CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As usual, the preseason favorite in the ACC can be found on Tobacco Road.
But this time, it’s not Duke or North Carolina.
North Carolina State topped the ACC men’s basketball media poll Wednesday, marking the first time in nine years that a team other than Duke or UNC owned the No. 1 spot.
Virginia was picked seventh and Virginia Tech 10th.
The Wolfpack, which topped the poll for the first time in 23 years, returns four starters from a 24-13 team that reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.
“The hype is crazy right now,” State forward Richard Howell said at ACC men’s basketball media day at a Charlotte hotel. “You really can’t go anywhere in Raleigh without hearing about N.C. State basketball.”
In addition to Howell (10.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg), State brings back forwards C.J. Leslie (14.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Scott Wood (12.4 ppg) and point guard Lorenzo Brown (12.7 ppg, 6.3 assists per game).
“They’ve got to embrace the fact that we are respected in a different way than we were,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “This is uncharted waters. We have to learn how to accept that responsibility.”
Leslie was voted the ACC preseason player of the year. Brown joined him on the preseason all-conference team. State’s Rodney Purvis was voted the preseason rookie of the year.
State has not won the ACC regular-season title since the 1988-1989 season. The Wolfpack went 9-7 in the ACC last winter, tying for fourth place.
Duke returns starters Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Tyler Thornton from a team that went 27-7 last season.
“We aren’t coming here to make bold statements about what we’re going to do, but we’re confident in our team,” said Plumlee, a preseason All-ACC pick. “We know we have a good team. We know we’re talented, as we are every year.”
Plumlee, Curry and Kelly are seniors.
“You don’t always have a chance to have three seniors who are really good players,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Duke must replace two first-round NBA draft picks, Austin Rivers and Miles Plumlee. But Curry isn’t too worried.
“We can be really good. We’ve got all the talent we need,” Curry said.
UNC has lost the star power that fueled last year’s 32-6 team, which won the ACC regular-season title and lost in the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament. UNC must replace NBA first-round draft picks Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Kendall Marshall.
“We won games last year when we didn’t play great,” coach Roy Williams said. “This year, we’ve got to play closer to our potential or we’re not going to be as successful.”
Williams, who is coaching at practice, underwent a 3 12 hour operation last month to remove what turned out to be a benign tumor from his right kidney.
“The surgery to me was really scary,” he said. “Nobody’s ever going to remember what we did on my 12th game, but the fact that I’ll be there is something I’m going to remember for a long time.
“Life does throw you a lot of curveballs. You’ve got to be able to handle them. And this was a more important curveball than losing a basketball game.
“I don’t think I’m going to change on the court, I really don’t, except … I am going to try to smell the roses a little more.”
He has not had surgery to remove the benign tumor from his left kidney, and might never need to.
Williams’ squad includes James Michael McAdoo, a preseason All-ACC pick who is optimistic about the Tar Heels’ season.
“We’re North Carolina basketball,” McAdoo said. “Coach Roy, he puts together championship teams, and that’s what we are this year.”
Florida State, the defending ACC Tournament champ, is also optimistic. But FSU returns just one starter, preseason All-ACC pick Michael Snaer.
“Because of the culture we built, there’s no going back now,” Snaer said. “You don’t think, ‘Can we make the [NCAA] tournament?’ You expect to make the tournament.”
UVa made the NCAA tournament last season but will miss NBA second-round draft pick Mike Scott.
“Some of those first-year guys we have, they’re going to be in the rotation,” coach Tony Bennett said. “If they can be steady and give us a boost, … we could be good because I think there’s a lot of potential with this team.
“I like this group and what they’re going to become. How quickly they can become that, I don’t know.”
Virginia Tech has just eight scholarship players, athough one of them is 2011-12 All-ACC second team pick Erick Green.
“As long as we stay healthy, that’s the key this year,” Green said.