Lucas: 10 Schedule Thoughts
By Adam Lucas, GoHeels.com
1. By the time exams are over, we'll have an unusually good read on the 2014 Tar Heels. Carolina could play defending national champion Louisville in Connecticut on Nov. 24, then travels to Michigan State on Dec. 4, then hosts Kentucky on Dec. 14. The tough trio should mark just the third time in program history that Carolina has played three top-10 teams before Christmas (the first was a 2-1 mark in Dec. 1967, the other was a 1-2 mark in Dec. 2009). If likely preseason rankings hold, it could mark the first time ever the Tar Heels have played three top-five teams before Christmas.
One slightly worrisome fact about that date with the Wildcats-the Tar Heels have traditionally played some ragged games at that time of year, since practice time is limited during exams. The game is scheduled for the first day after the end of the exam period
2. It'll be interesting to see how Roy Williams and his coaching staff handle the three instances when Carolina plays on Monday and then doesn't play again until Saturday. That's an unusually long stretch with no games in the middle of the ACC season, but Williams is accustomed to it, because his Kansas teams were Big Monday regulars during his tenure in Lawrence. Add in the week between the game at Syracuse on Jan. 11 and the home date with Boston College on Jan. 18, and Williams will have four either full or nearly full weeks of practice time during conference play. For a team likely to lean partially on underclassmen, that's a luxury.
3. With the end of the double round-robin, one of the determining factors in the ACC regular season race often ends up being the one-time-only road games that aren't returned. The Tar Heels got some tough ones this year: trips to Syracuse, Virginia, Florida State, Virginia Tech (an underrated tough place to play when the Hokies are good) and Georgia Tech.
4. The six-game homestand from Dec. 7-Dec. 31 is tied for the second-longest in the Roy Williams era. Carolina went 9-0 on a nine-game homestand during the 2011-12 season, and went 6-0 during a six-game homestand during the 2004-05 campaign.
5. The Tar Heels mush up to Syracuse on January 11. According to this weather site, the normal coldest day of the year in Syracuse is January 20, when the average high is 30. This is also the time of year that falls into the "frigid" category on that site's weather graph. A prediction: Eric Montross will debut some sort of awesome hat on this road trip. The game at the Carrier Dome will mark just the program's second-ever road game at the Orange (the other was an 87-64 win in December of 1983).
6. Here's the good news: Carolina opens the ACC season at Wake Forest, a manageable road game where there should be lots of blue in the stands. A strange but true fact: Carolina hasn't beaten Wake in an ACC opener since Jan. 3, 1968.
7. It's a little jarring to see the ACC Tournament listed as Wednesday-Sunday. As a reminder, the format has the bottom six teams playing on Wednesday, then the next five bottom teams (seeds 5-9) join the fray on Thursday, and seeds 1-4 get to sit and watch until Friday.
8. Strange time quirk: the Tar Heels have four noon ACC starts this season after having a combined four in the past three seasons.
9. The Feb. 12 game against Duke is the second-latest the initial installment of that rivalry has ever been played. The latest was last year's Feb. 13 date in Durham.
10. Carolina's back-to-back visits to UAB on Dec. 1 and Michigan State three days later will mark the program's 26th and 27th true non-conference road games in the Roy Williams era. The Tar Heels have compiled a 16-9 record in those games. His commitment to exposing his team to road environments during the pre-conference slate partially explains why Williams has posted a winning road record in the ACC in eight of his ten seasons in Chapel Hill.
Adam Lucas is a GoHeels columnist.