For two teams that aren’t near each other, play in different conferences, and don’t have some sort of natural relationship to one another, it’s not an exaggeration to say that North Carolina and Michigan State have an intense and storied rivalry. It’s a rivalry that started out with an absolute bang.
In 1957, Michigan State had a breakthrough year with it’s first share of the Big Ten title and a run in the NCAA Tournament that took the Spartans to the Final Four. There, in the semifinals, the Spartans took on the undefeated Tar Heels in a triple overtime thriller that resulted in UNC eking out a 74-70 win. This led to a championship clash with an also-undefeated Wilt Chamberlain-led Kansas team that somehow also resulted in another triple overtime slugfest and a 54-53 North Carolina victory for Frank McGuire’s team. It was North Carolina’s first national championship. In a consolation game, Michigan State would go on to play the two-time defending champions, San Francisco, which was making its first Final Four run without the great Bill Russell. With all the big names, undefeated teams, and pair of triple overtime games, it was undoubtedly one of the best Final Fours in history. It was also only the beginning of the Spartans’ rivalry with the Tar Heels.
Since that first fateful meeting in the 1957 Final Four, it seemed like these two teams were destined for postseason clashes. On five separate occasions, the two have squared off in the NCAA Tournament, and, unfortunately, for the Spartans, each game served as a bitter reminder of ’57. What the ’98 and ’07 clashes lacked, the ’05 and ’09 matches made up for in terms of stakes and drama. The ’05 game was another Final Four bout that was chock full of exciting moments, while the ’09 championship tilt was a remarkable rematch between two teams that had played each other at Ford Field once already that season. Of course, the rematch turned out to be nearly identical to the regular season game and quickly turned into a UNC rout.