North Carolina has long gone into the men’s basketball season with a simple goal: win the national championship.
As one former UNC player famously put it, the ceiling is the roof.
There’s a new twist to the Tar Heels’ goal this season: return to the NCAA Tournament and have a chance to win the national championship.
Missing the NCAAs last season was a jolt to the system for everyone associated with the UNC program — players, coaches, staff, fans, you name it. After taking the Heels to the Final Four in 2022, beating Duke and playing for the NCAA title, UNC coach Hubert Davis labored through a 20-13 season in his second year that saw his team finish seventh in the ACC after being ranked No. 1 in preseason.
But it all begins anew for UNC on Nov. 6 when the Tar Heels, with some new faces and a retooled lineup, host Radford in the season-opener. With a trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis and other nonconference games against Tennessee, Kentucky and last year’s national champ, UConn, they’ll have an idea of where they stand when ACC play begins.
The Tar Heels open ACC play Dec. 2 with a home game against Florida State.
“I like the makeup of this team and where we are right now,” Davis told the media in July. “I feel like we’re all in a great position to get better from last year and improve on that and have the type of season that we want and hope for.”
Here’s a look at UNC’s schedule:
UNC’s can’t-miss basketball game
It’s easy to just say either of the Duke games — Feb. 3 at UNC, March 4 at Duke — but let’s go nonconference and pick the Jimmy V Classic matchup against Connecticut on Dec. 5 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The Huskies made a scintillating run to the NCAA championship last season behind coach Danny Hurley, going 31-8 and winning each of their six NCAA games by at least 13 points.
Gone are Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson Jr., but the Huskies have their leading scorer, Adama Sonogo, returning. Incoming is Stephon Castle, a 6-6 combo guard and five-star recruit from Covington, Georgia, who could start at point guard.
Trap game alert
UNC fans may have forgotten the date — Nov. 21, 2015 — but not forgotten the result. In the fourth game of the 2015-16 season, the No. 1 Tar Heels played Northern Iowa on the road and left the McLeod Center with a 71-67 loss.
It happens. The Northern Iowa Panthers will be looking to do it again Nov. 22 when the teams face off again in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. It’s another good field in the Bahamas, but the first game could be interesting. Of note: Ben Jacobson’s UNI team was 14-18 last season after a late slide.
Toughest stretch for UNC
It could be to start the new year. The Tar Heels will face three consecutive road games — at Pitt, Clemson and then at N.C. State.
UNC has its ACC opener in December, against Florida State in Chapel Hill. But going on the road in the ACC, after a challenging nonconference schedule. will be a test.
Easiest stretch for UNC
In the ACC, “easiest” is a relative term when it comes to conference play but playing Syracuse, Louisville and Wake Forest at home in January, mixed in with a trip to Boston College might create the least amount of tension.
That stretch comes after the Pitt-Clemson-NC State road run and could allow the Tar Heels to build momentum at home.
UNC basketball’s non-conference tests
While the Tar Heels’ game against UConn in New York could be a highlight and the game with Northern Iowa troublesome, any game against Kentucky is appealing when the blues go at it. That will be Dec. 16 in the CBS Sports Classic at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
There’s also the first ACC/SEC Challenge game as UNC takes on Tennessee, bringing old ACC nemesis Rick Barnes back to Chapel Hill. The Vols knocked Duke out of the NCAA tournament last year, and Barnes would like nothing better than to go into Chapel Hill on Nov. 29 and beat the Heels.
Most of the nonconference schedule is pretty standard: Radford, Lehigh, UC Riverside ... although there is a game with Oklahoma that could be a challenge in the Jumpman Invitational in Charlotte.
UNC schedule 2023-24
12 or 5 pm
Battle 4 Atlantis TBD+
Florida State *
at N.C. State*
at Boston College*
at Florida State*
at Georgia Tech*
2 or 4 p.m.
+ — Battle 4 Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas
# — ACC/SEC Challenge, Chapel Hill
# — Jimmy V Classic, Madison Square Garden, New York
+ -- Kentucky in CBS Sports Classic, Atlanta.
+ -- Oklahoma in Jumpman Invitational, Charlotte
* — ACC game