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How Many Times Have North Carolina Won March Madness

Publish Date: 03/09/2023
Fact checked by: Allan Howe

North Carolina Tar Heels game

As the 2023 edition of March Madness appears on the horizon, 68 colleges will be doing their absolute best to win this year’s edition of college basketball's most well-known annual tournament.

Although 68 will be doing their best, only one can eventually complete the bracket and bask in the glory that comes with being the outright winner. Of the names that will look to be in the final four, North Carolina will hope that they reach the business end of proceedings.

While it is fair to say that the North Carolina Tar Heels are one of the most successful basketball programs in the history of college basketball. They have a rich tradition and have been a consistent force in the NCAA Men's March Madness tournament.

A force that has seen them win the tournament on no fewer than six separate occasions and in doing so, the college has the third most successful of all time - only being surpassed by both UCLA (11 wins) and Kentucky (8 wins).

With a half dozen previous outright victories behind them, they will now look to make it seven in 2023. Only time will tell if such success will be recorded but now we will go back in time and see when each of their six tournament wins took place.

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The First On The Board

The path to success all started back in 1957, in what was then a 32-team tournament bracket. First up was a victory over Yale, as they were disposed of by a score of 90 points to 74.

While the margin of victory was close in the Sweet Sixteen, as Canisius gave a good account of themselves before losing out by 87 points to 75. 12 points the margin and the beginning of the difficulty curve getting even steeper.

Because next up was Syracuse in the Elite Eight and whereas a 12-point win was recorded in the round before, this time the eventual gap was down to nine. 67-58 was the score in the history books and progress to the Final Four was secured.

Awaiting the Tar Heels in the semi-final stage of the tournament where none other than Michigan State and this is where things began to get really difficult. What is more difficult than one overtime period? Three overtime periods.

This Final Four encounter would go down to the wire and then some, as eventually Michigan State was sent packing by a score of 74-70. An exhausting encounter it must be said and one that left them depleted for their Finals match with Kansas.

North Carolina’s finest may have been tired but they dug deep in another game that needed three periods of overtime. Just one point was the difference between the Tar Heels and their Kansas rivals, as they eventually won their first March Madness by 54 points to 53.

The team was led by future Hall of Famers Lennie Rosenbluth and Pete Brennan, who combined for 42 points in the championship game. The Tar Heels finished the season with a record of 32-0, which remains the only undefeated season in school history.

Remember The Name

The second national championship for the Tar Heels came in 1982, led by future NBA superstar Michael Jordan - yes that Michael Jordan. Once again, it was a 32-team bracket, and first up was James Madison.

A difference of just two points by the time the final buzzer sounded but a difference that was large enough to see North Carolina through to the Sweet Sixteen, as Alabama next lay in wait.

Another narrow victory was soon recorded, this time by five points and with fourth-seeds Alabama brushed aside, another difficult task awaited North Carolina in the Round of 16 that followed.

Vilanova was the third-seeds in 1982 and was no match for Carolina’s finest. 70-60 was the final score and next up was Houston in the final four. The sixth seeds were also looking to move on to the final but their dream was soon ended after losing 68-63.

This led to that year’s championship game. The first-seeded Georgetown Hoyas were defeated with Jordan hitting the game-winning shot with just 17 seconds remaining. A shot that would lead to a dramatic 63-62 win.

More Than A Decade Later

While the Tar Heels would have to wait another 11 years for their third championship success at March Madness. By now the bracket had been doubled in size and 64 teams were duking it out to be the best in the country.

In the opening round, they were paired with local rivals East Carolina. Although the Eastern part of the Carolinas was easily beaten by 85 points to 65. If that result was approaching walk-over territory,  then the Second Round win over Rhode Island certainly was.

The eighth seeds were blown away, as North Carolina won by a resounding score of 112-67. A victory that would see them paired with Arkansas in the Sweet Sixteen and an eventual 80-74 win over the fourth-seeds

Things would become even tenser in the Elite Eight, as they needed overtime to dispose of Cincinnati. A 75-68 win would see the Final Four approaching and a third championship was now within touching distance.

Especially as they disposed of Kansas after earning a 78-68 and this set up a grandstand finale against top seeds Michigan. Led by forward Eric Montross and guard Donald Williams the latter would score 25 points and help secure the championship with a 77-71 win.

The New Millennium

It would need the turn of the millennium for the Tar Heels to record outright tournament win number four and the first step on the road to 2005 glory came after getting the better of Oakland. A 96-68 win was the perfect tune-up for the later rounds.

While after saying goodbye Oakland, North Carolina found another gear against Iowa State. Their opponents may have been the eighth-seed but they would give 27 points in a 92-65 defeat.

Which lead the Tar Heels to a Sweet Sixteen meeting with Vilanova. One that saw just a point in terms of the winning margin. Then again, progress was always going to be most important after recording a 67-66 victory in the history books.

From there the Elite Eight would serve up Wisconsin as the next opponent who dared stand in North Carolina’s way. They dared but ultimately failed, as an 88-82 win saw them move onto the final four.

After repeating the 1957s Final Four win over Michigan State, it was Illinois Fighting Illini in the championship game. With Sean May scoring 26 points and being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, the Tar Heels would win by 77 points to 71.

Five-Star Performance

The shortest gap between outright tournament success was just four years and this was the period of time between North Carolina;’s fourth and fifth overall wins. 2009 was the year that the quintet was delivered and it all started with a 101-58 win over Radford.

One that was soon followed up with a victory over LSU and with the second round hurdle cleared as easily as the first, this 84-70 win would set up a match with Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen and one that would pit them against the fourth-seeds,

Fourth-seeds maybe but eliminated all the same and after earning a 98-77 victory, attention then swiftly turned to Oklahoma instead. Could the Boomer Sooners stand in the way of the Tar Heels?

The answer to that question was a rather emphatic no. Because although Oklahoma was that year’s second seed, they went the same way as three colleges before them and would have to make do with a 72-60 loss.

This meant that after Vilanova was also dealt with in the Final Four, the Tar Heels defeated the Michigan State Spartans 89-72 in the championship game, with Tyler Hansbrough scoring 18 points and being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

The Joy Of Six

Six years ago, North Carolina got the better of Texas Southern in the First Round, as the college from the Lonestar State was no challenge at all. 103-64 was the score at the end of the game, the Tar Heels had hardly broken a sweat.

They were made to work harder in the Second Round, as they eventually got the better of Arkansas by 72-65 and this would soon set up a tricky Sweet Sixteen clash with fourth-seeds Butler.

However, Butler was dismissed by a 12-point winning margin and Kentucky was the next challenge that awaited North Carolina. Challenge accepted, as they just edged out the second seeds by 75 points to 73.

If that margin of victory was narrow, the Final Four win over Oregon was even more so. 77-76 was enough to shred the nerves but enough to see North Carolina in the final against the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

The team defeated the Bulldogs 71-65  in the championship game, with Kennedy Meeks scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Joel Berry II was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

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