RALEIGH, NC — To a lot of fans around the nation, college basketball season doesn’t really begin until the 1st weekend of March.

You know, the week before Lunardi starts crowing about the accuracy of his bracket guesses.

Also known as Championship Week.

That’s not the case in North Carolina. 

It may have taken longer than usual for interest in hoops to be piqued this season with all 4 of the state’s ACC football teams participating in bowls at the same time for the 1st time ever. 

But it came into full bloom on Wednesday.

Within a 4-hour window, less than 25 miles apart, North Carolina, Duke, NC State and Wake Forest were all on courts at the same time playing before packed houses in emotionally charged environments.

For this 1 night, at least, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle was the center of the hardwood universe. Other than tournament time, you’ll be hard-pressed to find so much basketball energy packed into such a compact patch of real estate. 

The Wolfpack used all that energy to their advantage by rolling to an 84-60 drubbing of the 16th-ranked Blue Devils.

Feeding off a crowd coach Kevin Keatts described as “electric,” State held Duke scoreless for the first 7½ minutes of the game. It never let its lead slip below 20 in the 2nd half for a result that was surprising only because of the margin with which it was achieved. 

State has now beaten Duke 5 times in their past 7 meetings at PNC Arena, with each of the victories coming by double-figure margins. 

“When we made runs, you could hear them,” Keatts said of his home crowd. “It was a powerful game for us. It’s the first game that our guys have really felt what PNC can be like on a good night.”

Homecourt was also kind to the Tar Heels. Coach Hubert Davis’ team turned up the defensive heat in the 2nd half and RJ Davis scored 22 of his 27 points during the final 20 minutes to break open a close game and beat the Deacons 88-79.

The convergence of all 4 North Carolina teams on the same day is hardly a unique occurrence. It usually happens at least once a season.

That doesn’t make it any less special when it does happen. And the vibe is different depending on which teams are playing and where.

The emotion and urgency at PNC Arena is especially palpable whenever the hated Tar Heels venture down I-40 to renew their rivalry with the Wolfpack. Think Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and the others fighting to the last man in defense of The Alamo.

It’s only slightly less charged when the Blue Devils come to town. More like the angry villagers, armed with pitchforks and torches, storming the castle in the final scene of Frankenstein. 

Surprisingly, though, there was no postgame court storming after Wednesday’s victory, as security at PNC Arena kept the celebration confined to the seating area.

The atmosphere is a little less charged when State plays in Chapel Hill since, as any self-respecting UNC fan will tell you, those folks from Raleigh really aren’t their rival anymore. Duke, on the other hand, has the ability to transform the wine and cheese crowd at the Dean Dome from chardonnay and brie to Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill and Velveeta.

It was pretty raucous for Wake Forest on Wednesday, as well.

“I’ve played in every big environment there is in college basketball and the crowd was really loud,” Deacons coach Steve Forbes said. “The last time I was here we were wearing masks and I could hear every play (former UNC coach Roy Williams) called. I couldn’t hear anything tonight.”

Over at Cameron Indoor Stadium, things are always crazy regardless of the opponent, though the sight of powder blue does have a tendency to kick the decibel level up a few 100 notches.

And with nearly as many Tar Heel, Wolfpack or Blue Devil fans in the stands at Wake Forest’s Joel Coliseum as those rooting for the home team, in-state games in Winston-Salem have more of a neutral court feel.

That could soon change, however, if Forbes, the Deacons’ resident Transfer Portal Whisperer, continues the upward trend he’s begun for his program.

Wednesday’s Triangle hoop fest is the only time this season in which the Big 4 will all face off against one another on the same day this season.

But it’s not the only time the Old North State will become the center of the college basketball universe. There’s a date on the upcoming schedule in which UNC, Duke, State and Wake are all scheduled to play at home.

The Wolfpack will start things off by hosting Clemson at noon, followed by Virginia at the Tar Heels and Virginia Tech at the Blue Devils at either 6 or 8 – depending on the whims of ESPN – and Notre Dame at the Deacons at 7.

It might be tough because of the starting times and the distance between the Triangle and Winston-Salem. But with a fast car and a little motivation, you could potentially be on hand to catch at least a portion of all 4 games.

If you’re so inclined, circle the last Saturday in February on your calendar.

Or as a lot of others around the country know it, the weekend before the college basketball season really gets started.