North Carolina basketball schedule 2021-22: Ranking the Tar Heels’ toughest nonconference games

North Carolina released its full nonconference schedule for the 2021-22 season Tuesday, and it features a few showcase opportunities for first-year coach Hubert Davis. The Tar Heels open with a trio of home contests against lower-tier foes as they ease into a slate that will feature four games against well-regarded power conference opposition.

UNC will participate in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut, as well as the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and CBS Sports Classic. On the whole, the nonconference schedule is a bit less stiff than what North Carolina faced in the 2019-20 season when it faced four top-15 teams in non-ACC play in addition to neutral site games against Michigan and UCLA.

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However, the program is in a state of transition, and the slate should allow the Tar Heels to generate some momentum amid the transition to Davis’ tenure as coach following Roy Williams’ retirement. 

Here’s a look at UNC’s full 2021 nonconference schedule with the ACC schedule to be announced at a later date:

Nov. 9: Loyola (Md.)
Nov. 12: Brown
Nov. 16: at College of Charleston
Nov. 20: vs. Purdue (Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut)
Nov. 21: vs. Tennessee or Villanova (Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut)
Nov. 23: UNC Asheville
Dec. 1: Michigan (ACC-Big Ten Challenge)
Dec. 11: Elon
Dec. 14: Furman
Dec. 18: vs. UCLA (CBS Sports Classic)
Dec. 21: Appalachian State

Let’s dissect the schedule more closely by ranking the Tar Heels’ five most challenging non-conference games — ranked countdown style.

5. Appalachian State

Dec. 21 at Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

2020-21 record: 17-12

Coach: Dustin Kerns 

Appalachian State made its first NCAA Tournament since 2000 last season by winning four straight games in the Sun Belt Tournament. The Mountaineers lost in a First Four game to Norfolk State but return nearly every key contributor from that team and will be motivated to play the in-state big dog. With UNC players gearing up for a Christmas break, this could be a trap game.

4. Tennessee or Villanova 

Nov. 21 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut

The results of the previous day’s action will determined who UNC faces in the second day of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, but it’s guaranteed to be a challenging matchup. Villanova lost leading scorer Jeremiah Robinson-Earl to the NBA Draft but brings back most of the rest of its core, including a couple of super seniors in Jermaine Samuels and Collin Gillespie. Tennessee is retooling a bit, but the Volunteers are bringing in the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class and are expected to contend for the SEC crown.

3. Purdue

Nov. 20 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut

2020-21 record: 18-10

Coach: Matt Painter

Purdue flopped in the 2021 postseason with first-round exits from the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, but the Boilermakers bring back nearly everyone and should be among the favorites to win the Big Ten. This will be UNC’s first game against a power conference foe, and Purdue’s chemistry and cohesion could be a tough matchup for a remixed Tar Heels’ squad that will still be jelling.

2. Michigan

Dec. 1 at Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

2020-21 record: 23-5

Coach: Juwan Howard

Michigan is establishing itself as the most powerful program in the Big Ten as Juwan Howard enters his third season as coach. The Wolverines are fresh off landing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and just brought in the nation’s top recruiting class. With star center Hunter Dickinson and super senior guard Eli Brooks back, the combination of continuity and incoming talent should make the Wolverines a force again.


Dec. 18 CBS Sports Classic at location TBA

2020-21 record: 22-10

Coach: Mick Cronin

Expect the Bruins to be favored in this neutral-site showdown as they enter the season with national title aspirations following their 2021 Final Four run. UCLA brings nearly everyone back from that squad. While this game looks like the most-challenging on UNC’s non conference slate, it also brings a golden opportunity. If the Tar Heels can knock off a top-10 team on Dec. 18, it will be a massive boost to its resume and a tremendous momentum builder as the ACC grind approaches.


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