The Duke Blue Devils are the current number one team in the polls. So why do many people have them out as a one seed in the NCAA tournament?
The reason: there are no "great" teams this season, and there is virtually no separation between the top five teams.
But the final three games of the regular season could get the Devils some separation, and possibly clinch a one seed. Three games—a road game in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech, a home game versus Clemson, and a trip to Chapel Hill against rival Carolina—could make or break the Devils' case for a one seed.
The first of these three comes as a prime time game against Virginia Tech. The Hokies come in at 18-8, and still on the bubble. A win against top-ranked Duke could get them into the dance for them.
That's what makes this such a big game for Duke.
A tough win on the road could not only boost confidence, but might enhance chances for a one seed. Duke's two losses this season have come on the road, so a win would show that they are capable of winning in a hostile environment.
A Wednesday night home game against Clemson rounds off the home ACC schedule for Duke. At 18-9, also Clemson comes in on the bubble. A win for them, just like Virginia Tech, would no doubt clinch a berth in the tournament.
A win for Duke, however, would finish off a second straight undefeated home season, further proving the point that the Devils don't lose at home. And let's be honest: most games in the tournament will be considered home games for Duke.
The regular season finale for Duke will come against North Carolina, a statement game for each team. The Tar Heels showed in the first meeting that they could play with Duke, holding a 14 point lead at the half, but they couldn't close. Led by Nolan Smith, Duke rallied and won, once again proving Duke can win in a hostile environment.
But it will not be easy. Carolina will be looking to move up in the rankings, and to demonstrate that they can beat top level talent.
Wins in these next three games would be a huge boost to Duke's case for a one seed. Even with an early exit in the ACC tournament, they'd still be a favorite for a one seed based on previous wins alone.
The committee would see wins against: Marquette, Michigan State, Kansas State, Butler, Temple, and two against Carolina. A loss only in the ACC tournament would leave Duke with three losses. A three-loss Duke team would still get in over the second-place Big 12 team.
But a few losses in these next games would put a hole in their resume, especially a loss on the road, leaving them with some work to do in the ACC tournament, which hasn't been too difficult in the last few years.
Overall Duke should feel confident with their chances at a one seed, but they cannot slack off. There is still a lot of work to be done, if Duke wants to repeat as National Champions.
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