Mar 24, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Dexter Strickland (1) drives to the basket against the Kansas Jayhawks in the second half during the third round of the NCAA basketball tournament at the Sprint Center. Kansas defeated North Carolina 70-58. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

UNC Basketball: The Tar Heels Toughest Challenges in 2013

Year in and year out the North Carolina Tar Heels play one of the toughest schedules in the country. This season is no different as it is loaded with marquee programs that will have the Tar Heels battle tested once conference play starts in a loaded ACC conference this season.

Nov. 24th vs. Louisville: In a battle of Hall of Fame coaches (Coach Roy vs. Slick Rick) if everything goes as planned and that’s a big if considering how preseason tournaments have gone for UNC the last few seasons, the Tar Heels will face the defending national champions in the final of the Hall of Fame Tip-off tournament in Uncasville, Conn. The likely absence of P.J. Hairston takes little bit of the luster off this match-up as the Cardinals could start the season as the top team in the nation as they return almost every key player from their title team as well as a highly touted recruiting class.

Dec. 4th at Michigan State: It seems like every year the Heels and Spartans end up playing each other. Rather it’s a once in a lifetime event on a aircraft carrier, a preseason event or the Final Four these two teams always seem to find each other. This year’s match-up comes courtesy of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, this will be the 5th time the two teams have played in the event’s history. The Spartans, who return 4 starters, will open the season in the top 5 and will be one of the toughest teams in the country which is always the case under Coach Tom Izzo. Michigan State and its fans will likely look to take out years of frustration on the Heels, Carolina is on a five-game winning streak against Michigan State including the 2005 Final Four and 2009 national title game. Even the disastrous 2009-10 team beat a Michigan State team that ended up in the Final Four.

Mar 15, 2013; Greensboro, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams reacts in the second half during the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament at Greensboro Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Izzo has never beaten Roy Williams since he has been at North Carolina. Think this one is personal for the Spartans?

Dec. 14th vs. Kentucky: One of the marquee non-conference games of the season returns after a one year hiatus. The last time the Wildcats and Heels met they played a classic in December of 2011 with future NBA talent every where you looked. This season match-up might not be a classic but the talent level is still the same thanks to Kentucky’s latest recruiting class that is being called the “greatest class ever” and the Heels class that features two McDonald’s All-Americans as well. This will be potentially the third top 5 team the Heels face in the preseason, how many other teams can make that claim?

Jan. 11th at Syracuse: It is a shame that these two teams never played that often prior to the Orange joining the ACC this season. The sight of the Tar Heels playing in the Carrier Dome for something other than a NCAA tournament game will make this one memorable; the Dome will certainly be rocking for this one. Syracuse lost several key pieces from its Final Four team but they simply reload every season with more athletes to execute Coach Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone. The winner of this game will be one of the early season favorites in the ACC title race.

Feb. 8th at Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish will welcome the Heels to South Bend for their first ACC game in what could become one of the top rivalries in the new loaded ACC. By this time in the season any problems the Heels faced early on in terms of the starting lineup and the rotation should be solved. The Fighting Irish will be looking to prove that in can compete with the elite programs in the nation’s best conference. While depending on how this first month of conference play goes the Heels will likely be looking to keep pace with its biggest rival for the ACC title.

Feb 12th vs. Duke/March 8th at Duke: These games really need no explanation but I’ll give one anyway. It’s Carolina-Duke, its Duke-Carolina. It is the biggest and most important rivalry in all of college basketball and one of the biggest in all of sports. Enough said.

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Tags: Basketball Duke Blue Devils Kentucky Wildcats Louisville Cardinals Michigan State Spartans North Carolina Tar Heels Notre Dame Fighting Irish Syracuse Orange

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