Duke is overwhelming choice as top men's ACC basketball team; Maryland slated for sixth

Duke's Kyle Singler, at left battling for position with Maryland's Greivis Vasquez in March 2009, is the preseason pick for ACC player of the year. The Blue Devils garnered 61 of 62 first-place votes as the top team in the conference.
Duke's Kyle Singler, at left battling for position with Maryland's Greivis Vasquez in March 2009, is the preseason pick for ACC player of the year. The Blue Devils garnered 61 of 62 first-place votes as the top team in the conference. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 12:35 AM

CHARLOTTE - Just seven months ago Maryland stood atop the ACC's pecking order along with Duke - the bitter basketball rivals having finished conference play with identical 13-3 records and an equal claim on the regular season crown.

On Wednesday the league's press corps anointed Duke, the defending national champion, a nearly unanimous favorite to finish first in the ACC this season. Maryland was picked to finish sixth.

There was no mystery behind the dramatically divergent projections. It was Greivis Vasquez - or, more specifically, the absence of Vasquez, the Terrapins' fiery four-year starter whose first act as a first-round NBA selection was to engulf Commissioner David Stern in a giant bear hug.

In one fashion or another, the loss of Vasquez was among the more persistent lines of inquiry as the league's coaches and top returning players met with members of the media.

How much do the Terps miss Vasquez? How does Coach Gary Williams plan to replace his scoring? His leadership? His heart?

"He did a lot for that team - whether scoring, passing or rebounding," Duke's Nolan Smith said of Vasquez. "But I know what they're capable of. And they have a great coach. They have a lot of players who are ready to step up."

Among the other hot topics:

What's the outlook for the ACC's three new coaches - Steve Donahue, who left Cornell to replace Al Skinner at Boston College; Colorado's Jeff Bzdelic, who succeeds Dino Gaudio at Wake Forest; and Brad Brownell, who fills the Clemson vacancy left by Oliver Purnell? That's a single-season record for turnover in the tradition-laden league.

And where do coaches stand on Twitter, the social medium that few use themselves yet nearly all acknowledge represents an increasing part of the fabric of their players' lives, for better or worse?

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski is giving his players free rein to tweet but only after reminding them that their actions, words and deeds at this stage in their life don't just reflect on them but on the Blue Devils as a whole.

"If we make a few mistakes [in allowing players to use social media], so be it," Krzyzewski said. "If I feel the mistake is too big to be repeated again, I might take some action. But I'd rather give them the opportunity to grow."

Williams said his Terrapins will be taking "a sabbatical" from Twitter this season, deciding to err on the side of caution. He's permitting use of Facebook as long as it's not after 11 p.m.

In preseason voting, Duke received 61 of the 62 first-place votes. Virginia Tech was picked second largely because the Hokies return all five starters and boast a particularly experienced back court. Senior guard Malcolm Delaney was voted to the preseason all-conference team, receiving the second-highest number of votes behind Duke's Kyle Singler, who was named preseason player of the year. Virginia was selected to finish 11th in the 12-team league.

Williams didn't take issue with the Terps' placement, conceding the team lost a great deal when its three leading scorers - Vasquez, Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes - moved on after their senior years.

And four practices into the new season, Williams is hard at work installing an up-tempo defense designed to compensate for any drop in scoring while shifting his offense to run more through his experienced big men inside - sophomore Jordan Williams, in particular - than the senior guards the Terps relied on so heavily last season.

But there was no mistaking, in conversations with Williams, Williams and senior Dino Gregory, that Vasquez's emotional presence can't be replaced.

Williams joked that Vasquez made his presence felt every afternoon at about 2 p.m. - nearly two hours before practice began - when he'd show up in the basketball office and start stealing candy from the candy dish for visitors. Then the secretaries would start laughing, and the commotion would filter down the hall to Williams's office.

"He just had that way of picking everybody up," Williams said. "You miss all that. You miss that part of Greivis that made him what he was."

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