UNC Field Hockey Knocks Off Nation’s Top Two Teams, Moves to No. 2 in Poll

Outside of winning a major championship, you can’t really have a more successful weekend than the one UNC field hockey just enjoyed at Henry Stadium.

The Tar Heels first knocked off No. 1 Syracuse 3-2 on Friday in a double overtime thriller. Two days later, the team defeated its biggest rival–No. 2 Duke–in another 3-2 game.

As a result, UNC–which was ranked No. 5–moved up to No. 2 in the newest National Field Hockey Coaches Association Poll.

Not only that, the ACC awarded its Offensive Player of the Week Award to UNC’s Lauren Moyer and its Defensive Player of the Week Award to teammate Julia Young.

Against Syracuse, Moyer scored the team’s first two goals–with the second being the one that sent the game into overtime. She currently leads UNC in scoring with eight goals on the year.

Young, meanwhile, played a key role defensively in each game. She helped the Tar Heels limit Syracuse to its lowest scoring output of the year, while holding Duke to just six shots–which was its lowest shooting output of the year.

UNC is currently 8-2 so far in 2016. The team will get a chance to avenge its season-opening loss to Michigan when it hosts the Wolverines on Sunday at 1 p.m.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-field-hockey-knocks-off-nations-top-two-teams-moves-to-no-2-in-poll

Trubisky, Switzer Earn ACC Player of the Week Honors

Fresh off two of the most spectacular performances in school history during UNC’s thrilling comeback win over Pitt on Saturday, quarterback Mitch Trubisky and wide receiver Ryan Switzer were each named ACC Player of the Week at their respective positions.

Not only was Trubisky named the ACC’s Offensive Back of the Week, he was also honored as the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week.

In just his fourth career start, Trubisky completed 35 of his 46 passes for 453 yards and five touchdowns without throwing an interception.

Ryan Switzer earned the ACC Receiver of the Week Award by tying the league record with 16 catches on Saturday. He also gained a staggering 208 yards while making a couple of key plays on the team's game-winning drive. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Ryan Switzer earned the ACC Receiver of the Week Award by tying the league record with 16 catches on Saturday. He also gained a staggering 208 yards while making a couple of key plays on the team’s game-winning drive. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

The only UNC quarterback to ever throw for more was Marquise Williams when he threw 494 yards against Duke last season. Trubisky’s five touchdowns also tied the program’s all-time mark.

Over the past two games, the junior has put together two of the top four passing outputs UNC has ever seen–totaling 885 yards during that time.

The Tar Heels’ comeback against Pitt was the first time an ACC team overcame a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter since 2012 when NC State rallied to defeat Florida State at home.

Trubisky played a large role in that, obviously, but so did his friend and former roommate Switzer–who earned the league’s Receiver of the Week Award by tying an ACC record with 16 receptions while gaining 208 yards.

Switzer made perhaps his largest mark on the win with two huge catches on fourth down during the 17-play, 63-yard drive that ultimately sent Kenan Stadium into a frenzy.

Now on a three-game winning streak, the Tar Heels have had their issues on defense–but offensively the team is in quite a groove.

Even with tailbacks Elijah Hood and TJ Logan shut down on Saturday–the team as a whole rushed for just 18 yards–Trubisky and Switzer found a way to get the job done.

Should they continue this level of play, the awards should keep on coming.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/trubisky-switzer-earn-acc-player-of-the-week-honors

Howard’s Late TD Caps UNC Football’s Frantic Comeback Win Over Pitt

Midway through the fourth quarter of UNC’s crucial ACC matchup with Pitt (2-2, 0-1 ACC) on Saturday, a sea of fans wearing light blue made their way to the exits at Kenan Stadium.

Little did they know, Mitch Trubisky was getting ready to orchestrate the comeback of his life.

With his team down 13 points, the quarterback put together a pair of clutch touchdown drives in the final five and a half minutes—ultimately finding Bug Howard in the end zone with two seconds left on the clock to give UNC (3-1, 1-0 ACC) a stunning 37-36 victory.

It was the type of finish that left the crowd utterly speechless as to what they had just witnessed.

The Pitt rushing attack allowed the visitors to control the flow of the game all throughout—making the Tar Heel defense appear helpless. Meanwhile, UNC’s tailback duo of Elijah Hood and TJ Logan combined for just 33 yards against an aggressive Panther defense content to blitz on nearly every down.

Senior Bug Howard used his size to haul in two fourth quarter touchdowns for UNC--including the game-winner. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Senior Bug Howard used his size to haul in two fourth quarter touchdowns for UNC–including the game-winner. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Although Trubisky ended up with a career-high 453 yards and five touchdowns, the UNC faithful knew their quarterback would have to take matters into his own hands—provided their defense could finally get a stop.

After Howard scored his first touchdown with just over five minutes to play, the defense did just that, stepping up when it mattered most.

Then, over the next three minutes, Trubisky conducted a 17-play death march that included three fourth down conversions—remaining calm, cool and collected the entire time according to head coach Larry Fedora.

“That’s who he is,” Fedora said of his quarterback. “When good things happen, you don’t really see him going crazy and when bad things happen you don’t really see anything. He’s pretty even keel all the way.

“You don’t know what his emotions are, which is really an ideal situation for a leader,” the coach continued. “Because everybody on the team knows exactly where he’s gonna be all the time.

“He’s just solid as a rock, and I don’t think he ever doubted they were gonna make the plays.”

Two of the all-important plays on fourth down were passes to senior receiver Ryan Switzer, who exploited the space behind the blitzes all day to finish with a school-record 16 catches for 208 yards. The third went to Austin Proehl, who was only in the game thanks to an injury to starter Mack Hollins.

When it came down to crunch time, though, with the ball on the two yard line and the clock ticking—there was only one option. The 6-foot-5 Howard sensed a mismatch with his defender, so the Tar Heels decided that if they passed the ball in that situation the only move was to lob it up to the big man.

Lost in all the comeback drama, Ryan Switzer put together one of the greatest games by a receiver in UNC history with his 16 catches and 208 yards. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Lost in all the comeback drama, Ryan Switzer put together one of the greatest games by a receiver in UNC history with his 16 catches and 208 yards. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

“Before the last drive, Fedora came to me and said ‘Hey, we’re coming to you, you better make it happen,’” Howard told reporters afterwards.

“And 50-50 balls are my deal,” he added, with a smile creeping across his face. “I make those jump balls 80-20.”

Players like Switzer and defensive end Mikey Bart said they all took notice of the fans leaving early and booing the team each time it punted during the fourth quarter.

In response, the team stood strong together and refused to give up or point fingers during the moments where it seemed nothing was going their way.

Listening to Bart speak afterwards, it seemed the postgame locker room vibes were very similar to UNC’s conference opener last season in Atlanta—when the team rallied from down 21-0 to stun Georgia Tech.

“We know we’ve got each others backs, we just don’t say it [as much as we should],” Bart said. “And that’s kind of where it all started, last year against Georgia Tech. It’s just been carrying on.”

This year’s Tar Heels remain on the right path to repeat as ACC Coastal Division Champions, especially now that they hold the tiebreaker over Pitt—which finished second behind UNC in 2015.

Mikey Bart and the rest of the UNC defense stopped Pitt when it mattered most late in the game. This after struggling for most of the day. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Mikey Bart and the rest of the UNC defense stopped Pitt when it mattered most late in the game. This after struggling for most of the day. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

As they watched their main goal slowly slipping away during the late stages of the game, the fight-or-flight response kicked in.

Now, the Tar Heels will head to Tallahassee next week with a much clearer picture of who they are.

“We learned a lot about our football team tonight,” Fedora said. “What we talked about before the game is we had an opportunity to establish the identity of this football team.

“And I can say there’s a lot of grit in this football team—for one—a lot of toughness, and all the intangibles that we need to be successful,” he continued. “Our guys had a great week of preparation, and that was the key.”

Up Next:

The tough early season gauntlet continues for UNC next week, when it travels to face No. 13 Florida State and its star tailback Dalvin Cook.

Game Notes:

  • Trubisky set the school record for most passing yards in back-to-back games with 885 yards.  He had 432 last week vs. JMU and added 453 against Pitt.  The previous mark of 764 was set last season by Marquise Williams (270 vs. Pitt, 494 vs. Duke).
  • UNC has won nine consecutive games in Kenan Stadium. That is the longest home win streak since Mack Brown’s teams won 10 straight from 1995-97.
  • The Tar Heels held the lead for just two seconds the entire game–the last two.
  • Pitt scored points on five of its first seven drives, including four touchdowns and a field goal (31 points).  UNC forced punts on three of its final four drives.

 

FINAL STATS

http://chapelboro.com/featured/howards-late-td-caps-unc-footballs-frantic-comeback-win-over-pitt

UNC Football Expands Seats For Service Program

Last season UNC football instituted a “Seats for Service” program that allowed fans to purchase $10 tickets for military members and their families. The idea was to give some of these Tar Heel fans a chance they don’t get very often–watching their team play between the pines at Kenan Stadium.

Following a terrific response to the program, the university has expanded the “Seats for Service” initiative for 2016.

The deal is also now open for active service members including the National Guard and Reserves, veterans, police officers, fire fighters, EMS providers and other first responders.

Children of fallen service members, police, fire and emergency responders will also be part of the program.

“For several years Carolina Athletics has partnered with the University of North Carolina ROTC units and the Atlantic Coast Conference to honor service members as part of our Military Appreciation Day activities,” says Senior Associate Athletic Director Rick Steinbacher.

“We’ve welcomed back to Kenan Stadium former Carolina student-athletes who have gone on to exemplary military careers as well as current students who are veterans and active duty service personnel,” he continued. “The Seats for Service campaign is a way for Carolina fans to provide memorable game day experiences for some of our bravest Tar Heels who serve us both and home and abroad.”

These tickets can be purchased online by using the following link.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-football-expands-seats-for-service-program

Shaky UNC Run Defense Faces Huge Challenge Against Pitt

The time is now for the UNC football team, as it enters ACC play this weekend with an important home game against the Pitt Panthers—a physical group that Tar Heel head coach Larry Fedora expects to try and exploit UNC’s struggling run defense from the get-go.

Earlier this week, Fedora boldly proclaimed that Pitt—which is 2-1 and coming off a shootout loss to Oklahoma State—is the best team the Tar Heels have faced all season.

Whether that’s really true depends on your feelings about No. 11 Georgia, but if there’s one thing both schools have in common it’s that they thrive when their running backs get into a rhythm.

Georgia’s Nick Chubb scampered for 222 yards against a Tar Heel run defense that finds itself ranked 106th nationally out of 128 teams.

Junior defensive tackle Naz Jones' absence has been felt recently along the battered UNC defensive line. Injuries have limited the playcalling for head coach Larry Fedora and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. (Smith Cameron Photography)

Junior defensive tackle Naz Jones’ absence has been felt recently along the battered UNC defensive line. Injuries have limited the playcalling for head coach Larry Fedora and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. (Smith Cameron Photography)

So far in 2016, Pittsburgh has managed to grind out a whopping 239 yards per game on the ground—good enough for 21st in the country.

“It’s gonna be a long day and it’s gonna be extremely difficult,” Fedora said. “So we know we have to—I shouldn’t say stop the run, because I don’t know that anyone can stop it—but we’ve got to slow them down.

“We’d love to be around 75 percent less than what their average is,” he continued. “And if we can do that then we feel like we’ll be having some success.”

To meet Fedora’s goal, UNC’s defense will have to play at a level it’s yet to reach this season.

The main problem is that the team’s play calling on that side of the ball has been limited by a rash of injuries on the defensive line. With arguably their two best D-linemen–Dajaun Drennon and Naz Jones–questionable to play yet again this weekend, the Tar Heels may find themselves struggling to deal with the same issue.

“It limits [us] because now [we’re] putting younger guys out there that really can’t do as much as [we] would like [them] to do,” Fedora said about all the injuries up front. “So you have to look at the lowest common denominator and ask ‘What can they handle?’ And then do that.

“Because it doesn’t matter if you’ve got all these great calls,” the coach continued. “If you can’t execute them, then you’re wasting time anyway.”

James Conner

Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24) has provided inspiration to many people throughout the college football landscape with his courageous return to the field following a bout with cancer. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Of course, most of the time UNC is on defense it will be up against a man who is as strong as they come.

James Conner has long been one of the ACC’s most fearsome tailbacks–even winning the league’s Player of the Year Award in 2014–but his battle with Hodgkins’ Lymphoma this past year turned him into one of the most inspirational figures in the sport.

Now back to full health, Conner’s journey has touched many people across America—including UNC wide receiver Ryan Switzer and quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who each played against Conner as high schoolers in the Midwest.

Earlier this week, Trubisky spoke about what it means to watch Conner return to football just as good as ever.

“It puts everything in perspective,” Trubisky said of Conner’s journey, which also includes rehabbing from a torn knee ligament suffered early last season. “We should never take for granted what we’re able to do—play the game we love.

“Really, just being able to be alive and be healthy is something to be thankful for,” he added. “I think just looking at his story, you should never complain about the situation you’re in because it could always be harder, it could always be tougher.

“But if you have the right mindset, you can overcome a lot of things like James has.”

UNC linebacker Cayson Collins has been playing the best football of his career recently, meaning he'll play a big role in stopping the Pitt rushing attack on Saturday. (Smith Cameron Photography)

UNC linebacker Cayson Collins has been playing the best football of his career recently, meaning he’ll play a big role in stopping the Pitt rushing attack on Saturday. (Smith Cameron Photography)

Conner won’t be the only tailback used Saturday, however, as former NC State offensive coordinator Matt Canada—now with Pitt—has found great success with a rotation of tailbacks so far this season.

Stopping them will be the number one priority if UNC wants to remain on track to accomplish its season-long goal of repeating as ACC Coastal Division Champions.

Trubisky and the Tar Heels view this week as the first where their goals really come into play. And with its season-opening loss firmly in the rearview mirror, there’s no doubt UNC’s version of the preseason is over.

“We’re going into the ACC Coastal [this week], and we know what our goals are this year,” Trubisky said. “We need to take care of business on Saturday if we want to attain those goals, so I think there’s gonna be a lot of juice—not only this week—but for the game.”

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/shaky-unc-run-defense-faces-huge-challenge-against-pitt

UNC Releases Plans for Football-Specific Indoor Practice Facility

Last November, as the UNC football team was in the midst of a school-record 11-game win streak, it was announced that the school had plans to build an indoor practice facility on campus.

Thursday, the first round of plans for the football-specific building were released–with the location of the project being revealed for the first time.

Plans for the new football practice facility. (Photo via Rams Club)

Plans for the new football practice facility. (Photo via Rams Club)

It’s billed as the “next step” to the Tar Heel football program’s rise to being among the nation’s best.

According to the Rams Club release, the facility will be built near the intersection of Ridge Road and Stadium Drive–on top of where the current practice fields are located.

Two new practice fields–one with a grass surface and another made of turf–will also be built running parallel to the indoor building.

Another part of the plan includes building a new stadium for soccer and lacrosse on the current Fetzer Field site.

As of now, UNC is the only ACC school in North Carolina that doesn’t have an indoor practice facility for football.

While the new building will mainly be football-specific, there is expected to be space for strength and conditioning training as well as sports medicine.

When the project was first announced last year, UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham estimated the costs would be around $25 million.

The school has set that number as its fundraising goal.

For comparison, NC State’s indoor facility cost $14 million, Syracuse’s cost $13 million and Virginia Tech opened one last September for $21.3 million.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-releases-plans-for-football-specific-indoor-practice-facility

Seven UNC Coaches Receive New Contracts

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

That seems to be the mantra that the UNC Athletic Department is operating under, as it was announced Thursday that the school came to an agreement on brand new three-year deals for five of its head coaches and extended the contracts of two more.

The group receiving the multi-year deals consists of: Anson Dorrance (women’s soccer), Sam Paul (men’s tennis), Joe Breschi (men’s lacrosse), Carlos Somoano (men’s soccer) and Karen Shelton (field hockey).

Despite coming under fire during the school's academic scandal, UNC women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell was rewarded with a two-year extension. (Elliot Rubin)

Despite coming under fire during the school’s academic scandal, UNC women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell was rewarded with a two-year extension. (Elliot Rubin)

Believe it or not, it’s the first multi-year deal for each of the coaches listed above. All five of them now have agreements that run through the 2018-19 season.

Women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell and women’s lacrosse coach Jenny Levy each had their current contracts extended.

Hatchell’s deal is a two-year extension that runs through the 2019-20 season while Levy’s is a one-year extension lasting through the 2018-19 season.

The seven coaches have combined to win 34 national championships during their time at UNC–including 22 from Dorrance by himself.

“This is a remarkable group of head coaches – each of them has won a national championship and they have a combined 168 years directing their programs at Carolina,” UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “We are excited and proud to sign these seven championship coaches to these multi-year contracts and extensions.

“We are fortunate to have such quality people directing our programs,” Cunningham continued. “They have provided consistent and outstanding leadership for many years, and that leadership has paid off successfully in competition, in the classroom and in their development of the young women and men they coach.”

Five of the seven coaches earning new deals have been at the university for over 20 years. Only Breschi (2009) and Somoano (2011) arrived in Chapel Hill during this century.

The UNC-CH Board of Trustees has approved the terms of the contracts.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/seven-unc-coaches-receive-new-contracts

UNC Invited to Play in Prestigious “PK80” College Basketball Tournament

Over the last few decades, not many people have had more influence over college athletics than Nike chairman Phil Knight.

That relationship will be recognized in November of 2017, with the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon–a prestigious preseason college basketball tournament known as “PK80.”

UNC was among the 16 teams selected to play in PK80, which will be among the largest–and toughest–regular season tournament fields in history.

“What a thrill for North Carolina Basketball to be playing in such a special event to honor a truly special man,” head coach Roy Williams said, in a statement released by the university.“PK80 not only brings together some of the top basketball programs in the game, it honors a giant in business and sports.

Phil Knight is celebrating his 80th birthday in a big way. (Christian Peterson/ Getty Images)

Phil Knight is celebrating his 80th birthday in a big way. (Christian Peterson/ Getty Images)

“Mr. Knight has a wonderful ability to touch people’s lives and do great things, both in and out of the sports world,” Williams continued. “I’ll always cherish my friendship with him.”

The entire field consists of schools that wear Nike gear–with 13 of the 16 having made at least one Final Four appearance.

Nine of the last 13 national champions are also in the mix.

Participating schools include: Arkansas, Butler, Connecticut, Duke, Florida, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Portland, Portland State, Stanford and Texas.

“On behalf of the 16 schools participating in PK80, we are honored to be highlighting Mr. Knight’s contributions to college basketball,” said Clint Overby, vice president of ESPN Events. “The strength of the field coupled with the two venues in Portland set the stage for what should be an exciting weekend.”

Chris Oxley, senior vice president of venue operations of Rose Quarter said, “PK80 will be an incredible showcase of basketball for fans in our arenas and watching on ESPN.

“Two eight-team events – consisting of three games per team – will run simultaneously in the two buildings with the crowning of two bracket champions,” he added. “All games from Portland will be televised on ESPN networks.”

No bracket information has been announced yet for the event, but games will take place on Thursday, Nov. 23, Friday, Nov. 24 and Saturday, Nov. 26.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-invited-to-play-in-prestigious-pk80-college-basketball-tournament

UNC Football Still Seeking Leadership in Key Positions

In a sport like football where a large number of moving parts must work together seamlessly to achieve a common goal, leadership becomes paramount to success.

With big vocal presences like former quarterback Marquise Williams yet to establish themselves in the locker room this season, the UNC football team—despite being extremely talented—is still working on finding its voice at a couple of key positions.

“Leadership doesn’t just come from seniors,” Fedora said. “It can come from anybody. Anybody that has influence on your team—and that can be a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior. It doesn’t matter.

Sophomore middle linebacker Andre Smith (10) is similar to Trubisky in that they both are naturally a bit more quiet than some of their teammates. Their positions, however, require that they use their voice to deliver play calls and audibles. (Smith Cameron Photography)

Sophomore middle linebacker Andre Smith (10) is similar to Trubisky in that they both are naturally a bit more quiet than some of their teammates. Their positions, however, require their voices to deliver play calls and audibles. (Smith Cameron Photography)

“If you’ve got influence, you’ve got the possibility to lead either positively or negatively.”

Looking at the Tar Heel roster in 2016, there are some seniors—like Des Lawrence, Ryan Switzer and Dominquie Green—who have done plenty of work to establish themselves as leaders.

However, none of those guys plays a position with as much influence as junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

Since inheriting the role from Williams in the spring, Trubisky has been impressive—even throwing for a career-high 432 yards last Saturday against James Madison.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora remains critical of his new signal-caller, though, pointing out that Trubisky has made a few mistakes with his decision making at the line of scrimmage this season—which is crucial in a Tar Heel offense that relies on the quarterback to read the defense and get everyone into the right play.

“He’s not the most vocal leader that we have,” Fedora said. “Whether he likes doing it or he’s comfortable doing it, the position dictates it—so he has to do it.

“The quarterback has to have a presence all the time,” he continued. “So that’s something he’s constantly working on.”

In some ways, Trubisky’s quiet personality has made speaking up and barking at teammates a bit of a struggle.

On the other side of the ball, similar issues have arisen thanks to the reserved nature of new middle linebacker Andre Smith—a skilled sophomore with 26 tackles through UNC’s first three games.

Although Smith—who, like Trubisky, is in charge of getting his unit set in the right play–has made strides in his vocal leadership, the Tar Heels have hit stretches defensively where frustration has gotten the better of them.

Fedora said after the team’s shaky performance against James Madison that veterans like Lawrence and Green were having to do anything they could to keep the defense from underestimating the Dukes.

Junior safety Donnie Miles said he noticed the same thing, unfortunately, and hopes he can play a larger role in similar situations moving forward.

“We didn’t look like we were out there having fun,” Miles said. “There wasn’t really as much energy. That’s something that—me being an older guy—I gotta try to pick guys up and bring the energy. Not just wait for something to happen.

Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik shares a word with junior safety Donnie Miles. Miles took it upon himself this week to say he needs to do more to help keep the defense focused and on track. (Smith Cameron Photography)

Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik shares a word with junior safety Donnie Miles. Miles took it upon himself this week to say he needs to do more from a leadership standpoint to help keep the defense focused and on track. (Smith Cameron Photography)

The learning process to become a leader is one that also extends beyond the field and into the film room. Players must be able to hold each other accountable, which obviously gets a little bit easier to do with the proof right in front of them.

Coaches are also crucial to development during meetings because they can provide brutal honesty that goes a step further than what many players would usually say to their peers.

When somebody like Trubisky or Smith misses a play call or fails to deliver the right message to their teammates, all Fedora and his staff need to do is look at the tape.

“We tell them it’s the only place they’re getting the truth in their life,” Fedora said. “It really is. They’re not getting it at home, they’re not getting it from their girlfriend, they’re not getting it from anybody else.

“They get the truth when they go into those meeting rooms—because the eye in the sky don’t lie.”

This early in the season, it’s not uncommon for teams to still be making mental mistakes as they work on finding their voice.

As time goes on, though, the Tar Heels will eventually need those issues to be figured out in order to knock off top competition—regardless of how much talent and playmaking ability they possess.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/unc-football-still-seeking-leadership-in-key-positions

UNC Men’s Basketball Ranked Seventh In Blue Ribbon Preseason Poll

Although Larry Fedora has done a great job capturing the attention of the Tar Heel faithful during the fall, the fact remains that most of Chapel Hill divides the year into two distinct parts: basketball season and waiting for basketball season.

With the release of the annual Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook Preseason Top 25 on Tuesday, it’s safe to proclaim that basketball season is almost here.

Despite losing senior fan favorites Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige, the Tar Heels were ranked No. 7.

Led by a group of juniors that includes Joel Berry, Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson–as well as senior big men Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks–UNC should again boast an experienced lineup filled with talent.

The real discussion about talent begins, though, when comparing the Tar Heels to the nation’s No. 1 team in the poll–the Duke Blue Devils.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has the top recruiting class in America in Durham this year, to go along with a lineup that returns junior guard Grayson Allen, sharpshooter Luke Kennard and senior forward Amile Jefferson.

Once again, it appears the road to an ACC title could be determined by the Duke-UNC rivalry.

Louisville (No. 8) and Virginia (No. 10) give the ACC four teams ranked among the top 10.

Both the Cardinals and Cavaliers will likely play a major factor in the chase to be the top team in the conference–serving as the top threats to the Tar Heels and Blue Devils.

Florida State (No. 20) and NC State (No. 23) round out the league’s top 25 selections.

No other conference had as many teams chosen as the ACC’s six.

Blue Ribbon Preseason Top 25
1.  Duke
2.  Oregon
3.  Kansas
4.  Kentucky
5.  Villanova
6.  Wisconsin
7.  North Carolina
8.  Louisville
9.  Purdue
10. Virginia
11. Michigan State
12. Xavier
13. Arizona
14. Gonzaga
15. Connecticut
16. Butler
17. Saint Mary’s
18. Indiana
19. Creighton
20. Florida State
21. West Virginia
22. UCLA
23. NC State
24. Maryland
25. Rhode Island
http://chapelboro.com/featured/unc-mens-basketball-ranked-seventh-in-blue-ribbon-preseason-poll