GREENSBORO, N.C. -- As if chanting some hoops mantra, the nine women's basketball coaches of the Atlantic Coast Conference all stepped to the microphone yesterday during the league's annual preseason media day to talk up the strength of the ACC.
Time after time, a coach would invoke the seemingly sacred statement that the ACC is, in fact, the best league in college basketball today, bar none.
"I know you all are tired of hearing it because we've all said it all day," said Maryland coach Chris Weller.
You hardly can blame the coaches for taking the opportunity to extol their virtues, a step the group has been reluctant to do in the past.
Even after North Carolina captured the NCAA crown in 1993, the league didn't get the respect the coaches felt they were entitled to. Only three ACC teams got NCAA tournament bids the next season, and four schools were invited to the 64-team field last year.
Clemson was shockingly left out, despite a 19-10 overall regular-season record and a 9-7 conference mark.
The answer to the respect dilemma probably lies in the league's out-of-conference record. Though ACC teams posted an 85-32 mark against schools from other conferences, the league's 2-10 mark against the Southeastern Conference was a drawback.
Even worse, the ACC was a paltry 15-53 against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, with only Virginia (5-4) posting a winning record.
The league got a measure of payback when North Carolina State, Virginia and North Carolina all reached the NCAA Sweet 16, and Duke lost by one in a four-overtime classic to Alabama.
Still, the bottom line is obvious.
"We must compete well outside our league," said N.C. State coach Kay Yow. "We've got to step outside and play outside competition. If we do it [win], we get it done. If we don't, we have to accept the consequences."
The predicted order of finish for Atlantic Coast Conference women's basketball, as selected by sportswriters attending ACC Operation Basketball (first-place votes in parentheses):
Team ... ... ... ... ... .... Pts.
1. Virginia (40) ... ... ... 360
2. N.C. State ... ... ... ... 298
3. Duke ... ... ... ... .. .. 282
4. North Carolina ... ... ... 230
5. Clemson ... ... ... ... .. 208
6. Georgia Tech ... ... .. .. 141
7. Wake Forest ... ... ... .. 120
8. Maryland ... ... ... .. .. 97
9. Florida State ... .. .. .. 64