Roy Williams has to really be enjoying overturning people's expectations, huh? Monday he was warning everyone that he would talk to his players on Tuesday but not to expect any announcements until next week. Then Wednesday brings notice that both John Henson and Tyler Zeller are returning to UNC for their junior and senior seasons, respectively. Obviously this is great news for Carolina, who otherwise would be starting only freshmen – including possibly folks who have yet to commit to UNC – in the post. Instead, the Heels will have the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and their leading scorer back. This alone will make them the ACC Preseason favorite, and that's without word of Harrison Barnes' plans yet. The freshman, according to Williams is not as far along in the decision process, and is expected to make up his mind next week.
Something that may make that decision a little easier is the announcement that came out of Durham today. Kylie Irving is entering the NBA Draft, making him the most prominent Blue Devil in history to never take the floor against Carolina. Irving appears to be a lock for the top pick in the draft, which means if Barnes wants that accolade as well, he'll have to wait until 2012. I sincerely doubt that is at all factoring into his decision, but the move also leaves Duke's backcourt incredibly young and entirely filled with shooters. If I had to guess at this point I'd think Seth Curry would take over the Nolan Smith role of guy press-ganged into the point guard position – he would often bring the ball up when Smith was on the bench – but the team looks very unbalanced. Even more so if, like me, you have very little respect for the game of the various Plumlees. The Blue Devils might struggle a little more than their talent level would indicate next season; the best outcomes are either Austin Rivers carrying large parts of the team or Krzyzewski doing an excellent job in devising an offense to work with the disparate parts.
The ACC has had relatively few early entrants this year, with only Reggie Jackson of BC, Jordan Williams of Maryland, and Iman Shumpert of Georgia Tech having declared. Shumpert is almost certainly returning, and the other two are keeping the door open to do likewise at this point. The ACC should be a much stronger conference next season, but the Heels will definitely be a step above the competition. More so if Barnes returns.