The 2016-17 season ended with the North Carolina Tar Heels in college basketball’s national championship game for the second straight year. This time, instead of finding themselves with a gut-wrenching loss having fallen victim to one of the most iconic shots in NCAA Tournament history, they knocked off Gonzaga to win their sixth title.
Can they make it No. 7 this year?
The 2017-18 slate for the Tar Heels certainly won’t be lacking for big matchups. Chief among them is the annual pair of games against Duke in the sport’s most bitter rivalry. So, when we put together this list of the top five matchups to watch this season, we figured that it would be too easy to include the Blue Devils.
Without further ado (and there were several to choose from), here’s the list.
November 24 and 26: PK80 (in Portland)
We’re counting this as a single matchup for the purposes of this article, partially because we don’t know who the Heels will play yet in the Nike-sponsored tournament celebrating its founder Phil Knight’s 80th birthday. But there is potential for a pair of quality games: they could play either Arkansas (in a rematch of the NCAA Tournament’s second round) or Oklahoma on November 24, then face either UConn, DePaul, Michigan State or Oregon on November 26. Fans might prefer seeing the Heels go up against the rapidly improving Ducks in a rematch of last year’s national semifinal game, but a contest against Sparty or the Huskies won’t be lacking for intrigue.
November 29: vs. Michigan
Here’s another non-league game to circle and underline on your calendar as John Beilein leads his Wolverines into the Dean Dome. These two teams haven’t met since the 1993 national championship game. Yep, that one. We’ll be interested to hear many times the name “Chris Webber” comes up on the broadcast.
December 23: vs. Ohio State (in New Orleans)
The Buckeyes will be settling in under first-year man Chris Holtmann, who made the jump to the Big Ten after three solid years at Butler. It probably won’t take them too long to get back to the NCAA Tournament, which they’ve missed in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. That’s thanks to a trio of four-star recruits (including one of Holtmann’s commits at Butler, Kyle Young, and a Thad Matta holdover in Kaleb Wesson) and returning leading scorer Jae’Sean Tate.
January 3: at Florida State
The Seminoles will be without their three leading scorers from last year as Dwayne Bacon, Jonathan Isaac and Xavier Rathan-Mayes all declared for the NBA Draft. That will mean a larger role for junior guard Terance Mann, but Leonard Hamilton brings in the country’s 12th-ranked recruiting class – including top stud shooting guard M.J. Walker and big man Ike Obiagu – that could make another run to the top of the ACC if they’re able to gel with the returnees.
February 27: vs. Miami
The Hurricanes were slotted just three slots below the Heels at No. 12 in the USA Today coaches’ poll. It’s easy to see why they’re regarded so highly: the return of Ja’Quan Newton and Bruce Brown, and the nation’s 10th-ranked recruiting class, helmed by five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker. Jim Larranaga’s squad will definitely be a trendy pick to go deep in the NCAA Tournament considering the talent he brings back and has coming in.
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