Predicted order of finish:
1. North Carolina, 2. Duke, 3. Florida State, 4. Miami, 5. Virginia, 6. Clemson, 7. Virginia Tech, 8. N.C. State, 9. Boston College, 10. Maryland, 11. Wake Forest, 12. Georgia Tech
Surprise team: Clemson. The Tigers have a pair of capable senior guards (Tanner Smith and Andre Young), an explosive frontcourt option (Devin Booker) and a massively underrated coach (Brad Brownell). No one should be stunned if Clemson finishes in the top half of the league.
Hot seat: Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest. Eight of league’s 12 coaching jobs have turned over in the last three years, so no change should be expected this season. But Bzdelik would be wise to show some progress after last year’s disastrous 8-24 debut in the Dash.
Three key games:
* Duke vs. Michigan State, Nov. 15. Assuming the Blue Devils handle Belmont and Presbyterian this week, coach Mike Krzyzewski will have his first chance to overtake Bob Knight as the career Division I wins leader in this game at Madison Square Garden. Chance two, if necessary: Nov. 18 against Davidson.
* North Carolina at Florida State, Jan. 14. It’s a serious chance for North Carolina to stumble. The defense-oriented Seminoles knocked off then-No. 1 Duke at home last year and suffered a two-point loss to North Carolina in Tallahassee last year.
* North Carolina at Duke, March 3. If the ACC title race is in any doubt on the final weekend of the regular season, this game at Cameron Indoor Stadium will almost surely have a say in determining the conference tournament’s top seed. It usually does.
Three key players:
* F Harrison Barnes, North Carolina. Barnes opted to remain in school despite an impressive second half of his freshman season - a run that included a 40-point effort against Clemson in the ACC tournament. He’s the favorite for conference player of the year.
* G Kendall Marshall, North Carolina. He won’t score the most points, grab the most rebounds, swat the most shots or lead the Tar Heels in field goal percentage. The point guard will, however, be Carolina’s most valuable player as he orchestrates coach Roy Williams’ potent offense.
* F Travis McKie, Wake Forest. Lost in the muck of the Demon Deacons’ dreadful season was McKie’s stout freshman season. No, Wake won’t be any good this season. Yes, McKie should be better - and worth watching for his steady and versatile game.