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Thoughts on the ACC preseason poll: Duke women's basketball slots in at No.10/No.11

Heading into her first season as head coach, Kara Lawson finds her squad ranked in the bottom half of the conference.
Heading into her first season as head coach, Kara Lawson finds her squad ranked in the bottom half of the conference.

On Tuesday, the ACC released its annual preseason polls for college basketball. The polls include the Blue Ribbon Panel, consisting of media and team broadcast personenel, and the head coaches. The two differed greatly on a few teams, but agreed on Duke’s tier. The Blue Zone gives you the biggest takeaways from the polls:

Where does Duke land?

The Blue Devils are coming off of a sensational 2019-20 campaign in which they finished third in the conference, after having been ranked just seventh in the preseason polls. They come into this season ranked even lower, at No. 10 by the Blue Ribbon Panel and No. 11 by the head coaches. 

It’s not exactly hard to see why Duke is ranked so lowly. It’s returning just 47 percent of its minutes and 38 percent of its scoring and not doing quite enough to replace the voids. With the exception of Florida State, every team ranked above it is either returning a significant majority of its core, featuring an improved roster or both. The Blue Devils are at least clearly better than the teams in the basement of the conference, which is good news for a Kara Lawson regime that isn’t expected to start off with a bang, but could certainly use a bit of on-court momentum. Clemson, Pitt, Virginia and, to some extent, Wake Forest are all teams that Duke should beat this season. 

There’s a decent chance that Duke can surprise some folks and overtake the likes of Miami, Boston College, and possibly even Georgia Tech. The total scores of the polls would disagree, and paint the Blue Devils as much closer to the bottom-third than the upper-midtier. But as the lone vote for Duke in the AP preseason poll shows, this team has some potential in it.

A conference steep and deep

The ACC polls quite predictably have Louisville as the overwhelming favorite to repeat as regular season conference champions, with the Cardinals earning 13 out of the 15 head coaches' first-place votes. NC State, which comes in at No. 8 nationally and is the reigning ACC tournament champion, is a national contender as well. As are both Notre Dame and Syracuse, who round out the ACC teams in the AP top 25, at No. 22 and No. 23, respectively.

What makes the ACC so impressive this season is the teams right behind these. North Carolina could easily be one of the best and youngest teams in the conference by season’s end. Virginia Tech has the top-end talent to compete with anyone. Georgia Tech’s best players are going to skew small, but the infusion of offensive talent should make them a well-rounded and feisty squad. Not only are ACC schools going to compete for the national championship, they’re going to compete for every at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. The ACC paced every conference with eight teams receiving votes in the AP poll for a reason.

Challenges galore in Duke’s schedule

Three of Duke’s first four conference games are against Louisville and NC State. The Blue Devils get a couple weeks off from the upper-third of the conference before a truly grueling stretch in which they play North Carolina, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, NC State, and Notre Dame in just fifteen days. Whether they can escape those two spans will largely determine what chance they have at making a splash in March.

Complete rankings

Blue Ribbon Panel

1. Louisville (45)

2. NC State (10)

3. Syracuse (2)

4. Notre Dame

5. North Carolina

6. Florida State

7. Virginia Tech

8. Boston College

9.Georgia Tech

10. Duke

11. Miami

12. Wake Forest

13. Clemson

14. Virginia 

15. Pitt

Head coaches

1. Louisville (13)

2. NC State (2)

3. Syracuse

4. North Carolina

5. Georgia Tech

6. Notre Dame

7. Virginia Tech

8. Florida State

9. Boston College

10. Miami

11. Duke

12. Wake Forest

13. Clemson

14. Pitt

15. Virginia


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