UNC Basketball: Tar Heels' Tough Schedule Will Prime Them for 2015 Title Run

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent IOctober 21, 2014

DURHAM, NC - MARCH 08:  Marcus Paige #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 8, 2014 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

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 Davidsonthe Wildcats took UNC to overtime last yearCarolina will head to the Battle 4 Atlantis at Paradise Island, Bahamas.

This year's formidable field is second to none.

Williams' squad will open against always-bothersome Butler. Regardless of whether the Tar Heels win or lose, they will play either Oklahoma or UCLA in the second round.

The top half of the bracket includes heavyweights such as Wisconsin, Florida and Georgetown.

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.

Oklahoma's SG Buddy Hield
Oklahoma's SG Buddy HieldGarett Fisbeck/Associated Press/Associated Press

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.

Kentucky's Andrew and Aaron Harrison
Kentucky's Andrew and Aaron HarrisonJamie Squire/Getty Images

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.

Louisville's Montrezl Harrell
Louisville's Montrezl HarrellAndy Lyons/Getty Images

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.

After facing the Cavaliers at home, UNC will play three consecutive road games: Boston College (February 7), Pitt (February 14) and Duke (February 18).

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.

Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon
Duke's Rasheed SulaimonGrant Halverson/Getty Images

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.

Looking Ahead

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.

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