UNC Basketball: Top 10 Games to Watch in the 2012-2013 Season

Rollin Yeatts@@TSBRollinFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2012

UNC Basketball: Top 10 Games to Watch in the 2012-2013 Season

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    The season is almost upon us, North Carolina basketball fans.

    The lights pop on in the Dean Dome in just 11 days with the annual "Late Night with Roy Williams" event. From there, the Tar Heels' opening game against Gardner-Webb will be less than a month away.

    Yes, I said that right. Time to get your affairs in line!

    I know it's nearly impossible for most fans to watch every game the Tar Heels will play in 2012-13, which is why I've gone to the trouble of ranking the top 10 must-see UNC games. Whether you need to schedule a day off from work or hunt down a deal for tickets, these game should be of the highest priority.

    The best news is—provided you have cable or satellite—all of these games will be nationally televised. So get out your calendar and mark these dates.

    Click here for a printable version of the North Carolina Tar Heels' complete 2012-13 basketball schedule.

10. North Carolina vs. UNLV

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    Where: Chapel Hill, NC

    When: Saturday, December 29 at 2 p.m.

    TV Broadcast: ESPN2


    If nothing else, this is a revenge game for North Carolina.

    The No. 1-ranked Tar Heels rolled through their first five opponents last season, then hit a wall against the UNLV Rebels. Chace Stanback had a career night, scoring 28 points to go along with 10 boards.

    Stanback wasn't the only one shining glass, though. UNLV was one of the few teams to actually out-rebound the nation's best rebounding team. They also out-assisted the Kendall Marshall-driven Tar Heels.

    The result was a 90-80 victory for the Rebels. Not only was it UNLV's first victory over UNC, it was also the first time since 2006 the No.1 team was taken down in the month of November.

    Needless to say, those that played on UNC's 2011-12 squad will be drooling for revenge. And there is no doubt the freshmen have been well-informed of the game's significance.

    I don't see UNLV pulling out another one, but this game will be laced with intensity.

9. North Carolina vs. Mississippi State, Maui Invitational

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    Where: LaHaina, HI

    When: Monday, November 27 at 6 p.m.

    TV Broadcast: ESPN2


    This game isn't so much about the team the Tar Heels face. There is no bad blood or out-of-conference rivalry with Mississippi State. The Bulldogs finished 21-12 last season, but they lost their top three scorers to the NBA, eligibility and to Duke (Rodney Hood).

    This is about whether UNC ends up in the losers' or winners' bracket for the EA Sports Maui Invitational championship rounds. While that may not mean much in the whole scheme of things, there's nothing wrong with adding to the historic trophy case in Chapel Hill.

    For the record, the last time the Tar Heels won the Maui Invitational was in 2008. That team would go on to win the 2009 national title.

    And the time before that? Well, that was in 2004. That team also went on to win a national title.

    It could be complete coincidence, but it's worth thinking about.

    That isn't to say this won't be a game. But if Carolina wins, as I predict, there will be better games down the road in Maui.

    The winner of this matchup will face either Butler or Marquette, which will likely end up the best game of the tournament.

    Click here for a printable version of the 2012 EA Sports Maui Invitational bracket.

8. North Carolina at Miami

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    Where: Coral Gables, FL

    When: Saturday, February 9 at 2 p.m.

    TV Broadcast: ESPN or ESPN2


    I was tempted to put the game at UVA here, after the Cavs picked up three recruits from the ESPN 100. Though it will be played close, it won't be as exciting as the matchup in Miami.

    Carolina won the last meeting in Charlottesville 54-51. If you're all about some defense, that may be the game for you.

    But if you love offense, speed and a Goliath versus Goliath battle in the paint, UNC at Miami is the one to watch.

    Led by Durand Scott, four Hurricanes finished the season averaging double figures in scoring. Malcolm Grant is the only one that won't be returning this season.

    Though guard play and treys will be a major factor in this game, the difference will be who wins the battle inside.

    Can James Michael McAdoo defend Kenny Kadji from the paint to the arc? Which of the two heavyweights will come out on top, between UNC's 260-pound freshman Joel James and Miami's 284-pound Reggie Johnson?

    This is definitely one you can't miss—and one that should probably be held in the Roman Colosseum.

7. North Carolina at Florida State

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    Where: Tallahassee, FL

    When: Saturday, January 12 at 2 p.m.

    TV Broadcast: ESPN


    Usher in revenge game No. 2.

    2012 wasn't a great year for the Tar Heels facing the Florida State Seminoles. FSU pummeled UNC in the first meeting 90-57, with the help Deividas Dulkys' 8-of-10 performance beyond the arc. FSU would spear them one more time in the ACC Championship.

    Though the Seminoles have been somewhat dismantled from last season, I have confidence head coach Leonard Hamilton will have them back in the mix. Not to mention the fact their best player, Michael Snaer, is still in uniform.

    On top of the revenge factor, we will also be watching the two most athletic teams in the conference go at it. Matched with stellar defense on both sides, you can expect a lot of running in transition.

    UNC should also have a better outside game than last season on both sides of the court, with the return of Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald, along with the improved defense of Reggie Bullock.

    Florida State was 23-of-49 from three-point land versus the Tar Heels. It will be a rough afternoon in Tallahassee if that trend were to continue.

    This will be one of the most exciting non-rivalry games in the ACC.

6. North Carolina vs. Florida State

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    Where: Chapel Hill, NC

    When: Sunday, March 3 at 2 p.m.

    TV Broadcast: CBS


    Carolina never got a chance to take on Florida State in the Dean Dome last season. Now it has the opportunity to capitalize on the intensity of the home crowd.

    Rivalries and a non-conference game against a big-time opponent are the only things keeping this from being one of my top games of the year. This will still be one of the more important games for the Tar Heels, as there will only be two games left on their ACC schedule.

    If the Tar Heels are in the running for the title, as I predict, this game will have more meaning than just "revenge."

    Don't miss this one.

5. North Carolina at Indiana, ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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    Where: Bloomington, IN

    When: Tuesday, November 27 at 9:30 p.m.

    TV Broadcast: ESPN


    Oh, if only Tyler Zeller were here. That's the only thing that could possibly make this game better. He would be facing his younger brother, Cody, who won Big Ten Freshman of the Year and was expected to be drafted higher than Tyler in the 2012 NBA draft.

    However, Cody chose to stay. Tyler didn't have that option as a senior.

    Now that duty will be on the broad shoulders of Joel James. And with only five or six games of experience to this point, it won't be an easy task for the young freshman.

    That isn't the only difficult task facing the Tar Heels, though. This is a team that made it to the Sweet 16, and unlike Carolina, the nucleus of the squad is still intact. This is why Indiana appears to be the consensus No. 1 team among preseason rankings.

    This game will be a true barometer for how good Carolina can be after losing four of its five starters to the NBA. Win or lose, if they can hang with Indiana this early in the season, there will be many good things to come from this year's Tar Heels.

4. North Carolina at NC State

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    Where: Raleigh, NC

    When: Saturday, January 26 at 7 p.m.

    TV Broadcast: ESPN


    Welcome back, old rivalry.

    It's been a while since I have truly looked forward to this end of the Tobacco Road rivalry. Until last season, NC State had been woefully uncompetitive in these meetings.

    After their last battle in the ACC Tournament, I think it's safe to say the rivalry is officially back. UNC pulled out a 69-67 win on a controversial no-call on Kendall Marshall's last bucket.

    Despite their worries, the Wolfpack slid into the NCAA tournament and made it to the Sweet 16. Their storied season ended with a loss to Kansas. Carolina would be taken out by the same team in the next round.

    It's plain to see Mark Gottfried has changed the mentality in Raleigh. He followed up a fine 24-13 season in his first year with a top-10 recruiting class for 2012.

    C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown are both set to have fine seasons, and containing them will be one of Carolina's main priorities. Now that freshman Rodney Purvis has been deemed eligible, there is another primetime player to worry about.

    This game will be physical, fast and intense. The rivalry between the Tar Heels and the Wolfpack is alive and kicking. There is no excuse worthy of missing these games.

3. North Carolina at Duke

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    Where: Durham, NC

    When: Wednesday, February 13 at 9 p.m.

    TV Broadcast: ESPN/ACC Network


    The last time these two teams met in Cameron Indoor, the Crazies were pleasantly silenced through most of the game. The Tar Heels jumped on the Blue Devils and amassed a 48-24 halftime lead. Duke looked like they would make a late run, as they did in Chapel Hill, but it just wasn't to be.

    Duke never came withing 10 points of Carolina in the second half.

    Kendall Marshall dominated that game. Now that he is gone, will freshman point guard Marcus Paige be able to do the same?

    There will be great matchups all around in this one.

    Will James hold down Mason and Marshall Plumlee? Can McAdoo contain Ryan Kelly in the paint and downtown? Will Strickland be attached to Seth Curry's hip?

    Duke freshmen Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson could also cause some matchup problems when they're in the game. Both teams are deep this season, and I don't expect this to be the blowout of last season.

    Never miss Duke versus North Carolina. This year is no different.

2. North Carolina vs. NC State

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    Where: Chapel Hill, NC

    When: Saturday, February 23 at 4 p.m.

    TV Broadcast: ESPN or ESPN2


    I really wanted to put this game at the top, as I feel this could be the best one of the season—and possibly the most important. This could be the game that decides whether the Tar Heels or the Wolfpack take home the regular season title.

    The only issue is there are four other games to worry about before the ACC season comes to a close.

    So while this game could decide which team takes the crown, it just can't match being the final game of the season. Even if the Tar Heels managed to take down NC State in both games, they still have to finish with an even or better record.

    Either way, the implications of this game will be undeniable.

1. North Carolina vs. Duke

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    Where: Chapel Hill, NC

    When: Saturday, March 9 at 9 p.m.

    TV Broadcast: ESPN


    Yet again, Carolina will finish the season against the Duke Blue Devils. Last year it was a win at Cameron. But the Heels didn't fare so well in Chapel Hill.

    Whether a fan of UNC or Duke, none of us will forget "The Shot" from Austin Rivers or the accidental tip-in by Tyler Zeller on the wrong end of the floor. It was the comeback the Devils never made in the second meeting.

    There is nothing worse than losing to your rival on your home floor. Both of these teams had to swallow the pill of humiliation last season.

    And though I have UNC and NC State finishing at the top of the conference, Duke and Florida State will both be on their tails. This game could seal the fate of any of those four teams.

    This is not only the top game on UNC's schedule, but it could be the top game in the entire conference's schedule. Whether this game has title implications or not, it will still be one of the most-watched games for basketball fans across the country.

    Don't be "that" person and miss this game.