Tar Heels Get Ready To Back Up Hype In Conference Play

Rachel ScallContributor IJanuary 3, 2009

By now, everyone and their grandmother has heard about how good UNC-Chapel Hill basketball is supposed to be this season. But with conference play coming up, the Tar Heels will be put to the test and forced to defend their no. 1 ranking.

The Tar Heels host their first ACC match-up Sunday against Boston College. Although Tyrese Rice put up 46 points against the Heels at the teams' last meeting, his high numbers couldn't stop Carolina then and shouldn't stop them now. If BC wants to keep up with the Tar Heels, they are going to need more depth than they have available.

One week after playing BC, UNC will face its first in-conference threat: no. 6 Wake Forest. Both teams shoot approximately 51 percent from the field, but Wake currently averages more rebounds per game than Carolina. The Tar Heels will need to keep it together on D if they want to beat the Demon Deacons. This game will be far from easy, although once again, North Carolina's depth is a weapon that Wake will have trouble matching.

Virginia and Miami will be the next two teams on North Carolina's victims list. While Virginia's team is putting up more points thanks to freshmen Sylven Landesberg and Sammy Zeglinski, their poor FG percentage and tendency to send opposing players to the line will sway the game to the advantage of the Heels. Miami's shooters will also have trouble keeping up with the Tar Heels and the Hurricanes will struggle to keep up with UNC point guard Ty Lawson's speed.

Another test for North Carolina could be no. 16 Clemson. As evidenced by last season's match-ups between the Tar Heels and the Tigers, Clemson is perfectly capable of keeping up with the Heels. If the Tigers hang on long enough to create a close game, the outcome will once again come down to whether or not Clemson can keep up with UNC's extraordinary depth.

Florida State, North Carolina State, and Maryland shouldn't be too tough on the Heels, although Maryland's defeat of a ranked Michigan State showed that the Terps should be taken seriously. As last year's Maryland-Carolina game proved, anything can happen.

UNC should be able to blow past Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. While Virginia Tech has improved--they missed beating a ranked Xavier team by one point in OT--they are yet to reach powerhouse status. Georgia Tech currently sits at the bottom of the ACC pack with an early loss to Virginia.

The ultimate challenge for the Tar Heels will be the boys right down the road: no. 5 Duke. Duke's style of play, with its concentration on shooting from the outside, will challenge the Carolina defense—as usual. But with Kyle Singler toughened up from last season, the Blue Devils may be able to challenge the Heels from the post as well.

If the Heels want to defeat their arch rival, they will have to bring their A-game: Lawson's speed, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green's threes, Deon Thompson's much improved game, Marcus Ginyard, Bobby Frasor, and Ed Davis's defense and, of course, a healthy Tyler Hansbrough.

Many think the question this season is, "can anyone stop the Tar Heels?" In a league as strong as the ACC, the real question is, "who will be the team to upset Carolina?"