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Despite early departures of some key players, ACC enters promising season with 6 Top 25 teams


GREENSBORO, North Carolina — The Atlantic Coast Conference's top women's basketball player left early. So did a big chunk of North Carolina's roster.

Still, there should be plenty of star power remaining in a conference that has three teams in the preseason top 10 and three more ranked lower in the Top 25.

"Top to bottom, it's the best league in women's basketball," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "If you don't bring your 'A' game, you're going to lose."

Even if some big names who could have been in it simply aren't anymore.

Player of the year Jewell Loyd left Notre Dame and turned pro following a junior season in which she averaged 19.8 points and was the Fighting Irish's unquestioned top option when they needed a bucket late in a game.

"It's going to be difficult for us to replace Jewell because she had such a late-game presence for us, the go-to player on our team," coach Muffet McGraw said. "That's what we're working on right now, finding out who's going to get the ball in late game situations."

Loyd is the only starter McGraw has to replace from a team that reached its fifth straight Final Four and enters this season ranked third nationally and the preseason favorite to repeat as ACC champion.

At North Carolina, Sylvia Hatchell has to replace a whole lot more.

Her Tar Heels have lost every member of their highly touted 2013 recruiting class — with Allisha Gray (15.8 ppg) heading to South Carolina, Stephanie Mavunga (14.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg) leaving for Ohio State and reserve Jessica Washington transferring to Kansas.

They followed Diamond DeShields, who left a year ago for Tennessee and is eligible to play this season for the Lady Vols.

North Carolina, still dealing with the lingering cloud of an NCAA investigation, was picked seventh in the league — its worst spot in the preseason poll since 1991.

"You remember the Apollo flight, 13 I guess — people thought it was going to be a disaster and the astronauts, one of them said, 'No, this will be our finest hour,'" Hatchell said. "This will be our finest hour."

Some other things to know about the upcoming ACC women's basketball season:

IN THE POLLS: Six teams earned spots in the preseason Top 25 — the most of any conference. No. 3 Notre Dame leads the way, followed by No. 7 Florida State, No. 8 Louisville, No. 14 Duke, No. 22 North Carolina and No. 23 Syracuse.

TURNER'S AWARDS: Notre Dame sophomore Brianna Turner was the consensus selection as ACC preseason player of the year. She is the reigning freshman of the year after making 65.2 percent of her shots and averaging 13.8 points.

NEW-LOOK DUKE: All-America post player Elizabeth Williams graduated, and Joanne P. McCallie's Blue Devils are turning to an acclaimed five-player recruiting class to keep things humming. One of them, Haley Gorecki, scored 16 points in both of Duke's exhibition wins.

KEY RETURNERS: Miami's Adrienne Mosley (16.9 ppg) is the league's top returning scorer, ranking fifth last season. Syracuse's Briana Day (10.4) is its top returning rebounder.

NEW HOME: North Carolina State will play 14 of its 16 home games at a high school in Raleigh while its full-time arena — Reynolds Coliseum — undergoes a $35 million renovation.

Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap

AP college basketball site: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

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