CHARLOTTE — ACC basketball players and coaches have gathered here on Wednesday at the ACCs annual mens basketball media day and, for the first time in nearly 40 years, much of the focus and many of the questions have been about N.C. State entering the season as the league favorite.
The leagues coaches picked the Wolfpack to finish first in the ACCs inaugural coaches poll, and N.C. State is likely to be first in the media poll when it is released later today. The ACCs preseason media poll debuted in 1970, and N.C. State has been picked first just twice in 1974 and 75.
We accept that, and thats all great, N.C. State junior C.J. Leslie said. Theres nothing bad about that but, you know, what we really have to do is we have to let that go out of our head and really focus in and get better little by little.
Its fine to be preseason ranked one and all of this, but at the end of the day it really doesnt mean too much.
While Leslie and teammate Richard Howell answered questions about entering the preseason with the burden of high expectations, players from North Carolina and Duke answered plenty of questions of their own. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils finished first and second in the league a season ago, but since have endured many changes.
Duke returns four starters, but lost Austin Rivers, the conferences freshman of the year a season ago. Seth Curry, the senior guard, acknowledged that leadership was a problem a season ago for the Blue Devils, who lost against Lehigh in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
As seniors, me, Mason [Plumlee] and Ryan [Kelly] have definitely learned from that, and were going to try to apply what we learned to this new team, Curry said.
Curry acknowledged, too, that Duke faltered defensively last season.
I knew we werent as good of a defensive team as we needed to be, he said. Were coming into this year with [defense] a key focal point.
UNC, meanwhile, returns just one starter. The Tar Heels are still adapting to life without Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller all of whom were selected among the top 17 picks in the NBA draft.
The Tar Heels entered the past two seasons as the league favorite, but face their lowest expectations since UNCs 2009-10 team, which failed to reach the NCAA tournament.
People are really, I think, selling us short, UNC sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo said. But thats fine. Were not worried about that. Were not worried about any of the preseason rankings or preseason accolades that other teams might be getting over us.
Its not even added motivation because we know that at the end of the day were North Carolina basketball.
The leagues players met with media members on Wednesday morning, and the ACCs coaches will speak with reporters in the afternoon. When the preseason poll is released, UNC, Duke and N.C. State could all be among the top three teams for just the fourth time, and for the first time since 2008.