ACC basketball went old school Wednesday. Short shorts, canvas sneakers, two-hand set shot old school.
Mirroring the conference's coaches, the league's media voted North Carolina State, Duke and North Carolina to finish 1-2-3.
"Our region is the most unique (basketball) region in the country," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "The histories of State, Duke and Carolina are storied … so in a season where at least in the beginning people think that all three of us are going to be good, it conjures up all those past years when we were that good."
Since the ACC's formation in 1953, State (two), Duke (four) and Carolina (five) have won 11 national championships. They've been blessed with iconic coaches (Everett Case, Krzyzewski and Dean Smith) and singular talents (David Thompson, Christian Laettner and Michael Jordan).
Geographic neighbors and fierce rivals, the Wolfpack, Blue Devils and Tar Heels made ACC basketball.
Ten times, in some combination, they have seized the league's top three spots. But that last happened in 1991, the year Duke won its first national title and Carolina reached the Final Four.
The missing component has been N.C. State. Since '91, the Wolfpack has finished third or better only twice, in 2002 and '04.
Second-year coach Mark Gottfried appears poised to change that. He guided N.C. State to the NCAA Sweet 16 last season and followed up with an acclaimed recruiting class headlined by guard Rodney Purvis. Tandem those rookies with returnees such as C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Richard Howell, and you have the ACC's preseason favorite.
The last time the Wolfpack was so regarded? Try 1975, the year after Thompson and Tommy Burleson ended UCLA's run of seven consecutive national championships.
"We're not going to shy away from it," Gottfried said of the hype. "It's new territory for our team. … We have to accept that responsibility."
And where did Gottfried vote the Wolfpack on his preseason ballot?
"I'm confident in my team," he said wryly, without elaborating.
State tied for fourth in the ACC last season and squeaked into the NCAA tournament as a No. 11 seed. The Wolfpack then upset San Diego State and Georgetown before dropping a Midwest Regional semifinal to Kansas by three points.
"We definitely carried that confidence over from last year," Howell said, "and I feel like that's going to be huge. It's a new year, but we feel like we can pick up where we left off."
Later, in a remark tweeted by the Burlington Times-News' Adam Smith, Howell said of the team's accolades: "You want to run around the room happy as hell. But you've got to keep that in check."
That is State's test this season, handling the expectations that shadow Duke and Carolina every year.
"We aren't coming here to make bold statements about what we're going to do," Devils forward Mason Plumlee said. "But we're confident in our team. We know we're talented. That's how we are every year."
Duke entered last season's NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed, only to be excused, shockingly, by Patriot League champion Lehigh. The Devils were poor defensively and had only one senior, Miles Plumlee.
With three seniors — Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly — Krzyzewski believes this team is more capable of meeting the program's standards.
"You don't get that very often," Krzyzewski said of Duke's experience, "because kids leave (for the NBA)."
That's what happened to North Carolina. After the Tar Heels' regional final loss to Kansas, John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall turned pro early.
But weep not for coach Roy Williams. His roster remains stocked with national-caliber recruits such as James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland.
"At the end of the day, we're going to have a great team," McAdoo said. "People are selling us short, and that's fine."
In great spirits after a recent health scare — tumors on his kidneys were benign — Williams knows well the history of Triangle basketball. He's a Carolina graduate and served as an assistant to Smith from 1979-88.
"They deserve the accolades they're getting right now," Williams said of N.C. State. "They had a great run down the stretch. I'm old enough to I remember where Duke and North Carolina State and North Carolina were all three really, really good teams.
"I thought that was good for all of us. So to me we're getting to the point back where it used to be, and I like that. I really do."
So does ESPN. The network's College GameDay show will broadcast from Carolina at State on Jan. 26, and Duke at Carolina on March 9.
"Let's see," Krzyzewski said, "if all of us will be that good again."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times