UNC Basketball: 5 Games That Will Define Tar Heels' Season in 2014-15

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2014

UNC Basketball: 5 Games That Will Define Tar Heels' Season in 2014-15

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    UNC basketball has a Final Four trip on its mind for 2014-15, and the road to Indianapolis starts with the regular season. The Tar Heels will have to prove themselves against a daunting schedule if they want to be in position for a shot at the national title.

    One of the toughest foes Roy Williams’ squad will face is the defending ACC champion: Virginia. The Cavaliers walloped Carolina in Charlottesville in their only meeting last season, but this time around they’ll have to come to the Dean Dome to face Marcus Paige and company.

    Herein, a closer look at the showdown with Virginia, along with four more regular-season games that will make the difference between success and singing the blues in Carolina.

    Note: hypothetical later-round games of the Battle 4 Atlantis, interesting though they may be, haven’t been considered here because the matchups aren’t set.

At Kentucky (Dec. 13)

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    The Wildcats have a real chance to come into this game as the undefeated No. 1 team in the nation, meaning that a win would turn the Tar Heels from a Final Four contender into a national title front-runner. Getting that win, though, will be a tall order.

    When the ‘Cats came to Chapel Hill last year, it took a devastating 21-point second half from Marcus Paige to earn the win for UNC.

    Paige will need to be even sharper to have a chance against a more experienced Kentucky squad—featuring three 7’0” centers and the tournament-tested Harrison twins at guard—on its home floor.

Vs. Ohio State (Dec. 20)

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    While Carolina’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge game should be a cakewalk (at home to defensively challenged Iowa), the Tar Heels get a much tougher Midwestern foe in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.

    The Buckeyes feature one of the best collections of individual defenders UNC will face all season, headlined by point guard Shannon Scott.

    Ohio State also likes to get out and run nearly as much as the Heels do, thanks to an athletic collection of wings (Sam Thompson and freshman Keita Bates-Diop among them) who know how to finish at the rim.

    However, provided that North Carolina does its job in transition D, OSU’s own lack of jump shooting will help Roy Williams’ squad come away with a signature win here.

Vs. Virginia (Feb. 2)

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    The Cavaliers’ lack of star power makes it all too easy to take them lightly, but for the first time since Ralph Sampson left, Virginia is the outright defending champ in the ACC.

    Even in Chapel Hill, that means the Heels are in for a serious battle in their only meeting with Malcolm Brogdon and his mates.

    The UV defense—best in the nation in points per game allowed last season—is going to put serious pressure on Carolina’s outside shooters.

    As long as they get a few breaks from the home rims, though, this year’s Tar Heels should have enough firepower to take a big step toward a conference crown with a victory here.

At Duke (Feb. 18)

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    The annual rivalry games with Duke always carry their own potential to salvage or sabotage the year. Of course, with both teams in the Final Four conversation, as they are for 2014-15, there’s plenty on the line aside from bragging rights.

    Carolina’s experienced starting lineup, especially point guard Marcus Paige, will serve the Heels well in the crucible of Cameron Indoor.

    However, for all that this year's Blue Devils are depending heavily on freshmen—including the trio of Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones pictured here—the combination of Okafor's scoring and a wealth of elite defenders will make them almost impossible to beat at home.

Vs. Duke (Mar 7)

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    These two teams always close out the regular season against each other, and this year, the finale will be played in Chapel Hill.

    Duke point guard Tyus Jones isn’t easily fazed, but the freshman won’t have encountered a hostile environment to match the Dean Dome, even in a full season of ACC ball.

    The home crowd will also help UNC push the tempo, keeping Duke from exploiting its advantages in the half court as readily.

    Even in the (likely) event of a Blue Devils win in the first meeting, Carolina can still keep itself very much in the running for a No. 1 seed with a victory here.