North Carolina head coach Roy Williams is like most great college basketball coaches: He has never been timid about testing his teams with a challenging slate of contests.
On an annual basis, Williams puts his squads through a gauntlet of grueling nonconference games before beginning their always-demanding Atlantic Coast Conference schedule.
This upcoming season is no different.
Some programs will consume more than their share of cupcakes in November and December. The Tar Heels will face an impressive list of opponents before they open league play in January.
In fact, North Carolina's tough schedule should prepare it to contend for the ACC crown and make a major March Madness run.
Let's take a month-by-month look at UNC's 2014-15 men's basketball schedule, marking the calendar with the must-see matchups that could get the team ready for a trip to Indianapolis, Indiana in April.
No Day at the Beach in November
After the Heels open at the Smith Center with what should be two easy targets (North Carolina Central and Robert Morris) and a dicey neutral-court matchup with Davidson—the Wildcats took UNC to overtime last year—Carolina will head to the Battle 4 Atlantis at Paradise Island, Bahamas.
This year's formidable field is second to none.
Because of this resort road trip, North Carolina will have an excellent opportunity for early-season evaluation when it returns to Chapel Hill after Thanksgiving.
Hardly a Holiday in December
Williams is not letting his troops off easy in the last month of 2014.
In the three weeks leading up to Christmas, UNC will face no fewer than three Top 25 teams.
It will host Big Ten foe Iowa (December 3) before going on the road to battle the USA Today coaches poll's preseason No. 1, Kentucky, on December 13. One week later, the Heels will head to Chicago to go to war against Ohio State.
Even if Carolina's record is blemished by New Year's Day, the Heels will come out of the first six weeks of the season battle-tested and ready to wage war when their ACC slate begins on the road against Clemson.
Jump into January
There is no such thing as easing into the ACC gauntlet. The Tar Heels will play nine action-packed contests in the first month of year that will set the tone for the rest of the 2014-15 campaign.
Their second challenge in league play is a home game against Notre Dame (January 5), which could be the most improved team in the ACC.
North Carolina will welcome Rick Pitino and his Louisville Cardinals to the conference not just once but twice in January (10 and 31). The Heels will also meet a capable NC State (January 14) squad in Raleigh and Syracuse (January 26) at home before the end of the month.
If North Carolina is still a Top 10 team by the end of January, you'll know that this team is going to be special.
Ferocious in February
The final third of Carolina's regular-season schedule will be just as extreme as the first 20-plus games.
The Heels will meet Virginia (February 2) in the first game of the month. By this time, the ACC race will be in full swing, and this matchup could be significant down the stretch.
Many would write off the BC game as an automatic win. If the Tar Heels look past the Eagles, they could be sorry that they did.
Must-Win Games in March
North Carolina has only two regular-season games on the schedule in March. However, these two contests could make or break their conference championship hopes.
The Georgia Tech road game could be problematic. At the very least, the Yellow Jackets will be looking to play spoiler to keep the Heels from building momentum at this point of the season.
The season finale against Duke will be a Smith Center spectacular. Even if the ACC title is not on the line, these two teams will pull, struggle and scrap from the opening tipoff to the final buzzer.
Williams has one of the most talented and deep rosters in college basketball.
He has also set up an uber-demanding schedule to match.
This slate will be taxing. It will shape and mold the Heels, pushing this team to the brink and making it work hard to pile up wins.
However, this schedule will also help the Heels become a force to be reckoned with when March Madness comes around.