UNC, Georgia Tech, N.C. State round out top 5

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Wake Forest was picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title, the first time in five years a team other than Duke had that honor.

Still, no one feels sorry for the Blue Devils, least of all coach Mike Krzyzewski.

"I don't think anybody's saying we're going to have a down year, I think they're just picking some teams ahead of us," Krzyzewski said Sunday at ACC Operation Basketball. "We'll have a good team, we have good players. We just don't have as many of them."

Duke lost starters Chris Duhon and Luol Deng, and prized recruit Shaun Livingston decided to skip college altogether and head to the NBA. In the poll of 91 media members, the Blue Devils earned three first-place votes and were picked fourth, following the Demon Deacons, North Carolina and Georgia Tech.

North Carolina State rounded out the top five, just ahead of Maryland.

"It's a little different," Duke guard J.J. Redick said. "Even my freshman year, we had like six freshmen and one or two seniors, and we were picked first.

"It doesn't really say we're a bad team. The league is so deep," he said.

That it is. Eleven of the 15 players named to all-conference teams last season returned, and Wake Forest and North Carolina have their entire rosters back. Many preseason polls -- including the coaches' -- have six conference teams in the top 20.

"The ACC is special, it's unique," Virginia coach Pete Gillen said. "Last year, we had one of the best years we ever had from top to bottom, and this year might be better. It's good to say it, but it's not good to play it."

Florida State was picked seventh, followed by the Cavaliers, Clemson and new members Virginia Tech and Miami.

Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul was selected preseason player of the year, narrowly edging Julius Hodge of N.C. State. They were joined on the all-ACC team by Redick and North Carolina's Rashad McCants and Sean May.

Last year, the Demon Deacons finished third in the conference, four games behind Duke. Now, at least three polls have them ranked No. 1 in the country.

"To be honest with you, you see it, you look at it and you shake your head, but you can't waste one nanosecond to worry about it," coach Skip Prosser said. "It's a tough, tough league. I don't think that'll ever change."

Duke hasn't been picked this low since before the 1996-97 season, when it went on to win the regular-season title over Wake Forest and North Carolina. The previous year, the Blue Devils finished fourth in Krzyzewski's first season after taking a leave of absence to have back surgery.

Since then, they have stayed in the top two, and Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt expects them to be a contender again.

"He hasn't won all those games for nothing," he said of Krzyzewski. "He's got some pretty talented players over there. I don't think they'll have many problems."

Count North Carolina forward Jackie Manuel among the believers.

"We look at it as Duke being Duke," Manuel said. "It doesn't matter where they're picked. We all know Duke is a great team."