Imagine pitting the four Tobacco Road programs comprising the heart of the ACC – Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest – against each other in a pre-season two-day tourney. It would be great if it took place in December, during the early season, when teams are typically experimenting with playing rotations beating up on cream puff opponents. Not the normal time to be lining up against their most bitter rivals.
Sounds like fun, right? Of course, there’s no way the coaches of those teams would ever agree to it. What good could come from having to prepare for not one, but two brutal games against familiar opponents that wouldn’t even count in the conference standings? A classic no-win situation for the coaches, including a guarantee that one of those coaches would come out of the event with back-to-back losses.
In fact, from 1971 to 1981 this event actually happened annually in Greensboro, NC, and it was aptly named the Big Four Tournament. The “Big Four” has long been the nickname for the four ACC schools in the state of North Carolina. While fans of the other ACC schools might bristle and call the nickname arrogant, it supported by the historical performance of those four schools in context of the ACC. Consider that since the conference was formed in 1953, the four North Carolina member schools were responsible for 16 of the first 17 basketball championships, 27 of the first 30, and have now captured 50 of the 59 titles in ACC hoops history.
In the days of the Big Four Tournament, the ACC still used a true double round robin scheduling format, meaning that ACC teams played every conference foe twice during the regular season. This means that it was quite possible for two of the Big Four teams to play each other four times in one season, including once in the Big Four Tourney and once in the ACC Tourney. Contrasting that with the current ACC scheduling, where conference teams sometimes only play each other once during a season, and it’s easy to understand why ACC fans often look back on the 1970s and 80s as the golden years of college hoops.
In the coming weeks we’ll take a walk down memory lane and look back on those Big Four Tournaments that featured some of the greatest players and teams in ACC history. For now, we’re wondering if any of our readers remember this tournament or even knew it existed.
If the tourney were revived today, it would be a television bonanza, primarily because of the possibility of an additional Duke-UNC matchup. How did the Blue Devils and Tar Heels fare in the real Big Four Tourney, compared to their cross-state brethren NC State and Wake Forest?
Post a comment below if you have any memories of the Big Four Tournament, or if you think something like it would be a good idea in today’s college basketball world.