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With Duke on an upswing, what are the Blue Devils’ chances for a high NCAA seed?

As memorable as Jon Scheyer’s first season as Duke’s head coach was last year, with an ACC championship banner a notable result, the Blue Devils’ second-round NCAA tournament departure left him — and the program — wanting more.

With the brackets for this season’s NCAA tournament set to be announced three weeks from Sunday, Scheyer’s Blue Devils are rolling toward March with a shot at a better seed than a year ago.

Ranked No. 8 nationally by the Associated Press, the Blue Devils (21-5, 12-3 ACC) are tied with North Carolina (20-6, 12-3 ACC) for first place in the ACC standings with five regular-season games to play. At No. 12 in the latest NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings and No. 8 according to KenPom.com, Duke is in position for a No. 2 or 3 regional seed.

A year ago, Duke was unranked most of January and February. A nine-game winning streak, including three ACC tournament wins, pushed the Blue Devils into the NCAA tournament, but only with a No. 5 seed in the East Regional.

No. 4-seeded Tennessee toppled Duke, 65-52, in the second round and the Blue Devils (27-9) headed home.

Now in a key stretch of this season, the Blue Devils find themselves playing their best basketball. Wednesday night’s 84-55 rout at Miami was Duke’s fifth consecutive win and its 16th in the past 18 games.

“All along,” Scheyer said Wednesday night, “we’ve talked, privately, about just getting better in the whole season. We want to be at our best in February and March. And I think we’re on an upswing that we’ve continued to get better.”

So how will the selection committee that creates the NCAA tournament bracket view the Blue Devils? The only tangible clue was last Saturday’s early reveal of the top 16 seeds. Acting as if the bracket was being selected as of that day, the committee had Duke at No. 12 nationally and a No. 3 seed in the West Region bracket.

The situation has already shifted since then, with the committee’s No. 1 overall seed, Purdue, losing at Ohio State and two of its other No. 1 regional seeds, Connecticut and Arizona, also suffering losses in league play.

Unlike many of the bracket projectors who build their field based on what has happened up to this point of the season, Bart Torvik keeps a running seed list of teams at barttorvik.com based on what the metrics project will happen between now and selection day on March 17.

His projections, on Friday morning, still have Duke among the No. 3 regional seeds but he has them as the top No. 3 seed, just short of the No. 2 line. UNC is also a No. 3 seed, but below the Blue Devils.

He has five ACC teams in the field, with Virginia (20-7, 11-5 ACC) among the last four teams in and is a No. 11 seed playing in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio. Clemson (18-8, 8-7 ACC) is a No. 6 seed while Wake Forest (17-9, 9-6 ACC) is also No. 11 seed but not slated as part of the First Four games.

How those ACC teams are viewed is important when considering what seed Duke will ultimately be tagged with come March 17. The Blue Devils play at Wake Forest on Saturday and still have home games to play with Virginia on March 2 and UNC on March 9.

So, even before the league’s teams convene in Washington, D.C., for the ACC Tournament from March 12-16, Duke has opportunities to strengthen its case for a higher national seed with the committee.

Duke’s games with Wake Forest and UNC will fall into Quad 1, according to the NET-based system the committee uses to evaluate teams. The Blue Devils are currently 6-2 in Quad 1 games and 2-2 in Quad 2 games, giving them an 8-4 record against the best teams they’ve played.

Duke’s home game with Virginia will fall in Quad 2 since the Cavaliers are No. 47 in the NET. Home opponents have to be 1-30 in the NET for it to qualify as Quad 1. Duke’s game at N.C. State on March 4 also looks like a Quad 2 game since the Wolfpack are No. 80 in the NET. Road games against teams from 1-75 are Quad 1 games.

Duke can really help itself by racking up those wins against the top two quadrants. More opportunities will be there at the ACC Tournament, where any games against teams in the NET Top 50 will be Quad 1 because they are being played on a neutral site.

But, back to Duke’s current 8-4 record against the top two quadrants: How that compares to other teams the committee had on the No. 3 seed line last week matters.

Alabama (19-7), for example, is 10-7 against the top two quadrants and at No. 5 in the NET. Baylor (18-7), a team Duke beat head-to-head on a neutral court back in December, is also 10-7 in those results. The Bears are No. 14 in the NET. Iowa State (20-6) is 9-6 against quads 1 and 2 and No. 8 in the NET.

The Blue Devils match up favorably but need to keep collecting those wins to solidify their position.

Charlotte is an opening-weekend site for this year’s NCAA tournament, with first- and second-round games at the Spectrum Center March 21 and 23. The ACC team with the best seed, either UNC or Duke, could very well be placed close to home. While Tennessee could also land there, it’s not out of the question for both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils to start in Charlotte.

It all depends upon how the next three weeks of games turn out, not only for the Blue Devils but for the teams around them in the committee’s opinion.

As for Scheyer, he’s seen enough with how his team has responded to key injuries and a few upset losses to feel good about Duke’s chances.

“I think these guys have shown incredible toughness,” Scheyer said. “When things don’t go your way, you find out about people and the way they respond. And all these guys, man, they’ve responded at different times throughout the season, whether it be setbacks, whether it be losses, they just kept working, kept believing, and we need to continue to do that.”