North Carolina Basketball: Ranking the 7 Toughest Challenges on Tar Heels' Path

Thomas AttalCorrespondent IAugust 14, 2012

North Carolina Basketball: Ranking the 7 Toughest Challenges on Tar Heels' Path

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    Having an elite basketball program like that of the University of North Carolina means attracting top players, but it also means that every season is completely different. Top players don't stick around most of the time, and teams are left relying on younger players and outstanding coaching.

    Luckily for UNC, their coach Roy Williams is good enough that he always attracts top recruits. Despite losing Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller to the draft, the Tar Heels are still poised to make a run in the NCAA tournament.

    Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, P.J. Hairston, Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo all opted to return and join elite recruits Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and Joel James.

    That kind of roster promises some exciting basketball, but the road to glory won't be easy this year. UNC has plenty of challenges lying ahead on their calendar, and here are the toughest ones they will face. 

7. At Texas University: December 19, 2012

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    Rare are the teams that did a better job recruiting this season than the Texas Longhorns. Already strong with the return of Myck Kabongo, the Longhorns added a top-five recruiting class that includes big men Prince Ibeh and Cameron Ridley.

    UNC will have to be wary of Ibeh and Ridley inside taking feeds from Kabongo.

    This game also poses the first strong challenge following the matchup with Indiana. UNC will need to use this game either to avoid falling behind the elite teams with two losses or to keep the ball rolling. Either way, it is a crucial showdown.  

6. At Duke: February 12/13/14, 2012

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    Just like Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski is a magician in terms of consistently putting forth contending squads. This year is no different.

    The Blue Devils did lose Austin Rivers and Miles Plumlee, but they are still stacked in the Plumlee department with Mason and Marshall.

    The Plumlee brothers will be a huge threat to UNC, since the Tar Heels find themselves much weaker under the basket without Tyler Zeller. UNC will also have to keep their eyes on Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry.

    Their first showdown of the season is always unpredictable, as rivalry games are about so much more than the squads, but the one prediction you can take the bank is that it will be an exciting game.  

5. UNLV: December 29, 2012

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    UNLV will be extremely dangerous for UNC for two reasons.

    The first is that Mike Moser is still playing for the Runnin' Rebels. Already an absolute force last season, Moser will continue to lead the UNLV offense and will be a nightmare for defenses.

    UNC's weak point is likely to be in the paint, so they will have a tough time containing the man who averaged a double-double last season.

    The second threat UNLV poses is Anthony Bennett. Recently cleared to play this season, Bennett is an absolute superstar and will combine with Moser to create one of the scariest forward duos in the nation. 

    If the Tar Heels want to get a win out of this one, containing those two is priority number one.

4. North Carolina State: February 23/24, 2013

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    It may seem like UNC and Duke have permanent ownership over the ACC, but don't be surprised if NC State takes the crown this year.

    They surprised many by making the Sweet Sixteen last year, and look to make an even deeper run this season. They are retaining C.J. Leslie, and suffered no major losses during the offseason.

    If UNC wants to stay atop the ACC hierarchy, they need to make a statement at home. This is exactly the kind of win that could give them a major boost going into the latter part of the season, but a loss could mean falling behind on the national contenders.

3. Duke: March 9/10, 2013

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    When is the last time a game between UNC and Duke wasn't worth circling on your calendar?

    The two bitter rivals meet at Chapel Hill less than a month after playing at Duke and just four days before the start of the ACC tournament.

    This game will be absolutely crucial, as both will want to keep momentum going into the tournament, one team will be looking for revenge from the game at Duke and both teams will be looking for a resume-boosting win for the NCAA tournament.

2. At North Carolina State: January 26/27, 2013

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    As was previously mentioned, NC State seems to have placed themselves as the favorite for the ACC title.

    This comes from a fantastic recruiting period that landed them point guard Tyler Lewis, T.J Warren and Rodney Purvis.

    Road games are always tough, conference games are always tough and being the North Carolina Tar Heels always puts a target on your back.

    UNC will need to put together a great performance to grab the victory in this one, and it will be a great indication of where the team is at heading into the last two months of the season. 

1. At Indiana Hoosiers: November 27, 2012

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    It isn't just UNC—nobody has a tougher team than the Indiana Hoosiers on their schedule.

    Last season, the Hoosiers gave Kentucky an absolute war in the Sweet Sixteen before finally going down 102-90. To put that in perspective, that is the most points the Wildcats conceded throughout their entire championship season.

    Oh, and did we mention that Indiana was also one of only two teams to beat Kentucky during the regular season? So yeah, Indiana was already a solid team last year.

    Now that Cody Zeller and Christian Watford are coming back to join a top-10 recruiting class, Indiana is the favorite to take the title and will be tough to take down. 

    UNC has to travel to Indiana for this one, and taking home a win will take a perfect performance. The silver lining is the game is early enough on the schedule that a win could really get their season going, and a loss won't have too severe repercussions.