It was early March of 1954, and the winds of early spring in North Carolina would seem like nothing only a few months later when legendary Hurricane Hazel roared into the state doing unprecedented damage. But that year, as March got underway, basketball fans were thinking more about the whirlwind over Reynolds Coliseum, where the first Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament was being held.
For the record, there were eight teams. The tournament was won by N.C. State over Wake Forest, rivals and two members of the Big Four along with Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. That eight-team conference would hold for years.
But now ... oh, now, the ACC tourney that begins today in Greensboro might be said to be a much longer shadow of its former self. There are, with expansion of the conference, 15 teams.
Joining Clemson orange and Carolina blue and Duke blue and N.C. State red and Wake Forest gold and black will be Syracuse orange and Pitt yellow and Notre Dame Irish green.
Attending the entire tournament will mean, for fans, total immersion (Wake Forest Baptists might like that) for the better part of a week. And for long-time ACC fans, it might be a good idea to go ahead and spring for the game program this time. Fifteen teams. A bakers dozen plus a couple.
It will be interesting to see as well how fans bid farewell to Maryland, departing after this year for the Big Ten Conference. Its unlikely there will be bouquets on the floor when the Terps take their final bow.
Theres some comfort that the tournament is being played in Greensboro, which has hosted more tournaments than any other venue. At least some fans will be able to get their barbecue at Stameys, near the coliseum.
For most, this could be a wild and sometimes confusing year. At the end, theyll be able to judge for themselves whether bigger is better. Or not.