The top scorers are back. That could make the ACC women's basketball race even tougher

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — From her first college game, Ta'Niya Latson showed she could score at an unexpectedly high level for Florida State — better than anyone else in the Atlantic Coast Conference, in fact.

She's back for another season with the 18th-ranked Seminoles, joined by a deep well of returning scorers and all-ACC picks for the 2023-24 season.

“I'm just really excited to go against those girls and showcase what we've got, too,” Latson said Tuesday during the league's women's basketball media day.

Considering how many are back, she will get plenty of opportunities in league play, too.

Latson — a 5-foot-8 guard who averaged 21.3 points and was named league rookie of the year — is among eight players who return from the 10-player all-ACC first team last year. That list includes two-time player of the year Elizabeth Kitley from an eighth-ranked Virginia Tech team coming off its first Final Four trip.

The league also returns 12 of its top 15 scorers from last season, including Syracuse's Dyaisha Fair — a Buffalo transfer who averaged 19.9 points in her first year with the Orange — and Kitley, who was fourth in scoring (18.2) while leading the league in rebounding (10.7).

That's before counting any of the league's top incoming transfers like Iowa State guard Lexi Donarski to No. 16 North Carolina or No. 17 Louisville adding a former Sun Belt player of the year and 1,800-point scorer in forward Kiki Jefferson from James Madison.

It's also before adding any touted freshmen, such as McDonald's All-Americans in point guard Hannah Hidalgo for No. 10 Notre Dame, Duke wing Jadyn Donovan or North Carolina State guard Zoe Brooks.

That's why Georgia Tech coach Nell Fortner called the league “not for the faint of heart.”

“I'm really impressed when you look at rosters and players and coaches," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “It's going to be a really, really, good, good year.”

At minimum, it should have plenty of offense considering the number of proven scorers. It also comes at a time when the women's game has gotten older with players having extra eligibility granted amid the pandemic and being free to move through the transfer portal.

That experience matters for players who have grown accustomed being the focus of opposing defenses.

Take Kitley for example. She's already the program's scoring leader who has averaged in double figures throughout her career. She didn't think she would likely use her extra year when it was first approved, but here she is.

“I think I've increased my game in some ways, but really the last three seasons I've been pretty consistent," Kitley said. "I feel like that's what I hang my hat on. I'm looking to continue that this year and not pay attention to too much of the noise — there definitely is a lot this year.”

North Carolina guard Deja Kelly has been there, too. She's averaged 15 points over her three-year career and has led the Tar Heels in scoring in each of the past two seasons.

“I think when I first got here I was just so locked into the scoring role that I wasn’t as effective,” Kelly said. “But now, me knowing I’m a playmaker, I’m a playmaking guard, a combo guard, and I can just make things happen. I think that’s definitely allowed me to be more effective.”

Notre Dame technically has two returning first-teamers in guards Sonia Citron (14.7) and Olivia Miles (14.3), though Miles is still recovering from a season-ending knee injury and her status is unclear. Still, Citron elevated her play while sliding over to the point after Miles' injury as well as another season-ender to fellow starter Dara Mabrey.

“She was put in the fire when Liv and Dara went down, being that go-to player for us,” Fighting Irish coach Niele Ivey said.

“I’m very comfortable with that, the way that she can score and she’s somebody I can rely on. ... Just having another year of experience of being that go-to player is going to help us this year.”

That's what Florida State coach Brooke Wyckoff is counting on with Latson. who opened her career with 28 points against Bethune-Cookman and 34 points against Kent State.

She went on to finish with seven 30-point games, including each of two wins against Georgia Tech.

“To have those players come back with even more experience, I think it raises the level of the game,” she said. “It raises the overall competition of the league. That’s always fun. You want all these teams to be competitive and you want every game to mean so much. It’s really exciting.”

Wyckoff paused.

“And I’m happy we have one of those scorers back, too."

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AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball