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Just reading the tea leaves on No. 1 prepster Barnes' college choice

It's going to be one lucky Friday the 13th for some college basketball program. That's because Harrison Barnes, the 6-foot-7 forward from Ames, Iowa, who is widely considered to be the No. 1 prospect in the senior class, will announce his college choice at 4 p.m. on ESPNU.

Barnes's list is down to six schools. They are, in alphabetical order: Duke, Iowa State, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma and UCLA. The question of where Barnes will end up has titillated recruitniks for months now. So I burned up the phone lines on Thursday to see if I could read the tea leaves.

Turns out, it was hard to find the tea leaves, much less read them. Since it is against NCAA rules for coaches to comment on high school players before they sign a National Letter of Intent, I can't tell you whom I spoke with, but here's a sampling of the comments I got from people who had, shall we say, direct knowledge of Barnes's recruitment:

"He's the greatest poker player of all time."

"I have no idea what he's going to do. Nobody does. If anyone tells you they know where he's going, they're guessing."

"I've never seen a situation where a family kept things this close to the vest. I'm going to find out the same way you are."

So, there you have it: Nobody knows anything. But I did glean some bits of conventional wisdom I can pass along. For starters, Duke and North Carolina seem to be the front-runners. They're both elite programs and great academic institutions, which appeals to Barnes's brainy inclinations. (He's an excellent student with designs on being a titan in business when he's through playing.) Duke has an "in" because Kyrie Irving, the guard from New Jersey who committed to the Blue Devils last month, is close friends with Barnes. I heard they call each other "brothers." North Carolina, however, has a similar asset in Kendall Marshall, a 6-4 point guard from Virginia who has committed to North Carolina and who is also super-tight with Barnes.

Even so, no one I spoke with really believes those relationships will carry much weight. "He's going to do what's best for him and nobody else," one person said. "He's a different kind of kid."

Moving down the list, I'd say the people at Kansas are very pessimistic, while the folks at UCLA appear to be overly optimistic. "UCLA thinks it's between them and Duke," one source said. Oklahoma has done well to hang in this long, but if Barnes puts on a Sooners cap today, that would be the biggest shock of all.

Then there's Iowa State, which is hoping against hope that Barnes will turn down all those storied programs and opt to stay at home. Barnes's mother is a receptionist in Iowa State's music department, and she and Barnes's sister, who is in fifth grade, have been at every game he has played in the last three years. Barnes is also high school teammates with the son of Cyclones coach Greg McDermott.

Still, Barnes has made no secret that he wants to win a championship, and that won't happen at Iowa State. So it looks like this has come down to what so much in college hoops comes down to: Duke versus North Carolina.

On the one hand, Barnes's mother has always been a huge Carolina fan. She taped Michael Jordan's games when he played, and she gave both Harrison and his younger sister the middle name of Jordan in honor of His Airness. MJ is Barnes's hero, too, so you can imagine the impression it made when he met Jordan on his visit to Chapel Hill. And unlike Duke, North Carolina has a top-flight business school for undergraduates.

On the other hand, Harrison has shown a deep affinity for Duke and especially Mike Krzyzewski. On top of his official visit to Durham, Barnes also took three unofficial visits to Duke, each time showing up in Duke gear. He also wore a Duke shirt during Krzyzewski's home visit to Ames. He is a serious, grounded kid whose game and personality has evoked comparisons to Shane Battier. Though he has the talent to potentially leave for the NBA after his freshman season, Barnes has spoken of staying in school long enough to make good progress toward earning his degree. One person I spoke with described Harrison's mindset thusly: "He's very confident, even arrogant. It's the kind of arrogance that makes you think of Duke, and I mean that in a good way. I could see him thinking, 'The guy who coaches Kobe [at the Olympics] coaches me. The guy who coaches LeBron coaches me."

Early this summer, the buzz on the recruiting circuit held that Duke was the school to beat, but one person I spoke with believes the fact that Barnes has gone this long without making a decision is a bad sign for the Blue Devils. "I thought Coach K had it locked up, but the longer this has dragged out, the more I've got a feeling he's leaning towards Carolina," he said. Then again, maybe Barnes is just stringing us along to keep us interested. He even said, at first, that he would wait until the spring signing period to make his choice, but he wisely concluded that that would create too much of a circus. Everyone I spoke with on Thursday expressed some consternation the kid is playing the game this way, but you have to give him credit: He has our full attention. As one source put it, "Sometimes silence is the best marketing."

That silence will finally be broken this afternoon. So where is Barnes going to go to school? Well, I have to answer ... if I really, really have to answer ...

I'll say it's Duke. But I'm guessing.

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