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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.

Bilas: Duke is ‘the one team’ that can move up to No. 1 seed

The four No. 1 seeds in college basketball aren’t 100 percent set so far, but they aren’t far off. With NCAA Tournament selection committee chairman Kevin White calling the top four teams “unanimous,” the question then becomes which teams, if any, are capable of unseating those four.

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said Tuesday that he only saw one team that could displace Baylor, Kansas, Gonzaga or San Diego State. But that team is going to need some help.

“The one team that I think can get up to the one line is Duke,” Bilas said.

Duke was just one spot off in the committee’s rankings, coming in as the No. 5 overall seed. And the committee sent Duke to a solid spot as the No. 2 seed in the East to the No. 4 overall seed, San Diego State.

To make the jump, Duke is going to need some help. One of Baylor or Kansas will lose this weekend—the two teams play each other in Waco. But Bilas said that he didn’t know that the loser of that game would fall off the No. 1 seed line, meaning Duke might need Gonzaga or San Diego State — both of whom will be favored in every game up until NCAA Tournament time — to suffer a surprising loss. San Diego State’s case for a No. 1 seed in particular depends largely on that ‘zero’ in the loss column; it’s what has the Aztecs sitting at No. 1 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) metric.

But one of the biggest takeaways from the committee’s decisions are that quality wins, particularly Quadrant I wins, are the most important currency. And while Duke isn’t likely to overtake any of those teams if they win out (excepting the Baylor/Kansas game), the Blue Devils have six Quad I wins, one more than Gonzaga and two more than San Diego State. Duke has very little chance to catch Kansas or Baylor, both of which have 10 such victories so far, but should Gonzaga or San Diego State lose, that could be what propels Duke up a seed line.

Fellow ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes said earlier this week that he thinks Duke is a legitimate national championship contender.

“Absolutely. I think Duke is every bit built to do it all,” Dykes said. “The Carey kid [Vernon Carey Jr.] is a handful, they shoot the ball well. This year there’s probably 15, 20 teams this late in the season Sean that we can say can get to the Final Four; there’s probably 10 or 12 that can win it. Duke is absolutely in that group of 10 or 12.”