When North Carolina takes the court against Butler, it will be the 33rd time the Tar Heels have been one of the last 16 teams left in the NCAA Tournament. It will be the 22nd time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams.
It’s an impressive record, and has led to some memorable games.
North Carolina made their first and second tournament appearances in 1941 and 1946. In both years, only eight teams made the NCAA tournament. Twenty-three teams played in 1957, and the Tar Heels beat Yale to reach the last 16 that year. Lennie Rosenbluth scored 39 points as UNC knocked off Canisius. They would, of course, go on to win the NCAA Tournament, finishing the season undefeated.
Ten years later, the Tar Heels had a bye and opened Dean Smith’s first tournament as head coach in the “Sweet 16.” When they did take the court, they needed overtime to beat Princeton. They would go on to the Final Four, where they lost to Dayton and then to Houston in the third-place game.
Five players scored in double digits as UNC beat the Crimson Tide. Even though they only won by five, it was one of the Tar Heels’ biggest wins in terms of final margin in that tournament as they went on to win Dean Smith’s first title.
The 1984 Sweet 16 loss is one of UNC’s most famous ever. After a season that included Michael Jordan winning national Player of the Year and Kenny Smith’s injury among, other things, the Tar Heels were knocked out in the Sweet 16. A certain ESPN announcer would like you to know how good of a job he did defensively on Jordan in this game.
Sunday was not the first time the Tar Heels and Razorbacks played a closely contested tournament game.
Up just one with under a minute left, Smith drew up a play that led to a back door layup for Donald Williams. The Tar Heels would close out a six point win and go on to win their second tournament title under Smith.
The 2005 Sweet 16 win over Villanova will probably be remembered for the travel call on Allen Ray more than anything. It was definitely the best UNC-Villanova NCAA Tournament game ever, don’t @ me.
Tyler Hansbrough put up a double-double as UNC won easily over Gonzaga. Like they did in most games in the 2009 tournament, the Tar Heels cruised to a win.
Stilman White famously got the start against Ohio after Kendall Marshall broke his wrist in the second round against Creighton. UNC needed overtime but eventually got the win. Tyler Zeller had one of the more memorable games in recent Carolina history, going for 20 points and 22 rebounds. Zeller is now in his fifth season in the NBA. White will be on the bench Friday night.
North Carolina got some revenge for the 1984 loss 32 years later. In the era of one-and-dones, the three standout players in this game happened to be seniors. Yogi Ferrell led all scorers with 25, but it was UNC’s seniors that pushed the Tar Heels over the edge. Brice Johnson went for 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Marcus Paige went for 21, hitting 6-9 from three.