The North Carolina basketball team will earn plenty of frequent flyer miles this season with a schedule that will see them travel to both Hawaii and Las Vegas for neutral site games, along with true road tests against Indiana in Bloomington and Tulane in New Orleans. In addition to those challenging road tests, coach Roy Williams’ veteran team will be face with a tough ACC schedule that includes two games each against in-state rivals Duke and N.C. State, along with 2016 NCAA tournament participants Virginia and Pittsburgh. In all, the Tar Heels will play 14 games against teams that made last year’s NCAA field. Here are a few observations on the UNC schedule that was officially released on Monday: TOUGHEST STRETCH: The Tar Heels won’t be easing their way into the postseason with a closing stretch that will have them play eight of their final 10 regular season games against teams that played in last year’s NCAA tournament. The two other games are no gimmes either, against rival N.C. State and a Louisville team that would have been in the tournament had it not self-imposed a one-year postseason ban. The gauntlet begins on Jan. 28 on the road at Miami and includes home games against Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Virginia and Louisville. UNC will also play at State, Pittsburgh and Virginia along with home-and-home battles against Duke. MOST INTRIGUING NONCONFERENCE GAME: There are plenty of options from which to choose with a schedule that includes a true road game at Indiana as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, a trip to Hawaii for the always competitive Maui Invitational and a rematch at home against Northern Iowa, a team that upset UNC a year ago. But there is no more intriguing matchup than when the Tar Heels take on Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic at Las Vegas’ new T-Mobile Arena. This year’s game has even more meaning than in past years since UNC coach Roy Williams has suggested that his team’s series with the Wildcats may come to an end when the ACC expands its conference schedule to 20 games. AT HOME IN PARADISE: No team has won more games at the Maui Invitational than UNC, with 16 victories in their six previous trips to Lahaina. The Tar Heels will make their seventh appearance in the tournament this November, starting with a matchup against host Chaminade on Nov. 21. Their second-round game will be against their UConn or Oklahoma State, with Georgetown, Oregon, Tennessee and Wisconsin on the other side of the bracket. UNC has won three previous titles (in 1999, 2004 and 2008). Williams also won the event while coaching at Kansas. RINGING IN THE NEW YEAR: The Tar Heels will say goodbye to 2016 in Atlanta, where they’ll begin their ACC schedule with an afternoon game at Georgia Tech on New Year’s Eve. It will be the first of two straight road games to begin conference play. UNC will also play at Clemson on Jan. 3 before returning home to the Smith Center to play N.C. State on Saturday, Jan. 7. FEW MANIC MONDAYS: UNC will only play twice as part of the ESPN’s Big Monday package this year. It will take on Syracuse at the Smith Center on Jan. 16 in a rematch of last year’s national semifinal game and Virginia in Charlottesville on Feb. 27.
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