NCAA Tournament bracketology: Duke keeps its slim No. 1 seed chances alive

Shelby Mast and Scott Gleeson

Duke escaped on the road at Virginia on Wednesday night, adding another victory to its NCAA Tournament portfolio. 

The Blue Devils (24-4, 14-3 ACC) lead the ACC standings – a feat that would usually position them for a comfortable No. 1 seed. Not this year, though, when the league ranks as the fifth (nearly sixth) worst among power conferences in NET score rankings. 

Duke is still locked in as a solid No. 2 seed in the latest bracket projection, sporting the weakest résumé of the other No. 2s – Kentucky, Baylor and Purdue – and slightly ahead of No. 3 Texas Tech. Still, coach Mike Krzyzewski's team has a slim shot at stealing a final top seed in these last weeks of the season before Selection Sunday.

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What's hurting Duke the most right now is limited opportunity to acquire Quadrant 1 wins. Virginia, for example, ranks in the 80s with its NET score as a bubble team this year. Had the Cavs been in the top 75, that would be another Q1 victory for the Blue Devils, who just beat them on the road. A home loss to the same Virginia team Feb. 7 is also working against Duke because it's counting as a Quadrant 3 loss.  

That said, the quality of Duke's five Q1 wins is top-notch, considering it includes victories over Gonzaga and Kentucky. The selection committee can see Duke's NET score of 12 is largely a product of the ACC, where top-of-the-pack teams Notre Dame, North Carolina and Wake Forest all find themselves near the bubble this season. 

It's difficult to imagine the Blue Devils out-pacing Kentucky, Baylor or Purdue to leapfrog Kansas for the final No. 1 slot. But there's still ample basketball left to be played and credentials aside, winning on the road against UVA shows mettle for a squad that's playing great basketball (winners of five in a row and 10 of last 11) as we near March. 

Duke Blue Devils forward Paolo Banchero (5) celebrates with Blue Devils guard Jeremy Roach (3) against the Virginia Cavaliers in the closing seconds of the second half at John Paul Jones Arena.

No. 1 seeds

Gonzaga, Auburn, Arizona, Kansas. 

Last four in

SMU, Michigan, San Diego State, Indiana.

First four out

North Carolina, Memphis, Belmont, VCU.

Next four out

Saint Bonaventure, Florida, Virginia, Dayton.



Others considered for at-large bids: St. John's, Kansas State, Colorado, Oregon, Saint Louis, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, West Virginia.

On life support: Oklahoma, Cincinnati, Drake, Vanderbilt, Louisiana Tech, Richmond, UCF, Missouri State, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Florida State, Fresno State, Toledo, Santa Clara, UAB, Stanford, Washington State.

Multi-bid conferences: Big Ten (9), Big East (7), Big 12 (6), SEC (6), ACC (4), West Coast (4), Mountain West (4), Pac-12 (3), American Athletic (2).

Leaders or highest NET from projected one-bid conferences - (23 total)A10 - Davidson; America East - Vermont; Atlantic Sun - Liberty; Big Sky - Montana State; Big South - Longwood; Big West - Long Beach State; CAA - Towson; C-USA - UAB; Horizon - Cleveland State; Ivy League - Princeton; MAAC - Iona; MAC - Ohio; MEAC - Norfolk State; Missouri Valley - Loyola-Chicago; Northeast - Wagner; Ohio Valley - Murray State; Patriot - Colgate; Southern - Chattanooga; Southland - New Orleans; SWAC - Texas Southern; Summit - South Dakota State; Sun Belt - Texas State; WAC - New Mexico State.

  • Ineligible schools: Oklahoma State (banned), Cal Baptist, North Alabama, Merrimack, Dixie State, Tarleton State, Bellarmine, UC San Diego, St. Thomas.


NCAA Tournament language explainer:

  • NET stands for the NCAA Evaluation Tool, which is the barometer for the selection committee. It includes game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin (capping at 10 points per game), and net offensive and defensive efficiency.
  • Quadrant 1 wins: Home games vs. 1-30 NET teams; Neutral-site games vs. 1-50 NET; Away games vs. 1-75 NET
  • Quadrant 2 wins: Home games vs. 31-75 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 51-100 NET; Away games vs. 76-135 NET
  • Quadrant 3 wins: Home games vs. 76-160 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 101-200 NET; Away games vs. 136-240 NET
  • Quadrant 4 wins: Home games vs. 161-plus NET; Neutral-site games vs. 201-plus NET; Away games vs. 241-plus NET

Note: Most statistical data is used from The NET rankings (NCAA Evaluation Tool) also are a reference point. 

About our bracketologist: Shelby Mast has been projecting the field since 2005 on his website, Bracket W.A.G. He joined USA TODAY in 2014. In his ninth season as our national bracketologist, Mast has finished as one of the top three bracketologists in the past eight March Madnesses. He’s also predicted for The Indianapolis Star, and is an inaugural member of the Super 10 Selection Committee. Follow him on Twitter @BracketWag.

About our college basketball reporter: Scott Gleeson has covered men's college basketball for USA TODAY since 2012, contributing to bracketology and running Bubble Tracker before tackling everything March Madness following Selection Sunday. He correctly forecasted Virginia would win the national championship in 2019 before the season began and also picked Loyola-Chicago as a Cinderella mid-major in 2018. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.