The start of practice is one month away. The exciting thing about the upcoming season is that there’s no obvious choice to be king of the mountain. The top spot in the polls will probably get passed around by a few teams over the course of the year. For evidence, take the fact that the expected preseason number one lost 10 of their last 20 games in 2004, and their last two wins were nailbiters over double digit seeds.

This isn’t necessarily a slam on Wake Forest, there just isn’t a clear-cut favorite to start the season and they deserve consideration given that they return last year’s team in tact. However, it is interesting that they are getting a little more press than a team in their own conference, North Carolina, whom also returns everyone from last season and has the only impact recruit between the two teams.

It could be argued that Carolina was a better team last season. OK, so Wake finished a game ahead of UNC in ACC play and Wake played one more game in the NCAA Tournament. The difference in ACC play was a triple overtime epic between the two teams, and the difference in the tournament was that Wake had the benefit of playing a 12 seed in the second round. For the sake of continuing this discussion, I’ll say that any difference was razor thin.

Most of the speculation that Wake will have an edge this year rests on the expectation that 6-9 forward Vytas Danelius come back strong from an injury plagued junior campaign. Otherwise, there is no reason to assume that Wake will improve more than Carolina. They both return all players of importance from last season and Carolina has an edge in recruits.

The presence of Vytas Danelius this season is an overrated factor. For one thing, the Deacs are loaded up front and a healthy Danelius only means they are more loaded. So he adds depth, and even if we assume he is better that anyone else on the roster, he adds a slight improvement in quality. The effect of his presence isn’t much. To prove this point, his absence last season wasn’t that big of a deal…

Danelius top 5 games by most minutes played (ACC only)

1. 2/28 @ Maryland    (29) Result: Win 91-83
2. 3/2  @ Virginia    (29) Result: Loss 84-82
3. 1/20 Georgia Tech  (25) Result: Loss 73-66
4. 1/25 @ Florida St. (22) Result: Loss 75-70
5. 2/18 Duke          (20) Result: Win 90-84

Danelius top 5 games by fewest minutes played (ACC only)

1. 12/20 @ North Carolina (0) Result: Win 119-114
2. 1/10 Clemson           (0) Result: Win 78-63
3. 1/31 Virginia          (7) Result: Win 91-78
4. 1/29 Maryland          (8) Result: Win 93-85
5. 2/4 @NC State          (8) Result: Loss 73-68

Wake was 2-3 in the games where Danelius played the most, and 4-1 when he played the least. This is not to imply that Wake is better without Danelius. What it indicates is that there is little if any drop-off when Wake can fill the missing minutes with a combination of Eric Williams, Jamaal Levy, Trent Strickland, and Kyle Visser. Whatever decline exists is dwarfed by the natural variation in the Deacons play from game to game.

Sure, depth is a nice thing to have. If one of the big men goes down or there are a few games where foul trouble is an issue, Wake won’t be affected. But based on last year, the addition of freshman Marvin Williams to the Heels is likely to be just as important as anything Danelius will or won’t add to Wake Forest.

For all I know, UNC may begin the season #1. Obviously I am just guessing. It’s only a vibe I get that Wake will have the top spot. It really doesn’t matter anyway. But since there’s a month left until fans can watch supervised scrimmages of their favorite team, I thought I would bring it up.