The ACC as we knew it – or at least, as people of my general age group knew it – ceased to exist around 2 decades ago when it began cannibalizing the old Big East and nearly doubled in size.

And it might not be long before the conference is gone completely.

But for at least a few days, those younger fans who never had the pleasure of seeing the likes of Sampson, Jordan and Bias battle it out on a nightly basis in what was unquestionably the best, most competitive league in college basketball can get a taste of what us old folks are always waxing poetic about.

Just look at the current ACC standings at the start of the week.

NC State                     3-0,   11-3
North Carolina         3-0,   11-3
Wake Forest              3-0,   11-3
Duke                            2-1,   11-3

Forget for a moment that the ACC has morphed into a 15-team (soon to be 18-team) monstrosity. With the top 4 spots currently being occupied by members of the traditional Big 4, it might just as well be January 1974 rather than the 2nd week of 2024.

In more ways than one.

Thanks to UNC’s long-time communications director and stats guru Steve Kirschner, who came across this nugget, we’ve learned that Wednesday’s showdown between the Tar Heels and Wolfpack will mark the 1st time since Jan. 22, 1974 – only a couple of weeks shy of 50 years ago – that the neighboring rivals will meet with both teams being at least 3-0 in the ACC.

If only they could find a way to play the game at Reynolds Coliseum instead of PNC Arena.

We’ll have to use our imagination when it comes to the venue. The actual matchup, however, will have some distinct old-school elements to it.

Starting with the electric atmosphere that will welcome the Tar Heels into the Wolfpack’s den.

The folks in Chapel Hill might still insist that State is “not our rival.” But on the flip side, nothing makes Wolfpack fans see red more than the sight of Carolina blue. Suffice it to say that Everett Case’s old hand-manipulated noise meter won’t be needed to get the crowd to max volume.

Another throwback element is the maturity of the teams’ rosters. Both are fully stocked with players in their 4th or 5th season of college competition, with 4 graduate students per side and only 1 freshman of significance in each of their respective rotations.

And while virtually everyone else around the country has become infatuated with firing up 3-pointers and playing positionless, perimeter-oriented basketball, the Tar Heels and Wolfpack both still feature lineups built around traditional veteran back-to-the-basket big men.

Even though UNC’s Armado Bacot and State’s DJ Burns are as different stylistically as they are in their physical appearance, their goal is the same. Do as much damage as you can around the rim while getting the other guy in foul trouble as quickly as possible.

As impactful as their head-to-head battle figures to be, the outcome will likely be determined much farther from the basket.

For the Wolfpack, the goal is simple in theory if not in practice. Find a way to contain RJ Davis, something few opponents have been able to do this season. The senior guard leads the ACC in scoring at 21 points per game.

“It’s hard to believe that RJ is playing his best basketball, because he’s played well every year,” Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts said Monday. “He’s playing really good basketball.”

The task facing the Tar Heels is a bit more complicated because of the multitude of scoring options that Keatts can put on the court. Six players have led State in scoring while its 3 top scorers – DJ Horne (14.4 ppg), Jayden Taylor (13.1) and Casey Morsell (11.4) all play on the perimeter.

They’ll present a challenge. But if the past 4 games are any indication, the Tar Heels are as prepared as anyone to meet it.

They’ve kept each of their opponents during their current 4-game winning streak below 70 points, limiting the past 3 to less than 40% shooting in the second halves of those games. Their most recent effort, a 65-55 win at Clemson on Saturday, was their best defensive effort to date.

Not only did UNC hold the Tigers to their lowest point total of the season, it forced the 2nd-best 3-point shooting team in the ACC to a dismal 1-of-18 performance from beyond the arc while dominating the glass with a +11 advantage.

“I thought we did a fantastic, fantastic job,” Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis said after the game. “It’s the 3rd straight game that we’ve played really good defense and we have outrebounded our opponent.”

The intensity of that matchup between nationally ranked traditional rivals and the atmosphere in the arena brought back memories of a long-departed era. Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney even showed up with a shiner under his eye for effect.

But it wasn’t the only game of the day with a throwback feel.

Wake Forest’s overtime triumph against Miami, Duke’s down-to-wire win at Notre Dame and NC State’s dominant victory against Virginia – all played before large, raucous home crowds – provided a much-needed reminder that no matter how much has changed or is about to change, there’s still something special about ACC basketball.

So enjoy it while it lasts.