Duke, UNC lead the way in NC basketball

ACC schools rank at the top, but several others could earn NCAA bids

Mike Krzyzewski, pictured last February at Cameron Indoor Stadium, has his Blue Devils at No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press poll. (Christine T. Nguyen / The North State Journal)

North Carolina boasts both the NCAA defending champions and the 2017-18 season’s preseason No. 1. It’s no surprise to see the former, UNC, and the latter, Duke at the top of the heap, but each of North Carolina’s 18 Division I programs enter the season with hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid — and more. Here’s North State Journal’s ranking of all of N.C.’s programs with the season getting underway this week.

1. Duke Blue Devils
2016-17: 28-9, 11-7 ACC

What’s new: An eight-man freshman class is headlined by Marvin Bagley III, who is a national freshman of the year candidate. Point guard Trevon Duval, big man Wendell Carter Jr. and shooter Gary Trent Jr. will also star.

What to expect: The Blue Devils are primed for a deep tournament run, followed by mass one-and-done defections.

2. North Carolina Tar Heels
2016-17: 33-7, 14-4 ACC

What’s new: Pittsburgh transfer Cameron Johnson and a trio of freshman big men — 6-foot-9 Garrison Brooks, 6-10 Brandon Huffman and 6-11 Sterling Manley — will try to fill the void left by the graduation of frontcourt starters Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.

What to expect: The return of Final Four MVP Joel Berry, along with veterans Theo Pinson, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams give the Tar Heels a strong perimeter, along with national championship experience.

3. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
2016-17: 19-14, 9-9 ACC

What’s new: French four-star center Olivier Sarr, swing man Melo Eggleston and guard Chaundree Brown lead a four-man recruiting class. Wake also added Marshall grad transfer Terrence Thompson.

What to expect: Losses of John Collins and Dinos Mitoglou set back Danny Manning’s rebuild. The Deacs are picked near the bottom of the ACC and struggled to beat Queens in an exhibition.

4. NC State Wolfpack
2016-17: 15-17, 4-14 ACC

What’s new: Former UNCW coach Kevin Keatts, who replaced Mark Gottfried, looks to turn the Wolfpack’s fortunes around with a high-energy, up-tempo style and a pair of grad transfers — Allerik Freeman from Baylor and Sam Hunt from NC A&T.

What to expect: This figures to be a year of adjustment for the Wolfpack, but there is enough talent on hand, led by senior forward Abdul-Malik Abu, to surprise if its chemistry jells.

5. Davidson Wildcats
2016-17: 17-15, 8-10 Atlantic 10

What’s new: Four freshmen arrive, including Chapel Hill PG Carter Collins, All-Massachusetts SG Kellan Grady and Charlotte’s Bates Jones, brother of Duke QB Daniel.

What to expect: Coach Bob McKillop loses one starter, but otherwise, everyone is back. Look for the Wildcats to push for an NCAA bid and strike fear in the heart of whoever draws them.

6. UNC Asheville Bulldogs
2016-17: 23-10, 15-3 Big South

What’s new: Freshmen Jalen Seegars, LJ Thorpe and Tajion Jones bolster a veteran team picked as the Big South preseason favorite.

What to expect: The Bulldogs will go as far as their talented backcourt of leading scorer Ahmad Thomas and Big South Freshman of the Year MaCio Teague will take them as they seek a third 20-plus win season.

7. Elon Phoenix
2016-17: 18-14, 10-8 CAA

What’s new: Three freshmen join redshirt freshman Seth Fuller. Former NBA vet Dino Radja’s son Duje will patrol the paint, and guard Nathan Priddy should provide scoring punch.

What to expect: The Phoenix return all five starters and seven of their top eight scorers. The freshmen class will provide depth and may help Elon reach the NCAAs.

8. UNC Wilmington Seahawks
2016-17: 29-6, 15-3 CAA

What’s new: Former UNC assistant C.B. McGrath faces a major rebuild job as he looks to replace four starters from the team Kevin Keatts coached to the NCAA tournament last year.

What to expect: The Seahawks will have a much different look this season, but will at least have two familiar faces around which to build in All-CAA big man Devontae Cacok and senior guard Jordon Talley.

9. Campbell Camels
2016-17: 19-18, 7-11 Big South

What’s new: Freshman guard Jordan Whitfield challenged Chris Clemons’ scoring records at Raleigh Millbrook. He’s joined by guard Ja’Cor Nelson, redshirt freshman Nick Greely and forward Brooks Cluxton.

What to expect: Scoring machine Clemons is back for his junior year after considering the NBA. He should help the Camels contend for the Big South title.

10. UNC Greensboro Spartans
2016-17: 25-10, 14-4 Southern

What’s new: This year’s Spartans will have a familiar look to them with 11 of 13 players returning from last year’s Southern Conference co-champions.

What to expect: UNCG, with junior sharpshooter Francis Alonso leading the way, gave a glimpse of its potential by besting defending national champion UNC in a 13-minute scrimmage Sunday.

11. East Carolina Pirates
2016-17: 15-18, 6-12 American

What’s new: Coach Jeff Lebo is back after missing 14 games due to surgery. Hawaii transfer Isaac Fleming is eligible. Akron grad transfer Aaron Jackson and four freshman also restock the roster.

What to expect: ECU has found it hard to make headway in the AAC, and the addition of Wichita State will make the climb harder.

12. Charlotte 49ers
2016-17: 13-17, 7-11 Big South

What’s new: Charlotte’s downfall last season was its lack of a solid post presence, a problem coach Mark Price addressed by bring in 6-10 JUCO Jailan Haslem and 6-8, 235-pound freshman Milos Supica.

What to expect: The addition of some size inside and the return of point guard Jon Davis and backcourt mate Andrien White give the 49ers a realistic shot at moving up the CUSA standings this season.

13. High Point Panthers
2016-17: 15-16, 9-9 Big South

What’s new: Three transfers help bolster the roster: Brandon Kamga (Northeastern), center Sam Berlin (Div II St. Thomas Aquinas) and Jahaad Proctor (Iona). The team also adds three freshmen, headlined by guard Denny Slay.

What to expect: Coach Scott Cherry adds the new blood to four returning starters, which could lead to a promising year for High Point.

14. Gardner-Webb Bulldogs
2016-17: 19-14, 11-7 Big South

What’s new: Freshman Jaheam Cornwell, a former teammate of Kentucky recruit Hamidou Diallo, will try to help make up for the loss of Big South assists leader LaQuincy Rideau, who transferred to USF.

What to expect: Even with Rideau’s departure, the Bulldogs shouldn’t experience much of a dropoff with three returning starters, including honorable mention all-conference selection David Efianayi.

15. N.C. Central Eagles
2016-17: 25-9, 13-3 MEAC

What’s new: Coach LeVelle Moton is rebuilding his roster through transfers, including Zacarry Douglas from Cal State Northridge, Drexel’s Rashann London, Niagara’s Dominique Reid and Kent State’s Raasean Davis.

What to expect: The two-time MEAC champs lost all five starters. Moton is used to blending transfers into his program, but this might be a transition year.

16. Appalachian State Mountaineers
2016-17: 9-21, 4-14 Sun Belt

What’s new: Freshman guard Justin Forrest, the son of former Georgia Tech star James Forrest, will be counted on to make an immediate impact, as will junior college transfer O’Showen Williams.

What to expect: Even with the return of leading scorer Ronshad Shabazz, the Mountaineers’ prospects for improvement don’t look good after being picked to finish last in the Sun Belt Conference.

17. Western Carolina Catamounts
2016-17: 9-23, 4-14 Southern

What’s new: A four-man recruiting class is highlighted by JUCO forward Mike Amius and freshman PG Desmond Johnson, who was All-City in Memphis last year.

What to expect: They’re coming off a 23-loss season, but the Catamounts return eight of their top nine scorers, so the team should show improvement.

18. NC A&T Aggies
2016-17: 4-28, 1-15-3 MEAC

What’s new: A&T’s hopes this season are centered around three transfers who sat out last season under NCAA rules — point guard Aaren Edmead and 6-7 forward Japhet Kadji, both from Wagner, and 6-8 post Femi Olujobi from Oakland.

What to expect: Just about anything the Aggies do this season will be an improvement after winning just four games all last season.