UNC Basketball: Duke favored, while North Carolina is ACC’s ‘dark horse’

The Duke Blue Devils are the media’s ACC darling this season, while the UNC basketball program is seen as a conference ‘dark horse.’

The Duke Blue Devils boast a 2021-22 roster that features a mix of talented returners and sensational newcomers, and that’s why they’ll begin the season as favorites to win the Atlantic Coast Conference. Ah, who am I kidding? They’ve got more preseason national titles than any program in college basketball history, and would have been favored regardless.

That notwithstanding, they do welcome back the trio of Wendell Moore, Jr., Mark Williams and Jeremy Roach, as well as ushering in a new crop of five-star talent in Paulo Banchero, Trevor Keels and AJ Griffin. That in and of itself is reason enough to give the Blue Devils an edge over an ACC field that could be looking at another down year.

CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander said as much in a recent piece in which he gives the Blue Devils the edge in Mike Krzyzewski’s last ride around the sun, while pegging the Tar Heels as the team that could challenge them for conference supremacy.

“I look around the ACC and I still don’t see an out-and-out great league. The conference had zero teams in the top 14 of KenPom last season and just two (Florida State and Virginia) in the top 33. The league ranked fifth in overall performance, which is below ACC standards. Duke hasn’t won a standalone regular season title since 2006. (HOW.) Will K get it done in his final go-around? I’ll say yes, in large part because of Banchero’s ceiling and potential to be the No. 1 pick. Dark horse: weirdly UNC!”

So, yeah, maybe it is a bit strange seeing the Tar Heels — winner of six NCAA Tournament titles and three since 2005 — as a ‘dark horse’ program, especially in a conference that they’ve finished at the top of 10 times this century (seven times outright). But that’s where we’re at as we look for the Tar Heels to rebound from a second straight disappointing season while also getting acclimated to a new head coach for the first time in 18 years.

They have a few things going for them as junior center Armando Bacot returns to Chapel Hill along with sophomore guards Caleb Love, Kerwin Walton, R.J. Davis and Anthony Harris. They also welcome in former four-year Oklahoma Sooners starter and three-point specialist Brady Manek, Marquette transfer Dawson Garcia and Virginia transfer Justin McKoy.

The two blue bloods and arch rivals will meet twice this season: a February 5 game in Chapel Hill, and a March 5 bout at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham.

Stick with Keeping It Heel for all the latest on the UNC basketball program.