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Several conferences have a new look after an off-season of mergers and acquisitions, defections and divisions. The Sun Belt lost five teams, then merged with the American South. The Metro lost four teams but added three from the old Sun, Belt. The Great Midwest sprang up, comprising defectors from the Metro, the Sun Belt and the Midwestern Collegiate conferences as well as independent DePaul. The Southeastern added two teams, Arkansas and South Carolina, then split into two divisions. In all, 39 schools have new league affiliations.
Even the ACC, where tradition is king, isn't quite the same, and we're not just talking about the new uniforms that designer Alexander Julian is putting together for North Carolina. Florida State left the Metro to join the ACC, and the Seminoles' timing could not have been better. Led by junior forward Douglas Edwards, Florida State appears capable of making a run at the title this season.
Still, the top of the conference standings should look familiar, with Duke , the defending national champion, and North Carolina again occupying the first two spots. Those schools might have gotten a stronger challenge from Wake Forest if sophomore shooting guard Randolph Childress hadn't torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a summer pickup game.
But Wake Forest, coming off its first winning season (19-11) in six years, should make a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament, thanks mainly to powerful 6'7" sophomore forward Rodney Rogers. "You ever try moving that guy out of the low post?" asks North Carolina Charlotte coach Jeff Mullins. "It's just about impossible."
Georgia Tech has four starters returning, but the Yellow Jackets' success may hinge on how well freshman guard Travis Best can fill the void left by the one starter who didn't return, Kenny Anderson. Virginia had an excellent recruiting year and will need some of those freshmen, especially guard Cory Alexander and forward Thomas Burrough, to come through immediately; otherwise, senior forward Bryant Stith will be forced to carry the team by himself. North Carolina State goes from having the ACC's best backcourt, with Rodney Monroe and Chris Corchiani, to having one of the most inexperienced. The question for the Wolfpack, says coach Les Robinson, is, "Can we get the ball past midcourt?"
Maryland , which is in its last year of NCAA probation, has one of the country's best guards in 6'8" senior Walt (the Wizard) Williams, and Clemson has high hopes for freshman center Sharone Wright. But neither team has much else to boast about. They'll settle in at the bottom of the conference.
The Terrapins and the Tigers won't be buried as deep in their conference cellar as Miami will be in its in the Hurricanes' first season in the Big East. Miami's top scorer and rebounder from last year's 9-19 team, center Joe Wylie, is gone, and what's left isn't likely to cause the rest of the conference to break out in a sweat.
"We are where we are," says Miami coach Leonard Hamilton. "We can't do anything about it yet. We're just in the beginning stages of building a program, and now we're in the top league in the country. All we can do is work hard to get through it." A winless conference season is quite possible for the Hurricanes.