For the first time since 2017, the UNC men’s basketball team advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
And on Saturday, for the first time in tournament history, UNC will face Duke in a game that has become the focal point of campus conversation.
During Sunday's Elite Eight game against the St. Peter's Peacocks, Franklin Street restaurants and bars saw eager fans searching for a TV and an open seat. Many students also watched from their dorm rooms and off-campus apartments, setting up watch parties with friends.
Sophomore Zoie Starling, an exercise and sports science major, said her bracket reflected her doubt in the Tar Heels. She didn’t expect the team to progress this far in the tournament.
"I made a March Madness bracket and I had us getting out in the very first round," Starling said. "So you know, I didn't have a whole lot of faith. That's hard to say, but I'm very proud of us."
Some students, like Anna Wong, a first-year business major, traveled to Philadelphia to cheer on the team in person for its Elite Eight game.
“My lovely roommate took me to both the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight game, so for the first one we were sitting on the lower level, closer to the back," Wong said. "And then for the second one, against St. Peters, we were sitting literally behind the team’s bench."
The Final Four game will be held in New Orleans this Saturday. Some students are willing to find and buy tickets, while others have submitted a request for a student ticket through the University's lottery.
First-year Noah Mills, a public policy and economics major, is heading down to Louisiana this weekend to experience the historic game in-person. This is the rival teams' third matchup of the season, and the record stands at 1-1.
“Me and my family are making the trek to New Orleans to go to the game,” Mills said. “Hopefully, they can pull out a win.”
While the victories have kicked off a great start to the class of 2025’s basketball experience at UNC, upperclassmen are excited for a different reason.
The pandemic put an abrupt halt to most campus activities beginning in March 2020. It also caused the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament.
Senior Vivian Karamitros, a senior majoring in statistics and analytics, said that the pandemic made her feel like she didn’t get a complete college experience.
“I think that we've been through a lot as a senior class, and this just makes it all worth it, seeing our team go so far,” Karamitros said.
Starling said that her experience throughout the pandemic has made her to value campus traditions much more. She appreciates campus life more this year after losing many typical college experiences to COVID-19, she said.
Alongside the thrill of winning, some students have found the victory to be bittersweet. St. Peter’s was a No. 15 seed, and the team had made it further than any other No. 15 seed in history — making what many considered a Cinderella run in the tournament.
"Of course, I am always rooting for UNC, but I am a sucker for the Cinderella story of St. Peter's," Alaina Shields, a first-year majoring in environmental studies, said. "So it just felt like UNC was stuck between a lose-lose situation."
Shields said she will be thinking about the upcoming Duke game all week.
Ahead of the Final Four game, campus will be buzzing with energy as community members anticipate which North Carolina team will compete in the national championship.
"It makes me feel some type of way that we’ve gotten this far," Karamitros said. "I'm a senior and, like I said, we've been through so much. I couldn't imagine it going any better, and go to hell Duke!"
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