The Atlantic Coast Conference women's basketball tournament, which so far been dominated by Maryland and North Carolina State, should prove to be much more competitive when the third ACC tournament begins here Thursday.

Four of the eight teams playing in the three-day tournment are ranked in the top 20 nationally, including No. 12 Maryland and 13th-ranked N.C. State. But the best indication that a new balance has come to the league is that although the Terrapins and North Carolina State are ranked higher nationally than other ACC teams, they are seeded in the tournament below Clemson and Virginia, which finished one-two in the regular-season standings. c

Surprising Virginia (5-2, 18-5), ranked 16th nationally, opens with a 1 p.m. game against seventh-seeded Georgia Tech (1-6, 6-15). Top-seeded Clemson (6-1, 18-5), No. 19 nationally, plays eighth-seeded Wake Forest (0-7, 9-15) at 3 p.m. If Clemson and Virginia win, which is considered likely they will meet at 7 p.m. Friday in a semifinal game.

The evening bracket has third-seeded Maryland (5-2, 11-6) playing sixth-rated Duke (3-5, 10-11) at 7 p.m., followed by a 9 p.m. game involving the fourth seed, defending champion N.C. State (5-2, 14-6) and fifth-seeded North Carolina (4-3, 14-13). The winners, likely Maryland and N.C. State, will play at 9 p.m. Friday in the other semifinal. The championship game is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Maryland lost to Clemson and Virginia during the regular season, but has played well despite a rigorous schedule. Myra Waters, a 5-foot-10 junior forward, had been the steadiest player, averaging 18 points and nine rebounds a game.

Injuries could be a problem for Maryland. Sophomore Jasmina Parazic has ulcers and will miss at least the first tournament game. Pam Reaves, another starter, has been bothered all year with an injured right knee.

Clemson is ranked lower nationally than Maryland, Virginia and N.C. State, but no one is doubting that the Tigers are a legitimate contender to win the tournament, especially since they are the host team.