Duke Basketball: Blue Devils' Late-Season Surge Should Give Them No. 1 Seed

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2014

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Even though three of the four top seeds in the 2014 NCAA tournament appear to be locked up, there is a debate over who should get the fourth slot on Selection Sunday. 

At least some will tell you that there is a debate for the last No. 1 seed. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has Wichita State on the top line, with Kansas, Wisconsin, Duke and Creighton on the second line in his most recent tournament projection. 

Looking at the resumes of the expected contenders, the Blue Devils are clearly the team that has done the most this season. 

If we assume that Arizona, Syracuse and Florida are the top three seeds, in whatever order, then you look at the next tier with Duke, Kansas, Wichita State, Louisville, Villanova and Creighton without a clear consensus. 

Wisconsin is disqualified by being third in the Big Ten standings entering Saturday and losing five of six games from January 14 through February 1, including games against non-tournament teams Indiana and Northwestern. 

Using the simple process of elimination, Duke comes out ahead of the rest of the pack. First, Mike Krzyzewski's crew has been rolling since a January 11 loss against Clemson. The Blue Devils have gone 11-2 in their last 13 games, with the losses coming at Syracuse in overtime and at North Carolina. 

The Blue Devils were able to avenge that loss to Syracuse, defeating the Orange by six at Cameron. They will have a chance to avenge the North Carolina loss in the regular-season finale on March 8. 

In his bracketology breakdown, Brendan Prunty of the Newark Star-Ledger declared Duke a team on the rise, citing several high-profile wins and holding down home court. 

Is Duke too high on this list? Maybe. But it owns wins over Michigan, UCLA, Pitt and now Syracuse. Plus, it's six losses are all on the road or neutral courts. If it wins out and wins the ACC tourney, it should get a No. 1 spot.

There's certainly a lot to be decided when the conference tournaments begin, but as we dive deeper into all these teams, Duke still comes out ahead. 

Let's look at several key components that are factored in when the selection committee decides where teams line up. 

2014 NCAA Tournament Resumes
Team (Record)RPI RankSOSConference RPIvs. RPI Top 50
Duke (23-6)6th7th8th5-4
Kansas (22-6)1st1st1st12-6
Creighton (23-4)7th29th5th7-2
Louisville (24-4)28th120th29th4-4
Villanova (25-3)5th357th4-3
Wichita State (30-0)9th11325th2-0

Using these numbers, Wichita State and Louisville are immediately out of the running because they haven't played, or beaten, enough teams of substance to warrant being a top seed in the NCAA tournament. 

Kansas does have a sterling resume on paper, including an 11-point win over Duke in the season opener on November 12, but the Jayhawks also have six losses against the RPI Top 50. By comparison, Duke has just four losses against the RPI Top 50. 

Duke does have worse losses than Kansas, against Clemson and Notre Dame, but it also has more wins against the RPI Top 20 (four) than Kansas (three). Using that as the formula, we can push Kansas down a line. 

That leaves Creighton and Villanova battling Duke for the final No. 1 seed. Villanova does have the best win of that trio, knocking off Kansas on November 29, but the Wildcats haven't beaten a team in the RPI Top 30 since that day. 

It also hurts Villanova that Creighton has beaten the Wildcats twice this season, including at Villanova on January 20. 

This brings us to the battle between Creighton and Duke. The Blue Devils have a higher RPI ranking, a substantially tougher strength of schedule and have played a much tougher non-conference schedule. Duke ranks 17th while Creighton ranks 43rd, and even with four losses against the RPI Top 25, Duke has twice as many wins against that same group as Creighton. 

It's very close between Duke, Kansas, Villanova and Creighton, but when push comes to shove, the Blue Devils have done enough late in the season and built up enough clout early in the year to deserve the final No. 1 seed in this year's NCAA tournament. 

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