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Can Duke finish as a No. 1 seed?

Duke didn’t match last year’s squad by earning a No. 1 seed when the NCAA Tournament selection committee released its early February rankings Saturday. But ESPN’s College GameDay analysts said they liked Duke’s chances to wind up with a No. 1 seed when it matters on Selection Sunday.

Before the rankings came out, GameDay’s analysts attempted to project what the rankings would look like, and correctly pegged the Blue Devils as a No. 2 seed. And when GameDay host Rece Davis asked analyst Jay Bilas which of the No. 2 seeds could move up a line, he pointed to a pair of ACC teams.

“Well, I think Louisville or Duke,” Bilas said. “It won’t be both. But Louisville or Duke if they can run the table in the ACC because there aren’t a ton of high-value targets left in the ACC, but if they can run the table, win the ACC Tournament, Louisville or Duke are likely to jump up to that one line.”

Seth Greenberg narrowed it a step further.

“I think it’s Duke—just look at the remaining schedule,” Greenberg said. “Obviously tough games against Carolina. If they can beat Florida State at home, Duke will run the table and I think they’ll move to a No. 1 eventually.”

Greenberg went on to agree with Bilas that Duke likely needed to win the ACC Tournament as well to claim a No. 1 seed.

There’s little question that Duke has the ability to run said table; the Blue Devils’ biggest issues this year haven’t come because they’ve been outgunned. The bigger risk has been the occasional let down game, with two of Duke’s three losses coming to teams ranked 97th (Clemson) and 99th (Stephen F. Austin) in KenPom, respectively. The only other team to best Duke is Louisville, and the Blue Devils don’t have the Cardinals again in the regular season.

In fact, of Duke’s remaining nine ACC games, only one is against a team ranked higher than 50th on KenPom, the Monday date against Florida State. And that one comes at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

That’s not to say that Duke can’t slip up; in this season in particular, it seems a fool’s errand to pick any team to avoid upsets for an extended period of time. Rather it’s to note that Duke will likely be a sizable favorite in each regular season game the rest of the season, and possibly all through the ACC Tournament, with the possible exception of a rematch with Louisville, which wouldn’t likely come until the tournament championship game, if ever.

As the No. 5 overall seed, Duke was just one spot off from landing one of the four coveted No. 1s, though it’s also worth noting that NCAA Tournament selection committee chairman Kevin White — whose day job sees him serve as Duke’s athletic director — said that the top four teams were “unanimous” as the No. 1 seeds.

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