ATLANTA --- Standing in a drab corridor outside his team's locker room at the Georgia Dome, Gary Williams was asked whether he could ever remember a season like this in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The fiery Maryland coach squinted his already narrow eyes and furrowed that well-worn brow, thinking back over his long career in the ACC. Finally, he shook his head.
Nope, this one stands apart.
"It's been a great year in the league," he said. "I don't think we've ever seen three teams have this level of talent. It's unusual these days for one league to have that much talent. It's tough to play in, but it's great fun to compete in."
The ACC Tournament tips off today at a football stadium in downtown Atlanta.
For the first time since 1966, the league put tickets up for sale to the general public, and there were still seats available on the eve of the opening game.
It sure has nothing to do with the quality of the competition.
No. 1 North Carolina (27-3, 13-3 ACC) comes in as the top seed after winning the regular-season crown outright, but the Tar Heels can hardly coast to another championship. There's all sorts of potential challengers standing in the way, most notably No. 8 Wake Forest and No. 9 Duke.
Don't forget 17th-ranked Clemson, one of three teams that didn't lose outside the conference. Or No. 22 Florida State, showing it's more than just a football school. Heck, even last-place Georgia Tech thinks it has a chance.
In all likelihood, the Yellow Jack-ets will be long gone by the time the championship is decided Sunday. Anyone hoping to run the four-wins-in-four-days gauntlet would likely have to knock off at least two top 10 teams.
The Tar Heels know they will be playing in the NCAAs no matter how they fare in this tournament. They are mainly looking to lock up a No. 1 seed. With that in mind, they might be more conservative with ACC Player of the Year Ty Lawson, whose right big toe was badly swollen after last Sunday's regular-season finale against Duke.
Lawson has been wearing a protective wrap on his toe and keeping it iced.
At the Georgia Dome
Virginia Tech vs. Miami, Noon (WBEK)
Clemson vs. Ga. Tech, 2:30 p.m. (WBEK)
Maryland vs. N.C. State, 7 (ESPN2)
Boston College vs. Virginia, 9:30 (WBEK)
North Carolina vs. Virginia Tech-Miami winner, Noon
Florida State vs. Clemson-Georgia Tech winner, 2:30 p.m.
Wake Forest vs. Maryland-N.C. State winner, 7
Duke vs. Boston College-Virginia winner, 9:30
North Carolina, Virginia Tech or Miami vs. Florida State, Clemson or Georgia Tech, 1:30 p.m.
Wake Forest, Maryland or N.C. State vs. Duke, Boston College or Virginia, 4
Semifinal winners, 1 p.m.