It's never too early to start looking ahead to what North Carolina is set to face in terms of competition during the 2014-15 season, even if it's not set in stone yet.
While we know who the Tar Heels will face during ACC play—but not when, or in what order—we're still waiting for an official announcement of the complete 13-game nonconference schedule. As it stands, at least five of the Heels' nonconference opponents have been finalized, while another three will come from a pool of teams that will join UNC in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis over Thanksgiving.
Based on an analysis of how previous nonconference schedules have been formed, it's a good bet that most (if not all) of the remaining opponents will come in the form of one-time guarantee games against teams from mid- or low-major Division I conferences.
Before speculating on the unknown, though, let's look at what's set in stone on the schedule.
The earliest that teams can start playing regular-season games is Nov. 14, a Friday, but the first matchup Carolina has locked in is a home contest against Robert Morris on Nov. 16, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The game is part of the preliminary round of Battle 4 Atlantis, as the eight teams headed to Nassau get to play one game at home before heading to the Bahamas.
Battle 4 Atlantis is set for Nov. 26-28 at the Atlantis Resort in Nassau, and it will mark UNC's first time participating in the tournament, which has been around since 2011. In the Bahamas, the Heels will play three games in three days, and it's likely they'll get a doozy of a first-round opponent. The weakest team in the field is UAB, but those teams are already scheduled to play each other this season, so it's not likely the Heels and Blazers will face off to start.
The other teams headed to Nassau are Butler, Florida, Georgetown, Oklahoma, UCLA and Wisconsin. Yes, that field includes two teams that made the Final Four in 2013-14 and two other teams that were in the NCAA field a year ago, so there won't be any easy games.
|North Carolina's (Partial) 2014-15 Nonconference Schedule|
|Nov. 16||Robert Morris|
|Nov. 26-28||TBD at Battle 4 Atlantis (Nassau, Bahamas)|
|Dec. 3||Iowa (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)|
|Dec. 13||at Kentucky|
|Dec. 20||vs. Ohio State in Chicago (CBS Sports Classic)|
|Bleacher Report research|
After returning from the islands, Carolina is set to host Iowa on Dec. 3 as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. It will be the first time the teams have met in the event, and the first time overall since UNC downed the Hawkeyes in the final of the Maui Invitational in November 2004, a win that came during the early stages of the 2004-05 national championship season.
Ten days later, UNC is scheduled to play what may be its only true road game prior to ACC play, as on Dec. 13 the Heels will visit Rupp Arena to face Kentucky. UNC won last year's meeting, 82-77, at the Smith Center.
The last nonconference game that's locked in at this point is on Dec. 20, when Carolina faces Ohio State in Chicago as part of the inaugural CBS Sports Classic. UCLA and Kentucky are the other teams in the event, and UNC is set to face each of those opponents in future versions of the competition. The 2015 games will be played in Brooklyn (against UCLA) and the 2016 version is slated for Las Vegas (against Kentucky).
As mentioned earlier, Carolina is slated to host UAB as the final game in a three-year series with the Blazers, but no date has been announced. UNC won the first meeting in Chapel Hill in 2012, then was shocked 63-59 last December in Birmingham.
With five games yet to be announced, some guessing can be done more along the lines of when those games will be played than against whom. UNC has played on the opening Friday of the season each of the previous four years, all in Chapel Hill, so it stands to reason a home game will get scheduled for Nov. 14.
After returning from Battle 4 Atlantis, which ends on a Friday night, UNC's next game (against Iowa) is on the following Wednesday. Odds are another game won't get slated in that gap, as in 2013-14, UNC had a week off between facing Louisville in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic final and going to UAB.
There's a 10-day gap between the Iowa game and the visit to Kentucky, which will likely include at least one home opponent helping to fill the void. Another game could be placed on the schedule in Chapel Hill between Kentucky and the matchup with Ohio State in Chicago, with the remaining two or three opponents getting spots on the schedule between Christmas and whenever the 2015 ACC opener is.
Last year, Carolina's first conference game was on Jan. 5, with two games on the docket between Christmas and that contest.
As far as who UNC could face in those other games, one place to search for possible opponents is the coaching tree comprised of former Heels players and coaches. Last year, the Heels hosted UNC-Greensboro, led by former Carolina player Wes Miller, and another such matchup could be on the slate this year. If so, teams that could be on the schedule include East Carolina, High Point, Monmouth and William & Mary, all of whom are coached by players who came through the UNC program.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.