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.