Ranking North Carolina's nonconference hoops matchups: Gonzaga leads the way; Alabama a surprise?

Brant Wilkerson-New

It's a new era for North Carolina as the ACC moves to a 20-game conference schedule, meaning the Tar Heels will play two league games before Christmas.

Around those early-season matchups with Notre Dame and Virginia, the Tar Heels will play 11 nonconference matchups, including two possible dates with Gonzaga.

Here's how those games stack up:

1. at Gonzaga, Dec. 18

Enjoy matchups like this while you can, because 18- and 20-game conference schedules could mean the end of true road games like this in nonconference play.

These teams have delivered classics in the past two meetings, and while the cast of characters has changed, the Bulldogs reload with grad transfers Admon Gilder and Ryan Woolridge in the backcourt to go along with Killian Tillie, Corey Kispert and Filip Petrusev.

2. Game Three, Battle 4 Atlantis, Nov. 29

Carolina is guaranteed a third game in the Bahamas. Regardless of whether its in the championship or elsewhere, the Tar Heels should get a strong opponent with Gonzaga, Oregon, and Seton Hall — all possible top-10 teams — on the other side of the bracket along with Southern Miss.

The Ducks will be without talented freshman N’Faly Dante until December, but Payton Pritchard and Will Richardson should be able to keep things afloat.

Meanwhile, the Pirates have one of the nation’s best players in Myles Powell along with an experienced supporting cast.

Alabama guard Kira LewisNelson Chenault | USA TODAY Sports

3. vs. Alabama, Nov. 27

Coach Nate Oats inherits a talented roster, and if his experience at Buffalo is any indicator, the Crimson Tide should hit the ground running.

Guards Kira Lewis (13.5 points) and John Petty (10.2 points) are back while Oats added four-star recruits Juwan Gary, Jaylen Forbes and Jaden Shackleford.

Alabama will be one of the few teams that wants to play just as fast as Carolina does and Lewis should make for an excellent matchup with Cole Anthony. Not a bad start to the Thanksgiving holiday.

4. vs. Ohio State, Dec. 4

Likely a top-15 matchup in Chapel Hill, and with a 9:30 p.m. tipoff, students will have extra time to get lathered up.

The Buckeyes bring back Kaleb Wesson (14.6 points, 6.9 rebounds) and Andre Wesson (8.6 points, 4.1 rebounds) while adding Florida State transfer C.J. Walker and four-star freshman point guard D.J. Carton.

Chris Holtmann’s team will defend well enough to beat anyone, and if the offense improves, OSU has the pieces for a great season.

5. vs. Michigan or Iowa State, Nov. 28

Both programs are in transition as Michigan lost Coach John Beilein to the NBA along with three starters while the Cyclones lose five of their top six scorers from last season.

Still, both should be in the mix to be Top 25 teams this season as Steve Prohm has established a solid program in Ames while Juwan Howard is building a buzz for the future.

Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton (6.8 points, 3.4 rebounds) is generating momentum as an NBA Draft prospect after showing promise as a freshman.

Mick Cronin is 365-170 in 16 seasons as a head coach at Murray State and Cincinnati. Kirby Lee | USA TODAY Sports

6. vs. UCLA, Dec. 21

Expectations aren’t high for the young Bruins in their first season under Mick Cronin, but the Bruins certainly have enough talent to do some damage once a culture takes hold.

Shareef O’Neal is healthy after dealing with a heart issue last season while former four-star point guard Tyger Campbell should be back to full strength after suffering a torn ACL last season.

A victory here might hold more value later in the season for Carolina as UCLA improves throughout the season and begins defending at the level Cronin expects.

7. vs. Yale, Dec. 30

The loss of NBA Draft pick Miye Oni means the Bulldogs likely take a step back after making a run to the NCAA Tournament last season, but Yale will still factor into the Ivy league race.

James Johnson’s has been solid in recent years and this season, its strength will be in the frontcourt with Jordan Bruner (10.4 points, 8.3 rebounds) and Paul Atkinson (9.1 points, 5 rebounds).

Jose Perez figures to be the Runnin' Bulldogs' leading scorer this season.Joshua S. Kelly | USA TODAY Sports

8. vs. Garner-Webb, Nov.15

The Runnin’ Bulldogs won at Georgia Tech and Wake Forest last season, but pushing their winning streak to three in ACC arenas will be tougher after losing David Efianayi and DJ Laster.

Sophomore wing Jose Perez (15.1 points) takes over for Coach Tim Craft, who could become a hot commodity this offseason.

9. at UNC Wilmington, Nov. 8

This game moves up one slot because the Tar Heels are going on the road to Trask Coliseum for what will be an excellent atmosphere for college hoops

Led by crafty point guard Kai Toews (8.8 points, 7.7 assists), UNCW should be better this season, but Carolina likely won’t have much trouble with the Seahawks. Good on Roy Williams for helping out UNCW coach C.B. McGrath, his former player and longtime assistant.

10. vs. Wofford, Dec. 15

After the Terriers won in Chapel Hill in 2017, they hung around last season in the return game in Spartanburg.

Much has changed since then, as Fletcher Magee and Cameron Jackson both graduated and Coach Mike Young moved on to Virginia Tech.

Wofford is no slouch, but an offense that finished 10 in efficiency last season will certainly take a step back without those two players.

11. vs. Elon, Nov. 20

The Phoenix are beginning a full-on rebuild under first-year coach Mike Schrage, a former assistant at Ohio State, Butler, Stanford and Duke.

With Elon losing its top five scorers from last season, Kris Wooten (5.4 points) is the top returner, while graduate transfer Marcus Sheffield will have a major role after four seasons at Stanford.