Tudor: Blue Devils and Tar Heels battle it out for No. 1 seeds

Staff WriterFebruary 23, 2012 

Thanks to some unexpected help from Kansas State on Tuesday, Duke and North Carolina are squarely back in the jockeying for No. 1 seeds in next month's NCAA tournament.

When Kansas State won by 10 points at third-ranked Missouri - giving the unranked Wildcats a sweep of the regular-season series - the pecking order at the top began its usual late-season shift.

Frank Haith's first Missouri team (25-3) is still in the conversation for a No. 1 seed, but coming up Saturday is a trip to No. 4 Kansas (22-5) that could push the loser of the game out of top-seed contention.

Not that it's going to be easy for either the fifth-ranked Blue Devils (23-4, 10-2 ACC) or No. 7 Tar Heels (24-4, 11-2) to move up and stay up.

Duke has to win at No. 15 Florida State (19-7, 10-2) tonight, and North Carolina will go to No. 25 Virginia (21-6, 8-5) Saturday before the Tar Heels and Blue Devils meet again on March 3 in Durham.

But if either of the two can run the rest of the regular-season table, that team probably would all but lock up a No. 1 regional seed entering the ACC tournament (March 8-11) in Atlanta.

Assuming neither the Blue Devils or the Tar Heels hit a wall in their remaining regular-season games, both seem likely to open the NCAA tournament in Greensboro on March 16 regardless of their regional seedings.

Opening the tournament in Greensboro is important for two reasons, one being the obvious proximity to both campuses and fan bases. But it's a bonus that the Greensboro games will be played on Friday and Sunday, meaning there will be ample recovery time should the arch rivals have to play for a third time this season in the ACC tournament.

Of the four March 15 NCAA sites, none are closer than Louisville, Ky., or Pittsburgh. The other two are Portland, Ore., and Albuquerque, N.M.

In addition to Greensboro, Friday games will be played at Nashville, Tenn., Columbus, Ohio and Omaha, Neb.

Both Duke and North Carolina would probably prefer a No. 1 South seed - with regional semifinal games scheduled for Friday, March 23. The ACC tournament will be in Atlanta's Philips Arena while the South semifinals and title game will be played in the Georgia Dome - still an easy location for fans to reach.

The East regionals will be in Boston (March 22 and 24), the Midwest in St. Louis (where North Carolina won a title in 2005) on March 23 and 25 and the West in Phoenix (March 22 and 24).

If Duke or North Carolina can lock up a No. 1 seed, the South might be difficult to bag unless top-rated Kentucky has some unexpected trouble in late SEC play.

And with No. 2 Syracuse the current favorite for Boston and the East regional, the only openings for a No. 1 from the ACC could be cross-country sites - if they survive the opening weekend.

Tudor: ctudor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8946

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