Perusing UNC's non-ACC slate for the 2001-02 hoops season will lead one to believe they are reading anything but a North Carolina schedule. For decades the Tar Heels have routinely played one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the nation despite the annually tough parade through the ACC. However, if those same Carolina supporters use the logic applied to the Blue Devils, they may want to hold off on making Final Four reservations.
In his second year at the helm of his alma mater, Matt Doherty has given an indication that either he is concerned the Tar Heels aren't going to be very good this year or that he is one of those coaches who is more comfortable playing a cupcake schedule.
Either way UNC fans shouldn't be thrilled with the upcoming slate. There are the usual national powers like Indiana, Kentucky and Connecticut, but other than a possible matchup with a Top 15 St. Joseph's squad in Charlotte, there aren't any other teams that should ever pose a legitimate threat to a North Carolina basketball team. Thus, how about this smorgasbord of who's who in college hoops…
Hampton – If the game were in Virginia one might assume it's Brian Bersticker's home game but he already had that in December of 1997. Okay, Hampton did knock off Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament last year but it is still Hampton and UNC is still UNC. Any other reason needs explaining.
Davidson – Doherty does have a relationship with the school having served as an assistant under Bob McKillop in the early 1990's. If anything, at least this game will bring back the memory of Charlie Scott helping Dean Smith eliminate Lefty Driesel in the East Regional final of the NCAA Tournament in 1968.
Binghamton – Okay, this one simply makes no sense, especially considering Binghamton is making its Division One debut. It doesn't matter if there are any ties (the Bearcats head coach has a UNC JV background and friendship with Doherty), this game should never happen. Maybe the fact that it takes place after exams is the only explanation that won't be laughed at. And it's on T.V. too!
Tournament of Champions – This was once an excellent tournament when the Heels lured some of the nation's top teams. Remember the 1988 tourney when Arizona, Temple and Missouri filled out the field of top-15 teams? No longer is that the case. UNC will open with The College of Charleston (again) and then face either St. Joe's or Georgia State. SJU should be a quality team but will hardly sell tickets and after the poor crowds of the last few years, ticket sales should matter.
North Carolina A&T – Okay, if the Heels are going to play a pair of so-called patsies, Davidson and A&T make sense and at least are state schools. The Aggies are coached by former Tar Heel and Doherty teammate Curtis Hunter, and finally playing the Ags is a good thing.
Texas A&M – Why was this series scheduled in the first place? Was former coach Bill Guthridge (who is responsible for this game) indebted to former UNCC coach Melvin Watkins in any way? Although a member of the Big XII, A&M is hardly a typical Big XII squad.
Ohio U. – When Gary Trent was wearing Bobcat green this would have been a quality game. Back then OU was a top 40 squad and wouldn't hurt the RPI and help teach the overconfident Heels that MAC teams are usually solid. However, this game, which is on February 20, only makes sense in December and if A&M, Hampton and Binghamton aren't anywhere on this list.
Maybe Doherty is concerned the streak of 20-plus win seasons (30 years strong) would have been in jeopardy with a typical UNC slate. Maybe he plans on giving the three freshmen extended minutes and feels this is the best way to acclimate them to his system. Maybe he plans on incorporating that once Carolina blue-clad patented run-and-jump defense and figures this is the best way to get the players on the same page. Or maybe this is a sign of the future, that easy games sprinkled with a few marquee matchups is something UNC fans must get used to.
Regardless, it won't make the pre-January part of the season nearly as fun as it usually is, and also means most UNC fans won't have a real feel for this team until some time around the Super Bowl.
This isn't to denigrate Doherty's approach but certainly the slate raises enough questions for Carolina fans to contemplate numerous theories.
Love is in the eye of the beholder and to many eyes, there may not be much to behold.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also is a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.