Miami picked to win 1st ACC women's hoops title
Times are changing in Atlantic Coast Conference women's basketball; it's out with the old and in with the new.
The favorite to win the ACC championship is Miami, the best preseason projection for the Hurricanes since they joined the league in 2004. The preseason all-league team announced Tuesday includes players from Miami, Maryland and Florida State - but not bluebloods Duke or North Carolina.
''It just shows that this is a great conference, that the sport is always evolving,'' said Miami guard Shenise Johnson, the league's preseason player of the year.
''It's about time,'' she added. ''You need new faces, new teams, different colleges. You don't want the same people winning all the time, so it's actually good that we have different people around.''
The Hurricanes received 30 of a possible 40 first-place votes by the league's panel of school representatives and media members. Two-time reigning ACC tournament champion Duke was picked to finish second and received the other 10 first-place votes.
It's the first time since 1995 - and only the fourth time since the league began preseason balloting in 1991 - that a school other than Duke, North Carolina or Maryland was the preseason pick to win the league. And it represents a remarkable turnaround for a Miami senior class that finished tied for 10th in the ACC when they were both freshmen and sophomores.
''They deserve that spot,'' North Carolina State coach Kellie Harper said. ''As far as preseason polls are concerned, that's probably as accurate as you can get it.''
It's certainly hard to argue with the Hurricanes' resume.
Reigning national coach of the year Katie Meier returns all five starters - and, for that matter, the entire team - after Miami went 28-5 last season and shared the ACC regular-season title with Duke before suffering a pair of surprising postseason losses. The Hurricanes were knocked out in the semifinals of the ACC tournament by North Carolina before Oklahoma eliminated them in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
''It's been a climb. It's been really arduous and it's been difficult,'' Meier said. ''It's been stressful and scrappy, and everything that you think it has been. It has not been easy. It's not easy now, either. That same mentality, that same effort, that same scrappiness - if I see any of that missing, we're going to have a problem, but so far, I don't see any of that missing.''
Maryland was picked to finish third, followed by Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, N.C. State, Virginia, Boston College, Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia Tech.
Johnson, the reigning ACC player of the year after averaging 19.6 points last season, could become the 12th three-time all-ACC first-team selection and first since 2008. She was joined on the preseason all-conference team by teammate Riquna Williams. They were joined by Maryland's Lynetta Kizer and Alyssa Thomas, and Florida State's Cierra Bravard.
''I think it kind of shows that anything is possible. I think where we are ... that's OK,'' Bravard said. ''It just shows how tough and how competitive it's going to be this year.''
The preseason projections aren't only about who's returning - but who's not around anymore at the league's traditional powers.
Duke lost do-it-all-guard Jasmine Thomas, who led the Blue Devils to four straight ACC championship games and victories in the last two. The Tar Heels must replace three mainstays over the past four years - Jessica Breland, Cetera DeGraffenreid and Italee Lucas - with a handful of first-year players.
North Carolina also will be without two key players until at least mid-December - shot-blocking center Waltiea Rolle is pregnant and is due Nov. 3, and guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt had shoulder surgery in July. Coach Sylvia Hatchell said it's possible that either or both could be redshirted.
''We have a lot of uncertainties, I guess you could say,'' coach Sylvia Hatchell said, adding that ''those young kids have just got to have some time. But it's going to be fun, because ... we're going to be better than people think we're going to be, especially as we move along, get people back out there and get experience under our belts.''