Duke, North Carolina share the top spot in ACC men's basketball preseason ranking

By Steve Yanda
Monday, October 26, 2009

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- An orange plastic tub filled with Halloween candy sat atop the registration desk for the Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball media day at the Grandover Resort on Sunday. As media members signed in, they were encouraged to reach in and pull out a Tootsie Roll, a mini-Baby Ruth or a small packet of M&M's. They could see all the possibilities but still were unsure which treat would end up in their hand.

A few hours later, those same media members were asked to predict the conference's order of finish for the 2009-10 season, and, as opposed to last year, when one team was the clear choice, they chose from a more even group. The ACC's traditional favorites -- Duke and North Carolina -- still came out on top, but the voting was more dispersed, which many players and coaches took as a positive sign for the season to come.

"I think there's a lot of unknown in our league in terms of there's a lot of teams that lost some players, so they've got to have some other guys step up," said Miami Coach Frank Haith, whose team was predicted to finish 10th in the 12-team conference. "Going into it, North Carolina and Duke, people still view them as being the top teams in this league, but from number three to 12, I don't know how that's going to shape out."

For the first time in the 41-year history of the preseason media voting process there was a tie atop the ACC preseason rankings. Duke and North Carolina each received 545 total votes. Unlike last season, when North Carolina was the unanimous top selection, four teams (Duke, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest) received first-place votes this year.

Maryland, which advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, has back four starters and was picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll. Virginia Tech was slotted eighth, and Virginia was selected 11th. The top five teams all received more than 350 votes. Last year, only the top three teams were picked as many times.

"I don't think there's a certified one-spot, because if you look at last year, everybody got beat by a team that they weren't supposed to be beat by," said Virginia Tech guard Malcolm Delaney, who was selected to the preseason all-conference team. "We've got basically everybody coming back, Maryland's got basically everybody coming back, and Boston College and Florida State got a lot of people coming back."

Georgia Tech has the preseason rookie of the year in 6-foot-10 forward Derrick Favors. Considering Favors will play alongside sophomore point guard Iman Shumpert and junior forward Gani Lawal, the Yellow Jackets were a popular choice among ACC players and coaches in attendance as a squad that could make a considerable leap from its 2-14 conference record last season.

"You can't really say anybody's going to be the big dog of the league," said Maryland senior guard Greivis Vasquez, who also was selected to the preseason all-conference team. "I don't think that I can tell you right now, 'Hey, this team is definitely going to be at the top of the league.' I think we can win the league. I think Georgia Tech can win the league. I think Clemson can win the league. Who knows?"

Vasquez, who finished second to Duke forward Kyle Singler in the preseason player of the year voting, said that even a team like North Carolina State (predicted to finish last in the conference) has a "good chance" to beat North Carolina this season.

Would he have said the same prior to last season? "No," Vasquez said. "I would have said I don't think they're going to win. It's just different now."

North Carolina won the national title last year and then lost four of its starters to graduation. The Tar Heels return two imposing post players (Deon Thompson and Ed Davis) and bring in a talented recruiting class led by forward John Henson, but their intimidation factor has lessened.

"Last year, it was Carolina and everybody else," Wake Forest guard Ishmael Smith said. "And they proved it. They went out there and won a national championship. As far as this year, it's kind of like going in there and picking candy out of a bag."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company