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An ACC powerhouse looks to rebuild

The North Carolina Tar Heels are challenged with staying competitive in the ACC while replacing four starters from last year's team. (Source: ACC Digital Network) The North Carolina Tar Heels are challenged with staying competitive in the ACC while replacing four starters from last year's team. (Source: ACC Digital Network)

This is the second of a two-part preview of ACC basketball in-conference play. The conference does not split into divisions for basketball, but Part Two looks at teams making up the "Coastal" side in other sports.

See Part One, the "Atlantic" squads, for a preview of the other six teams.

(RNN) – The North Carolina Tar Heels: Under renovations, but still open for business.

UNC came into this season with less than its usual expectations. Last year's team, which fell one game short of the Final Four, lost four of its five starters to the NBA Draft.

No matter how prestigious the program, a talent loss of that size will take time to recover from.

James Michael McAdoo – the nephew of NBA Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo – could have left for the pros as well but decided to stay in Chapel Hill another season. He leads a team of athletic but untested Tar Heels into the minefield of Atlantic Coast Conference play.

Coach Roy Williams' team will undoubtedly have moments of excellence. The squad can outmatch nearly anyone in height, speed and overall raw ability.

But questions remain. What will they do when a team can match up with those abilities? Can McAdoo lead them in points and be an on-court leader? How will they adjust on defense when they can't outscore someone?

As shown in the loss to Virginia, the latter question could be a real sticking point. UNC went from soaring up and down the court for easy baskets to a severe offensive drought in the second half.

With several up-and-coming teams in the ACC, the Heels will have to dig in this season to keep their spot.

Duke Blue Devils (15-0, 2-0)

Coach Mike Krzyzewski

Last game: W 68-40 vs. Clemson. Next game: Noon ET Saturday at NC State.

After a shocking loss in the first round of the 2012 NCAA tournament, Coach K's bunch has looked nearly unstoppable this season.

Mason Plumlee leads five Blue Devils who are averaging 10 or more points per game. The 6'10" forward also leads the team in rebounding (11.4 per game) and is a strong defensive presence around the basket.

Fellow senior Seth Curry has shown the sharpshooting gene possessed by his brother, Stephen, and his father, Dell, didn't pass him by. He's making more than 41 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Virginia Cavaliers (11-3, 1-0)

Coach Tony Bennett

Last game: W 61-52 vs. North Carolina. Next game: 9 p.m. Wednesday at Wake Forest.

Out of 347 Division I basketball teams, only one has given up fewer points per game than the Wahoos.

Bennett's team has bought into his defensive game plan, and they used it to near-perfection against the Tar Heels on Saturday. Still, Virginia has shown it is prone to letdowns, suffering an inexplicable loss to two-win Old Dominion in pre-conference action.

Jontel Evans resumed his duties at point guard right in time for the first ACC game, and his passing should help Joe Harris (15.3 ppg) find even better scoring opportunities.

Miami Hurricanes (10-3, 1-0)

Coach Jim Larranaga

Last game: W 62-49 at Georgia Tech. Next game: 7 p.m. Thursday at North Carolina.

The ‘Canes may have suffered the biggest loss of any team in the conference when center Reggie Johnson went down with a broken thumb.

The 6'10" Johnson averaged more than 12 points and 10 rebounds per game. Still, Miami has four others getting them double-digit points per contest, led by Durand Scott (14.7).

With six seniors – a rarity in the modern hoops era – the team has enough talent and experience to overcome Johnson's injury and stay near the top of the conference.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10-3, 0-1)

Coach Brian Gregory

Last game: L 49-62 vs. Miami. Next game: 7 p.m. Wednesday at NC State.

A new arena and an infusion of young talent could combine for some entertaining basketball in Atlanta.

Gregory, in his second year with the Ramblin' Wreck, added two top-70 recruits in Marcus Georges-Hunt and Robert Carter. And the duo made an instant impact, becoming the top two scorers on the team.

The young Jackets knocked off a good St. Mary's team and hung tough with No. 12-ranked Illinois so far. They will have to improve upon the performance against Miami to secure a winning record in the ACC.

North Carolina Tar Heels (10-4, 0-1)

Coach Roy Williams

Last game: L 52-61 at Virginia. Next game: 7 p.m. Thursday vs. Miami.

Freshman Marcus Paige was the jewel of Williams' 2012 recruiting class. The 6'1" point guard drives fearlessly around bigger defenders to the basket and has a sharp, quick release when shooting from 3-point range.

He and senior Dexter Strickland have split time at point this season, with mixed results. While Paige has the higher ceiling, he has yet to prove he can balance his scoring with getting his teammates involved.

As the season progresses and his comfort in the UNC system grows, expect him to get more time on the court.

Virginia Tech Hokies (9-5, 0-1)

Coach James Johnson

Last game: L 71-94 at Maryland. Next game: 7 p.m. Wednesday vs. Boston College.

While Virginia Tech is not expected to make much noise in the ACC this year, Blacksburg is the home of one of the best scorers in the country: Erick Green.

The senior guard has averaged nearly 25 points per game. At only 6'3, Green uses his long arms to release the ball high on his jump shot, and can make midair adjustments around defenders when leaping to the basket.

In addition, he adds more than four rebounds, four assists and nearly two steals a contest for his team, making him one of the more complete players in the conference.

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