Once the 68-team field for the 2018 NCAA Tournament was announced on Sunday night, there were millions of people filling out brackets for office pools, websites or just for fun with their friends. Each year there is a favorite to cut down the nets in April.
Everyone knows about the Virginia Cavaliers, Duke Blue Devils, and Kansas Jayhawks, but who are some of the other hot teams headed into the Big Dance?
College of Charleston Cougars
After beginning CAA play, 3-3, the College of Charleston turned its season around. The Cougars won 14 of their last 15 games, as they have recorded nine victories of seven points or fewer. They defeated Northeastern in overtime to earn the CAA's automatic bid.
UNC Greensboro Spartans
UNC Greensboro is 16-2 in its last 18 games. The Spartans have recorded 14 victories by a double-digit margin while their only two losses during this run have been a combined five points. The Spartans also have experience playing against tournament teams as they lost to No. 1 overall seed Virginia by 12 points in Charlottesville, before defeating NC State on the road in Raleigh 81-76 earlier this season.
Loyola (Chicago) Ramblers
Loyola enters the tournament with a 28-5 record and riding a 10-game winning streak. The Ramblers are third in the nation in shooting at 50.7 percent from the field. They also went down to Gainesville in December and beat Florida 65-50 on the Gators’ home floor.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits
South Dakota State has won 19 of its last 20 games and is 12th in the nation in shooting from beyond the three-point line (40.3 percent). This is the third straight season that the Jackrabbits have made the NCAA Tournament. They lost in 2016 to Maryland and last year to No. 1 seed and eventual national runner-up Gonzaga.
Lipscomb is 12-1 since Jan. 20. Junior guard Garrison Mathews averages 22.1 points per game and has connected on 39 percent of his 3-point attempts for a Bison team that defeated Florida Gulf Coast, the No. 1 seed in the Atlantic Sun Tournament, on their way to winning the conference’s automatic bid.
Gonzaga hasn’t lost since mid-January, running off 14 straight games as they rolled through the West Coast Conference. The Bulldogs could be dangerous in the tournament because of their defense. They are holding teams to 40.5 percent shooting from the field (19th in the nation) and 67.1 points per game (48th).
After going 5-4 from Jan. 9-Feb. 6, Michigan has been one of the hottest teams in the country. The Wolverines have won nine straight games, including beating then-No. 8 Ohio State late in the regular season, followed by No. 2 Michigan State and No. 8 Purdue on back-to-back days last week to win the Big Ten Tournament.
Virginia has been the most consistent team in college basketball entering the NCAA Tournament with a near-pristine 29-2 record. The Cavaliers have won six in a row, 21 of their last 22, and finished 20-1 against ACC teams in winning both the regular season and conference titles.
Tony Bennett’s team has suffocated teams on defense, leading the nation at 53.4 points per game allowed and holding the opposition to just 37.5 percent shooting from the field (third). With the way Virginia is playing, the No. 1 overall seed enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites to cut down the nets in San Antonio.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Top photo courtesy of @umichbball)