC Central and concludes on December 30 against William and Mary.
Carolina plays four times in the Battle 4 Atlantis, including a game against Northeast Conference regular-season champion Robert Morris in the Smith Center on November 16 and three games at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving. The Tar Heels play Butler on November 26, either UCLA or Oklahoma on Thanksgiving and either UAB, Florida, Georgetown or Wisconsin on the 28th.
The Tar Heels play host to Iowa on December 3 in the 16th ACC/Big Ten Challenge. This is the first time UNC has played Iowa in the Challenge and first time in any setting since the Tar Heels beat the Hawkeyes, 106-92, in the championship game of the 2004 Maui Invitational. Carolina is 8-7 in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge after last year's win at No. 1-ranked Michigan State.
On December 20, Carolina plays Ohio State in Chicago's United Center in the CBS Sports Classic. Kentucky and UCLA play in the second game of the doubleheader. Next year, the four teams will play in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., with UNC facing UCLA and Kentucky playing Ohio State. Two years from now, the event moves to Las Vegas with Carolina vs. Kentucky and UCLA vs. Ohio State.
The Tar Heels play Kentucky for the 15th time in as many seasons when UNC travels to Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on December 13. The game matches two of the three winningest programs in college basketball history. The teams have split the most recent 14 matchups with the Tar Heels taking seven of the last 10 games, including an 82-77 triumph last December in Chapel Hill.
"If you can be successful, the advantages (of playing a difficult non-conference schedule) are enormous," says Williams. "If you have some success, you can say that I am more prepared than just about anybody to get into conference play. And that's what we are trying to do. In the pre-conference, get ready for conference play, but also to play some of those national type games to measure yourself to see how you can do outside the league as well. It is planned to try and get better, get better, get better so that you are hopefully playing your best basketball at the end of the season when it's the most important.
"But the season is a long journey. It's not just about the end of the year. We are going to have some incredible opportunities or incredible challenges; it depends on the way you want to look at it."
In addition to the season opener against NC Central, the Tar Heels play five in-state, non-conference opponents with games at the Smith Center against Fayetteville State (Oct. 24, exhibition), Belmont Abbey (Nov. 7, exhibition) and East Carolina (Dec. 7), at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte against Davidson (Nov. 22) and at the Greensboro Coliseum against UNCG (Dec. 16). Starting times and television designations for the Davidson and William and Mary games will be set at a later date.
ACC action begins on January 3 at Clemson. The Tar Heels play host to Louisville on January 10, the first visit by the Cardinals to Chapel Hill since December 17, 1998, and their first as a member of the ACC.
UNC makes its initial ACC road appearances at Louisville on January 31 and Pitt on February 14. Those are part of a five-game stretch in which the Tar Heels play host to defending ACC champion Virginia amidst four road games. In addition to Louisville and Pitt, UNC also travels to Boston College (Feb. 7) and Duke (Feb. 14) in that stretch. This marks the first time Carolina has played four out of five ACC games on the road since 1997.
Following an ESPN Big Monday game against Syracuse at the Smith Center on January 26, the Tar Heels are home just one time in the next 25 days. Syracuse will be playing in Chapel Hill for the first time ever.
"There's certain points in (the schedule) that I think that are really, really challenging but that's what we are as the ACC now – the best conference maybe in the history of college basketball, the most challenging conference in the history of college basketball," says Williams. "There are a few points that are really going to be difficult for our team. We've got to be at the top of our game, every game, regardless of who you playing or where you are playing. Because it's that kind of league."
The regular season concludes at home on Senior Night on March 7 against Duke at either 6 or 9 p.m. The 62nd ACC Tournament will be played from March 10-14 in the Greensboro Coliseum.
"I can't imagine any league ever being what we are right now," says Williams. "In the old days if you finished in the top half – one, two, three or four – that was pretty good. Now there are 15 teams and to finish in the top half may be even more difficult than it was when there were just eight teams. You add Notre Dame, you add Syracuse, you add Pittsburgh, you add Louisville. The league was pretty doggone good before and the history of what has happened in this league over time has been impressive. Now the ACC is just off the charts. A couple of those runs through that league will be a test for everybody. It will be interesting to see how people stand at the end."
The Tar Heels will be making at least 22 appearances on the ESPN family of networks in addition to three games on CBS and five on the ACC Network. Every one of Carolina's first 23 games through the Virginia game on February 2 could be on either an ESPN network or CBS.
The Tar Heels return three starters from last year's squad that finished 24-10 overall and 13-5 in the ACC. UNC was a #6 seed in the NCAA East Regional and advanced to the third round of the Tournament.
Junior guard Marcus Paige scored 17.5 points a game and earned first-team All-ACC and second-team All-America honors. Paige, junior forwards J.P. Tokoto (9.3 points, 3.0 assists) and Brice Johnson (10.3 points, 6.1 rebounds) and sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks (7.6 points and 6.1 rebounds) headline a group of 11 returning lettermen.
"Late Night with Roy," the team's annual celebration to begin the season, is Friday, October 3 at the Smith Center. Check GoHeels.com for more details and for the full video interview with Coach Williams.
2014-15 Schedule Notes
• The Tar Heels also opened the regular season against NC Central in 2009-10.
• Carolina and Robert Morris will be playing for first time when the Colonials visit Chapel Hill as part of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
• Carolina plays Davidson in Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte. This is the Tar Heels' first appearance in that arena since beating Long Island and Washington in the 2011 NCAA East Regional. The Tar Heels are 10-0 in the arena dating back to their first games there in November 2006 against Sacred Heart and Winthrop in the Preseason NIT Tipoff.
• Carolina is 2-2 against Butler. The Bulldogs beat UNC, 82-71, on November 20, 2012, in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational in the most recent matchup.
• Carolina plays three games at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, Bahamas, in the Battle 4 Atlantis. This is UNC's first regular-season action outside the United States since playing three games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Nov. 18-21, 2010. The only other games UNC has played outside the United States came on December 21 and 23, 1984, when the Tar Heels played Wichita State and Arizona State in Osaka and Tokyo, Japan, in the Suntory Bowl.
• The Tar Heels play either Oklahoma or UCLA on Thanksgiving in the Bahamas. Carolina is 3-0 against Oklahoma and 6-3 vs. the Bruins. The most recent game against Oklahoma came in the 2009 NCAA South Regional, a 72-60 win over the Blake Griffin and Jeff Capel-led Sooners in Memphis that sent the Tar Heels to the Final Four in Detroit.
• Carolina and UCLA have not played since an 80-70 UNC win at Pauley Pavilion on Dec. 23, 2000, in Matt Doherty's first season as the Tar Heels' head coach.
• The Tar Heels are 8-7 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge after last season's win at No. 1 Michigan State.
• Iowa is the sixth different opponent for the Tar Heels in the 16-year history of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Carolina is 3-2 against Michigan State, 2-0 vs. Ohio State, 1-0 vs. Wisconsin, 1-2 vs. Indiana and 1-3 vs. Illinois in challenge play.
• The Tar Heels are 1-2 all-time against Iowa, including 0-1 in Chapel Hill. The Hawkeyes won, 98-97, in the Smith Center on Jan. 7, 1989, and defeated the Tar Heels the following year in Iowa City. Tournament MVP Raymond Felton starred in the most recent meeting, a 106-92 UNC win in the Maui Invitational championship game on November 24, 2004.
• Former Tar Heel captain Jeff Lebo is the head coach at East Carolina. The Pirates visit Chapel Hill for the second time ever, but also the second time in as many years.
• Former assistant coach Jerod Haase, who played for Roy Williams at Kansas, is the head coach at UAB. Carolina and the Blazers have split a pair of games in the last two seasons with each school winning on its home court. The teams could also meet earlier in the season on day three (Nov. 28) of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
• Carolina and Kentucky are playing for the 15th time in as many seasons with the teams splitting those games, 7-7. Overall, Carolina leads the series against the Wildcats, 23-13, including wins in seven of the last 10 meetings.
• Roy Williams is 7-4 against Kentucky as Carolina's head coach.
• Carolina's 23 wins against Kentucky are the second-most of any of UK's non-Southeastern Conference opponents. Indiana (24) is the only non-SEC foe that has beaten UK more than North Carolina.
• UNCG, coached by former Tar Heel guard Wes Miller, hosts Carolina in the Greensboro Coliseum, also the site of the 2015 ACC Tournament. This is the Tar Heels' first regular-season game in the Greensboro Coliseum since a loss to Texas on December 18, 2010.
• Carolina plays Ohio State on December 20 in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago. This is Carolina's first game in the United Center since beating Valparaiso on December 20, 2008. That was senior guard Bobby Frasor's "home" game.
• Carolina is 2-1 in the United Center with wins over Louisville (12-3-97) and Valparaiso (12-20-08) and a loss to No. 1 Cincinnati (12-8-99).
• The Tar Heels are 10-2 against Ohio State with the most recent game a 77-73 UNC victory in Madison Square Garden in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on November 19, 2009.
• Carolina opens ACC play at Clemson. This is the third consecutive year the Tar Heels have started conference play on the road. It is the first time Carolina opens with Clemson since the Tar Heels beat the Tigers, 90-88 in overtime, at Littlejohn Coliseum in 2008.
• Carolina is 9-3 all-time against Louisville, but only three of those dozen games have been at home sites. The Cardinals have won both games in Louisville (1929 and 1999) and the Tar Heels are 1-0 in Chapel Hill. That was a 77-72 victory on December 17, 1998, behind Ademola Okulaja's 23 points and 15 rebounds.
• Carolina will be making its first appearance at both Louisville's KFC Yum! Center and Pitt's Petersen Events Center.
• Syracuse will be playing in Chapel Hill for the first time. The teams are 4-4 in eight previous games with two of those being played at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. They have also met one time each in Philadelphia, Pa.; Providence, R.I.; Charlotte, N.C.; East Rutherford, N.J.; Springfield, Mass.; and New York City.
• Six of Carolina's first nine ACC games are against teams that were not members of the ACC in 1987-88 in Roy Williams' last season as Dean Smith's assistant coach (Notre Dame, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Syracuse and Louisville).
• Carolina plays four road games in a five-game stretch of ACC games for the first time since 1997. That season, Dean Smith's final year as head coach, Carolina won all five games at NC State, at Georgia Tech, home vs. Wake Forest, at Maryland and at Clemson in the middle of a 16-game winning streak that came to an end in the Final Four. (In 2007, UNC played three road ACC games and at Arizona in a five-game span.)
• The Tar Heels play Duke twice in the last six ACC games and Georgia Tech twice in the last five, including two games in 10 days against the Yellow Jackets (February 21 and March 3).
• Carolina and Duke square off for the first time on February 18, 2015. That is the latest scheduled first meeting between the two schools ever. The teams met for the first time two seasons ago on February 13, 2013. Last year, they were scheduled to meet on February 12, but an ice storm delayed that game until February 20, which is the latest the teams have ever waited to play for the first time in a season.
• The Tar Heels are not scheduled to play a game in the Commonwealth of Virginia for the first time since 1961-62. UNC played the University of Virginia twice that year in the regular season –Dean Smith's first as UNC's head coach– once in Chapel Hill, the second time in Greensboro but not in Charlottesville.
• Greensboro plays host to the ACC Tournament for the 26th time. Carolina is 36-17 in ACC Tournament games in Greensboro and has won the title eight times in Greensboro. The 2015 championship game will be played on Saturday evening, March 14, the Tournament's first Saturday night finish since 1981.