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November 4, 2008
This season, the ACC is viewed as North Carolina and everyone else ? and rightfully so.
With the return of five starters ? including big man Tyler Hansbrough, the first AP national player of the year to stay in college since Shaquille O'Neal in 1991-92 ? from a team that won 36 games and reached the Final Four, UNC enters the 2008-09 season as one of the biggest national title favorites since the dominating UCLA teams of the 1960s and 1970s. The Tar Heels are the first unanimous No. 1 in the history of the coaches' preseason top 25.
But that doesn't mean UNC's chief competition hasn't improved either. A year after sending four teams ? a relatively low number by ACC standards ? to the NCAA tournament, the 12-team league has a chance to send at least six to the field of 65.
Thanks largely to the return of a wealth of experience, five other ACC teams were ranked among the top 40 in the Rivals.com Top 65 Countdown: Duke (No. 6), Wake Forest (No. 18), Miami (No. 27), Clemson (No. 35) and Virginia Tech (No. 38). Maryland (No. 61) also was ranked.
Wake Forest, which finished in a tie for seventh last season, returns every scholarship player. Duke has four starters back, including 2007-08 ACC Rookie of the Year Kyle Singler. The same goes for Miami, which reached the second round of the NCAA tournament, and Virginia Tech - which was one of the last teams left out of the field of 65. Clemson returns three starters from a team that was a No. 5 seed in the 2008 NCAA tournament.
The ACC also is adding an extraordinary amount of talent. Four of the five selections to Rivals.com's preseason All-ACC freshman team are five-star prospects. Wake Forest signed three five-star prospects ? and two did not make the freshman team.
Rivals.com Preseason All-ACC Teams
North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough is our preseason ACC Player of the Year.
No team in the league has a bigger collection of young talent. Wake welcomes three five-star prospects: 6-9 forward Al-Farouq Aminu (older brother Alade Aminu plays for Georgia Tech), 6-11 center Tony Woods and 7-foot center Ty Walker. Every starter and 11 lettermen return from a team that finished in a tie for seventh last season. That includes sophomores Jeff Teague and James Johnson, both All-ACC-caliber players. The rotation will be at least 10 deep. If the newcomers develop quickly, the Deacons could finish as high as second.
Team on the decline: Virginia
Coach(es) on the rise: Miami's Frank Haith and Clemson's Oliver Purnell
Coach on the hot seat: Sidney Lowe, NC State
Best offensive player: North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough
Best 3-point shooter: Miami's Jack McClinton
Best defensive player: Florida State's Toney Douglas
Best player you don't know yet: Clemson's Trevor Booker
Deepest bench: Wake Forest
Impact newcomer: Wake Forest's Al-Farouq Aminu
Freshman sleeper: Virginia Tech's Victor Davila
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.