Sometimes winning in the NCAA Tournament is more about who has the hottest team rather than the best team.
Take, for example, last year’s national finalists. UConn and Kentucky did nothing during the regular season to indicate they’d be championship contenders before catching a hot streak in the postseason.
A few of the teams with momentum we know all too well — Wisconsin, Duke, Villanova and of course this year’s version of Kentucky.
Instead, here we'll highlight some of the teams further down the bracket, if they’re on a mock bracket at all at this point.
These eight teams have already caught fire late in the season and may have what it takes to continue their hot streaks into the conference and NCAA tournaments.
The Bears were 6-6 in the Big 12 on Valentine’s Day before winning five of their last six during the regular season, the only loss in the road in overtime to a desperate Texas team. Some of the wins were a little lightweight — Baylor played Big 12 No. 10 seed Texas Tech twice in the final six. But Baylor also beat Iowa State on the road and Kansas State and West Virginia at home. Guard Taurean Prince is averaging 19.5 points per game off the bench in this span.
The Broncos did plenty of damage to their at-large hopes in a two-week span during the holidays, losing to Loyola (Ill.), Utah State and Wyoming amid a four-game losing streak from Dec. 23-Jan. 10. A dismal non-conference schedule and a loss to Fresno State in February didn’t help, either. Still, Boise State may have saved itself by winning 14 of its final 15, including a season sweep of San Diego State. Senior Derrick Marks, who is carrying the team solo since Anthony Drimic was hurt in December, will try not to let this moment slip away.
The Cougars were 7-5 in the West Coast Conference on Feb. 5, but rebuilt their NCAA resume thanks to eight consecutive wins, including a 73-70 win at Gonzaga to finish up the regular season. Kyle Collinsworth picked up his sixth triple-double of the season in the WCC semifinal against Portland. If he can pick up one more in the NCAA Tournament, he’ll break the career record set by LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal.
The Bearcats helped their case for NCAA Tournament inclusion in the final week of the season by defeating Tulsa 56-47 on the road and Memphis 77-65 at home. After back-to-back narrow losses to Tulane and Xavier in February, Cincinnati won five in a row to clinch bye in the American tournament. Not bad for a program that’s been under interim coach Larry Davis since December.
Bob McKillop has his most dangerous team since Stephen Curry was on campus. The Wildcats closed the regular season with nine consecutive wins to claim the Atlantic 10 regular season title in only their first year in the league. Davidson is a machine on offense, averaging 1.21 points per possession during the nine-game winning streak. During that span, Davidson is making 11.3 3-pointers per game at a 41-percent clip.
The Terrpains started the season 14-1 with the only loss coming to Virginia. The Terps finished the regular season on a seven-game win streak to clinch the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Maryland has been excellent on the defensive end, highlighted by holding Wisconsin to 0.96 points per possession in a 59-53 upset of the Badgers on Feb. 24.
Dana Altman earned Pac-12 coach of the year honors after his team surged through the end of the season. The Ducks won nine of their last 10 after a 90-56 loss at Arizona on Jan. 28. During that span, Oregon defeated Utah and potentially knocked Stanford out of the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks perhaps already played their way into the field, but they could help their seeding if they can beat both Utah and Arizona on the way to an automatic bid.
The Commodores aren’t an at-large candidate, but they have the potential to wreak havoc in the SEC tournament. Vandy has won their last five and eight of their final 10. The only losses have come by a combined six points in overtime (Tennessee) or on the road (Florida). The Commodores have been torching opponents from 3-point range, averaging 11 3s per game at a 50.9 percent rate. If the ‘Dores can defeat Tennessee in their tournament opener, Vanderbilt could be a nightmare matchup for Arkansas, Ole Miss or Georgia. The latter two are trying to stay in the field.