Thirty-two years ago this week, No. 1 seed North Carolina entered a Sweet 16 game as a heavy favorite against Indiana. That Tar Heels team boasted just a wee bit of talent, with a roster that included Kenny Smith, Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty and some junior guard named Michael Jordan.
It would turn out to be Jordan's last game in a college uniform, as Indiana won 72-68. The old joke is that Dean Smith is the only guy who ever held Jordan under 20 points per game. Well, Bob Knight –- and Dan Dakich, a feisty Hoosiers guard before he became a feisty media commentator -- somehow kept His Airness grounded with only 13 points (we double- and triple-checked the box score) while upsetting one of the most talented college teams ever.
It's still no laughing matter in Chapel Hill. George Orwell has more positive visions of 1984 than Tar Heels fans.
"That was a really tough, emotional day," North Carolina coach Roy Williams, an assistant on that '84 team, said this week. "It was one of the most negative moments ever in my basketball life."
Indiana and North Carolina meet again in the Sweet 16 on Friday night in Philadelphia, and while the star power isn't as blindingly brilliant this time, some similarities to that 1984 matchup exist. The Tar Heels are once again a No. 1 seed and tournament favorite, just as they were 32 years ago. Indiana is a No. 5 seed with seven losses; in '84, it was a No. 4 seed with eight losses.
Regardless of the year, we are all winners when these two blue-blood -- or, depending on your allegiance, crimson-and-cream-blood -- programs play in the NCAA tournament. Their other meeting in the tournament was in the 1981 national title game, also played in Philadelphia and won by the Isiah Thomas-led Hoosiers 63-50.
These two schools have produced 10 national championships (five apiece), 26 Final Fours and two of the greatest coaches of all time in Knight and Smith. So, yeah, this will be the marquee matchup in Friday's quartet of Sweet 16 showdowns. It also should be a heck of a lot of fun.
Both Williams' Tar Heels and Tom Crean's Hoosiers are most comfortable when the pace roughly resembles an Olympic table tennis match. North Carolina ranks fifth nationally in Ken Pomeroy's offensive efficiency rankings, and Indiana is ninth. IU led the Big Ten in scoring at 82.5 points per game, and UNC paced the ACC at 82.4. The Wells Fargo Center shot clock can take the night off.
What's more, both teams' strengths line up symmetrically. The Tar Heels' imposing front line, led by Brice Johnson, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, could give the smaller Hoosiers trouble. Crean probably will need another large dose of freshman big man Thomas Bryant, who had 19 points and five rebounds in the second-round win over Kentucky.
Indiana, meanwhile, could have the best guard on the floor in Yogi Ferrell, and the Hoosiers' proficiency from 3-point range (fifth nationally at 41.6 percent) might prove the equalizer.
By the end of Friday night, it's possible that the right side of your bracket will basically turn into the ACC tournament semifinals. That's because three other ACC teams -- Virginia, Notre Dame and Syracuse -- are also playing as the better seeds, though not necessarily the bettors' choice.
The "other" three games lack the name-brand power of Indiana-North Carolina, but the contrasts involved should fascinate serious basketball fans. They also might speak to the power of advance scouting, as teams have had four or five days to prepare for an unfamiliar opponent and an unfriendly style.
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Iowa State
Entire offseasons usually aren't enough time to solve Virginia's Pack Line defense, though Iowa State might hold the antidote. The Cyclones had the nation's second-most efficient offense, according to KenPom, until Villanova's masterpiece vs. Miami dropped them down to third. They also have a bona fide star in Georges Niang. But can Iowa State actually do the impossible and speed up the Cavaliers?
No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Wisconsin
More pace warfare probably awaits between the Fighting Irish and the Badgers. Notre Dame is another hyper-efficient offense that would love to get the score into the 70s or 80s. Wisconsin, though, squeezed its first two tournament opponents like a python, winning a 47-43 slog against Pittsburgh and then slowing down Xavier just enough for Bronson Koenig to pull off his heroics.
No. 10 Syracuse vs. No. 11 Gonzaga
This game guarantees that a double-digit seed will make the Elite Eight. Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone is not much fun to face ever, much less on a short turnaround. But Gonzaga has both the size and the outside shooting –- 6-foot-10 Kyle Wiltjer and 6-11 Domantas Sabonis have no qualms spotting up for 3 -– to bust a zone like both teams have busted brackets.
What game will we be talking about after the last four tickets to the regional finals have been punched? Odds are high that Indiana-North Carolina will demand discussion, but the tournament always holds surprises. Just ask Michael Jordan.