Northern Exposure: For so long, the conference was thought by many to be controlled by the state of North Carolina. Most of ACC media members hail from the state, and most of the ACC tournaments have been played there. Things began to change last season when Virginia Tech and Miami arrived from the Big East, and the conference tournament was played at MCI Center. Now the conference has a team, and a legitimate contender, located in Boston, stretching the ACC vertically along the East Coast. "We're glad BC is taking over the northernmost outpost of the ACC, because we've always been that team," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "We're south now."
Senior Stars: Duke's J.J. Redick has called himself "grandpa," and for good reason. In an age in which everything in basketball is skewing younger, the ACC resembles an old-timer's league. Check out Boston College's Craig Smith, Duke's nucleus of four seniors, Maryland's four seniors, Wake Forest's Eric Williams and Justin Gray and N.C. State's Tony Bethel, all of whom seem to have been around the college ranks forever. The experience could result in better team play, in part because these guys are hungry. The only ACC players who have won a national title are the few who remain from North Carolina's run last year. When the aforementioned seniors were recruited, it was hard to imagine so many would remain in college this long.
Age-Limit Rewards: The NBA's new age minimum, forcing players to be 19 years old and a year out of high school before entering the NBA, could directly affect a conference such as the ACC, whose schools presumably will house top-tier players for a year before they turn pro. Gary Williams believes the rule could "save some kids" who may have otherwise made rash decisions to skip college. Others, however, believe the rule will open the door to fringe characters -- shoe company goons and agents -- to influence top players. Among the questions raised for coaches will be, "Do you go after someone who you know would have gone?" Mike Krzyzewski said. "Do you allow a kid to come in knowing he will only be there one year?"
Point Guards: If you wanted to watch a top point guard/playmaker last year, the ACC was the league to see. Four ACC playmakers were drafted in the first round of the NBA draft: Wake Forest's Chris Paul (fourth), North Carolina's Raymond Felton (fifth), N.C. State's Julius Hodge (20th) and Georgia Tech's Jarrett Jack (22nd). That doesn't even include Duke's Daniel Ewing, taken in the second round, and Maryland's John Gilchrist, who went undrafted. They are all gone, leaving the ACC with a batch of young point guards and players who have been converted from shooting guard, such as Wake Forest's Justin Gray.
Palming Crackdown: Palming will be one of the points of emphasis this season for new supervisor of officials John Clougherty. The ACC, as well as the entire NCAA, wants to crack down on the street-ball technique of dribbling. Some coaches don't feel palming is that big of a problem, but Maryland's Gary Williams is not one of them. He believes the ball has deeper seams now compared with decades ago, which has made it easier for players to gain an advantage carrying the ball. "If you're a good player, you're unstoppable" by palming, Williams said. "It has to be enforced. . . . You couldn't palm when I played. We went by the rules when I played."
A Tar Heel Repeat: Here is one not-so-bold prediction for the year: North Carolina will not win back-to-back national titles. What is not so clear is whether the Tar Heels will be the first defending champion since Kansas in 1989 to miss the NCAA tournament entirely. An informal poll of ACC media members revealed a split down the middle on this issue -- it'll be close. North Carolina had four players selected among the top 14 picks in the NBA draft, lost its top seven scorers and returned only 9.1 percent of its scoring. The season won't lack intrigue because Coach Roy Williams wants to run even more than last season.