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Conference buffs will tell you the only reason NORTH CAROLINA had such a rough time winning the NCAA title last year (two triple-overtime games) was because the Tar Heels were exhausted from their bitter intraconference struggles against some of the best teams in the nation. If that were true about last year, it is conceivable that this year's ACC winner may not even be able to make it to the championship tournament at the end of the season, because the conference race will be a dogfight all the way. This is especially the case now, with the Tar Heels' fine center, Joe Quigg, out for the season with a broken leg. Why? Three reasons: First, every team except WAKE FOREST will be greatly improved. Second, every team will be gunning for North Carolina. Third, even Coach McGuire's cool cats from the northland are bound to feel the pressure of their 32-game winning streak. Without Quigg, McGuire's squad is still deep and sound. To start, the three returning champs: Tommy Kearns, Pete Brennan and Bob Cunningham. The other two slots will be shared by Sophomores Lee Shaffer, Bruno Larese and Harvey Salz, the brilliant freshman of two years ago who was ineligible last season. Shaffer, at 6 feet 7, may be the new center. And behind all this is a bench that would do well as a full squad in many another conference. So, who will beat the Tar Heels? DUKE might. Coach Bradley goes McGuire one better: he has his whole starting five (actually, his first seven) back from last year. They are Jim Newcome, Paul Schmidt, Hayes Clement and Jerry Robertson, all 6 feet 5 or better; and backcourt men Bobby Joe Harris, Bucky Allen and Bob Vernon. Add 6-foot-6 Larry Bateman, back from the Air Force, and you have a squad that's deep, seasoned and speedy. The only flaw apparent at this time is in the rebound department. MARYLAND might break the Tar Heel streak, too. Coach Millikan stresses deliberate ball handling and tight defense and this year he has the personnel to carry out those orders. Four starters return: the slick Nick Davis, Johnny Nacincik, Jim Halleck and Perry Moore, all 400-plus shooters. If Al Bunge (6 feet 8½) has regained his health, he completes the team. And, the supporting cast is impressive: Bob McDonald, Charles McNeil and Bob Wilson, all 6 feet 6 or better; Julie Weingarten and Jerry Bechtle, smaller but just as valuable. The second half of last season, N. C. STATE'S wolfpack won seven out of 10, fielding sophomores almost exclusively because of injuries and other troubles with seniors. Those sophs are all back, including Center John Richter, possibly the best rebounder in the ACC and a fine jump shooter, Ken Clark, Bob MacGillivray and Lou Pucillo. Lone senior on the squad is speedy Whitey Bell: They will be helped by Letterman Tom Hopper and this season's Sophomores Don Gallagher, Walt Bortko and Hal Estis. As good a coach of basketball as any league can boast of is Wake Forest's "Bones" McKinney, which makes it so much sadder to tell that Bones, in his first season as boss, must start almost from scratch. Only Wendall Carr is back from last year's team that Frank McGuire termed the best his boys faced. McKinney will choose a starting five from among last season Reserves Olin Broadway, Dick Odom and Joe Ladd and Sophomores David Budd, George Ritchie, Marshall Wiggins and Charles Forte. Only Broadway, who can play up front or in the backcourt, is certain of a place at this point. The Deacons will be as good as coaching can make them, but that might not be much, SOUTH CAROLINA can't help but miss Grady Wallace but will still have a solid nucleus in veterans Ray Pericola, last year's backcourt spark, 6-foot-8 Fred Lentz, Dick Hoffman and Mike Callahan, Bob Frantz and Don Goodroe who are all 6 feet 6 or better. They also have Kentucky transfer Dick Prater, heralded as a jump shooter who can score in the Wallace tradition. Picking the Gamecocks as spoilers scarcely implies they couldn't be near the top in the final standings. CLEMSON and VIRGINIA were the twin doormats of the ACC last season, and though both will be much improved, if only because of good returning veterans, the great weight of this conference's power will still force them to fight it out for seventh and last place. The Tigers' Ed Brinkley, Vince Yockel and Tom Cameron are the senior old hands and behind them are seven sophomores who stand 6 feet 3 or taller, led by 6-foot-6½ Walt Gibbons, last year's top freshman. The Cavaliers feature a fine hook shot in 6-foot-7 Herb Busch. They have more height in two other veterans up front: Bill Metzger and John Siewers, both 6 feet 5. Best of the newcomers are set shot Paul Adkins and Bruce Michelsen. Coach McCann, who came to Virginia from W&L (Southern Conference), has moved into a tough neighborhood.