Let’s take Duke’s last six games. It needed some exceptionally deft plays, some luck and late-game some assistance from North Carolina to escape with an overtime victory on Feb. 8. Two nights later, the Blue Devils impressively fended off Florida State, then clubbed Notre Dame by 34 the following weekend.
Duke promptly tripped up at N.C. State, never leading in what became a 22-point clubbing. The response was immediate; the Blue Devils shredded Virginia Tech, 88-64, in their next outing, only to suffer a double-overtime loss at Wake Forest on Tuesday.
For the purposes of forecasting a bracket, Duke (23-5) remains a solid candidate for a No. 2 seed. Its résumé isn’t particularly deep, but victories over Kansas, Florida State and Michigan State are plenty valuable.
There’s also a good chance its one Quadrant 3 loss (Stephen F. Austin) ends up as a Quad 2 setback by Selection Sunday. The Lumberjacks were 84th in the NET rankings entering Friday, and losses at home to teams ranked between 31st and 75th wind up in the Quadrant 2 bucket.
As for forecasting Duke’s postseason prospects, it’s hard to place much trust in a team that’s so inconsistent. The Blue Devils have some enviable pieces (point guard Tre Jones and freshman big Vernon Carey Jr. chief among them), and on paper they’ll have a chance in every game.
Yet given the many faces they’ve shown of late, a first-weekend exit seems just as plausible as a run into late March or early April. Your guess is as good as anyone’s.
Last four included: Mississippi State, Providence, N.C. State, Cincinnati
First four on the outside: Stanford, Wichita State, Arkansas, Purdue
Next four on the outside: Richmond, Texas, UCLA, Notre Dame
Moving in: Bowling Green, Northern Colorado
Moving out: Akron, Montana
Conference call: Big Ten (10), Big East (7), ACC (5), Big 12 (5), Pac-12 (5), SEC (5), West Coast (3), American Athletic (2), Atlantic 10 (2), Mountain West (2)
Midwest vs. East; South vs. West
(1) BIG 12/Kansas vs. (16) winner of MID-EASTERN/N.C. Central vs. NORTHEAST/Saint Francis (Pa.)
(8) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/Houston vs. (9) LSU
(5) Colorado vs. (12) SOUTHLAND/Stephen F. Austin
(4) Michigan State vs. (13) WESTERN ATHLETIC/New Mexico State
(3) Creighton vs. (14) BIG WEST/UC Irvine
(6) BYU vs. (11) Mississippi State-N.C. State winner
(7) Michigan vs. (10) Xavier
(2) ATLANTIC 10/Dayton vs. (15) HORIZON/Wright State
Saint Francis (Pa.), seeking its first NCAA tournament bid since 1991, can clinch home-court advantage throughout the NEC tournament with a victory Saturday over Robert Morris. … Thursday’s loss at California was not a good look for Colorado, but the Buffaloes still own a 7-3 record against Quadrant 1 teams and are one of only two teams to defeat Dayton. They remain on the No. 5 line for now. …
Creighton can’t play on its home court in Omaha during the opening weekend, so it has to be shipped somewhere. With the Bluejays’ profile now better than Louisville’s, it makes it easier to place Greg McDermott’s team in St. Louis and send the Cardinals to Cleveland instead (an added 90 miles of travel). … Michigan flips seeds with Wisconsin as a result of its loss to the Badgers at home on Thursday.
(1) MOUNTAIN WEST/San Diego State vs. (16) BIG SOUTH/Radford
(8) Saint Mary’s vs. (9) Indiana
(5) West Virginia vs. (12) Cincinnati-Providence winner
(4) Penn State vs. (13) IVY/Yale
(3) BIG EAST/Seton Hall vs. (14) BIG SKY/Northern Colorado
(6) Auburn vs. (11) SOUTHERN/East Tennessee State
(7) Illinois vs. (10) Arizona State
(2) ACC/Florida State vs. MID-AMERICAN/Bowling Green
San Diego State vs. Saint Mary’s would be an exceptional round-of-32 game. … West Virginia meeting either Cincinnati or Providence would make for an interesting Big East reunion — and in a current Big East arena, no less. …
Arizona State’s seven-game winning streak ended Thursday at UCLA, but the Sun Devils have created a cushion between themselves and the edge of the field. … Florida State has never earned better than a No. 3 seed, doing so on four occasions (1992, 1993, 2012 and 2017). The Seminoles take over as the top No. 2 seed after Duke’s stumble at Wake Forest.
(1) Baylor vs. (16) winner of SWAC/Prairie View vs. METRO ATLANTIC/Siena
(8) Marquette vs. (9) Virginia
(5) Iowa vs. (12) ATLANTIC SUN/Liberty
(4) SEC/Kentucky vs. (13) AMERICA EAST/Vermont
(3) Louisville vs. (14) OHIO VALLEY/Belmont
(6) Butler vs. (11) Utah State
(7) Arizona vs. (10) Oklahoma
(2) BIG TEN/Maryland vs. (15) COLONIAL/Hofstra
Teams with the most Quadrant 1 victories: Kansas (11), Baylor (10), Seton Hall (10) and Creighton (9). … If Kentucky wants to make a push for better than a No. 4 seed, avenging an earlier loss to Auburn on Saturday would be a good idea. The Wildcats are probably going to get dinged a line for their November loss to Evansville. It’s the only Quadrant 4 loss for a team with a No. 10 seed or better in this exercise. …
Speaking of Quadrant 4, Liberty owns 20 such victories, just ahead of Stephen F. Austin (19) and Belmont (18). … Arizona is 3-7 in Quadrant 1 games, with victories over Colorado (at home), at Stanford (borderline tournament team) and at Washington (13-15). There’s a case to be made the Wildcats’ three best Quadrant 2 victories (Illinois, Southern California and Arizona State, all at home) are a more impressive collection, regardless of what the team sheet says.
(1) WEST COAST/Gonzaga vs. (16) SUN BELT/Little Rock
(8) Florida vs. (9) Rutgers
(5) Ohio State vs. (12) MISSOURI VALLEY/Northern Iowa
(4) PAC-12/Oregon vs. (13) CONFERENCE USA/North Texas
(3) Villanova vs. (14) PATRIOT/Colgate
(6) Wisconsin vs. (11) Southern California
(7) Texas Tech vs. (10) Rhode Island
(2) Duke vs. (15) SUMMIT/South Dakota State
Rutgers is in decent enough shape, but the Scarlet Knights have dropped three in a row and would be wise not to lose out (vs. Maryland, at Purdue, Big Ten tournament). There are a lot of variables still in play and Rutgers could very well back its way into the field thanks to some fabulous home victories, but pulling into the barn at 18-14 and with one true road victory would qualify as tempting fate. …
Oregon’s odd quirk: It has four upper Quadrant 1 victories by a combined five points. The Ducks are quite literally four possessions away from having a considerably different postseason profile. … Southern Cal moves out of play-in game territory (for now) after defeating Arizona on Thursday. … It’s a big week for Rhode Island, which is trying to get by on quantity more than quality. Beating Saint Louis and especially Dayton over the next four days would help.