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Matt Norlander

Duke and Purdue in a sprint for the final 1 seed

The Dagger

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That, to the right, is Brian Zoubek. I like to call him "Treebeard." I hope you'll join in with that.

The oft-joked about center for the Blue Devils is becoming more than just a fifth man on the floor. He was a big part of Duke getting 23 offensive rebounds last night. Zoubek snared in 16 boards.

While the United States hockey team was making us all feel so damn proud of our country last night (feel free to seek out the "Team America" theme song), Zoubek and the Duke Blue Devils — something else that unites us, albeit in a different way — won a fairly notable game over surging Virginia Tech to get to 11-2 in the ACC and extend its lead to 1 1/2 over Maryland and 2 1/2 over the Hokies.

Now ranked No. 1 in KenPom, the Blue Devils are on pace to take a 1-seed, should they continue to win.

Is there a reason to believe they won't?

The Villanova-Purdue-Duke troika will battle it out to get that last, treasured top seed in the final three weeks.

Conference tournaments included, Duke's schedule is more favorable than the other two, and I think it ends up grouped with Syracuse, Kentucky and Kansas. Beyond the scheduling reason, here's why.

Pure numbers. As of now, Duke is also better than Villanova and Purdue in RPI. I know the stats can be boring/overrated for a lot of folks, but the selection committee will use them. They are so vital to where and how teams are seeded.

Another big stat is Duke's strength of schedule, which is 13th. Purdue: 41; Villanova: 64.

Duke has just three conference games left, all against teams it has beaten already. First, there's the oddity in the schedule, a home date with Tulsa, which goes down Thursday night. Then it's Virginia, at Maryland and home to UNC to close out the 2010 slate.

What do Purdue and Villanova face?

Purdue: @ Minnesota, Michigan State, Indiana, @ Penn State.

Villanova: South Florida, @ Syracuse, @ Cincinnati, West Virginia.

Purdue has one more game but a schedule that's just as easy. It's very, very hard to see the Wildcats navigating their four-game Big East gauntlet. So let's toss out Villanova.

If Duke and Purdue end the season continuing the winning streaks they're on, advantage Purdue.

Now, I know what you may be asking: What about conference tournaments?

This is where I think it gets interesting. The ACC is probably a better conference, but just barely. Not at the top, but overall. I don't see how the Boilermakers get through until the end of the season without getting clipped at least one more time. Remember, Purdue only had that Jan. 9-16 rough patch, when it lost three straight games. Surely at least one more L is on the way, right? If not, Purdue would be one bad week away from going an entire season undefeated. That's amazing.

It's going to come down to if Duke and Purdue lose, which loss is the worse one. And will that loss end up not meaning too much? If Duke is the 1, Purdue would probalby be the top 2-seed and placed in the same bracket.

The mystique that surrounds a 1-seed still exists. I think Duke is destined to get it.

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