Primed Paige Maturing as UNC Leader, Accompanied By ‘Gym Rats’

UNC junior Marcus Paige has been busy picking up some tips from past Carolina legends over the summer and is expecting a Final Four-caliber team to hit the hardwood in the Smith Center come November. In a recent interview with GoHeels.com’s Adam Lucas, Paige discussed his preparations.

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“We have lofty goals, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t. We have a lot of the same guys coming back and incorporated three guys that I think will help us out a lot. We need wings and guys that can score, and I think those guys can do that. I think we have the pieces. We just need to put them together,” Paige says.

With Paige’s return, the Tar Heels welcome back one of the nation’s premier point guards to Chapel Hill.

A season ago, Paige was named a second-team All-American and voted the ACC’s most improved player thanks to his team-leading 17.5 points per game and a conference-leading .877 free throw percentage. He was also the first Tar Heel point guard to earn first-team All-ACC honors since Phil Ford in 1976.

Paige says he’s learned invaluable lessons from former Carolina stars Raymond Felton and Kendall Marshall. It just so happens, that duo happens to play the same position.

“I pick up little things like how they’ll tell the big guy to adjust the ball screen, how they read the top foot of the defender, and which way they want to attack. You can pick up a lot, especially from them, because they’re both so crafty. They use their skill set more than their athleticism, which is similar to what I do,” Paige says.

Paige eyeing the floor (UNC Athletics)

Paige eyeing the floor (UNC Athletics)

But there’s another more recent Tar Heel who Paige credits with preparing him to be more of a vocal presence in the huddle this season.

“Seeing James Michael [McAdoo] do that a lot during our winning streak last year – he became more vocal and you could tell he really matured and got comfortable being that leader. Seeing him do that has helped me adjust my leadership form more of a ‘lead by example’ to being able to get on guys. I think the fact that my teammates respect me enough to listen to what I’m saying definitely helps that,” Paige says.

Marcus Paige (Copyright 2014 Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige (Copyright 2014 Todd Melet)

As far as head coach Roy Williams’ expectations, Paige says Coach wants him to continue to hit the gym hard and become stronger at driving the ball to the basket.

“He wants me to do a lot of the same things that I worked hard on last summer, in terms of making strides in the weight room, getting stronger and getting ready to handle thirty-plus minutes a game again. Also, he wants me to work on my skill set as far as finishing around the basket and becoming even more of a consistent jump shooter,” Paige says.

Paige isn’t kidding about improving his accuracy. He’s aiming to shoot at least 50 percent from the floor in the upcoming season.

There’s also been a notable change in offseason motivation for the team as a whole. Paige says his workouts haven’t been as lonely lately. He’s noticed an abundance of “gym rats” this year.

“Every time I try to get in the gym, somebody else is in there, whereas a lot of times in the past, I’ve found myself in there by myself or maybe one other person. Now, we’re working out together. This team has more gym rats on it than we’ve had in the past,” Paige says.

A combination of fresh, eager talent and a healthy belief in the championship mettle of the squad have seemingly led to a more focused summer for Paige and the rest of the Tar Heels as they prepare for promising season ahead.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/primed-paige-maturing-unc-leader-accompanied-gym-rats/

Healthier, Fitter Meeks Eager for Round Two in Chapel Hill

Sophomore UNC forward Kennedy Meeks will be a whole lot lighter when he takes to the Smith Center floor in 2014. A now fully fit Meeks says he’s grown into a smarter and more physical basketball player heading into year two in Chapel Hill.

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Meeks has rededicated himself to the game of basketball in the offseason. The talented forward says during his maiden Carolina campaign, he didn’t always understand how hard he needed to work to compete at the elite level.

“I think for my freshman year, learning that is not easy. Everything is earned, not given. It’s a pretty long season. You have to work hard every day in practice – even off the court. I think that’s very important to our team this year. I think we learned a lot of lessons from last year that we can carry over to this year,” Meeks says.

But now, Meeks appears to be putting in the hard yards and embracing the rigors of college basketball. And that starts with his body. Meeks is sculpting a new body image for himself. The sophomore big man has dropped nearly 45 pounds in a year.

Last summer, Meeks weighed in at a whopping 315 pounds, but these days he’s checking in at a trim 270.

The drop in weight has allowed Meeks to begin throwing down windmill dunks. In fact, he recently saved his teammates from running wind sprints at the end of practice when he displayed his newfound move to Head coach Roy Williams.

Meeks lays it in (Todd Melet)

Meeks lays it in (Todd Melet)

Meeks says his greater explosiveness is not only due to his loss in weight, but his stronger mind as well.

“It’s not easy. I think it’s the mental part. It’s really going out onto the court and being a demand on the inside. I think that’s what I’m trying to do right now,” Meeks says.

Meeks credits determination and more intelligent diet choices for his ability to transform his body and get into prime playing shape.

“Eating right, working out, and being determined. Being a sophomore, I just eat better and am smart with my food choices,” Meeks says.

Even with the excess baggage, Meeks was a big-time performer in high-profile contests as a freshman. He saved his best for last in the Round of 32 NCAA Tournament loss to Iowa State. Meeks posted 15 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes of play.

However, Meeks only averaged 16 minutes per game for a reason. He struggled to keep pace with Coach Williams’ track-meet offense, often finding himself gasping for air.

But Meeks says his game continues to be taken to the next level this summer with help from former Tar Heels like Sean May.

“Sean May’s just telling me to keep playing hard, defend, make smarter plays on offense, and get farther out from the basket and shoot. I think he’s really been a good influence this summer,” Meeks says.

The off-court issues surrounding the current Tar Heels still rages on. But Meeks says he and his teammates are doing their best to concentrate on what they can control in preparation for next season.

“I don’t think we let it affect us as much as it did when it first started. We have to put that behind us and focus on our season. It’s pretty important to make Coach [Williams] happy and make our fans happy,” Meeks says.

One thing is for sure. A slimmed down Meeks in 2014 promises to bring a smile to the faces of Coach Williams and Tar Heel fans everywhere.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/healthier-fit-meeks-fired-round-two-chapel-hill/

Veterans, Rookies Seizing The Summer for Tar Heels

Although mired in the hovering dark cloud of academic scandal and being largely overshadowed these days by the likes of uber-talented Duke and Kentucky nationwide, Head Coach Roy WilliamsCarolina squad is quietly going about its business this summer.

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Taking advantage of a new NCAA policy enacted a couple seasons ago that allows teams to meet two hours per week for official summer practice, the Tar Heels are getting their first real look at some fresh new faces.

It’s a crash course for the young guys, veteran Jackson Simmons says.

The highly-touted freshman trio of Joel Berry, Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson are taking the challenge of elite college basketball head on with the help of the upperclassmen.

Joel James says the summer provides a relatively low-pressure training ground for the new guys before getting thrown into the crucible of the ACC basketball season.

Simmons also says it’s a vital opportunity for the older players to get to know the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of their new teammates.

But summer practice is not only a wading pool for the incoming freshmen to ease in and get their feet wet. It’s brutal competition, too.

With the wide array of Tar Heels in the NBA, the summer affords current Carolina players the chance to test their skills against seasoned professionals in pick-up games. That’s not bad preparation.

So how are the Tar Heels looking? Well, one name that’s been popping up so far this summer is Kennedy Meeks. The sophomore reportedly continues to get in better and better shape, shedding a few extra pounds.

That’s music to the ears of Coach Williams.

Kennedy Meeks (Todd Melet)

Kennedy Meeks (Todd Melet)

Notably, Nate Britt has made the switch from shooting left-handed to right-handed in the offseason. That news was met with perplexity by many observers. But early reports say Britt has been shooting lights out in recent pick-up games.

Another prominent returning UNC player’s name that’s been circulating around is Joel James. James says his injury last December derailed his momentum on the floor.

But signs are pointing towards a James that could be much more of a dominant force inside – a welcome development for the Tar Heels.

Most preseason projections place Carolina in somewhere between No. 5 and No. 10 in the rankings, but for now, the UNC players, young and old, seem focused on seizing the summer, taking care of their own business and improving each day.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/veteran-rookie-tar-heels-seizing-summer/

Shot at Redemption: Hairston Looking To Create “Buzz”

It turns out embattled former UNC shooting guard P.J. Hairston won’t be leaving the state of North Carolina to embark on his NBA career. The Miami Heat traded Hairston to the Charlotte Hornets in a deal involving Connecticut star Shabazz Napier.

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It was a bit of a psyche-out for Hornets fans late Thursday night as the franchise, in dramatic fashion, ended up swapping Final Four MVP Napier for former Tar Heel Hairston.

The cards all seemed to fall in place for a trip to the Queen City for the man who scored 707 points in 71 games for Carolina in two seasons on the floor.

Last season, Hairston played for the Texas Legends in the NBA Development League after UNC chose to not file for the junior’s reinstatement from the NCAA.

Head Coach Roy Williams was notably disturbed by the Hairston saga last summer that spiraled out of control and ultimately ended in the demise of Hairston’s career at the college level.

But the UNC coach says he’s excited for P.J. and that he’s “happy that he will play in state and for another Tar Heel, Michael Jordan.” Famously, Jordan is the owner of the freshly re-minted Hornets.

Hairston is the 15th Tar Heel under Coach Williams to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. Overall, the Greensboro native is the 46th first round pick from UNC.

Coach Williams, who has always maintained tremendous confidence and belief in his former players, says “life has given him another opportunity and he will take great advantage of that chance.”

It will be fascinating to see what Hairston makes of this second chance. Apparently he’s done enough to convince Hornets general manager Rich Cho that he’s grown up and learned from his past mistakes.

Hairston says playing in the D-League really matured him and that he now has a “smaller circle” of outside acquaintances, keeping his family closer.

His play on the court, though, has certainly been sparkling. With the Legends, Hairston averaged 21.8 points on 45 percent shooting from the field.

Nothing is a done deal, but with the lack of long-range shooting in Charlotte’s roster, Hairston may add some more significant “buzz” to the Hornets next season.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/p-j-hairston-getting-second-chance-charlotte-hornets/

Big Night Ahead For ACC, UNC In 2014 NBA Draft

The ACC’s finest and of course, some of Carolina’s will feature heavily in the 2014 NBA Draft set to get underway Thursday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

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Duke’s Jabari Parker has Joel Embiid to thank if he snags the top pick in this year’s NBA draft. Embiid, the standout freshman sensation at Kansas a season ago, has seen his stock slide due to his foot injury.

Regardless, Parker is set to make an immediate impact at the next level. The Cavaliers will have their eyes firmly set on Parker and another Jayhawk, Andrew Wiggins, for the top pick.

Another ACC star who should come off the draft boards early Thursday night is N.C. State’s T.J. Warren. Tar Heel fans will likely never forget the stunning duel between the Wolfpack star and UNC point guard Marcus Paige at PNC Arena in Raleigh a season ago.

T.J. Warren (chicagonow.com)

T.J. Warren (chicagonow.com)

Warren, who averaged 25 points per game last season, has made his final curtain call in ACC action, but most experts have the ACC Player of the Year’s draft stock rising thanks to his exceptional workouts.

Expect a team like the Orlando Magic, who could use a dynamic wing player, to nab Warren with the No. 12 selection.

Another intriguing prospect from Tobacco Road is the embattled P.J. Hairston. Hairston spent last season lighting up the NBA Development League in Texas. While there, he shot 45.3 percent from the floor and 87 percent at the free-throw line.

P.J. Hairston (Photo by Todd Melet)

P.J. Hairston (Photo by Todd Melet)

The Greensboro native will be hoping to squeeze into the lottery picks, but it’s more probable to see Hairston going somewhere between 15-24 in the selections.

By the way, the Charlotte Hornets are in need of some explosive offense and notably, have pick No. 24. So don’t rule out a short trip down to Charlotte for Hairston.

Duke’s Rodney Hood is expected to go early as well. At 6’8”, Hood has the size and shooting ability to attract general managers across the nation. Expect Hood to go somewhere in the 8-14 pick window.

Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels is another top prospect on this year’s draft board. His athleticism will have a lot of team executives salivating. McDaniels will likely sneak into the top 20 Thursday night.

The difference between being selected in the first and second round is huge. Getting picked in the first round guarantees a contract. Second-round selections aren’t promised anything.

And that’s why James Michael McAdoo’s decision to forego his senior season at Carolina was so puzzling. No analysts or draft gurus have the former Tar Heel going in the first round.

It should be a night mixed with suspense, relief, and celebration for many of the ACC’s brightest lights. All the hard work could pay off big-time with a dream realized and a massive check in tow.

They’ve thrilled fans everywhere with their sparkling play at the collegiate level, but the final chapter in their basketball career is set to begin.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/acc-unc-feature-prominently-2014-nba-draft/

Stilman White Ready For Second Act In Chapel Hill

Most of the focus on the Carolina basketball team in the upcoming season will justifiably be centered on Marcus Paige, J.P. Tokoto and the incoming trio of highly touted freshman. But there’s a familiar name returning to the Tar Heel roster for another crack at some memorable moments.

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Tar Heel fans everywhere remember the moment when a skinny high school-looking kid with a mop haircut and a bounce in his step was thrust center stage into the NCAA Tournament pressure cooker when point guard Kendall Marshall went down with an injury.

That’s the last time Stilman White dribbled a basketball in Carolina uniform – in a painful 80-67 loss to Kansas in the 2012 Elite Eight.

Well, he’s back. But Carolina faithful may struggle to recognize White this time around. He’s the scrawny little kid no more. While completing his obligatory two years as a Mormon missionary, White says he’s bulked up.

White gained weight while going door-to-door sharing his faith in his suit and tie during his mission service.

One thing is for sure. The scenery will look a little different from the last time White was in Chapel Hill. Luke Davis, Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons are the only remaining players from the 2011-2012 squad.

But White is getting acquainted with guys like Nate Britt, Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks as they attend summer school classes together.

White (starnewsonline)

White (starnewsonline)

The newly-minted “sophomore” says the biggest shock to the system upon his return is how fast everybody is. White, however, is determined to get back in shape and be 100-percent prepared for the season come November.

With so much new talent flooding through the Smith Center doors to join an already capable UNC team, exactly how much playing time White will see remains in doubt.

Nobody knows what’s in store for the matured White during the rest of his Carolina playing days, but it’s certainly another exciting storyline to keep an eye on in the coming months.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/stilman-white-ready-second-act-chapel-hill/

Freshmen Frenzy Set To Shake Up Chapel Hill, Tar Heels

In recent weeks, the Carolina basketball program has been marred by the disturbing allegations made by former player Rashad McCants. But before too long, attention will once again shift to happenings on the court and there will be a trio of talented fresh faces on the floor for the Tar Heels.

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Justin Jackson, the 6’8”, 185-pound wing player is expected to arrive in Chapel Hill shortly to begin summer school classes.

The man from Texas says he’s already putting in the work in the weight room necessary to bulk up and prepare himself for the physical play that awaits him in ACC action.

Additionally, he’s enlisted the aid of former NBA player and coach John Lucas to sharpen his on-court skills. Jackson went through a dramatic growth spurt in high school, but maintains a precise jump shot that has him comfortable anywhere on the floor.

The sky appears to be the limit for Jackson, who was named the co-MVP of April’s McDonald’s All-American game thanks to his game-leading 23 points on 11-14 shooting. That’s the kind of sharp shooting Head Coach Roy Williams has been searching for.

Joel Berry, a two-time state champion and three-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida, is primed to make some noise in Chapel Hill. Berry will add even more depth to the Carolina roster.

Joel Berry (keepingitheel.com)

Joel Berry (keepingitheel.com)

He’s still recovering from a bone bruise in his ankle that has limited his mobility, but upon regaining strength, Berry’s physicality is impressive.

One of the most notable aspects of Berry’s game is his defensive intensity, especially on the perimeter. The Tar Heels have notoriously struggled to guard the three-point shot in recent years. An added boost in that department could pay dividends.

There’s one more incoming freshman to keep an eye on. The lanky 6’6” Theo Pinson combines athleticism with quickness. The Greensboro native can still handle the ball despite his towering height. As a high school senior, Pinson averaged 23 points per game and led his team to its second straight state championship at Wesleyan Christian Academy.

Theo Pinson (News & Record)

Theo Pinson (News & Record)

Coach Williams says he likes bringing in proven winners. Pinson certainly fits in that category.

It remains to be seen what type of immediate impact this tantalizingly talented trio can make in the SmithCenter come November, but their progress will be followed with much interest by the entire college basketball world.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/freshmen-frenzy-set-shake-chapel-hill-tar-heels/

McCants: Williams Knew “100 Percent” About Paper Classes

Originally posted 9:20 a.m., June 6, 2014

Former UNC basketball star Rashad McCants has told ESPN that tutors wrote papers for him, he remained eligible only because of phony “paper classes” – and that his coaches, including Roy Williams, were fully aware of what was going on.

McCants made those comments – and more – on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.” The program is set to air today at 3:00 p.m.

Click here for the story.

“I didn’t write any papers,” he says on the show. “Some of the premier players, we didn’t write our papers…we would get a call from our tutors, we’d all pack up in one big car, or two or three cars, carpool over to the tutor’s house, and basically get our papers and go about our business.”

As for Roy Williams, McCants says “I think he knew 100 percent” about the misconduct. (This marks the first time a player or former player has suggested Williams himself may have been aware of what was going on.)

UNC officials haven’t yet commented to WCHL on the story, which broke Friday morning.

UNC released the following statements Friday:

UNC Head Men’s Basketball Coach Roy Williams:

“Our players have been deeply hurt over the last couple of years, and again today, by the comments and innuendo concerning their academic achievements. The young men who accepted scholarships to play basketball at this University have done so expecting a world-class basketball experience, in addition to a world-class education. Obviously, we pride ourselves on being one of the top basketball programs in the country, but equally important, in helping our players grow academically and socially, as we promised their parents we would.

Our student-athletes understand the value of a degree from the University of North Carolina and accept their academic responsibilities in earning that degree. They take seriously their efforts to, in some cases, become the first member of their families to graduate from college.

I love them for all they have meant to UNC and to me, and I will continue to believe in and support them.

With respect to the comments made today, I strongly disagree with what Rashad (McCants) has said. In no way did I know about or do anything close to what he says and I think the players whom I have coached over the years will agree with me. I have spent 63 years on this earth trying to do things the right way and the picture he portrays is not fair to the University or me.”

Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham:

“It is disappointing any time a student is dissatisfied with his or her experience. I welcome the opportunity to speak with Rashad McCants about returning to UNC to continue his academic career – just as we have welcomed many former student-athletes interested in completing their degrees.

The University hired former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein in January to conduct an independent investigation into past academic and athletic irregularities. While these are the first allegations we have heard from Mr. McCants, I encourage him to speak with Mr. Wainstein. We are confident Mr. Wainstein’s inquiry will provide us with a full understanding of these issues.

Since becoming Carolina’s director of athletics, I have gotten to know some of Mr. McCants’ teammates, and I know that claims about their academic experience have affected them deeply. They are adamant that they had a different experience at UNC-Chapel Hill than has been portrayed by Mr. McCants and others. I am impressed with their love for Carolina and passion for their education. Several of them have continued to take classes and finish their degrees and all of them are proud of their academic achievements. We, too, are proud of them.”

Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham told OTL in a statement, ““It is disappointing any time a student is dissatisfied with his or her experience. I welcome the opportunity to speak with Rashad McCants about returning to UNC to continue his academic career – just as we have welcomed many former student-athletes interested in completing their degrees.

The university hired former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein in January to conduct an independent investigation into past academic and athletic irregularities. While these are the first allegations we have heard from Mr. McCants, I encourage him to speak with Mr. Wainstein. …

I have gotten to know some of Mr. McCants’ teammates, and I know that claims about their academic experience have affected them deeply. They are adamant that they had a different experience at UNC-Chapel Hill than has been portrayed by Mr. McCants and others.”

McCants starred on Carolina’s 2005 national championship team.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/mccants-williams-knew-100-percent-paper-classes/

Men’s Basketball Braces For Brutal Gauntlet

Forget all that you knew about the Atlantic Coast Conference. This is your new-look ACC and get used to it. The Tar Heels will only face two members of the original ACC in their home Smith Center slate. Let that sink in.

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UNC will face a daunting slate of games next season, including home and away games against new member and perennial powerhouse Louisville, as well as Duke, NC State and Georgia Tech.

The ACC released the conference schedules for the next two basketball seasons Tuesday.

Each of the ACC’s 16 member institutions has two regular schedule partners for home and away games. The Blue Devils and the Wolfpack are the two regular opponents for the Tar Heels.

In the 2014-15 campaign, Carolina will host Florida State, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Virginia and Virginia Tech and travel to league foes Boston College, Clemson, Miami, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest.

The schedule no doubt promises to be an intriguing one for Tar Heel ticket holders. For the first time since 1998, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals will visit Chapel Hill for a showdown in the Dean Dome while Syracuse will be facing off with UNC for the first time ever in Chapel Hill.

The 2014-15 schedule will be the ACC’s third season with 18 conference games. UNC finished with a 12-6 mark in league play in 2012-13 and went 13-5 this past season.

The ACC Digital Network’s Jeff Fischel wonders whether the Tar Heels can get back on track in the upcoming season.

“You didn’t make the Elite Eight the last two seasons. That’s the first two-year drought of the Roy Williams era. Do you make a deep run next year?” Fischel says.

The following year, in 2015-16, UNC will play two games against Duke, NC State, Boston College and Syracuse while tasked with tough away games only at Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame, Virginia and Virginia Tech.And that’s just the ACC gauntlet. Carolina will be facing an always formidable Kentucky Wildcat team next season and will also be playing in a preseason tournament field in the Bahamas with Wisconsin and Florida – that makes three of the four Final Four teams in 2014 as potential opponents looming for Head Coach Roy Williams’ troops.

But with Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and J.P. Tokoto all returning along with the additions of a trio of highly touted recruits in Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson and Joel Berry, the Tar Heels should be well equipped to take on one of the toughest schedules in the country.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/carolina-basketball-braces-brutal-upcoming-gauntlet-next-season/

Upcoming Carolina Basketball Slate Full Of Intrigue

The North Carolina men’s basketball team will face a daunting slate of games next season, including home and away games against new member and perennial powerhouse Louisville, as well as Duke, NC State and Georgia Tech.

The Atlantic Coast Conference released the conference schedules for the next two basketball seasons Tuesday.

Each of the ACC’s 16 member institutions has two regular schedule partners for home and away games. The Blue Devils and the Wolfpack are the two regular opponents for the Tar Heels.

In the 2014-15 campaign, Carolina will host Florida State, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Virginia and Virginia Tech and travel to league foes Boston College, Clemson, Miami, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest.

The schedule no doubt promises to be an exciting one. For the first time since 1998, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals will visit Chapel Hill for a showdown in the Dean Smith Center, while Syracuse will be facing off with UNC for the first time ever in Chapel Hill.

The 2014-15 schedule will be the ACC’s third season with 18 conference games. UNC finished with a 12-6 mark in league play in 2012-13 and went 13-5 this past season.

The following year, in 2015-16, UNC will play two games against Duke, NC State, Boston College and Syracuse while tasked with tough away games only at Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/upcoming-carolina-basketball-slate-full-intrigue/