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10 Teams Surging into March Madness

Jordan McCrae

Jordan McCrae

A good rule of thumb for anyone filling out bracket is to ask one simple question: How many consecutive games against good teams can this team win right now?

Nearly every team in the field will have proven at some point in the year, even if it was in the conference tournaments, can win four or five games in a row.

Of course, we know teams like Wichita State and Florida can reel off wins better than any other team in the country. Here, we are highlighting some of the teams that are just now starting to show their true potential.

These are the teams heading into the postseason with the most momentum. Not all won their regular season finales, but these teams have shown since at least February that they can string together wins over quality teams.

10 Teams Surging into March Madness

After starting the season with an impressive performance in the Maui Invitational defeating Gonzaga and taking Baylor to the wire, Dayton slumped to start conference play. Led by Sean Miller’s younger brother Archie, Dayton finished Atlantic 10 play with nine wins in 10 games. Recent wins over UMass and Saint Louis, both in the RPI top 20, likely have pushed the Flyers into the field barring an A-10 Tournament upset.

The Cardinals capped the regular season with an 81-48 rout over Connecticut in one of Louisville’s best defensive performances of the season. Louisville has allowed only one opponent in the last nine games (Memphis on March 1) to average better than a point per possession, including a 0.71 points per possession against UConn. Montrezl Harrell, who had an out-of-nowhere performance in the Big East Tournament last year, has averaged 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds in the last five games.

The celebration in Lincoln was only the culmination of the Cornhuskers’ turnaround since mid-January. Nebraska started 0-4 in the league, and it looked like the projected last-place finish could come to fruition. Instead, Nebraska finished the season on an 11-3 run. Nebraska has caught teams at the right time, defeating slumping Ohio State and Michigan State for two of the the Huskers’ best wins. But Sunday’s 77-68 win over Wisconsin was as convincing as any.

North Carolina
The Tar Heels might not be as concerned about Saturday’s 93-81 loss at Duke as they should be about three close calls against NC State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. Few teams could have won in Cameron on Saturday. North Carolina, though, should handle the Wolfpack, Hokies and Irish. Still, this is a North Carolina team that reeled off 12 consecutive wins after an inauspicious start to the season.

Oklahoma State
The Cowboys lost in overtime to Iowa State on Saturday, but it’s clear the Pokes are playing their best basketball since at least January. If anything, the three-game suspension seemed to re-focus Marcus Smart, who started the year as a player of the year candidate. He’s been improved as a facilitator (6.4 assists per game since his return), and at least against Iowa State, his 3-point selection was more reliable.

Back in early February, Oregon lost a pair of heart breakers to the Arizona schools to start 3-8 in the Pac-12. Since then, Oregon regrouped to win the final seven games of the regular season, including relatively comfortable wins over Arizona State (by 7) and Arizona (also by 7). Mike Moser is averaging 17.1 points and 11.1 rebounds during the win streak, but the move to return sophomore Johnathan Loyd to the starting lineup also revitalized the Ducks.

With no room for error late in the season, the Volunteers responded with a near-perfect finish, defeating Vanderbilt, Auburn and Missouri by a combined 93 points. The final game was the most important as Missouri is also fighting for an NCAA bid. The Volunteers still have an iffy resume with losses to Texas A&M (twice), Vanderbilt, NC State and UTEP, but they are in the top 30 in both offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom.

The Wildcats are in the mix for the final No. 1 seed assuming Arizona, Florida and Wichita State are the other three. Villanova may need to defeat Creighton in the Big East Tournament to pick up a few believers. At least since the last loss to the Bluejays, the Wildcats have won six in a row. Villanova allowed only one team (Providence in double overtime) to score more than 70 since Creighton put up 101 points.

The Cavaliers lost 75-69 in overtime to Maryland to halt a 13-game winning  streak, but it might not be a major point of concern. The Cavs, who had already clinched the ACC regular season title, lost in the final Maryland home game of the ACC era for the Terrapins. Better to pay closer attention to the team that led the ACC in adjusted defensive efficiency and finished second in the offensive end.

We’re not making too much of Wisconsin’s loss to finish the season, either. Against a Nebraska team that needed a win Sunday, Wisconsin lost 77-68 in front of a raucous crowd in Lincoln. After a 1-5 skid in Big Ten play, Wisconsin recovered to win eight in a row, including wins over Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa.

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