Editor's Note: The Tar Heels' ACC record was corrected to 3-1 at 3:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23, 2012.
Its been a long time - too long - since a North Carolina vs. N.C. State regular-season basketball felt as special as the one coming Thursday in Chapel Hill.
Sure, the ACC is down this season. Sure again, UNC was beaten by 33 points at Florida State and the Wolfpack got whipped soundly by Georgia Tech in Raleigh.
But when the Pack (15-5, 4-1 ACC) and Tar Heels (16-3, 3-1) meet at 7 p.m. (ESPN) in the Smith Center, there will be an electricity factor that has rarely surfaced in recent seasons.
In Herb Sendeks final season at State - 2005-06 - both teams were nationally ranked in the two regular-season games. But Sendeks habit of down-playing the rivalry element had a way of carrying over to his players and even to fans at times.
That being the case, it wasnt totally surprising that UNC won both 05-06 games with relative ease - 82-69 in Chapel Hill and a 95-71 romp in Raleigh that eroded support for Sendek to the extent that many fans lost all hope in his ability to restore the program to genuine national prominence.
Even when Sidney Lowe scored a stunning upset over third-ranked UNC in his first season as the Packs coach, it was quickly offset by a 19-point UNC win in the second game and then a nine-point UNC win in the ACC championship game in faraway Tampa.
Maybe its the spunk that Mark Gottfried has quickly instilled in his first State team or maybe its the dash of unpredictability in UNC. But the adventure seems to be coming back in a rivalry thats been subdued for too long.