By R.L. Bynum
The big week of heightened expectations continued for North Carolina star junior Deja Kelly, although the Tar Heels only being picked to finish fifth in the ACC in the preseason poll released Wednesday will probably be a motivational tool for the team.
Kelly, one of two Tar Heels to be named this week to watch lists for national awards, was the only UNC player to make the 10-player Preseason All-ACC team.
A day after the Tar Heels were voted No. 12 in the preseason AP Top 25 women’s poll, they were picked to finish surprisingly low and didn’t earn any first-place votes.
No. 7 Louisville, coming off a Final Four season, is the preseason favorite, followed by No. 13 Virginia Tech, No. 10 N.C. State and No. 9 Notre Dame. The Cardinals got 31 of 60 first-place votes, followed by the Hokies with 17, the Wolfpack with eight and the Irish with four.
That’s UNC’s highest rank in the preseason poll since coming in fifth before the 2020–21 season. The Tar Heels finished eighth that season but expect better this season.
The Hokies’ senior center Elizabeth Kitley was voted as Preseason ACC Player of the Year.
On Tuesday, Kelly made the 20-player watch list for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which honors the nation’s top point guard. She averaged 16.5 points per game last season, making All-ACC first team and honorable mention All-American.
Other ACC players on the Lieberman list, which will be trimmed to 10 in mid-February, are Louisville’s Chrislyn Carr, Miami’s Haley Cavinder, Notre Dame’s Olivia Miles and Syracuse’s Dyaisha Fair.
“Deja is a great player and has continued to elevate her game through her work ethic and attention to detail,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said. “She puts in the time on the court and in the film room, and she has steady improvement to show for it. As one of the best guards in the country, she impacts our team in so many positive ways. Her resume makes her a strong candidate for the Lieberman Award, and I’m excited to see her continue to build throughout the season.”
Junior wing Alyssa Ustby didn’t earn preseason ACC honors but made the 20-player watch list for the Cheryl Miller Award, which honors the nation’s top small forward. She was second on the team last season in scoring (12.9 points per game), led the team in rebounding (8.6) and produced 13 double-doubles to earn All-ACC second-team honors.
“Alyssa is undoubtedly one of the most versatile players in the country,” Banghart said. “She is elite in transition, can guard all positions, and can score from so many spots on the floor. Her relentless motor and extreme competitiveness separate her from so many. She will be a key part of our team again this season, and a premier player in the ACC.”
Other ACC players on the Miller list, trimmed to 10 in mid-February, are Duke’s Elizabeth Balogun, Louisville’s Morgan Jones, N.C. State’s Mimi Collins, and Virginia Tech’s Taylor Soule.
ESPN on Wednesday named Ustby as one of 10 up-and-coming players in the country who have the potential for a breakout season.
ACC predicted order of finish
Louisville (31) — 1,068
Virginia Tech (17) — 984
N.C. State (8) — 963
Notre Dame (4) — 942
North Carolina — 895
Miami — 674
Duke — 627
Georgia Tech — 623
Florida State — 553
Syracuse — 379
Virginia — 303
Clemson – 275
Boston College — 271
Wake Forest — 256
Pittsburgh — 187
ACC preseason awards
Player of the Year
Elizabeth Kitley, senior center, Virginia Tech
Elizabeth Kitley, senior center, Virginia Tech (49 first-place votes)
Hailey Van Lith, junior guard, Louisville (7)
Olivia Miles, sophomore guard, Notre Dame (3)
Deja Kelly, junior guard, North Carolina
Diamond Johnson, junior guard, N.C. State
Jakia Brown-Turner, senor forward, N.C. State
Jewel Spear, junior guard, Wake Forest
Ashley Owusu, senior guard, Virginia Tech
Morgan Jones, graduate student guard, Louisville (1)
Taylor Soule, graduate student guard, Virginia Tech
Newcomer Watch list
Ashley Owusu, senior guard, Virginia Tech
Saniya Rivers, sophomore guard, N.C. State
Dyaisha Fair, senior guard, Syracuse
Ta’Niya Latson, freshman guard, Florida State
(tie) Haley Cavinder, senior guard, Miami
(tie) Ruby Whitehorn, freshman guard, Clemson
|9||Wednesday||W, 91–59||Jackson State||Home||1–0|
|16||Wednesday||W, 93–25||South Carolina State||Home||3–0|
|20||Sunday||W, 76–65||James Madison||Harrisonburg, Va.||4–0|
|Phil Knight Invitational|
|27||Sunday||W, 73–64||No. 17 Iowa State||Portland||6–0|
|December||ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|1||Thursday||L, 87–63||No. 2 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||6–1|
|16||Friday||W, 89–47||USC Upstate||Home||9–1|
|20||Tuesday||L, 76–68||No. 18 Michigan||Charlotte||9–2|
|ACC season begins|
|29||Thursday||L, 78–71||Florida State||Home||9–3, 0–1 ACC|
|1||Sunday||L, 68–65||No. 4 |
|Blacksburg, Va.||9–4, 0–2 ACC|
|5||Thursday||L, 62–58||Miami||Coral Gables, Fla.||9–5, 0–3 ACC|
|8||Sunday||W, 60–50||No. 10 |
|12||Thursday||W, 70–59||Virginia||Charlottesville, Va.||11–5, |
|15||Sunday||W, 56–47||N.C. State||Home||12–5, |
|19||Thursday||W, 61–56||No. 13 Duke||Home||13–5, |
|22||Sunday||W, 70–57||Georgia Tech||Home||14–5, |
|26||Thursday||W, 72–57||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||15–5, |
|29||Sunday||W, 69–58||Clemson||Clemson||16–5, |
|2||Thursday||W, 73–62||Virginia||Home||17–5, |
|5||Sunday||L, 62–55||Louisville||Louisville||17–6, |
|9||Thursday||L, 75–67||Syracuse||Syracuse||17–7, |
|12||Sunday||W, 73–55||Boston College||Home||18–7, |
|16||Thursday||L, 77–66, OT||N.C. State||Raleigh||18–8, |
|19||Sunday||W, 71–58||Wake Forest||Home||19–8, |
|23||Thursday||L, 61–59||No. 4 |
|26||Sunday||W, 45–41||No. 13 Duke||Durham||20–9, |
|3||Friday||L, 44–40||No. 13 Duke||Greensboro||21–10|
|18||Saturday||W, 61–59||St. John’s||Columbus, Ohio||22–10|
|20||Monday||L, 71–69||No. 12 Ohio State||Columbus, Ohio||22–11|
Photo courtesy of the ACC