Only one game stands between North Carolina and the start of the ACC season, and unlike the Tar Heels' most recent opponent, McNeese State, this one poses a real threat: No. 20 UNLV.
While the UNLV Runnin' Rebels aren't the dominant force they once were under Jerry Tarkanian, nobody's going to confuse this year's North Carolina Tar Heels squad with one of Dean Smith's national championship winners either.
A loss against UNLV isn't going to crush North Carolina's dreams of dancing when the madness starts in March, but a win over a Top 20 team certainly won't hurt the Tar Heels in the eyes of the selection committee.
But winning this game is easier said than done, for UNLV absolutely can hand North Carolina its first home loss of the season.
Let's take a look at what the Tar Heels need to do to keep that from becoming a reality when the two meet on December 29th in Chapel Hill.
Win the Battle of the Boards
Both teams enter this game ranked in the Top 15 nationally when it comes to cleaning the glass: UNC ranks third, pulling down 45.8 rebounds per game, while the Runnin' Rebels rank 14rh with 42.3 boards per contest.
The good news for UNC is that UNLV will be playing without Mike Moser, it's dominant junior forward who killed North Carolina the last time these two teams met, currently sidelined with a dislocated elbow (h/t The Oregonian).
Against the Tar Heels in the Las Vegas International last year, Moser scored 16 points and pulled down 18 rebounds as UNLV handed Roy Williams' squad its first loss of the season.
North Carolina must take advantage of Moser's absence and stake claim to the boards at both ends of the floor.
Protect the Rock
North Carolina is averaging nearly 16 turnovers per game so far in the 2012-13 season—a number that is simply too high for a quality basketball team.
Turnovers proved costly in two of North Carolina's three losses this season: Turning the ball over 15 times against Butler and 18 times against Texas certainly didn't help the Tar Heels' chances of finding success in those games.
Allowing UNLV to get out in transition and score easy baskets is a surefire way to lose this game.
James Michael McAdoo Must Step Up
Each of the previous two keys lead us to the biggest key of them all.
We know that McAdoo has the ability to step up and take over a game, but those performances have been far and few between this season.
North Carolina's leading scorer (15 points per game) and rebounder (8.3 per game), he's also the team leader in turnovers, handing the ball to the opposition more than three times per game.
He'll be going up against either Anthony Bennett or Khem Birch, and both Runnin' Rebels pose a significant challenge to McAdoo's success.
McAdoo must make the paint his own, putting himself in position to grab rebounds and attacking the rim, drawing contact from UNLV's pair of stud forwards and taking advantage of the aforementioned Moser's absence.
Anything less than McAdoo at his best will prove to be the most daunting thing for North Carolina to overcome in this one.
Rick Weiner is a member of B/R's Breaking News Team.
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