Being ranked No. 1 in the college basketball preseason polls is nothing new for North Carolina. It happened last year, and it has happened six times overall, the most of any school since the Associated Press first came out with its preseason poll in 1981.
This season, it's different, even for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina is the first unanimous preseason choice - ever.
"No one gives you any awards for preseason rankings. Our guys know these lofty rankings are a result of what they have done in the past and what people think could probably happen this year," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "But we have to earn everything out there on the floor."
The Tar Heels are such a prohibitive favorite that the Atlantic Coast Conference title is almost a given.
It's North Carolina and everyone else, even Duke.
The Blue Devils were eighth in the preseason poll, and Wake Forest was 21st.
The Demon Deacons are expected to make the biggest jump in the ACC standings after finishing tied for seventh last year at 7-9. Wake Forest was picked third at last month's ACC media day.
"I'd rather have high expectations than not have them," said second-year coach Dino Gaudio, who took over the program when Skip Prosser died of a heart attack in the summer of 2007. "I was at Army, and our talent wasn't as good as the other teams'. I'd much rather have these expectations than the other."
"I think we're a very young team still with one senior," Gaudio said. "I'll bet we're still the youngest team in the ACC. We have some experience with Jeff [Teague] and James [Johnson]. Although they're sophomores, they've played a lot of basketball for us. We're young, but we're not completely inexperienced."
That's the way Duke's Kyle Singler feels. A year ago, the 6-foot-10 forward got off to a terrific start and drew comparisons to former Blue Devils star Christian Laettner.
But as his freshman season wore on, Singler wore down and was plain worn out by the time Duke got bounced out of the NCAA tournament by West Virginia in the second round.
"Last year was a new experience for me," Singler said recently in an interview with The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C. "I was a new fish in a big pond. At times, I was swimming by myself, and I didn't know what to expect. Looking to the season, it's like a fresh start for us. We're more prepared for what's to come."
While Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff spent the summer with the U.S. Olympic team in pursuit of gold in Beijing, Singler and some of his teammates spent the offseason getting in better shape, with hopes of being stronger and fitter come March. Other teams, including Maryland, did the same.
They all will also be chasing the Tar Heels, and it is expected to be a difficult road to catch them.
Williams believes his team is up for the task, just as the 1981-82 team was when it was first picked No. 1 in the preseason. Williams was an assistant then to the legendary Dean Smth for a team that included a freshman named Michael Jordan.
And this year?
"We have a really good group of kids who are working very hard to get ready for a challenging season," Williams said.
Sun news services contributed to this article.