Alright, Tar Heel fans, brace yourselves. You’re not going to like what I’m going to say next.
As UNC and N.C. State get set to face off for a second time this season next week in Chapel Hill, it’s time to set the record straight: this is indeed a rivalry. Yes, that’s correct. The Tar Heels and Wolfpack are rivals.
Sure, the all-time series record in men’s basketball is completely one-sided, heavily favoring North Carolina. UNC has a 159-78 record against N.C. State, and head coach Roy Williams has only ever lost to the Wolfpack four times (36-4 record all-time, and 31-4 while at UNC).
Nobody in their right mind would argue this is a balanced rivalry, but it is a rivalry nonetheless. History suggests so.
Before Mike Krzyzewski built Duke into a national power in the early 1980s, UNC and N.C. State was the rivalry in the ACC. Since Duke’s rise to prominence, though, N.C. State has largely fallen off the map — a large part of why some think the Wolfpack aren’t a worthy rival to the Tar Heels.
In the 36 seasons since winning the 1983 NCAA title, N.C. State has only made 16 trips to the NCAA Tournament, highlighted by two Elite Eight appearances in the Jim Valvano era. In that same span, UNC has clinched 33 NCAA Tournament bids, made 11 Final Four appearances and won four national titles.
But the animosity between the fanbases has lived on.
While Wolfpack fans treat the Tar Heels as their biggest rival, Tar Heel fans continue to shout to the heavens that N.C. State is “not our rival.” (They sure do spend a lot of time talking about a program they deem so irrelevant, if you ask me.)
And with the campuses just 30 minutes apart, students, alumni and fans of each school tend to know each other well.
Whether it's poking fun at a coworker in the office the morning after the game, teasing the kid next to you in your high school algebra class or taking a friendly jab at that stranger with the wrong hoodie on at the grocery store, bragging rights have always been on the line when UNC and N.C. State face off.
Leading up to their second meeting in 2018 at PNC Arena, former UNC point guard Joel Berry made a statement that broke Twitter, at least in the Triangle.
“There’s only one rivalry game: with Duke,” said the then-senior. “I don’t count N.C. State as being a rivalry.”
Berry went on to admit: “We just don’t like them.”
Umm, duh. That’s the point! Two schools that don’t like each other… in other words, a rivalry.
There are no bigger games for Wolfpack fans each season than the two against the Tar Heels. And nothing makes UNC fans saltier than the rare slip up to their “little brother” down I-40.
It can be argued that, outside of wins over Duke, the North Carolina faithful get the most joy in the regular season from beating N.C. State.
No, this is not the heavyweight battle that is UNC-Duke. It hasn’t been for decades.
But to discredit UNC-N.C. State as a rivalry is to overlook the disdain fans of both programs clearly have for each other, to discount history and tradition.
And after all, isn’t that what college hoops are all about?
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