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Daniel Wilco | | January 25, 2020

The most common matchups in March Madness history

2016 One Shining Moment

The NCAA tournament has been around in its modern format since 1985. There have been 2,146 games since then, so it stands to reason that there would have been a few rematches in those 35 years.

So which teams have played each other in the tournament the most?

Turns out it’s a tie between five matchups that have had six meetings each:

UNC vs. Villanova

The two powerhouses first played in the very first modern NCAA tournament — in 1985 — where 8-seed Villanova beat 2-seed UNC in the Elite Eight before shocking Georgetown for the Wildcats' first-ever title.

But it is the latest edition of this matchup that takes the cake; a game that is arguably the most exciting in March Madness history: the 2016 championship. 

March Madness Moments: Monday's National Championship

Even though the Wildcats got the edge in both of those games, UNC holds a 4-2 advantage on the series, including a 2009 Final Four win en route to a title game win over Michigan State. Surprising fact: four of the six winners of UNC-Villanova tournament matchups have gone on to win the national championship.

UNC vs. Arkansas

The Tar Heels and Razorbacks first faced off in 1990’s Sweet 16, a stopping point in Arkansas’ fourth trip to a Final Four. The 4-seed Razorbacks handled 8-seed UNC 96-73 before losing to the other Tobacco Road team, Duke, in the semifinal.

Despite the loss in the first meeting, UNC holds a 4-2 lead in this series as well, with the latest edition coming in 2017’s second round, where soon-to-be-champion UNC had to rally late with a 12-0 run to fend off the 8-seed.

Second Round: North Carolina downs Arkansas
The most that’s ever been on the line came during the 1995 Final Four. Two years after winning the title, 2-seed UNC faced off against 2-seed Arkansas for a trip to the championship game. But it would be the Razorbacks, led by Corliss Williamson’s 21 points and 10 boards, who would go on to face UCLA in the championship (and lose).

Kentucky vs. Utah

This may be the most surprising repeat matchup of the group.

Since 1985, Utah has only gone to 16 NCAA tournaments, and they’ve faced Kentucky in almost 40 percent of those. Each time, the Wildcats have come up victorious.

The Utes have been to just one Final Four — in 1998 — and you’ll never guess who was there to meet them in the title bout. Tubby Smith and Kentucky won 78-69 for the Wildcats’ seventh title.

Kansas vs. Duke

Kansas beats Duke, 85-81

The two blue-bloods are the latest addition to the six-timers club, and have split the six games evenly.

The Jayhawks beat the Blue Devils to earn their 15th trip to the Final Four in 2018. But the teams first met in the 1986 Final Four, where Duke won 71-67 (the Blue Devils would lose to Louisville in championship game).

In total, they've faced off in a Sweet 16, an Elite Eight, two Final Fours, and one championship. In fact, they've only met once before the second weekend, in 2000, when 1 seed Duke beat 8 seed Kansas before losing to Florida in the Sweet 16.

Michigan State takes down Duke, 68-67 to advance to Final Four

Duke vs. Michigan State

The Duke-Michigan State series had its sixth iteration in the NCAA tournament last spring, when the Spartans downed the Blue Devils 68-67 in the Elite Eight to go to the Final Four. In the span of 26 years, the two programs have met six times in the NCAA tournament, which means they've met in the tournament every 4.3 years, on average, in roughly the last quarter-century.

Duke leads the series 4-2 in the NCAA tournament.

Here are the rest of the most common matchups:

6 UNC vs. Villanova UNC (4-2) 1985 Elite Eight (Villanova wins) 2016 championship (Villanova wins)
6 UNC vs. Arkansas UNC (4-2) 1990 Sweet 16 (Arkansas wins) 2017 second round (UNC wins)
6 Kentucky vs. Utah UK (6-0) 1993 second round (Kentucky wins) 2005 Sweet 16 (Kentucky wins)
6 Duke vs. Kansas Tie (3-3) 1986 Final Four (Duke wins) 2018 Elite Eight (Kansas wins)
6 Duke vs. Michigan St. Duke (4-2) 1994 second round (Duke wins) 2019 Elite Eight (Michigan State wins)
5 Kansas vs. UNC Kansas (4-1) 1991 Final Four (Kansas wins) 2013 second round (Kansas wins)
4 UNC vs. Michigan UNC (3-1) 1987 second round (UNC wins) 1993 championship (UNC wins)
4 UCLA vs. Iowa St. UCLA (3-1) 1989 second round (UCLA wins) 2000 Sweet 16 (ISU wins)
4 UConn vs. Duke Tie (2-2) 1990 Elite Eight (Duke wins) 2004 Final Four (UConn wins)
4 Kansas vs. Purdue Kansas (3-1) 1994 Sweet 16 (Purdue wins) 2017 Sweet 16 (Kansas wins)
4 UNC vs. Michigan St. UNC (4-0) 1998 Sweet 16 (UNC wins) 2009 championship (UNC wins)
4 Wisconsin vs. Arizona Wisconsin (3-1) 2000 second round (Wisconsin wins) 2015 Elite Eight (Wisconsin wins)
4 Florida vs. UCLA Florida (4-0) 2006 championship (Florida wins) 2014 Sweet 16 (Florida wins)


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