But UNC's schedule heats up tremendously in the coming weeks, as the 51st season of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball could be the most competitive. The Tar Heels host No. 22 Maryland (9-2, 1-0) Saturday at noon in the Smith Center.
"I'm not trying to downplay what we've accomplished so far," Williams said during his weekly press conference Thursday at the Smith Center. "In the first season, we've done very well."
Even though Carolina began the ACC season back on Dec. 19 with an 85-51 victory at Virginia Tech, Williams calls this the "second season," with the non-conference preseason and March Madness making up the "first" and "third;" respectively.
"Besides the Virginia Tech game, all of our non-conference games are behind us," Sean May said. "For me, the season is definitely in three parts. Kentucky could survive in this league, but a lot of our non-conference opponents couldn't."
Williams put his troops through a remedial course of boot camp, in preparation for the "new" season, in what will be four days of two-a-day – Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
"I'm pleased with what we've done so far," Williams said. "Some have been refreshed by the whole thing. Monday was one of the best practices we've had all year."
The Tar Heels have already improved on last season's start to the ACC schedule. By this time a year ago, Carolina was 8-2, with losses to 8th ranked Kentucky and a triple-overtime home conference opener to No. 14 Wake Forest.
But it was Carolina's 90-84 loss at College Park less than two weeks later that still leaves a bad taste in May's mouth.
"I remember everything about last year at Maryland," said May, whose near double-double was upstaged by 22 points and nine rebounds by the Terps' Jamar Smith. "I didn't play bad offensively, but Jamar Smith was just getting everything that he wanted. It was just a headache playing up there. I learned a lot and I try to remember and reflect and hopefully the outcome will be different this time."
The unranked Terrapins used a late 14-1 run with the ball, and held Carolina to 32.4 percent from the floor in the second half without it, to defeat the then ninth-ranked Tar Heels. At the time, the game was considered an upset, but Maryland would go on to win the ACC Tournament championship, while UNC would be expelled in the first round. But this year's future looks much brighter for Carolina, a team many believe to be one of the best in the country. The reason for the improvement? David Noel credits more confidence, experience and harder work during the off-season.
"We're going in thinking about the things that happened starting off in conference last year," Noel said. "The way the games went last year…they were tough to deal with. We don't want that memory.
"The feel is great. We've been with Coach Williams for two years now, and we understand what he wants from us. We're more comfortable with what we're supposed to do."
However, don't get the idea Williams will be satisfied until the Tar Heels begin hoisting trophies at the end of the "third" season. He still sees room for improvement.
"I don't think we're playing very well on the defensive end," he said. "A good team can turn people over and hold them to a low shooting percentage. I don't think we've done that very well yet."
* Two wide receivers on the football team, sophomore Jesse Holley (6-3, 195) and freshman Brooks Foster (6-2, 190), joined the hoops team yesterday and participated in practice. Holley appeared in 15 games last season.