North Carolina Basketball: Mismatches Tar Heels Are Dreading in 2014

Rollin YeattsFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2013

North Carolina Basketball: Mismatches Tar Heels Are Dreading in 2014

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    North Carolina's 2013-14 nonconference schedule doesn't appear to be nearly as nasty as past seasons. There is a possibility the Tar Heels will face Louisville in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament on Nov. 24, but we can't guarantee that will happen.

    There are a couple teams on the nonconference schedule that could cause some problems for UNC, though.  And the ACC expansion made the conference schedule even tougher with the additions of Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

    Which teams will cause the greatest mismatches for North Carolina in the upcoming season?

    That's what will be unveiled over the next few slides, as we break down the Tar Heels' five most dreaded opponents for 2013-14.

5. Boston College Golden Eagles

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    Boston College finished its season with a 16-17 record overall and a dismal 7-11 record in the ACC. If the Tar Heels are smart, they'll ignore that record and focus on the talent. There is no good reason to overlook this team.

    The team's misfortunes in 2012-13 were mostly due to a lack of experience—not talent. The Eagles were playing eight sophomores and two freshmen, making it one of the youngest teams in the country.

    Looking ahead to 2013-14, there is plenty to be concerned about with BC.

    Freshman Olivier Hanlan averaged 15.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game last season. He also set the single-game scoring record for ACC freshmen, topping former Tar Heels Tyler Hansbrough and Harrison Barnes with 41 points against defensive-minded Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament.

    Hanlan also managed 22 points against the Tar Heels in the only meeting between the two teams last season.

    Junior Ryan Anderson and sophomore Joe Rahon are also primed for a great season. Anderson averaged 14.9 points and eight boards, while Rahon contributed with 10.1 points and 3.7 assists per game.

    There is no doubt this trio is going to cause some havoc over the course of the season. Boston College is easy to overlook and will continue to be until it starts reeling off some upsets.

    2013-14 may be the year for that, and the Tar Heels better put on their game faces for the showdown in Chapel Hill on January 18.

    This team has the kind of dynamic players who can match up very well with the Tar Heel stars. Depending on what position Hairston plays, it could be Carolina's best three against Boston College's best three.

    That's a matchup you may not want to miss. And one Carolina better not overlook.

4. Syracuse Orange

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    Glancing over the Syracuse roster, it's hard to overlook the absence of Michael Carter-Williams, James Southerland and Brandon Triche. That's a big loss for just about any program.

    But Syracuse isn't just any program. During Jim Boeheim's 37-year reign over the Orange, he has seen plenty of players come and go—many, much earlier than he would like.

    Somehow, he always has top-notch teams anyway. It's hard to imagine the 2013-14 squad being an exception to the rule. Especially when the program houses a star like C.J. Fair.

    To say "Fair is dynamic" would be an understatement. The junior scored 14.5 points and pulled in seven boards per game his junior season, leading the team in both categories. He was also 30-of-64 beyond the arc.

    That's a pretty nasty weapon for Boeheim.

    Boeheim also snatched up three ESPN 100 recruits for the coming season, including 5-star point guard Tyler Ennis, who will take the place of of Carter-Williams.

    But what will truly make this Syracuse team a challenge for North Carolina is its defense. Boeheim deploys his legendary 2-3 zone, which makes it tough to drive or get anything going inside. And because of that, it's harder for teams to find openings downtown.

    Syracuse held its opponents to 58.7 points per game and just 28.4-percent shooting behind the arc. That's disconcerting for a North Carolina squad that is thin on the wing.

    On top of that, there is no real security down low for North Carolina. Roy Williams will have three centers to choose from, but none of them are proven at the collegiate level.

    The good news is the Tar Heels should have P.J. Hairston back by January 11, when these teams meet, barring any further mishaps from the junior.

    The bad news is this game will take place at the Carrier Dome—not the Dean Dome.

3. Kentucky Wildcats

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    The Kentucky Wildcats are looking pretty strong on paper for 2013-14. So strong, in fact, debates are forming all over the country about the possibility of this team going undefeated.

    John Calipari reeled in a 2013 class that could be in consideration for the best class in NCAA history. Calipari swiped five of the top 10 players on the ESPN 100. Julius Randle, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson and James Young are all immediate impact players at the collegiate level.

    Combine those guys with returning stars Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein, and you can understand all the hype.

    So why is this historic team sitting at No. 3?

    For one, an undefeated season in this era of college basketball is crazy talk. There is a reason nobody has run the table since 1976. Even the 2009 Tar Heels who plowed through the tournament with a 20.2-point average margin of victory lost four games during the season.

    And that team had experience.

    Kentucky's stars will be sophomores and freshmen, so the possibility of the Wildcats being as dominant as some would like to believe is pretty slim. We saw a similar team fold under the hype last season, as it was bounced in the first round of the NIT.

    And will all these stars be willing to share the rock? That may be the biggest question of all.

    No matter how the dice roll, Kentucky will still be a formidable team. There is simply too much talent on the roster to overlook—no matter how you feel about the hype. And every team that faces Kentucky will lose a little sleep the night before the big game.

    UNC will be no exception.

    Especially when you consider this will be the ninth game of the season for the Tar Heels. Leading scorer P.J. Hairston may not even be back by then.

    On the bright side, this game will be played in the Dean Dome. North Carolina is 4-0 against Kentucky at home under Roy Williams.

    We should be in for a good one on December 14.

2. Michigan State Spartans

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    Even if the Tar Heels don't end up facing Louisville in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off, it won't be long before they're faced with a real test. North Carolina will be heading to East Lansing, Mich., on December 4 to face off against the Michigan State Spartans.

    Not only do the Spartans represent the Tar Heels' first real challenge, they may be one of—if not the—toughest of the season.

    The loss of senior Derrick Nix was a big one following the 2012-13 season. But Tom Izzo still retained his top three scorers in Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne.

    He also has Branden Dawson, who has failed to live up to his superstar hype to this point, but his sophomore campaign was still pretty impressive. He averaged 8.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks over 26.9 minutes per contest.

    Now that's filling a stat sheet. He also shot 53.1 percent from the floor to boot.

    The Spartans always surprise people without recruiting the top players out of high school. Izzo just finds quality, coachable players he can develop in the system. So far, that strategy has worked out pretty well.

    And it appears he may have built one of his better teams for this coming season.

    On paper, the Tar Heels match up pretty evenly if you include P.J. Hairston. However, it's unlikely he will be available for the seventh game of the season.

    The matchup between Marcus Paige and Keith Appling could be the difference-maker. Neither team is going to excel without solid play from the floor generals. Appling is the quicker, stronger player between the two, but Paige is the better outside shooter and is a deceptively savvy defender.

    Even with all the great teams Tom Izzo has produced over the years, trying to take down Roy Williams' Tar Heels has been a fruitless endeavor. Williams is 5-0 against Izzo at North Carolina, including the 89-72 romp the Tar Heels gave handed the Spartans in the 2009 title game.

    That history isn't enough to brush off Michigan State. It will be really good this coming season, and the Spartans may be lucky enough to face a Hairston-less Carolina squad.

    Did I mention it was in Michigan?

1. Duke Blue Devils

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    Following its 30-6 season last year, Duke lost Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry—all huge losses. But Mike Krzyzewski managed to reload with recruits Jabari Parker, Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye. In addition to those newcomers, Andre Dawkins is set make his return to the floor, and transfer Rodney Hood will suit up for the first time in Durham.

    The Blue Devils also have Rasheed Sulaimon, Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson returning. And though he is unproven, Marshall Plumlee was considered the best of the Plumlee brothers when he was recruited.

    Doubts have arisen since, but it's not a good idea to overlook a Plumlee—at least not at the collegiate level under Coach K.

    Like Kentucky, Duke is a pretty stacked team on paper.

    It would be irresponsible to think this team won't have its hiccups through the course of the season. But it is loaded with talented, unselfish players. Even No. 2-ranked Parker is more focused on team play than standing out as an individual.

    That's why his high school team won a title four years in a row with the star.

    Duke will also be strong behind the arc with Cook, Sulaimon, Dawkins and Jones. The three returners all shot over 37 percent from downtown, and Jones has a reputation as a three-point specialist out of prep. Even Tyler Thornton shot 39.2 percent from that range last season.

    Considering the Tar Heels are notoriously poor at perimeter defense, this should be cause for serious concern.

    Duke could be the toughest opponent the Tar Heels will face this season. Even if the Blue Devils stumble a little with youth, the rivalry itself and the pool of talent in Durham will leave plenty for the Tar Heels to worry about.

    And unlike the other teams on this list, Carolina and Duke will go head-to-head at least twice in 2013-14. If that doesn't make the Tar Heels lose a little beauty sleep, I don't know what will.