The 2013-14 North Carolina Tar Heels have had their fair share of struggles in nonconference play this season, but a trio of upset wins over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky point to their potential.
However, the season is only one-third of the way over, meaning there are plenty more difficult tests awaiting Roy Williams' squad.
Below we'll look forward to North Carolina's toughest upcoming matchups in 2014.
Jan. 11: At Syracuse Orange
The Tar Heels will face their first conference challenge on Jan. 5 when they travel to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest. But North Carolina won't face its stiffest ACC test until Jan. 11 when it visits No. 2 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.
Jim Boeheim's Orange are a perfect 10-0 this season and have proven themselves to be a threat with big wins over Baylor and Indiana.
Keep in mind that this is Syracuse's first season in the ACC. The former Big East powerhouse has yet to showcase itself against the ACC's elite and could very well turn out to be the class of the conference.
The winner of this matchup will still have to play Duke twice but would make a strong statement to the rest of the conference.
Feb. 4: Vs. Maryland Terrapins
Just three days after hosting in-state rival North Carolina State, the Tar Heels will welcome the Maryland Terrapins to town. The key for Williams' squad will be maintaining a high focus level and not underestimating the Terps after what's sure to be an emotional contest vs. the Wolfpack.
While Maryland has already suffered four losses this season, Mark Turgeon's squad has had several bright moments this season and boasts a handful of players who can get hot at any moment—none more capable than leading scorer Dez Wells.
These two teams last met in the semifinals of the 2013 ACC Tournament with the Tar Heels fending off a late Terps' rally and squeaking out a 79-76 win in Greensboro.
This game will also feature an excellent point guard matchup with Marcus Paige going head-to-head against Maryland freshman Roddy Peters:
Feb. 12: Vs. Duke Blue Devils
North Carolina's regular-season finale at Duke will, without a doubt, be one of its toughest matchups of the season. But before the Tar Heels visit Durham on March 8, they'll host their bitter rivals in Chapel Hill on February 12, two days before Valentine's Day. But there'll be no shortage of hate in the air when these two teams get together.
Former Duke big man Mason Plumlee described the emotions that come with such a meaningful game after one of last season's matchups, per Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde: "This game is so different than any other game. You have chills before the game. It's crazy, so you almost have to catch your breath after that first wind and just kind of settle into the game."
Adding to the challenges that come with a rivalry game, in 2014, the Tar Heels will have to contend with superstar freshman Jabari Parker, who's averaging 22 points per game this season on 55 percent shooting from the field and 47 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
If he can keep up his stellar production, Parker will be in the running for National Player of the Year honors come February and will playing with supreme confidence.
But beyond Parker, North Carolina will have to find a way to cool one of the nation's hottest shooting teams. Duke ranks sixth in the country in field-goal percentage this season and will force the Tar Heels to play one of their best games of the year offensively.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.
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