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UNC men’s basketball has won six national championships, featured in 21 Final Fours, and firmly cemented itself as one of the most historic programs the sport has to offer. In the team’s 112 years of existence, it’s built some of the strongest rivalries in college basketball that span back generations. All this history begs the question: who has UNC men’s basketball played the most?
Who Has UNC Men’s Basketball Played the Most?
Includes all games through Jan. 17, 2023. All records from UNC’s 2022-23 Record Book.
T-9: Davidson – 78 Games (67-11, .859 win percentage)
On Feb. 7, 1911, North Carolina outlasted Davidson, 27-25, at its Bynum Gym to claim victory in the first-ever contest between these intrastate foes. It was the beginning of what would be an often-played series from then until the mid-1950s.
From 1911 through 1935, UNC and Davidson met on the basketball court plenty, but this series became a conference one when the Wildcats joined the Southern Conference in 1936. For the next 17 years, North Carolina and Davidson competed as conference opponents. Then the Tar Heels bolted to help found the ACC with a handful of other SoCon schools, and those ties were severed forever.
It didn’t spell the end of the series, but it sure turned the tap off on the frequency of the matchups. Since 1955, the Tar Heels and Wildcats have played just 13 times, with zero contests between them from 1970 through 2000.
The last time these teams played was on Dec. 29, 2018 – an 82-60 Tar Heel victory at the Smith Center – and marked UNC’s 67th triumph in the series. North Carolina has usually had the better of Davidson, putting together winning streaks of six-or-more seven different times, including an 11-contest run from 1943 through 1948. UNC has taken all 10 of its most recent games against Davidson and has not fallen to the Wildcats since 2001. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before someone else comes along and boots Davidson out of the top 10.
T-9: South Carolina – 78 Games (57-21, .731 win percentage)
Another team that the Tar Heels no longer share a conference with, South Carolina is tied as the ninth-most played opponent of UNC men’s basketball. A 58-21 whopping at UNC’s Bynum Gym on March 7, 1918, christened this relationship, and it’s been mostly Tar Heels ever since. Outside of little pockets here and there, South Carolina has been inferior to its northern opponent.
In the 20s, 30s, 40s, and early-50s, these programs shared the Southern Conference and usually played twice per season. South Carolina left the SoCon at the same time UNC did to co-found the ACC, and so the series continued unabated through the league switch. But in 1971, the Gamecocks withdrew from the conference and became independent. Since a chance meeting in the 1972 NCAA Tournament – which UNC won, 92-69 – these teams have played five total times and only once since 1997.
The Tar Heels toppled the Gamecocks in the last game between these two, 87-62 victory at the Las Vegas Invitational on Nov. 25, 2011. It extended their current victory streak over South Carolina to four; the Gamecocks haven’t beaten the Tar Heels since 1990, and they haven’t won in Chapel Hill since 1970.
This one is pretty much dead and will most likely be booted from the top 10 in the next decade.
8: Virginia Tech – 89 Games (72-17, .809 win percentage)
UNC experienced its worst run of form in this series at the very beginning. Virginia Tech was victorious in the opening contest, 37-28, on Feb. 15, 1912, at Bynum Gym, and won five of the first seven meetings between these programs. The Hokies have overcome the Tar Heels just 12 times since 1920.
From 1921 through 1953, UNC and VT shared the Southern Conference, and their competition was regular. The Tar Heels were vastly superior, rattling off winning streaks of 14 and 15 during this time. Contests grew less frequent after North Carolina moved to the ACC and Virginia Tech remained in the SoCon, eventually leaving in 1965 to go independent.
Once the Hokies went independent, this series revived. After skipping 1951 through 1963, these teams reunited in 1964: a double-overtime thriller that the Hokies won in Chapel Hill, 90-88. Throughout the rest of the 60s and 70s, UNC and VT played almost annually, sometimes meeting in Charlotte at a neutral site. That ended in the 80s, and the series mostly fell dormant until the Hokies found their way into the ACC in 2004.
UNC is 19-6 against VT since the Hokies joined the ACC, mostly handling its northern counterparts but less effectively than at prior periods in this series’ history. Currently, the Tar Heels are on a two-game losing skid to Virginia Tech – UNC fell to VT, 80-72, on Dec. 4, 2022, in Blacksburg, and the Hokies defeated North Carolina on March 11, 2022, in the ACC Tournament, 72-59. This marks just the fourth time in the history of this series that Virginia Tech is on a winning streak of at least two games over UNC.
7: Georgia Tech – 99 Games (72-27, .727-win percentage)
The first game between North Carolina and Georgia Tech was a 34-26 Tar Heel victory on Feb. 28, 1925, in Atlanta. Between then and 1967, these programs played just twice more.
But 1967 sparked the start of a regular relationship between these teams. UNC and GT met every year from then through 1977, skipped a couple of years the Yellow Jackets spent in the Metro Conference, then renewed regularity upon Georgia Tech’s inclusion into the ACC. Since the 1979-80 campaign, UNC and GT have competed at least once every season, often twice.
It wasn’t until 1985 that Georgia Tech picked up its third-ever win over Carolina, though. From 1971 through 1984, UNC won every one of the 20 meetings against GT. But in 1985, the Yellow Jackets swept the Tar Heels, winning at home, away, and at the ACC Tournament, and the series hasn’t been the same since.
Sure, Carolina beats Georgia Tech more than vice versa, but the Yellow Jackets have been an occasional thorn over the last few decades. GT has put together a handful of multi-game winning runs over UNC, including four-straight Ws across 2010 and 2011 that included an ACC Tournament triumph. But currently, the Tar Heels are riding three wins in a row over the Yellow Jackets, most recently outlasting GT, 75-59, on Dec. 10, 2022, in Chapel Hill. There is not another game scheduled between these two this season, but whenever the next time they play comes, it will be game No. 100.
6: Clemson – 157 Games (134-23, .854 win percentage)
Now into the triple-digit opposition.
Carolina and Clemson both helped found the Southern Conference, and they both helped found the ACC; since 1921, the Tar Heels and Tigers have been conference mates. That means a lot of time for competition, and a lot of time for Clemson to not beat North Carolina.
To say this series is lopsided is quite an understatement. It’s normal for the Tigers to go years – sometimes many years – between wins over the Tar Heels. In fact, it took until 2020 for Clemson to obtain its inaugural victory in Chapel Hill. Let me repeat that: in 60 total tries, Clemson has only once beaten North Carolina as the traveling team.
But lately, the Tigers have outperformed the Tar Heels. Carolina did win the last game between these two – a 79-77 survival on Feb. 8, 2022, at Littlejohn Coliseum – but the Tigers had claimed three of the last four prior contests in the series, including the aforementioned win at the Smith Center. On Feb. 11, we will learn if Carolina has swung the series back into its historical stasis of Tar Heel dominance or if the Tigers are continuing a new era against their long-time northern adversaries.
5: Maryland – 180 Games (123-57, .683 win percentage)
Though the Terps took off from the ACC almost a decade ago, the history in this series runs so deep that Maryland is still in the top five of UNC men’s basketball’s most-played opponents.
It began on Feb. 4, 1924, with a 26-20 Tar Heel win in College Park. As SoCon competitors, these programs met regularly from then on, and the series was very close at the start – these teams split the initial 26 meetings, 13-13. After 1943, UNC went on a bit of a run as the Terps only picked up one victory over the Tar Heels in 13 attempts between 1945 and 1950. Maryland’s most successful period in the series otherwise came from 1995 through 2010, with the Terps keeping it exactly even, 16-16, over those 15 years.
Still, UNC has won more than 68 percent of its games against Maryland. There have been several periods, such as the late-60s into the early-70s, the late-70s, and the early-90s when the Tar Heels cleaned up against the Terps. But of all the teams on this list, only Duke has put together a better win percentage versus Carolina.
It’s been a while since the Terrapins triumphed over UNC, though. That last happened in 2010, and these teams haven’t even met since 2015. The Tar Heels are riding a nine-game run over Maryland right now that has no foreseeable end in sight with these programs having no plans to play again any time soon. And with the death of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, which was the impetus behind the 2015 contest, that makes the revival even less likely.
4: Virginia – 194 Games (133-61, .686 win percentage)
UNC did not start off its life with the ‘Hoos well.
Virginia won the first-ever meeting between these two, 18-15, on Feb. 24, 1911, in Chapel Hill. It took the Tar Heels nine tries until they finally achieved their first victory over the Cavs, and by 1921, Virginia had firm control over this relationship, 13-1. If you look at where the series stands now, you can take a guess as to whether or not that trend lasted.
From 1923 into 1936, UNC went undefeated against UVA, and the Tar Heels have enjoyed several similar spells since. From 1945 through 1979, North Carolina went 51-9 against Virginia, clearly cementing its supremacy over its border foes.
The Cavaliers have had some better times since, though Carolina has still usually had more fun when these two meet; you can tell that from the all-time series record. But that’s not been the case in recent times. Since 2010, UNC is 9-14 against UVA, including a seven-game skid that lasted from 2017 through 2021. In fact, the Tar Heels are 4-7 at John Paul Jones Arena, which opened in 2006. The Cavaliers won the last contest against UNC, a 65-58 victory in Charlottesville on Jan. 10, to continue what has been a positive 13-year stretch against one of their most-played men’s basketball series.
3: Wake Forest – 232 Games (164-68, .707 win percentage)
Now begins the in-state trifecta of foes.
UNC held off Wake Forest, 31-28, in Bynum Gym on Feb. 3, 1911, in the first-ever game between these programs. A couple of weeks later on Feb. 18, the Demon Deacons returned the favor, 38-16, in their neck of the woods, and thus this century-old series was off.
Wake Forest has been the least successful of the state’s ACC schools against the Tar Heels. UNC has taken more than 70 percent of the matchups these teams have ever played, including some long periods of utter dominance; for example, Wake failed to outdo Carolina in 19-straight tries from 1927 through 1936, and the Tar Heels won 23 of 24 contests between the two from February 1982 through 1992. That’s not to mention the countless mini-runs UNC has had over the decades.
Occasionally, the Demon Deacons have been the happier side. They’ve enjoyed periods of relative parity and have even spent years as the more powerful portion of the pairing, particularly in the early-60s, the late-70s, the mid-90s, and the early-00s. But UNC currently holds the bragging rights, claiming the last contest, 88-79, on Jan. 4 in Chapel Hill.
Regardless, these teams have played enough times over enough years and have a small enough distance between them to have put on some serious showdowns. Fights during their games in the 1950s were somewhat commonplace, and it culminated in an all-out melee in Winston-Salem on Feb. 12, 1959, with just 30 seconds left to go.
“It lasted for 30 minutes, people coming out of the stands,” former Wake Forest guard Billy Packer told Bethany Bradsher of WRAL in 2017. “Today you wouldn’t believe it if this happened. It would be shown on television for months.”
These are two basketball schools in a basketball-obsessed state – sometimes, it’s gonna get ugly.
North Carolina and Wake Forest will play again this season, this time in Winston-Salem, on Feb. 7.
2: NC State – 242 Games (163-79, .674 win percentage)
It takes about 40 or so minutes to drive from Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill to PNC Arena in Raleigh in rush hour traffic (at least according to Google, please don’t harm me for my lack of localized knowledge, Carolinians!). So, UNC and NC State have played a time or two. Or 242.
The first game was on Feb. 22, 1913 – a 26-18 victory for the home Wolfpack. NC State won four of the six meetings between these two, then promptly dropped 16 of the following 17.
Moreso than most of UNC’s regular opponents, NC State has put up a decent fight. From 1947 through 1956, the Wolfpack went 24-3 against the Tar Heels, and in the early-to-mid-1970s, State had a period of 11 Ws in 15 contests. There have also been moments of evenness between these programs, like in portions of the 1960s and 1980s.
But more often than not, it’s been the Tar Heels who have smiles across their faces when the final horn sounds. This has been especially true in the modern age. Dating back to 2004, North Carolina is 35-5 against NC State, and a good number of those victories have not been competitive. In fact, UNC registered its largest margin of victory (56, in the 107-56 “contest” on Jan. 8, 2017) and their most points scored in the series (113, in the 113-96 game on Feb. 5, 2019) fairly recently, a sign of its strength over the Wolfpack in the last couple of years.
It’s gotten to the point where a portion of the UNC fan base insists that NC State is not a rival, which is likely equal parts earnest and antagonistic. What can’t be debated is the great amount of history that they share, nor that there’s something extra there that’s rare in a random affair – when the Tar Heels and Wolfpack meet on the court, it matters.
The next time that will happen is Jan. 21 in Chapel Hill, with another date between these two set for Feb. 19 in Raleigh.
1: Duke – 258 Games (143-115, .554 win percentage)
Who else could it be?
Duke is UNC men’s basketball’s most-played opponent, and anyone who has spent virtually any amount of time paying attention to this sport could have guessed it.
One of America’s fiercest rivalries began on Jan. 24, 1920, with a North Carolina triumph, 36-25, on Duke’s campus. Though the Blue Devils won the next two contests between these programs, the Tar Heels were the dominant force through this rivalry’s earliest days, rattling off 16-straight Ws from 1921 through 1928. The tide immediately turned, with Duke taking 12 of the next 17 matchups, and thus the birth of this series’ ebb and flow.
There have been periods of supremacy for one side over the other. Carolina was the controlling force for much of the 70s and early 80s, and Duke got the better of its arch-rival in the early 50s, early 60s, and late 80s. It’s been an incredible back-and-forth affair in modern times, though. Since their final meeting of the 2004-05 season, this series is knotted at 20-20, with both sides trading some serious blows to the other across the last 18 years.
Longevity is only one piece to an all-time rivalry – mutual success and important, heated games are the other crucial components. The mutual success is certainly there with these two. Combined, these programs have won 11 national championships, and 52 ACC regular season titles, and both are in the top four for all-time wins in NCAA Division I men’s basketball history.
As for important, heated games, the list is much too long to cover in full. In 1968, No. 10 Duke outlasted No. 3 UNC in a triple overtime thriller that ended with the Blue Devils faithful carrying junior forward Freddie Lind off the floor. In 1986, No. 1 North Carolina inaugurated the Smith Center with a late push to overcome No. 3 Duke, 95-92. And who could forget the last time these two teams played – the 81-77 Carolina reveling in the 2022 Final Four, the only meeting between Tobacco Road royalty in the NCAA Tournament.
It’s glaringly apparent that neither Duke nor North Carolina are well-liked among fans across America, a natural reaction to two of the most dominant programs ever. But when they share a court, the sport contorts in awe of one of the defining series of all of basketball. That will happen next on Feb. 4 in Durham, with the reverse matchup set for March 4 in Chapel Hill.