"Do I love the tournament? No. I don't love the tournament at all," Williams said at that time. "In some ways, it's just a huge cocktail party for four or five days. The way that people put so much weight on the NCAA Tournament, this [ACC Tournament] is just something we do between the regular season and the NCAA Tournament."
His track record backs up those words. In his 19 full seasons as a head coach at Kansas and North Carolina, Williams has claimed 11 regular season championships, advanced to five Final Fours and won one national championship. But the fifth-year UNC head coach has only emerged victorious in five conference tournaments.
North Carolina failed to make it to Championship Sunday at the ACC Tournament during Williams' first three seasons in Chapel Hill, before defeating N.C. State for the championship last spring in Tampa. That tournament title marked Williams' first since the 1999 season.
Williams confirmed his beliefs during his weekly ACC teleconference call on Monday.
"It's the same thing I've said every year," Williams said. "It's a great cocktail party and a big party for the fans and the whole bit. But growing up here in North Carolina, the ACC tournament is the granddaddy of all the tournaments.
"It means a great deal, and at the same time we can't put all of our loaves in this basket because we have accomplished enough during the regular season that we know we're going to be playing after this week."
There is no question that the NCAA Tournament is the ultimate goal for this program. But if past ACC Tournament championships are any indication, winning nine straight games over a span of 25 days is incredibly difficult – there have been six ACC teams to win the NCAA championship since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, and only two of those squads won the ACC Tournament (Duke in 1992 and 2001).
And with a program that is slowly healing from numerous injuries to key personnel, if there was any ACC Tournament for North Carolina to sandbag, it would be this one.
But Williams was adamant during Wednesday's press conference that his team would arrive in Charlotte ready to play, with the intent to repeat as ACC Tournament champions.
"I am not concerned about my team ‘not being ready to play,'" Williams said. "Now we may not play well, but I'm not concerned about my team ‘not being ready to play.' I think they'll come out very focused."
The players collectively agreed with their head coach.
"There's no doubt in our minds that this is one of our big time goals," junior wing Marcus Ginyard said. "There's no thought in anybody's mind that we're more worried about what's going to happen next weekend than what's going to happen these next three days."
Junior forward Danny Green indicated that the team is always focused on their next opponent, regardless of the setting.
"We've got to play the winner of Wake Forest-Florida State, and just taking one game at a time like we've been doing," Green said. "When you look ahead, you look past somebody, and that's when you get surprised."
In fact, having a coaching staff that doesn't put the utmost importance on the ACC Tournament may be a good thing for the Tar Heels.
"It's maybe not as much pressure, maybe you can say that, but we still don't want to lose a game," sophomore forward Deon Thompson said. "We're going to take it hard if we do lose. We do want to win the whole thing."
There was speculation that the 2005 national championship team did not place an emphasis on winning the ACC Tournament after North Carolina fell to Georgia Tech in the semifinals. But the lone remaining Tar Heel from that squad indicated on Wednesday that that loss ignited the team's NCAA run.
"We used it as motivation," senior guard Quentin Thomas said. "Because after we lost in the ACC Tournament in 2005, we knew that if we lost the next game, we'd be coming home [and] our season would be over. We definitely didn't want to do that, so everybody did everything they could to put forth the all of the effort and all of the energy and focus in on our main goal, and that was to win the national championship."
But one thing is for certain – now that postseason play is here, the Tar Heels are two losses away from cleaning out their lockers for the 2007-08 season. And after this weekend, that margin of error drops to one.