In one of the most improbable streaks in college basketball, Clemson is 0-58 all-time on the road against North Carolina.
But this year, the 20th-ranked Tigers (15-2) are in second place in the ACC. On Tuesday, they travel to Chapel Hill to face No. 15 UNC (14-4). Clemson has been ranked ahead of UNC just twice in the 58 previous matchups between the two teams in Chapel Hill.
On paper, this year's team has a good chance to break the curse. But what Clemson teams from years past can say the same?
Clemson earned its highest AP Top 25 ranking in program history in 1997, when the No. 2 Tigers traveled to North Carolina. The No. 19 Tar Heels won 61-48 as the Tigers lost eight of their final 13 games heading into the NCAA tournament.
After starting 16-1 under former coach Rick Barnes, Clemson limped into the dance but still managed a 4-seed and advanced to the Sweet 16, where the Tigers lost to No. 1 Minnesota in overtime. North Carolina, on the other hand, won 16 straight en route to the Final Four. Maybe it shouldn't be surprising that North Carolina beat Clemson at home given how the two teams were heading in opposite directions in Februrary, but at the time of the matchup, Clemson took its best team ever into Chapel Hill and lost by double digits.
Clemson had one of its winningest seasons at the turn of the decade nearly 30 years ago, when the Tigers finished with a 24-8 record. Five of those losses were by three points or less, including the one that ended their season.
Clemson had an NBA-caliber frontcourt in 1990 with Dale Davis, a 16-year NBA veteran who was drafted 13th overall in 1991, and Elden Campbell, who was selected 27th in 1990 and played 15 seasons in the NBA.
After starting the season 14-3, Clemson traveled to North Carolina at the end of January and lost to the Tar Heels 83-60, one of 27 Tiger losses in Chapel Hill by at least 20 points. North Carolina was 14-6 entering the matchup and the Tar Heels lost six of their next 10 games after beating the Tigers.
Clemson won the ACC in 1990 with a 10-4 conference record, while North Carolina tied for third. The Tar Heels were only ranked in the AP poll once after December, while the Tigers finished the season ranked 17th.
Man, this one was close. Clemson, which arrived in Chapel Hill with a 13-3 record, fell to No. 13 North Carolina 73-70. The Tigers finished fourth in the ACC – one game behind UNC – but they found another gear in the NCAA tournament. Clemson advanced to the Elite Eight, where it lost to UCLA, 85-74. North Carolina lost in the first round to Texas A&M in double overtime.
After losing consecutive road games at North Carolina and N.C. State, Clemson won four straight and cracked the top 10 of the AP poll in the process. The team finished the year with a 23-9 record.
The Tigers were led by All-ACC shooting guard Billy Williams, who averaged 17.6 points per game and was drafted by the Houston Rockets, and Larry Nance, a future NBA All-Star.
We're turning our time machine way back for this one. Let's rewind to 1952, when Clemson and North Carolina played in the 17-team Southern Conference. In many ways, things were different – Clemson played three of its first five games against Georgia, and the Tigers played West Virginia twice on the road on consecutive days. In other ways, they were the exact same – Clemson lost at North Carolina, 65-59.
Clemson finished fourth in the Southern Conference with an 11-4 conference record (17-7 overall), while North Carolina finished 11th. The Tigers won eight straight games in conference play and two of their four losses in league play were against the conference champion Mountaineers. Maybe if the Tigers had played the Tar Heels on the road in late February versus in early January, the result would've been different.
North Carolina went 12-15 in 1952 and the Tar Heels were not yet the program that they are today. But the streak? It lived on.