It's not as if the North Carolina Tar Heels have ever had an easy schedule, but the ACC's recent additions have managed to stiffen the competition. This, in a season that UNC already had Michigan State, Kentucky and Texas scheduled.
All five of the Tar Heels' biggest games of the 2013-14 season come from that list, and are ranked in order of national attention—not difficulty.
When: Wednesday, Dec. 4 at 9 p.m. EST
Where: East Lansing, Mich.
Don't misunderstand Michigan State's placement on this list. Tom Izzo is returning a very strong cast, and the Spartans could very well be the best team the Tar Heels face this season. And what's not to love about Roy Williams versus Tom Izzo?
This game just won't receive the hype of the other four. There's no doubt it will be a good one, though.
Izzo lost a key player in Derrick Nix, but the top three scorers on last year's Sweet 16 team have returned in Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne. Branden Dawson is also expected to be a major contributor in 2013-14.
As a sophomore, he filled up the stat sheet with 8.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks over 26.9 minutes per contest.
The battle between scoring point guards Marcus Paige and Appling should be the one to watch, as both have landed on the watch list for the Bob Cousy Award. It's a shame we probably won't see P.J. Hairston and Dawson go at it.
Last Meeting: North Carolina took down Michigan State 67-55 in the first game played on an aircraft carrier.
You Should Know: Roy Williams is 6-0 against Tom Izzo since taking over at Chapel Hill. Three of those wins came in the NCAA tournament. Two of those three were in championship seasons (2005 and 2009).
When: Sunday, Nov. 24 (Time TBA)
Where: Uncasville, Conn.
I know this game isn't actually scheduled, but I have a feeling it will go down on the last Sunday in November. The only programs standing in the way of this prime time matchup is Richmond and Fairfield.
That shouldn't be an issue for UNC or Louisville. This was meant to be.
There are a plethora of reasons this game is a "can't miss." For one, the Cardinals are the reigning champions, and every Tar Heel should want a piece of that. This is also a battle between two Hall of Fame coaches with multiple titles to their names.
What's more, this game will be a preview of years to come, as Louisville will be joining the ACC in place of Maryland next season.
Leading scorer Russ Smith (18.7 PPG) will return for his senior season with the Cardinals, posing a very difficult match up for the Tar Heel wings—who will most likely be without the services of junior P.J. Hairston. However, Louisville's Chane Behanan has also been suspended indefinitely and may miss this contest.
But that doesn't make this Louisville squad any easier. The team is stacked with blossoming returners Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell, along with newcomers Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, Anton Gill and Akoy Agau.
The Cardinals could very well make another run at the title, and this will be a chance for the Tar Heels to show they can hang with the big boys again.
Last Meeting: North Carolina topped Louisville 83-73 to move on to the 2008 Final Four. Tyler Hansbrough led the way with 28 points and 13 rebounds.
When: Saturday, Jan. 11 at Noon EST.
Where: Syracuse, N.Y.
There is no doubt the first ACC matchup between Syracuse and North Carolina will be highly anticipated. The trash talking between the fans of these programs has already begun, and I imagine it will only escalate from here.
There's plenty of reason for it. Syracuse has been a national contender for most of Jim Boeheim's 37 seasons, and North Carolina has a pretty impressive history, itself.
Two elite programs. Two Hall of Fame coaches. Two passionate fan bases, spoiled with success.
Sounds like a winner to me.
Boeheim's star point guard from last season, Michael Carter-Williams, may be gone, but he will be replaced by freshman Tyler Ennis. Ennis ranks at No. 20 on the 2013 ESPN 100.
We will see the return of another star Orange, though. The ultra-dynamic C.J. Fair passed up the NBA to rock the headband for one more season at Syracuse, and should be matched up with leading scorer P.J. Hairston.
Last Meeting: Syracuse knocked off the reigning champion Tar Heels 87-71 in 2009.
You Should Know: This will only be the second time Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim will face off while controlling the reins of their respective alma maters.
When: Saturday, Dec. 14 at 5:15 p.m. EST
Where: Chapel Hill, N.C.
These two programs took a year off from the series in 2012-13, and it's probably a good thing. Neither team was playing at the level we are accustomed to.
But the series will be back with a vengeance in 2013-14. The Kentucky Wildcats have gotten a lot of attention with John Calipari's class of 2013—a class that sports six McDonald's All-Americans and five of ESPN's Top 10 prospects.
Even their quick exit from the NIT last season didn't keep the 'Cats from the No. 1 spot in the preseason Coaches Poll.
As if these rival fans don't have enough to bicker about on a regular basis, Wildcat fans get to boast about their ranking and class for the next month or so before the showdown in Chapel Hill.
To make matters worse, the Tar Heels may have to get it done without the services of P.J. Hairston.
Let's not just hand Kentucky the win, though. We haven't seen these guys play together in a real game yet, and Carolina should be much improved from last season.
This will be a game true fans cannot miss. And bragging rights mean a lot to these fans.
Last Meeting: Kentucky got the best of North Carolina with a 73-72 nail-biter at Rupp. Anthony Davis blocked John Henson's potential game-winner with nine seconds on the clock.
You Should Know: North Carolina is 6-4 against Kentucky under Roy Williams. The Tar Heels have yet to lose to the Wildcats at home in that span. However, Kentucky is 3-1 against Carolina under John Calipari.
When: Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 9 p.m. EST
Where: Chapel Hill, N.C.
When: Saturday, Mar. 8 at 9 p.m. EST
Where: Durham, N.C.
Duke is the only team North Carolina will have to face twice on this list, and it doesn't get any bigger than this rivalry. Yes, there is the out-of-conference rival in Kentucky and the new possible ACC rivals in Syracuse and Louisville.
But I'll say it again: There is no bigger rivalry than Duke and North Carolina. There is a reason this game is always on at 9 p.m. EST. Even folks that aren't fans of the programs can't miss this one.
There have been verbal spats between the two Hall of Fame coaches, some brutal chants from the Cameron Crazies, Speedo Guy, Tyler Hansbrough's bloody nose, and the list goes on...
The bottom line is there is a lot of bitterness between these two programs and their fans, and it shows in every game.
These games have also been the deciding factor in ACC regular-season championships for the better part of two decades.
Grab some popcorn, a beverage of your choosing and find your spot on the couch. There is just too much riding on these games to pass either of them up.
Do you really want to be the one that didn't watch them?
Last Meeting: Duke scored the game's first 14 points en route to a 69-53 romping in the Dean Dome. Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee accounted for 43 of Duke's 69 points.
You Should Know: North Carolina leads the all-time series 132-104, but Duke is 39-37 under Mike Krzyzewski. Roy Williams is just 9-12 against Duke as the head coach of the Tar Heels.