An updated primer as ACC hoops begins

There are always plenty of twists and turns during the Atlantic Coast Conference season -- and this time around, we may get a few more, thanks to the expanded 18-game conference slate. As the teams prepare to begin league play this weekend, here's an updated look at what to expect from the ACC:

The favorite: Duke. To say the Blue Devils were underestimated heading into the season may be stretching it a bit. After all, they were predicted to finish second by the league's coaches and media. But after last year's dumbfounding defensive breakdowns, chemistry issues and upset loss in the NCAA round of 64, it's fair to say that few would have expected Duke to be undefeated (and ranked No. 1) at this point in the season. Especially after a grueling 16-day run that included showdowns against three top-five teams.

Credit the offseason work by national POY candidate Mason Plumlee, the addition of athletic wing Rasheed Sulaimon, some solid point guard play by Quinn Cook and the sharpshooting of Seth Curry (despite a nagging leg injury) for the turnaround. The Blue Devils have been impressive.

Other contenders: After some slow early melding, preseason favorite NC State has been solid of late, ticking off seven straight victories entering ACC play. The Wolfpack lead the nation in field goal percentage, five players are averaging double figures, and it all seems to be coming together at the right time. Upcoming game to circle: Jan. 12, at home against Duke.

Maryland, meanwhile, looks as though it has the talent to make a push, with the emergence of 7-foot sophomore Alex Len and the addition of talented transfer Dez Wells. But the Terps (despite winning 12 straight) haven't gotten a high-profile test since their season-opening, three-point loss to Kentucky. And if North Carolina can look more like the team that beat UNLV last weekend than the one that lost to Butler, Indiana and Texas, it may have a shot too.

Player of the year (so far): Plumlee, Duke. The best player on the best team in the league has turned his past potential into present-day production, averaging 19.5 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks through his first dozen games. Heck, he's even making 69.2 percent of his free throws after converting only 52.8 percent last season. He has blossomed into a national player of the year candidate, no doubt.

But don't discount Virginia Tech's Erick Green. The senior guard scored 20 or more points in his team's first 12 games, and ranks second in the nation in scoring (24.4 ppg). Although the Hokies -- who boast a new head coach and new fast-paced attack -- have lost four of their past six games, Green was a huge reason for their surprising 7-0 start.

Click here for the rest of the primer, including freshman of the year (so far), pleasant surprises, biggest disappointments and some revised predictions....