By Josh Parcell, sports reporter
For North Carolina, being crowned as college basketball royalty is anything but new. It comes with the territory, you could say.
The ACC held its media day at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Charlotte Wednesday, and all eyes were on the Tar Heels.
Projected by nearly every expert in America as the favorites to win the national championship, it was no secret Wednesday that the Heels are the stick by which the rest of the league will measure itself.
“It doesn’t matter what North Carolina puts on the floor,” said Leonard Hamiton, head coach at Florida State. “They are a unique, special team that has earned the right to be where they are.”
Earlier this month, four North Carolina players were among 50 selected to the John Wooden Award watch list, given to the nation’s best player. No other player from the ACC was chosen.
Among the quartet is Harrison Barnes, a sophomore who turned down becoming a surefire top 5 NBA Draft pick to try and lead the Heels to a national championship.
In 2010, Barnes became the first freshman to be named to the Associated Press’ preseason All-American team, so he knows a thing or two about handling high expectations.
“Egos aren’t a big thing with us,” Barnes said. “It’s about staying consistent. You can’t take a night off. We get every team’s best shot. We can’t just expect to get down every game like we did last year and roll the dice and see if we come out on top.”
Joining Barnes on the Watch List was Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Kendall Marshall.
Naturally, the Heels’ biggest challenge to the conference crown this season will be Duke. The greatest rivalry in the sport will be as intense as ever this season, with the Blue Devils picked second in the preseason ACC poll.
Duke is two years removed from a national championship, and it also lost its two leading scorers from last season in Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. The bulk of the experience on the Blue Devils’ roster now rests in the post.
Miles and Mason Plumlee, along with Ryan Kelly, are expected to be the focal point of the offense this season, but that doesn’t mean the Devils are lacking for perimeter play either.
“Our strengths are our big guys,” said Blue Devils’ coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Our strength should be depth. We have more guys who can play with less separation among them than we’ve had for a long time.”
The Devils also added arguably the best high school player in the country from last season, shooting guard Austin Rivers. He’ll pair with junior point guard Seth Curry in the backcourt.
If there’s any team in the ACC with enough talent to keep up with North Carolina, it’s Duke.
“I feel like we both always end up getting the same amount of attention – it’s just what kind. Who’s better this year? It’s just all part of the rivalry. I love it, it makes the game that much more exciting and competitive. That’s why it is the rivalry it is. We’re confident we’re going to have a great team this year and we’re excited to play them.” Miles Plumlee said.
As last season proved, however, the team with the most talent does not always come out on top in college basketball. The 2011 Final Four consisted of just one team among the nation’s top 12 seeds. Connecticut won the national title after finishing ninth in the Big East during the regular season.
That alone should give anyone in the league, or the country for that matter, enough reason not to bow down at the feet of Barnes and company.
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