GREENSBORO COLISEUM/GREENSBORO Duke won the ACC women’s basketball title in pretty convincing fashion last season, and the Blue Devils have plenty of believers at today’s annual media rouser.

Duke guard Jasmine Thomas

Joanne P. McCallie’s club, the choice of 24 of 33 voters for the top spot, is the preseason pick to repeat as the conference champion.

The Blue Devils’ floor leader, senior guard Jasmine Thomas, was named preseason player of the year while freshman forward Richa Jackson and guard Chelsea Gray are on the six-player “newcomer watch list.”

UNC, which has pre-season All-ACC senior forward Jessica Breland back in the fold after she sat out last season with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was picked to finish second and got six first-place votes. Florida State was picked third and got two first-place votes, while sixth-place selection and last season’s tournament runner-up N.C. State got one first-place vote.

In other area women’s basketball news, N.C. State has been picked to host one of the four women’s NCAA regionals in 2012.

Predicted finish
1. Duke.
2. UNC.
3. Florida State.
4. Maryland.
5. Georgia Tech.
6. N.C. State
7. Boston College.
8. Miami
9. Wake Forest.
10. Virginia.
11. Virginia Tech.
12. Clemson.

Pre-season All-ACC team
Jasmine Thomas, Sr. G, Duke; Jessica Breland, Sr. F, UNC; Carolyn Swords, Sr. C, Boston College; Courtney Ward, Sr. G, Florida State, Shenise Johnson, Jr. G, Miami.

Newcomer watch list
Chelsea Gray, G, Duke; Richa Jackson, F, Duke; Kristen Doherty, W, Boston College; Natasha Howard, F, Florida State; Laurin Mincy, G, Maryland; Alyssa Thomas, F, Maryland.

They said it:
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: “Jas is stronger, quicker and faster. She’s added more versatility playing point guard and off-ball. Her pull-up jumper is more balanced and poised. Her ability to go from warp ‘Jas speed’ to stop on a dime and elevate, and yet be relaxed in that shot, that has dramatically changed technically. That she was with USA Basketball and able to score and attack with that group, I think that registers, like ‘I can be very special here.’

“All (the five freshmen) will play a pivotal role. Whether they’ll play together or in what combinations is something that will be seen. You have to work with everybody. … Given the fact that we’re multiple defensively (and) we press as much as we do, you can go to that bench for 4-5 minutes and keep your intensity up. It’s the kind of coaching I had with USA Basketball a few seasons back.”

UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: “I don’t know if I can actually tell you how good it is to have Jessica back, not just physically on the court, but her leadership and everything else she brings to the table. She’s in great shape. She’s getting her breathing back. It’s not 100 percent, but it’s close. She’ll do something just really amazing in practice and I’ll realize again then how much I missed her. And there’s not cancer hanging over our team like it was last year. That was hard emotionally for our players. It was always there.

“We’re really excited about this year because we’ve got three starters (Breland and guards Italee Lucas and Cetera DeGraffenreid) who are members of the thousand-point club. That’s great scoring and great leadership, and basically we’ve got out whole starting team back. Last year we were young. And if you look back over our years at Carolina, the ‘four’ position (Breland’s primary spot) is a major position for us. We’ve had about six kids drafted and 3-4 All-Americans at that position.”

N.C. State coach Kellie Harper: “We have to be overachievers and play extremely hard. We’ve got a group that gets after it. I like people who can put the ball in the hole. I want to put five people on the floor who can score, and we’re getting there. We’re aggressive, and we feel like we have to be being our size.
“Sometimes when you get wrapped up in the season. But if you had asked me when I was hired in April (2009) if I would have been happy with the outcome (last season?) Absolutely. Our goal was to get to the NCAA Tournament. Obviously as you go along you make new goals, but that was the big one for us. And the fact we were able to do it with a group that just willed themselves to win, I think was just a great accomplishment.”