The thoroughbreds remain the same in the ACC, but two of the league’s top coaches expect the race to be tighter this season.
Duke, North Carolina and Virginia have consistently remained atop the ACC standings over the past few seasons. The teams have helped the conference claim three of the last five national championships, with the Cavaliers cutting down the nets earlier this year in Minneapolis.
The Blue Devils, who won the ACC Tournament last season in Charlotte, are back atop the preseason poll for the fourth consecutive season and the sixth time in seven years. Duke hasn’t won a regular-season title since 2010, but returns sophomore point guard Tre Jones to lead a quartet of talented freshmen.
The Blue Devils received 51 of 111 first-place votes to finish ahead of UNC, Louisville and Virginia. The Tar Heels, who finished with a 16-2 league record last season to share the regular-season title with the Cavaliers, received 19 first-place votes and 1,493 points. The Cardinals picked up 29 first-place votes with 1,448 points, while Virginia received the remaining 12 first-place nods and 1,405 points.
There’s a clear top four, but coaches aren’t sure what to expect as the league shifts to a 20-game schedule, which begins with season-opening matchups on Nov. 5.
This also is the first year in the history of the conference that no first- or second-team All-ACC players from the previous season return.
“I know those things,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday at ACC Operation Basketball, the league’s annual preseason media day.
“I thought we really had five teams last year that by the end of the year could have been national championship teams. This year I think it’s wide open. I think the league will be more balanced, and as a result, there will be some great basketball throughout. There aren’t the veteran teams that we had last year.”
Like Krzyzewski, Virginia coach Tony Bennett isn’t sure what to make of the conference landscape.
“I think there’s — just like with our team — there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Bennett said. “I think our league has a lot of uncertainty, not knowing how guys will come into it. It should be an intriguing and fun year to watch from that standpoint.”
Louisville’s Jordan Nwora was tabbed the preseason player of the year and UNC point guard Cole Anthony was selected as the favorite to earn freshman of the year honors.
Anthony will be tasked with leading a Tar Heel squad that lost its top five scorers from last season. Anthony made the preseason All-ACC first team, along with Jones, Nwora, Notre Dame’s John Mooney and Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite.
Share acc game N.C. State’s Markell Johnson earned a spot on the All-ACC second team and was joined by Duke’s Vernon Carey, UNC’s Garrison Brooks, Miami’s Chris Lykes and Florida State’s Trent Forrest.
Johnson’s Wolfpack was voted sixth in the preseason poll. After back-to-back 11-20 seasons, Wake Forest is predicted to finish last in the league.