Last year, the great Tim Britton took the lead as The Chronicle's own "Bracketologist", analyzing the impact of Conference Championship Week upsets on possible NCAA Tournament seeding, as well as predicting what seed Duke would receive. And while I can never purport to be as clairvoyant as Mr. Britton in that regard, I do know that the next four days will be crucial in Duke's hunt for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tourney. Indeed, while ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently has the Blue Devils projected as a No. 1 seed, SI.com's Andy Glockner (who I chatted with earlier in the season) has bequeathed the final No. 1 seed to West Virginia over Duke. What's more, ESPN's Doug Gottlieb (remember him, un-athletic Dukies?) has stated numerous times on the ESPN rounds that he also feels the Mountaineers deserve the No. 1 seed over the Blue Devils.
Clearly, Duke's position in March Madness this season is much less clear than it was last season, where despite winning the ACC Tournament Duke was all but guaranteed a No. 2 seed even before the tournament began, as North Carolina, UConn, Louisville, and Pittsburgh had all but sewn-up the No. 1 seeds even before Championship Week began. As such, over the next few days I'll preview the day's most important games, both Duke-related and in general, in the morning, and return in the evening to put on my own "Bracketologist" hat and analyze the results. (At least, that's the plan).
So without further ado, here are the three games a Duke fan should watch amidst the Championship Week craziness on Thursday:
Virginia vs. Boston College (12:00 p.m., ESPN 360):
While not the sexiest matchup on paper, this game will determine Duke's matchup on Friday. The Blue Devils likely won't be intimidated by either foe (Duke annihilated Virginia on the road and beat Boston College twice this season), but I would think that if Sylven Landesberg is healthy for the Cavaliers (which he wasn't in the teams' previous meeting), Virginia could be the worse matchup for Duke. Landesberg is a player who can take over a game by himself, and Duke has had trouble with athletic guards at times this season (see: Hughes, Trevon and Freeman, Austin). Regardless, Landesberg likely isn't at 100 percent yet, and as such I like the more balanced Eagles in this contest.
North Carolina vs. Georgia Tech (7:00 p.m., ESPN2):
Georgia Tech finds itself squarely on the bubble after a disappointing ACC season, but could cement its spot in the Tournament with a victory over the Tar Heels Thursday night. A Tar Heel loss would also mean North Carolina would finish the season at .500, a final blow to a disastrous season for the defending National Champions. Again, not the sexiest matchup per se, but for the typical Duke fan the possibility of watching the Tar Heels be humiliated one last time overshadows most else.
Cincinnati vs. West Virginia (9:00 p.m., ESPN):
An early exit from the Big-East Tournament could eliminate the Mountaineers from contention for the final No. 1 seed, and as last season showed anything can happen in the Big East Tournament (six overtimes, anyone?). And while West Virginia is clearly the superior team in this matchup, Cincinnati has momentum after upsetting Louisville last night. The victory placed the Bearcats squarely back on the bubble, and could leapfrog into the Tournament with the unlikely upset today. And however unlikely such an upset might be, West Virginia has some firepower of its own in freshman star Lance Stephenson, who leads the team in scoring with 12 points per game, and has the pure athletic ability to take over a game. Look for this game to be much more competitive than many expect, as Cincinnati has a lot to play for in this Thursday night showdown.