Forget the rankings, Duke is the best team in college basketball

Duke beat Virginia again last week and the Blue Devils could be on top to stay

(No one asked us, but...)

When the college basketball season began, almost everyone in college basketball labeled the Duke basketball team as the next "super'' power, perhaps a candidate to go unbeaten--something that hasn't happened in college basketball in 43 years.

Then the Devils went out and got beat ( by 2) by a very, very good Gonzaga team in November and then they lost a game in January (by 4 in overtime at home and without point guard Tre Jones) to a so-so Syracuse team.

Maybe Coach Mike Krzyzewski didn't merely have to tell his team "Game on'' to produce a W.

Perhaps the Blue Devils were in the good, but not great department, which has been the primary product producer of college basketball champions for the past 4 decades.

Now we are three weeks away from the end of the regular season and the pecking order of the Top teams seems clear with four clear cut No. 1 seeds: Duke, Tennessee, Virginia and Gonzaga.

Who's the best of the best?

Duke beat Virginia twice, the latest coming in Charlottesville on Saturday and Gonzaga has beaten Duke, which would appear to leave 22-1 Tennessee--a loss a 6 point November loss at Kansas as the only contender.

Not Gonzaga is 23-2, with the win over Duke? Sorry, the Zags lost by 3 at Tennessee and by 13 at North Carolina in November.

Coach Rick Barnes' Vols right?

Well, not so fast.

On its best day, who wins a game between Tennessee and Duke on a neutral site (Minneapolis in April?)?

""As good as Tennessee is, and they are very, very good,'' said Mike Tranghese, whose credentials include stints as the commissioner of the Big East, chairman of the NCAA men's basketball selection committee and consultant to SEC basketball, "I don't know if anyone can beat Duke when they have everything working.''

Duke's credentials include three players--RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Redish--who could be three of the first five NBA lottery picks this summer.

Tennessee has size and talent, but not as much depth.

For now, Tennessee remains No.1 in the polls, but those are for entertainment value only. The Vols have a challenging week with a game against Kentucky, while Duke will get tested by Louisville and North Carolina State.

What seems obvious is that barring a series of injuries, coupled with losses, both teams are locked in as No. 1 seeds and could have a showdown at the Final Four in Minneapolis.

There doesn't seem to be much of a challenge from the No. 2s such as Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, and North Carolina, all who have had missteps. Kentucky looks like the best team to make a surge to a No. 1 seed, but it would have to not only beat Tennessee, but also have
Gonzaga and Virginia lose a few times.

In looking at the current landscape here are some trends we see developing.

It is a bad season for quality in the Pac-12, Big East, and Atlantic 10, which usually fill between 8 to 12. This season there could be as few as two teams from the Pac-12, three from the Big East and only one from the A10.

So who gets those spots?

In most years, the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten would gobble those spots quickly. The problem is that right now, it looks like a maximum of 8 teams from any of those conferences will get bids, which again leaves openings for mid-major regular season champions who stumble in their conference tournaments.

Buffalo (Mid-American) and Hofstra (Colonial Athletic Conference) appear to be the best bets to squeeze into the tournament as at-large entries.

A team such as Furman,. which has a regular season victory over Villanova on its resume, must at least reach its conference tournament final to gain serious consideration.

There are 68 spots open, with 32 openings for conference champions and 36 at large. Right now, it looks like there are 46 teams which could be considered as "tournament locks'', which would only two at-large openings available.

***

First weekend of the Alliance of American Football provided four reasonably entertaining games for a country which is addicted to football and was facing a six month period of no football following the Patriots win over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

How that interest level holds over the next several weeks with March Madness as its main competition and the NBA and NHL regular season down, as well as spring training teasing baseball fans, remains a key question.

B

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