RTC Class Schedule 2009-10: North Carolina Tar HeelsPosted by zhayes9 on September 22nd, 2009
Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.
North Carolina head coach Roy Williams has been down this road before.
After hoisting his first national title on that early April night in St. Louis, Williams had to endure an eerily similar task as to what faces him this upcoming season, his seventh in Chapel Hill. The 2004-05 champions lost center Sean May, swingman Marvin Williams, point guard Raymond Felton and shooting guard Rashad McCants to the riches of the NBA, yet Williams managed, in large part to a recruiting class led by Tyler Hansbrough with returnees David Noel and Reyshawn Terry, to finish 21-6 (12-4) and in the top 15 in both polls. The situation this season parallels the tremendous overload facing Williams after his first banner. Losing Hansbrough, ACC POY Ty Lawson and sharpshooters Wayne Ellington and Danny Green, a group that made up the large portion of the Heels scoring rampage a season ago, will be difficult to overcome. Luckily for Williams, he returns some decent pieces to complement a loaded recruiting class. Not to mention he’s the best coach in the nation.
North Carolina returns some high upside players that could truly emerge after playing behind the mentioned superstars of the previous few campaigns. There’s senior and experienced leadership still in the fray- notably forward Deon Thompson and defensive stopper Marcus Ginyard- that should help out all of the incoming young talent on the Heels roster. Knowing he’d lose such integral pieces, Williams loaded his 2009 class with top-50 talent such as skilled forward John Henson, guards Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald and big men David Wear and Travis Wear. Many believe sophomore Ed Davis is a surefire lottery pick and Tyler Zeller may emerge with a healthy full season. Last year’s backup to Lawson, Larry Drew II, is also back and will be the engine that controls the Heels attack.
Just because Williams has a predominantly young squad, he didn’t shy away from challenging his team early and often on this year’s schedule to go along with the rigors of the ACC. Let’s examine:
Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 10. One way to sum up the Heels schedule this season: I’ll be stunned if North Carolina isn’t at the top of the strength of schedule list when we’re starting to look at those types of numbers in February and March. Forget playing NCAA tournament teams Duke and Georgia Tech twice in conference play (along with contenders Wake Forest, Boston College, Clemson and Wake Forest on the road), the Heels scheduled three preseason top-ten teams on the slate for this non-conference season. It wasn’t exactly planned like this; who could have planned Damion James would stick around for another year or John Calipari would completely overhaul Kentucky in such a short period of time? Still, give Williams credit for setting up these huge games against prestigious programs. North Carolina will take on possible Big Ten contender Ohio State in the semifinal of the 2K Sports Classic and likely top-15 California should they emerge victorious. Also planned is a visit to Rupp Arena to battle Kentucky in one of the top non-conference games on the season and a trip to Arlington to face Texas in Jerry Jones’ new monstrosity. Both Kentucky and Texas are projected top ten teams. Not enough for you, Roy? Michigan State will visit Chapel Hill in a national title game rematch as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, another squad that could finish their season in Indianapolis.
Cupcake City: The Heels do receive a few easy warm-ups before traveling to New York in Florida International (Isiah Thomas’ college coaching debut, marred by minor controversy) and North Carolina Central. Carolina also faces Gardner-Webb, Presbyterian, Marshall, Valparaiso and Albany at home while taking a trip to Charleston to face Bobby Cremins’ Cougars in a rare instance of a ACC school visiting a SoCon opponent. Not exactly cupcakes, but Nevada and Rutgers also make appearances at the Dean Dome this season.
Toughest Early Season Test: Most will likely disagree, but Texas is ranked one spot ahead of Kentucky on my preseason rankings. With plenty of new faces and only one ball to go around, the Wildcats should be a team that peaks in February and March once chemistry is developed and Calipari can develop a solid rotation. Still, because it’s a true road game in Lexington and the Heels are mostly a youth-driven squad, I’ll give the Kentucky game a slight edge over Texas. It wouldn’t shock meif Williams throws Ginyard at John Wall on the perimeter while Ed Davis/Deon Thompson banging down low with Patrick Patterson/DeMarcus Cousins should be wildly entertaining. The talent on the floor in that one will be overwhelming.
Easiest Conference Stretch: This was not an easy task. The ACC may not be as loaded with top-20 caliber teams as much as previous seasons (while Duke and Carolina won’t be as dominant), but the conference is extremely deep and winning road games remains extremely challenging. Carolina’s easiest stretch probably comes from January 20 to February 4 with home games against Wake Forest and Virginia and road dates at NC State and Virginia Tech. The Deacons lost both Jeff Teague and James Johnson early to the draft, and while Virginia is on the way up with Sylven Landesberg, Tony Bennett’s new team is still in rebuilding mode. The two road games at NC State and Virginia Tech are likely the easiest on the slate for Carolina, even with Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen returning for the Hokies.
Hardest Conference Stretch: The last six games on the schedule won’t be an easy finish for the Heels. Four of those are road contests at Georgia Tech, Boston College, Wake Forest and, of course, Duke. All four of those teams could be playing in March. The Yellow Jackets are wildly improved with Gani Lawal and Iman Shumpert back to compliment stud freshman Derrick Favors. Boston College returns their entire roster besides Tyrese Rice. Wake is never an easy place to win and they return potential all-ACC forward Al-Farouq Aminu. Duke should be right there with UNC in any preseason debate about who will claim the conference crown this season.
Most Difficult Road Test: The March 6 primetime College Gameday contest in Durham will be hyped and built up like no other college basketball game this year. Neither prestigious program is absolutely loaded, yet both should be in or near the top-10 and garnering top-three seeds when the season concludes. The Heels arch-rivals did lose their best player, Gerald Henderson, along with point guards Elliot Williams (transfer) and Greg Paulus. Returning is the inside/outside duo of Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer (although Singler will be playing a lot more 3 this season on the perimeter) to go along with Nolan Smith, Lance Thomas and a stellar recruiting class led by Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Andre Dawkins. Could this game be for the ACC crown? We’ve seen it happen before in the best rivalry in college sports.
Most Anticipated Home Date: The home-and-home finished up in Chapel Hill last season, so it’s Duke making the short trek to Carolina for the February contest in 2009-10. The Michigan State game will surely be closer than last year’s two blowouts, but Duke is Duke. No need for further explanation.
Best Individual Matchup: When compiling our South Atlantic Impact Players, the final nod in the loaded region would go to either Ed Davis or Al-Farouq Aminu, two high-upside and possible lottery picks with oodles of talent and potential. Aminu received the last spot mainly because he might be the entire Wake offensive attack on some nights while Davis has plenty of talent surrounding his 6’10 frame. These two will battle twice this season on January 20 and February 27. Both prospects are blessed with tremendous length, athleticism, touch around the basket and exceptional leaping ability.
Upset Watch: I can see Maryland knocking off North Carolina on February 7 at College Park. It’s not an enormous upset given the bulk of scoring that returns for Gary Williams and the raucous atmosphere that the Comcast Center provides, but Carolina should be higher ranked at the time of the contest. Last year the Terps knocked off third ranked UNC 88-85 on February 21 behind a 35/11/10 from Greivis Vasquez. He returns along with Eric Hayes, Dino Gregory, Landon Milbourne Adrian Bowie and other key Terrapins.
It should be a tight race between Duke and North Carolina for the conference crown once again. Losing that significant percentage of scoring/rebounding/assists should put Roy Williams to the challenge. If anyone can rebuild in the snap of a finger, it’s Williams, a masterful coach that has built two dominant programs in this decade alone. Ed Davis could take off and be a star. Deon Thompson has the skills to be a force in the paint. John Henson can be a double-digit scorer immediately. The question marks: point guard play and backcourt scoring. If the Heels can solve those lingering issues, another ACC crown should be on the way.