GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Defending national champion North Carolina and Duke each have Hall of Fame coaches, deep front lines and questions in the backcourt this season.
They also share the honor of being co-favorites to win the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Tar Heels and Blue Devils represented the first tie in the 41-year history of the ACC Operation Basketball preseason event. Duke earned 25 of 48 first-place votes Sunday from media members, while North Carolina earned 20 first-place votes and also had 545 points.
It was the fourth straight year and 19th time that North Carolina has been picked to win the ACC title. For Duke, it was the 12th overall and first since the 2005-06 season.
Clemson was picked third, followed by Georgia Tech, Maryland, Wake Forest, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Miami, Virginia and North Carolina State.
In addition, Duke’s Kyle Singler was voted preseason player of the year over Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez, while Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors was voted rookie of the year. Clemson’s Trevor Booker and Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney joined Singler, Vasquez and North Carolina’s Ed Davis on the all-conference team.
North Carolina and Duke, rivals separated by a short drive along U.S. 15-501 between Chapel Hill and Durham, enter the season with similar questions. The Tar Heels (34-4) won the program’s fifth NCAA championship last year, but lost four-year star Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Bobby Frasor, and underclassmen Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington.
The Tar Heels still boast plenty of experience with 6-foot-9 senior Deon Thompson (10.6 points) leading a front line that includes the 6-10 Davis, 7-foot sophomore Tyler Zeller and 6-10 freshman John Henson — who is expected to play small forward.
The question is how well sophomore Larry Drew II will fill Lawson’s shoes at the point, and whether junior Will Graves or freshmen Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald can give North Carolina reliable minutes on the perimeter.
“We’re just trying to get better at each and every thing we do,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “If you take the time to step back, we do have a chance to be a good team. We have a couple of major question marks that have to be answered and they’re not going to be answered in practice. We have to wait and see how that happens during games.”
Duke (30-7) won the ACC tournament for the eighth time in 11 years and reached the NCAA tournament’s round of 16. But after losing Greg Paulus (graduation), Gerald Henderson (NBA draft) and Elliot Williams (transfer), coach Mike Krzyzewski is left with Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith as the only returning guards from last year’s rotation.
Like North Carolina, the Blue Devils have strength up front with Singler, senior Lance Thomas, 6-10 brothers Miles and Mason Plumlee and 7-1 reserve Brian Zoubek. Krzyzewski has said this could be his biggest team in three decades at Duke.
“I’m as confident as I’ve been since I’ve been here,” Scheyer said. “We have a lot of work to do, but I’ve seen what this team is able to do and what its potential is, and it’s as good as any team since I’ve been here.”