Plenty of optimism at ACC Media Day

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Media days always are filled with optimism. But the degree of positivity in the air at ACC Media Day at the Ritz-Carlton on Wednesday was different from recent years. And it was sincere and legitimate.

Not that coaches and players have blown smoke in the past. They should be excited and confident. If you don’t think you’re going to win, why play the games?

Most of the schools that believe they’re going to win a bunch of ACC games this season may be on to something. North Carolina and Duke are considered a bit down, though both still are ranked among the top 15 in just about every poll on the planet. But neither the Tar Heels nor Blue Devils are runaway favorites.

No team is, and that’s what made this media day more interesting than past ones.

Of course, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils are expected to challenge for the league crown, and their players expect to win it. But so does NC State. The Wolfpack were picked to finish first by the coaches Monday and the media chose the same on Wednesday.

The Pack have a terrific core to their lineup, notably point guard Lorenzo Brown and forward C.J. Leslie, whom the media tabbed as the preseason Player of the Year. But NC State hasn’t been part of a regular season title since 1989. Leslie doesn’t care.

“We have higher expectations,” said Leslie, who was a key figure in last March’s run to the Sweet 16. “We want to win a championship. We want to go further in the NCAA. We’re proud to be one of those teams, but we’re not happy with it; we can do better.”

Miami expects it, too. The Hurricanes missed out on the NCAA Tournament, but to a man they say it was only because of injuries. It’s a legitimate excuse. They have loads of experience and veteran players with something to prove.

Senior big man Reggie Johnson said the Canes are flying well under the radar.

“We’re Miami, man,” he said. “If our jerseys said ‘North Carolina’ across the chests we’d be a top-10 team right now; that’s how I feel. If it said ‘North Carolina’ or ‘Duke’ right here we’d be a top-10 team. But we’re Miami.

“Those teams have great traditions as far as going to the tournament and making noise. I feel like we can compete with those guys.”

Maryland also believes it can compete for something significant. Sophomore guard Nick Faust said the Terps have the mother of all X-factors in 7-foot-1 Ukrainian sophomore Alex Len. Faust said he will be “great.”

“Alex, he has really gotten a lot better,” Faust said. “Having a full offseason and preseason to work out and to prepare for games has been really big for him. He has made huge improvements.”

The Terrapins should develop into an NCAA Tournament team in Mark Turgeon’s second season. The parts certainly are in place.

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton was a proud man talking about his team’s ACC Tournament championship last March. The residual effect has been significant in recruiting and credibility outside of the league’s region. It’s also been big within the boundaries of the Seminoles’ locker room.

Instead of having the players believe it can happen, they’ve now seen it for their own eyes. With Ian Miller, Okaro White and possible Player of the Year candidate Michael Snaer leading a freshman class that’s already causing a stir in Tallahassee, they see no reason they can’t win the regular season title.

“He’s probably accurate,” Hamilton said, referring to Snaer’s comments about the freshmen and the Seminoles’ potential. “I think now our system’s in place and we have guys now that are a little more capable of doing things, of attacking more than we did in the past.

“I think it’s a sign that our incoming kids are a little more skilled, and the mere fact that three of our freshman perimeter players have all been to prep school, they are a little older and little more mature.”

Georgia Tech is excited to open its new basketball home, Clemson coach Brad Brownell believes Milton Jennings is moving past the internal anchor that has hampered his development, and Virginia coach Tony Bennett really likes how his team is practicing.

Virginia Tech, which has a new coach, Wake Forest, which has some experienced upper classmen, and Boston College, which returns nearly everyone from last season’s team, all feel good about their situations.

As they should, and that’s what made this day so interesting.