North Carolina Had One of the Toughest Roads to Becoming Champion That We’ve Ever Seen

UNC won its sixth national title Monday night, but how tough was the Tar Heels' competition in March?

The first half of last night's national championship game was not what we'd call a masterpiece.

Gonzaga and North Carolina combined for 67 points on 34.8% from the field, 31.8% from three and 63.6% from the line. The two teams made 23 field goals, but they committed a total of 7 turnovers and 17 fouls in the first 20 minutes of action.

Little did we know, that was only the beginning of the foul game. In the second 20 minutes, the Bulldogs and Tar Heels totaled 27 fouls to only 23 field goals. The referees called the game tight and killed any flow the game could have possibly generated.

After the dust settled, North Carolina -- on the back of a gutsy performance from Joel Berry and a big bucket from Isaiah Hicks -- took the title, 71-65. They tallied the school's sixth national championship to position themselves third all time behind UCLA (11) and Kentucky (8).

This was also the Tar Heels' third title in the past 13 seasons, and not one of them was more well-earned than this one.

In case you're unfamiliar, nERD is our in-house ranking that indicates what we would expect a team to win by against an average team on a neutral court. Using this metric, not only can we see where North Carolina compares to other past champions (back to 2000, when we began tracking nERD), we can also look at how their opponents measure up to those who have come before them by way of average nERD.

Year Champion nERD Opp. Avg. nERD
2000 Michigan State 20.93 11.99
2001 Duke 25.10 12.48
2002 Maryland 19.17 11.75
2003 Syracuse 15.44 12.96
2004 Connecticut 17.90 11.26
2005 North Carolina 22.88 12.47
2006 Florida 16.78 11.34
2007 Florida 18.81 11.06
2008 Kansas 21.97 12.56
2009 North Carolina 21.34 11.80
2010 Duke 20.92 11.80
2011 Connecticut 14.86 12.16
2012 Kentucky 20.14 11.15
2013 Louisville 20.48 11.15
2014 Connecticut 13.87 14.53
2015 Duke 19.90 12.91
2016 Villanova 20.05 14.60
2017 North Carolina 19.59 13.42

This Tar Heels team has had the third-hardest road to the title since the year 2000. The only two teams they trail are last year's Villanova Wildcats and the 2014 Connecticut Huskies.

Even more noteworthy is that after wins over Texas Southern, Arkansas and Butler, the Tar Heels won their last three games by a total of nine points. Further still, according to our power rankings, those three wins came at the expense of three of the nation's 10 best teams.

Round Opponent nERD Rank
Elite Eight Kentucky 19.63 2
Final Four Oregon 16.78 10
Title Game Gonzaga 20.65 1

It was an ugly title game, that much we have to admit. But what more do you want? The Tar Heels earned their way to the title game by defeating some top-notch teams, and Roy Williams' bunch was rewarded for their outstanding play throughout.

North Carolina has proven they're the best team in the nation this season, and they are also one of the more battle-tested champions in recent history.