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ACC basketball preview: North Carolina looks to improve on 2022's title-game run as Duke reloads post-Coach K

North Carolina returns four starters from last year's Final Four team and is a heavy favorite to run the ACC.
North Carolina returns four starters from last year's Final Four team and is a heavy favorite to run the ACC. (Bob Donnan/USA Today)

The 2022-23 college basketball season is five days away. Come back each day this week as we break down the biggest conferences, teams and more leading up to the season.

The ACC is top-heavy this season with the usual suspects expected to contend for a Final Four run and beyond.

They do so as the new era for conference blue bloods tips off in earnest.

North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis looks to build off the success of his rookie season with the nation's No. 1 team. Jon Scheyer leads a new regime at Duke with the country's top freshman class after Mike Krzyzewski's 42-year run.

In Charlottesville, Tony Bennett adds a strong freshman class and a notable transfer to a Virginia team that returns five starters, but disappointed with a trip to the NIT last season. Miami, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame look to build off NCAA tournament appearances in 2022 while Florida State hopes to join the party.

Here's everything you need to know about the ACC:

Ranked ACC teams:

For the full Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll, click here.

1. North Carolina

7. Duke

18. Virginia

Receiving Votes: Miami (66), Florida State (32), Virginia Tech (1), Notre Dame (1)

Preseason media poll

This poll was conducted by the ACC. First place votes are in parentheses.

1. North Carolina (90)

2. Duke (2)

3. Virginia (6)

4. Miami (2)

5. Florida State

6. Notre Dame

7. Virginia Tech (1)

8. Syracuse

9. Wake Forest

10. NC State

11. Clemson

12. Louisville

13. Boston College

14. Pittsburgh

15. Georgia Tech

Notable national championship odds, via BetMGM

Gonzaga is the preseason favorite at +900.

North Carolina +1000

Duke +1200

Virginia +5000

Can Hubert Davis, Tar Heels improve on last season?

North Carolina stunned college basketball last season with a trip to the national championship game as a No. 8 seed. There will be no surprise runs out of Chapel Hill in 2022-23.

The Tar Heels return four starters from last season's Final Four team. They added All-Big Ten honorable mention Pete Nance to fill Brady Manek's void in the starting lineup, and enter the season as the nation's No. 1 team.

They're not the betting favorites to cut down the nets in Houston in April. That honor belongs to No. 2 Gonzaga. But Carolina is loaded for its best shot at a championship since it secured its sixth NCAA title in 2017.

Senior center Armando Bacot anchors the lineup as the overwhelming ACC preseason Player of the Year after averaging 16.3 points, 13.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks as a junior. He's joined by junior guard and Final Four hero Caleb Love on the All-ACC first team. Fellow junior guard R.J. Davis is projected for a breakout season as a second-team All-ACC selection, while forward Leaky Black returns for his fourth-straight season in the starting lineup. This is a deep, veteran team that added a fifth-year senior in Northwestern transfer forward Nance to plug its lone hole in the starting lineup.

Davis adds three four-star freshmen to the mix with his first recruiting class in Chapel Hill. But this season's UNC roster has the veteran makeup of the teams Roy Williams coached to three national titles during the one-and-done era.

Duke reloads for start of Jon Scheyer era

Mike Krzyzewski might be gone. But this year's Duke team is built on the blueprint of late-model Coach K.

Gone are first-round picks Paolo Banchero, Mark Williams, A.J. Griffin and Wendell Moore Jr. Enter the nation's No. 1 recruiting class anchored by four five-star recruits, including three of Rivals' top-5 prospects. The cupboard is far from bare for Scheyer's first season replacing the coaching titan. This team is loaded with projected NBA talent.

The question, as always, is whether it can coalesce into a cohesive unit capable of competing for a national championship. There's plenty of reason to believe that it can as Duke enters the season as the No. 7 team in the nation. There's also reason for concern before the season starts.

Duke fans are not expecting a dropoff in 2022-23 as Jon Scheyer takes over for Mike Krzyzewski. (AP/David J. Phillip)
Duke fans are not expecting a dropoff in 2022-23 as Jon Scheyer takes over for Mike Krzyzewski. (AP/David J. Phillip)

The nation's No. 1 recruit and projected lottery pick Dariq Whitehead fractured a bone in his right foot during an August workout and required surgery. The electric 6-foot-7 forward will miss the start of the season and certainly won't risk his NBA future by rushing back from a foot injury. When he returns remains unclear as the season looms, but Duke hopes to have him back before the calendar turns to 2023.

Even in his absence, Duke still boasts the nation's most-talented freshman class. Dereck Lively, a 6-foot-11 center, is a projected first-round draft pick with the upside of finishing the season as college basketball's top freshman. He's a preseason All-ACC second-team selection before stepping onto a college basketball court. He's dealing with a calf injury of his own and is listed as week-to-week to start the season. He'll be joined in the starting front court by 6-foot-10 forward Kyle Filipowski, the nation's No. 5 recruit.

The Blue Devils, meanwhile, will have veteran leadership where it matters most as junior point guard Jeremy Roach runs the offense. Expectations remain high in Durham.

Can Virginia come back from last season's disappointment?

The good news for Virginia is that it returns all five starters from last season's team. The bad news is that those starters anchored a run to the NIT in 2022 after starting the season as the nation's No. 25 team. Anything short of a NCAA tournament run in 2023 will add up to disappointment.

Last season marked the end of seven-straight NCAA appearances for Virginia under Bennett, including 2019's national championship. Absent in 2021-22 was the hallmark defense that's defined Bennett's best teams. The Cavaliers ranked 117th in the nation in defensive efficiency last season. That's an area that can and is expected to improve this season.

“I think we’re deeper and better prepared," Bennett told reporters at a preseason news conference.

They're definitely deeper. And their experience should be a plus.

Fifth-year senior point guard Kihei Clark will run the offense while fellow fifth-year senior Jayden Gardner returns at power forward a year after leading the team with 15.3 points per game as a transfer from East Carolina. Another fifth-year senior joins the roster with the addition of three-time All-MAC Ohio transfer Ben Vander Plas. He should provide a substantial boost to the front court. Add in four four-star freshman, and Virginia's upside is considerably higher than last season's NIT quarterfinalists.

Notable early games

No. 7 Duke vs. No. 5 Kansas* | Nov. 15

No. 18 Virginia vs. No. 5 Baylor* | Nov 18

No. 18 Virginia at No. 22 Michigan | Nov. 29

No. 1 North Carolina at No. 13 Indiana | Nov. 30

Ohio State at No. 7 Duke | Nov. 30

*Neutral Court