CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski is again coaching the team picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Hall of Famer knows it’s going to be a lot tougher to live up to the preseason prediction with the addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame to the ACC.
While the Blue Devils are the preseason favorite for the first time in three years, the league is adding an Orange program that features Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim and preseason ACC player of the year C.J. Fair. The ACC is also adding a pair of perennial NCAA tournament teams that left the reconfigured Big East to form what ACC coaches are quick to tout as the nation’s best league.
“We’re going to see much more than Duke and Carolina showcased in this league with all of these new additions,” Krzyzewski said Wednesday. “… In some way, I think that may have held the league back or held the people who think about basketball in our league back because you have this golden goose of Duke and Carolina. And now we don’t have just one goose, man. We’ve got a lot of stuff.”
The Blue Devils earned 50 of 54 first-place votes from media members at the league’s “ACC Operation Basketball” media day. Syracuse was picked second and earned three first-place votes, while North Carolina was picked third and earned the last one.
All three new arrivals were picked to finish the top half of the 15-team league, with the Fighting Irish picked fifth and the Panthers picked sixth.
It marked the 10th time in 17 years that the Blue Devils were picked to finish first in the league, though the first since before the 2010-11 season following Krzyzewski’s fourth national championship. This year’s team returns starters Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon from a 30-win team that reached an NCAA regional final before falling to eventual champion Louisville, which joins the ACC next season.
That duo will join with highly touted freshman Jabari Parker, picked as the league’s rookie of the year, and Mississippi State sophomore transfer Rodney Hood to form Duke’s core.
Both Parker and Hood were picked to the preseason all-ACC team, joining Fair, Virginia senior guard Joe Harris and Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant on the five-man squad.
Fair, a 6-foot-8 senior, was the top scorer at nearly 15 points per game for the Orange, who reached the Final Four last year. Fair earned 17 votes for player of the year to edge out Harris, who earned 16 votes and is the only returning player from last year’s all-ACC first team.
Boeheim said it was “absolutely the right time” for the Orange to make the conference switch.
“It’s really not a difficult transition because the old Big East wasn’t there,” Boeheim said. “It had changed so dramatically. People don’t realize the league changed so dramatically over the years – in, out, back and forth … I mean, there’s a certain degree of nostalgia about not being in that league because that’s where you were for 34 years. But this is a better league.”
With this year’s changes, the ACC will now have three of the five winningest programs in NCAA history with UNC (2,090 wins), Duke (2,001) and Syracuse (1,874) along with three of the five active Naismith Hall of Fame coaches in Krzyzewski, Boeheim and UNC’s Roy Williams.
“I’m not going to say it’s going to be tougher,” Pitt senior guard Lamar Patterson said. “Going into the unknown, it makes you a little wary. You want to make sure you go in there and compete and you give every team everything you’ve got.”
Virginia was picked fourth, followed by Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Boston College, Florida State, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, reigning champion Miami, Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia Tech. This will be Maryland’s final year in the league before leaving for the Big Ten.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey knows plenty about the tradition of Duke and UNC after eight years as an assistant to Krzyzewski, but he said the ACC is about to turn into more than just a two-team race.
“Duke and Carolina is always going to be Duke and Carolina in this league. I can say that,” Brey said. “I lived it, been there, done that. … But you know what? With what’s coming into this league and what’s brewing, I think you have a lot of programs really trending up.
“There’s going to be a lot more to watch than Carolina and Duke. And I think Roy and Mike are as excited about that as anybody, to have some other stuff out there that’s going to really wake people up.”