Although neither coach is delighted with the prospect, the college basketball season's first matchup between top 10 teams will take place tonight in the Greensboro Coliseum with top-ranked Duke and sixth-ranked N.C. State opening the annual Big Four tournament.
The Big Four, an early season fixture in North Carolina, has been a stumbling block for highly rated teams since its inception in 1970. Twelfth-ranked North Carolina faces Wake Forest in the second game.
"If you come out of it 2-0, it is a good thing," N.C. State Coach Norman Sloan said yesterday. "If you come out of it 1-1, it's okay. If you come out 0-2, it's a disaster."
Tournament history records numerous disasters. Three years ago UNC came into the tournament ranked eighth in the country and lost twice. A disaster. That same year, State, ranked No. 1 with David Thompson, was upset in the first round by Wake Forest. Another disaster.
The team with the most to lose is always the highest-ranked team and this year that team is Duke, the only school that has never won the tournament. Bill Foster's Blue Devils, last year's NCAA runners-up, return with that team intact and are 2-0. But State is 3-0, including an impressive upset of Louisville in last weekend's Sea Wolf Classic in Alaska.
"Everyone's gunning for us and we know it," Foster said. "But really that's the way we want it to be. Two games like this early in the season is hardly ideal though. We've sort of got everything to lose and nothing to gain."
North Carolina Coach Dean Smith has opposed the tournament for years, saying that the schools, which meet twice during the regular season, should play highly ranked teams from other parts of the country instead of one another.
And Wake Coach Carl Tacy, whose teams won the tournament three years in a row (1974-76), is not thrilled with the idea of opening his young team's season by playing ranked teams on back-to-back nights. "It's quite a baptism," he said. "We just have to go with our best combination."