At long last, after two years of waiting, the NCAA Tournament has returned.
Every team in the country wants to make it to the big dance, but more than that, they want to be playing their best basketball in March. Here are some teams that are playing the best they’ve played all year, and will hope to carry that momentum into the tournament.
NCAA Tournament: the Hottest Teams Entering the Big Dance
North Carolina Tar Heels
It’s been an up-and-down season for the North Carolina Tar Heels. They came into the season with lofty expectations, ranked 16th in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll, but struggled early in the year. Now, with the NCAA tournament looming, they are finally playing up to expectations and potentially helping their seeding in the process. They’re an eight seed but just a couple of weeks ago, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had them as a 10.
North Carolina is in the middle of arguably their best stretch of games this season. They defeated then-No. 11 Florida State, lost by two to a Syracuse team that was also heating up and then won three-straight against Duke, Notre Dame, and Virginia Tech. The wins against Duke and Notre Dame were particularly impressive blowouts. They defeated Duke by 18 points and Notre Dame by 42 while scoring 101 points.
Their run in the ACC tournament ended in a 67-64 loss to Florida State. This is a close loss to a really good team that had an extra day of rest because of Duke ending their season due to a positive COVID -19 case. This loss shouldn’t quell their momentum. They enter the tournament as the best offensive rebounding team in the country. Day’Ron Sharpe and Armando Bacot both average at least three offensive boards per game.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
The season started as poorly as one could imagine for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, losing to Georgia State and Mercer. They also went through a rough stretch of ACC play when they lost five of seven contests. Now, after an eight-game win streak, they are ACC tournament champions.
They defeated Florida State in the final because of their high energy and unrelenting defense. The Yellow Jackets shot a much worse percentage but recorded 15 steals, and those extra possessions gave them the win. Jose Alvarado, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year Award winner, had five steals in the game. Their defense could shock anyone that they might play in the tournament.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
For much of the year, this team was on the bubble as a middling team in arguably the best conference in the country. Down the stretch though, the Oklahoma State Cowboys came on strong. The Cowboys won eight of their last 10, including two wins over rivals Oklahoma, two wins against West Virginia, and a win against Baylor.
In just the past month, they’ve compiled an NCAA Tournament resume that could rival the best teams in the country. Presumptive 1st overall pick in the NBA Draft Cade Cunningham scored 40 against Oklahoma. This team is much more than Cunningham though, winning at West Virginia without Cunningham playing at all.
The selection committee decided to make Oklahoma State a four seed, but after making it to the Big 12 tournament final, there was speculation that they could be as high as a two seed.
This team wasn’t even on the bubble going into the BIG EAST Tournament, but were able to rattle off four-straight to win the tournament and secure the automatic bid. It’s easy to say that the Georgetown Hoyas are playing their best basketball because most of the year they were bad. Georgetown started the year 3-8 which included a five-game losing streak in the conference.
The BIG EAST Tournament was the only time that the Hoyas were able to win three or more in a row the entire season. It would be easy to dismiss their NCAA Tournament bid as a massive fluke were it not for the impressive fashion in which they won. They defeated Villanova and blew out Creighton 73-48.
Embed from Getty Images