Could NC State be the ACC favorite in 2013?

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Yesterday, UNC’s talented trio of Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and John Henson announced their intentions to head to the NBA Draft. With Tyler Zeller also graduating, UNC will lose four starters from this year’s team. That doesn’t include Stilman White, who will be spending the next two years on a Mormon mission.

If the Tar Heels also lose James Michael McAdoo to the NBA, UNC could be looking at a long season in 2013.

Duke could be in some trouble as well. After losing in embarrassing fashion to UNC to end the regular season and falling to Lehigh in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils head into the offseason in a bit of disarray. It doesn’t help matters that Austin Rivers is headed to the NBA. Mason Plumlee may be right behind him. Incoming freshman Rasheed Sulaimon and the development of rising sophomore Quinn Cook could help offset the loss of Rivers, but with Miles Plumlee graduation, Duke is going to be left without much of an interior presence to speak of.

Could that mean that, fresh off of a trip to the Sweet 16, NC State will be the favorite to win the ACC title next season?

It’s possible.

Much of their hype heading into next season centers around the decision that CJ Leslie will make regarding his future. The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 14.6 ppg and 7.4 rpg, which, when combined with a strong performance in the tournament, may end up being enough to get him into the first round. If Leslie does return, he’ll be joined in the front court by Richard Howell and Deshawn Painter, both of who are seniors-to-be, while Lorenzo Brown and Scott Wood will also be back.

There’s more, however. Mark Gottfried is bringing in a loaded recruiting class. Point guard Tyler Lewis and scoring guard Rodney Purvis will push for immediate back court minutes while small forward TJ Warren will be a big time scorer at the collegiate level.

The Wolfpack faithful have been desperate for hoops success, and Gottfried has found it, at least for the time being.

I hope he likes having lofty expectations.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.