It’s crunch time, baby! As long as the selection process contains a human element, “what have you done for me lately” will be a key factor in who makes the cut. Fans would much rather watch a hot team attempt to continue their miracle run than a fading team who backs into a playoff spot. The committee knows this and makes their picks accordingly.
I have looked over the numbers and have pinpointed a few of college basketball’s hottest teams while also taking note of those who have spun their wheels over the past couple of weeks.
A couple of notes before we begin. I am not going to talk about the actual cold teams in college hoops. You know, those who haven’t won a conference game all season *cough* Portland *cough* Chicago St. That would be boring. Instead, I will focus on teams who have a shot of dancing in March (or who did at one point during the season).
Below, when I list the chances of teams to get a tournament bid, reach the Final Four, etc., I am pulling these odds from TeamRankings. These are not my own calculations.
My goals for this article are twofold. First, I want you to be well armed with information about the various teams you may feel compelled to bet come tournament time. Second, I want to generate some excitement. It’s March! Let’s go!
Team #1 – Gonzaga
Hot or Not: You better believe the Bulldogs are hot. The win streak is now up to 20, the longest such run in the nation. Don’t even think about trying to win in Spokane. The Bulldogs have won all 17 of their home contests this season and have not dropped a game at McCarthey since January 18 … of 2018.
Let’s face it, the West Coast conference is weak. Even in the weakest of conferences, however, few teams navigate the schedule without slipping up at least once. Gonzaga has managed a perfect 16-0 WCC record thus far, with only the conference tournament remaining before the big dance.
Overall Record: 29-2
Conference Record (Place): 16-0 (1st)
NET Ranking: 1st
Chance of Making Field of 68: 100%
Chance of Auto Bid: 88%
Chance of At Large Bid: 11.5%
Do I Predict Them in the Field of 68?: Yes, probably as the #1 overall seed.
Chance of Final Four: 49.2%
Chance of NCAA Championship: 21.1%
Biggest Strength(s): Gonzaga leads the nation in points per game with 89.8. This volume is created by the nation’s best field goal percentage, 53.4%. This team also does the little things right. Gonzaga is shooting 77% from the free throw line (12th in the nation) and holds onto the ball well, averaging just 10.2 turnovers per game (10th fewest in the nation).
Defensively, Gonzaga plays air tight and then cleans up on the glass. Allowing an opponent FG% of just 38.5% (7th lowest in the nation), the Bulldogs have been holding teams to an average of 64.9 points per game. They do not allow second chances, ranking 8th in the nation in defensive boards per game.
Biggest Weakness(es): None, really. This team does it all: they shoot, defend, rebound, and do all the little things.
Biggest Win(s): Duke, Washington
Biggest Loss(es): Gonzaga lost two-in-a-row to Tennessee and UNC back in December. No shame in that. It has been all Ws since.
Best Player: The Naismith semifinalist forward Rui Hachimura is the most talented player on Gonzaga’s roster. A 21-year-old junior born in Japan, Hachimura is 6’8 230lb and uses every bit of his size and length to finish over defenders.
A matchup nightmare, Hachimura is averaging 20.6 points per game on 61% shooting. As a frame of reference, only 25 players in the nation are shooting 60% this year. Of those 25, only Hachimura and Zion Williamson are averaging 20 points per game.
Think Hachimura can’t step outside the arc? Think again. Although he only shoots a couple of 3s per game, he is hitting those shots at a 47% clip (14 of 30)!
Last Year’s Result: Last year, the 1-seeded Bulldogs’ season ended abruptly with a 15-point loss to 9-seed Florida St in the Sweet 16. FSU then lost their following game to Michigan.
Team #2 – Iowa
Hot or Not: Not! A team I once predicted would earn a 4-seed has slid all the way down the ranks into the dangerous territory of the bubble teams. After an incredible win against top-10 Michigan, the Hawkeyes have dropped 4 of 6.
Overall Record: 21-9
Conference Record (Place): 10-9 (6th)
NET Ranking: 41st
Chance of Making Field of 68: 52.2%. Last week, this number was at 84.1% – a testament to how hard the Hawkeyes have fallen.
Chance of Auto Bid: 1.6%
Chance of At Large Bid: 50.5%
Do I Predict Them in the Field of 68?: Yes, and here is why. They have survived the onslaught that is the Big Ten schedule and have managed a winning record. They have also avoided the embarrassing loss, which is huge!
This will earn them some respect from the committee. Wins against Michigan and Iowa St look good on the resume. I wouldn’t be surprised if this bunch pulls a big upset in the B10 conference tourney.
Chance of Final Four: 0.7%
Chance of NCAA Championship: 0.0%
Biggest Strength(s): Jordan Bohannon. This hometown boy plays the role of the calm, collected upperclassmen guard who can be counted upon to hit a clutch free throw, handle the ball while pressured, and kick it where it needs to go in the final minutes of the game. Not too many teams roster a player like Bohannon.
Biggest Weakness(es): Swiss cheese defense, allowing 73.7 ppg (221st in the nation). This begins by allowing opponents to shoot 44.5% from the field (the 195th highest mark in the nation.
These defensive problems are compounded by the fact Iowa is bad on the glass. The team ranks 120th in defensive rebounds per game and 136th in offensive boards. The Hawkeyes also turn the ball over quite a bit, 12.2 times per game. This is too many possessions to give away when you are not creating new possessions by rebounding.
Biggest Win(s): Michigan, Iowa St
Biggest Loss(es): Rutgers. Losing to a bottom-5 team in the conference is never a good idea, let alone in early March when the committee is preparing their final picks. Nonetheless, this loss is Iowa’s only “real bad one”.
Best Player: Jordan Bohannon. I mentioned him above. The kid is consistent and reliable. He does not shoot a high percentage from the field, but he can be counted upon for 10-15 points and good decisions every single night.
With an 88% career free throw rate, Bohannon excels at putting games on ice at the line. While the junior cannot hit a 2-pointer to save his life, he can make it rain from deep. His 3-point percentage on the year is currently at 39.4%.
Last Year’s Result: In 2017-18, the Hawkeyes were knocked out of the B10 tournament by Michigan in the 2nd round and would not go on to play in the either the NCAA or NIT tournaments.
Team #3 – Wofford
Hot or Not: Um yeah … 17-in-a-row. I did not respect this Southern conference team originally, but they have earned my faith through their consistency and grit. They played their first ever game as a ranked team just a few days ago.
Overall Record: 26-4
Conference Record (Place): 18-0 (1st). Yet another team who has not lost to a conference opponent. You have to play the teams in front of you. Wofford is not going to get much of a test in the Southern. They have done exactly what a good team should do, and that is dominate weaker opponents.
NET Ranking: 14th. That’s amazing. Wofford is ranked ahead of big name schools like Wisconsin, Kansas, and defending champion Villanova.
Chance of Making Field of 68: 100%
Chance of Auto Bid: 51.4%
Chance of At Large Bid: 48.6%
Do I Predict Them in the Field of 68?: Absolutely.
Chance of Final Four: 1.3%. Apparently the 14th ranked team in NET does not have a good chance to play deep into March … hmm.
Chance of NCAA Championship: 0.1%
Biggest Strength(s): The Terriers shoot at a 48.2% clip from the field (18th in the nation), but more impressively, they light it up from downtown at a 41.7% clip (3rd in the nation). If you get in a long range shooting match with Wofford, you will lose.
Biggest Weakness(es): Not stellar defensively. Allowing opponents to shoot 44.0% (170th in the nation) while giving up 67.6 ppg (69th in the nation).
Biggest Win(s): Furman, UNGC
Biggest Loss(es): Only losses of the season to UNC, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Mississippi St. No bad losses.
Best Player: Senior guard Fletcher Magee is a gamechanger. Scoring over 18 ppg for 3 straight seasons now, the Orlando native is deadly if left alone from 3-point range.
Last Year’s Result: A second-round loss to Central Michigan in the NIT ended Wofford’s season last year.
Team #4 – Ole Miss
Hot or Not: Not at all. The Rebels have lost 4 of 5 down the stretch.
Overall Record: 19-11
Conference Record (Place): 9-8 (7th)
NET Ranking: 36th
Chance of Making Field of 68: 50.3%. A far cry from where the Rebels found themselves last week – 70%.
Chance of Auto Bid: 2.2%
Chance of At Large Bid: 48.2%
Do I Predict Them in the Field of 68?: No. Their resume is not impressive enough to make up for the fact they are the 7th place team in the SEC.
Chance of Final Four: 0.3%
Chance of NCAA Championship: 0.0%
Biggest Strength(s): The Rebels have 3 well-rounded guards each playing 30+ minutes per game. Each averages at least 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. That is a solid 30-9-9 you can count on each and every night.
Biggest Weakness(es): Defense. Allowing 70.7 ppg makes Ole Miss the #149 defense in the country – not something I would brag about.
Biggest Win(s): Mississippi St, Auburn. No one on the resume will wow you. Ole Miss has played Kentucky, Tennessee, Iowa St, LSU, and Cincinnati but has dropped all of them.
Biggest Loss(es): Arkansas.
Best Player: Should the Rebels make the dance, senior guard Terence Davis will be counted upon to be the team’s leader. Averaging 16 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, and 2 steals per game, Davis positively impacts every facet of Ole Miss basketball.
He is no Russell Westbrook. Despite his gaudy numbers, Davis still shoots 46.2% from the field and averages less than 3 turnovers per night.
Last Year’s Result: After getting bounced in the opening round of the SEC tourney, Ole Miss spent the rest of March watching basketball from home.
Team #5 – VCU
— VCU Ram Nation (@VCURamNation) March 9, 2019
Hot or Not: White hot – 11 wins in a row.
Overall Record: Beginning the season a shaky 7-4, the Rams have improved to a stellar 24-6.
Conference Record (Place): 15-2 (1st)
NET Ranking: 31st
Chance of Making Field of 68: 99.7%
Chance of Auto Bid: 41.4%
Chance of At Large Bid: 58.4%
Do I Predict Them in the Field of 68?: Yes. I had this team counted out a month ago. They did not possess a tournament-worthy resume and were not showing me anything to indicate they had an 11-game run in them. Obviously, I was wrong. I underestimated the Rams.
Chance of Final Four: 1.2%
Chance of NCAA Championship: 0.1%. So you’re saying there’s a chance …
Biggest Strength(s): 61 points. That’s what you can expect to score against the lockdown, airtight defense of the 2018-19 VCU Rams. This team is allowing the 7th fewest points in college basketball right now.
Biggest Weakness(es): VCU does not shoot the ball well. 44.3% from the field is the 169th highest mark in the nation. The Rams are not a threat to run the score up, as they rank 192nd in points per game with 71.4.
Biggest Win(s): Temple, Texas, Dayton 2x. Not an extremely impressive resume. The consistency is what both I and the committee like to see.
Biggest Loss(es): Old Dominion, Charleston, Rhode Island
Best Player: Here is VCU’s problem. Their best player is junior guard Marcus Evans … he isn’t a special player. Don’t get me wrong, Evans is good, but he cannot take over a game and dominate for an entire 40 minutes like the real stars of college hoops.
In his first season with the Rams after a transfer from Rice, Evans is averaging 14 ppg, along with 3 rebounds and 3 assists each. These are pretty good numbers, but this man cannot shoot. At just 42.7% from the field and a dismal 27.1% from 3-point land, defenders can really sag off of Evans which disrupts his passing lanes and/or tempts him to chuck up bricks.
Last Year’s Result: After losing to Rhode Island in the A10 Tourney, there was no NCAA or NIT invitation awaiting the Rams.
Team #6 – USC
Hot or Not: Ehhh not. I had the Trojans in the field of 68 about 3 weeks ago but they are a shell of their former selves. They have lost each of their previous 3 games and 6 of their last 8.
Overall Record: 15-16. Losing records tend not to impress.
Conference Record (Place): 8-10 (9th)
NET Ranking: 88th
Chance of Making Field of 68: 4.4%
Chance of Auto Bid: 4.4%
Chance of At Large Bid: 0.0%. TeamRankings thinks USC has no shot at an at large bid and I agree. Like I said earlier, losing records aren’t going to get it done. USC is going to need to pull off a miraculous run in the Pac-12 tourney if they want to go dancing.
Do I Predict Them in the Field of 68?: No
Chance of Final Four: 0.0%
Chance of NCAA Championship: 0.0%
Biggest Strength(s): USC has a good, not great, offense. They do not turn the ball over a terribly high amount (11.9 per game), they shoot 46.1% from the field, and put up 76.6 ppg. Each of those numbers are top-80 in the nation.
Biggest Weakness(es): Defense. Allowing 73 ppg is the 200th mark in the nation … not good at all. Opponents are shooting 33.4% from deep against the Trojans (the 115th lowest percentage in the nation). USC has trouble getting the ball back after a miss, allowing 9.8 offensive boards per game (bottom-50 in the nation).
Biggest Win(s): Arizona St, Oregon, UCLA. A pretty skimpy resume.
Biggest Loss(es): Santa Clara, Stanford
Best Player: It’s a shame USC won’t be dancing this March because the world will miss out on seeing Bennie Boatwright. The 6’10 senior is not just your average forward in a long body. Boatwright has touch, can finish around the rim, and shoots 43.8% from deep! When he’s on, he is virtually unstoppable. A real matchup nightmare.
Last Year’s Result: The 2nd round of the NIT was the farthest USC could reach last season.
Team #7 – Belmont
Hot or Not: Oh yeah … they’re burning up, baby! Winners of 13 straight, overtaking Murray St for the OVC regular season crown.
Overall Record: 25-4. Um, yes. I’ll take that.
Conference Record (Place): 16-2 (1st)
NET Ranking: 44th. 5 spots ahead of their conference nemesis Murray St.
Chance of Making Field of 68: 63.4%
Chance of Auto Bid: 40.6%. I’ve made it clear all season that I have Ja Morant and Murray St coming out of the OVC. Sorry Bruins, I have no faith in you.
Chance of At Large Bid: 22.8%. Things will not look favorable for Belmont if they don’t get the job done in the OVC tourney.
Do I Predict Them in the Field of 68?: No. As I stated earlier, I have Murray St winning the OVC tourney. Belmont does not have the resume nor the consistency to earn an at large bid.
Chance of Final Four: 0.2%
Chance of NCAA Championship: 0.0%
Biggest Strength(s): The Bruins are a scoring machine. 87.8 ppg is the 2nd most in the nation! How do they score this much? The team shoots 50.1% from the field, making them one of just 4 teams above 50% on the season. Belmont also shoots 37.6% from deep, a good mark and 38th highest in the nation.
Biggest Weakness(es): Scoring all those points comes with a cost. The Bruins also give up their fair share of buckets. Allowing 74.9 ppg makes Belmont the 251st-best scoring defense … not something I’d want plastered all over social media.
Biggest Win(s): Murray St, UCLA, Lipscomb (2x). These squads are double-digit seeds, if they make the dance at all.
Biggest Loss(es): Jacksonville St (2x), Green Bay. When your list of key wins is short, you really need to avoid the terrible losses. Losing to Green Bay at something other than professional football is unacceptable. Good teams tend to not get swept either.
Best Player: The 6’8 senior guard Dylan Windler is a beast. He averaged 17 ppg last year as a junior and has worked diligently to enhance each facet of his game. His ppg (now over 20), 3-point shooting, free throw shooting, rebounds, steals, and turnover numbers have all improved over last year’s marks.
I love the consistency he provides this team. I’m sure HC Rick Byrd loves it, too. Over Belmont’s final 5 regular season games, Windler dropped 22, 32, 18, 22, and 21 respectively.
Last Year’s Result: The OVC, as it normally is, was a 1-bid conference last year. That bid went to Murray St who crushed Belmont by 17 in the OVC tourney championship game, ending the Bruins season.
Selection Sunday is 9 days away! Buckle up, boppers!
Kreighton loves sports, math, writing, and winning — he combines all of them as a writer for WagerBop. His favorite sports to review and bet are MLB, NFL, NBA, NCAAF, and NCAABB.