Forward says "you couldn't ask for anything better" than expanded conference.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The consensus among reporters at the ACC's preseason basketball media gathering was overwhelming: Duke is the league's best, Virginia should make the NCAA tournament, and Virginia Tech is going to have a long year.

The Blue Devils received 50 of 54 first-place votes, while the Cavaliers were picked to finish fourth in the 15-team conference that ought to be the nation's best. The Hokies were selected 15th, with only 11 voters not forecasting them to finish in last place for the third consecutive season.

Syracuse's C.J. Fair, second-team All-Big East last season, edged Virginia's Joe Harris 17-16 in player-of-the-year balloting. Harris is the only returnee from last year's All-ACC first team.

Harris is also the only member of the preseason team who played in the ACC last year. Fair and Notre Dame's Jerian Grant were in the Big East, Duke's Jabari Parker was in high school, and Duke's Rodney Hood was sitting out as a transfer from Mississippi State.

Cleared to play

North Carolina State freshman guard Anthony Barber returned to practice Tuesday after missing nearly two weeks with a concussion.

A graduate of Hampton High, Barber was injured during the Wolfpack's first preseason drill in a head-to-head collision with teammate T.J. Warren. Both were diving for a loose ball.

"When you're a freshman, those first 8-10 practices are pretty valuable, and he practiced one day, then he missed seven straight," N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. "So he's missed a lot of us putting our offense in, defense, how we teach things. So he is behind. But he'll catch up. We've got a lot of time.

"But if the season were to start tonight, he'd be a little bit lost because he hasn't had as much time as the other freshmen. And with a concussion, different than a sore knee, he was at the dorm in bed. He wasn't even there watching practice. He was completely removed for that week-and-a-half or so.

"He's had a … history of concussions in high school, so our medical staff just played it very conservative for him. … It took a little longer maybe than we anticipated, but he's now cleared to play."

Warren believes Barber can help the Wolfpack, especially on offense.

"Cat's speed is unbelievable," he said, "his ability to get in the lane and find the open guy. He's still learning the offense, but he really has a good feel for the game."

Welcome back

Senior guard Andre Dawkins of Chesapeake is back at Duke after sitting out last year for personal reasons, in part to cope with the death of his sister, killed in an automobile accident en route to watch him play in 2009.

Dawkins is a 3-point specialist and as a freshman hit some clutch shots to help the Blue Devils win the 2010 national championship.

"It's great having Andre back," guard Tyler Thornton said. "I consider him the best shooter in the country, so just to have him back with that skill-set. He's become one of our better defenders, which he didn't do too well before he left the team. I think he's very focused. … Him being the only guy who's won a national championship, just having that knowledge is going to be great for our team. …

"I think the time off was good for him. He's more of a leader. … You can see the growth in his personality, which is great."

Big Apple

The ACC remains likely to take its basketball tournament to New York, either at Madison Square Garden or Barclays Center, but commissioner John Swofford isn't yet ready to reveal when and for how long.

"It's the media capital of the world. It's a great college basketball city. So there's certainly some logic to the tournament potentially being in the New York market at some point in time," he said. "Some of that, if we were to be in New York, is based on venue availability and timing of that venue availability."

Notre Dame's Grant is a veteran of Big East tournaments at the Garden.

"The Garden is an amazing place to play," he said. "It's the Mecca of basketball. I feel like the best conference should be playing in the best basketball arena. I hope they do get there."

David Teel can be reached by phone at 757-247-4636.