CHARLOTTE, NC - Tobacco Road may have dominated the top two spots, and most of the awards given out at the ACC tip off event Wednesday, but the Commonwealth teams got some respect as well. Both UVA and Virginia Tech were picked to finish in the top half of the league, despite both missing out on the NCAA Tournament last year.
Fronted by the unanimous choice for Player of the Year, the North Carolina is the media's nearly unanimous pick to win the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2011-12.
While this seems to suggest the season's course is already determined, consider this: Last year, the lone dissenter was the only psychic.
Duke was the choice of every voter save one in October of 2010. That fellow picked the Tar Heels, who went on to claim the regular season. (The Devils prevailed in the ACC Tournament.)
On Wednesday, 57 of 59 electors went with Tar Heels, which return the vast majority of their roster from a group that went 29-8. That contingent includes swing man Harrison Barnes, whose excellence in conference play last season made talent evaluators swoon. Barnes, to the surprise of some, is still an amateur, and, joined by post players John Henson and Tyler Zeller, he gives North Carolina an acclaimed front line.
Barnes, who averaged 15.7 points a game last year, was the second player to get the early nod from every voter in the past four years. Another Tar Heel, Tyler Hansbrough, was the choice in October of 2008.
The Devils received the other two first-place votes and are solidly second overall. Florida State, which advanced to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 last year, is third. Also occupying the upper stratum is Virginia, which has its highest on-paper expectations (fourth place) since predicted third in 2001-02.
Miami and Virginia Tech round out the top half of the projected final standings. The triumvirate of Barnes, Zeller and Henson made UNC the first team to place three men on the top preseason squad since voters tapped Duke's Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy for the 2001-02 season.
Generally speaking, electors have a solid track record. The No. 1 or No. 2 choice in preseason has gone on to win or share 35 of the past 42 regular-season titles.