5 Teams Limping into the NCAA Tournament
What college basketball teams do in November and December means something, but how they finish is more important. And it’s not just to fool the selection committee with Recency bias, either – teams want to be riding high entering the NCAA Tournament. Because without the momentum, the chances of being a one and done skyrockets.
We saw what that meant in last night’s game between North Carolina State and Xavier. While NC State started the season just 17-12, their final five games saw a 4-1 record with two very impressive wins and a single-digit loss in the ACC Tournament to a very good Duke team. Meanwhile, Xavier completed their 21-win season with three losses in four games, including one to a very mediocre Seton Hall squad.
The teams below are more like Xavier than they are NC State. And quite honestly, you could argue that they’re in far worse shape than Xavier was entering the tournament. This isn’t to say they can’t go on a run, but if you’re filling out a bracket, beware: things could get ugly.
Kansas State Wildcats, 9 Seed
Started 20-9, Finished 0-3
Kansas State dropped their final three games of the season after starting 20-9 in a tough Big 12, but it’s important to note that they faced very tough competition in those contests. The first loss was to Oklahoma State, one of the best lower-seeded teams in the entire tournament, and one that’s been playing well with their star, Marcus Smart, back from suspension. The second loss was to a Baylor team that’s soaring into the tournament as well, winners of 10 of their last 12. And the third game dropped was to Iowa State, a three seed in the East region, and a team that could end up representing the region in the Final Four.
So before we get all depressed over the way the Wildcats ended the season, keep in mind that they played against solid competition.
With that being said, Kansas State gets a tough, tough first-round matchup against Kentucky on Friday. While Kansas State ranks a somewhat respectable 47th in nERD, Kentucky’s youthful group is a top-20 team according to our metrics. It’s going to be a battle to get by Calipari’s team.
Arizona State Sun Devils, 10 Seed
Started 19-6, Finished 2-5
Arizona State ranks as our 35th-best team in the country (in terms of nERD), and they’re the fifth-best one from the Pac-12. After starting 19-6 with an impressive overtime win over Arizona, the Sun Devils have dropped five of their last seven, including a bad loss to Oregon State.
Fortunately for the Sun Devils, they get a Texas team in Round 1 that’s struggling themselves, going 6-6 in their final 12 games. It’s very possible that, despite a poor finish, Arizona State wins their first game in the tournament, but beware if you’re planning on taking them any further than the round of 32.
Iowa Hawkeyes, 11 Seed
Started 19-6, Finished 1-6
Iowa’s record down the stretch can be credited to some really horrendous luck. It started with a five-point loss to now two-seeded Wisconsin, and continued through the Big Ten Tournament. In between, Iowa lost by six to Minnesota, seven to Indiana, 10 to Sparty, three to Illinois and five to Northwestern.
It’s tough to not make an excuse for this offensively talented squad, as five single-digit losses to average teams and a 10-point loss to a surging Michigan State squad could’ve looked much worse.
But there’s a pretty big problem for the Hawkeyes: that talented offense has disappeared. The team averaged 82 points per game this year, which ranked 10th in the entire country. Over their streaky end to the season, they’ve hit that mark in just three of their seven games, including once against a Purdue team that ranks 131st on defense according to our metrics.
Make no mistake – this Iowa team is capable. And when you consider what they did over the entire season, they come in with the 18th-best nERD score, a very impressive feat. But if their struggles continue, they could be out as early as tonight when they face Tennessee.
Saint Louis Billikens, 5 Seed
Started 25-2, Finished 1-4
In any negative article I write, it seems as though the Billikens find their way in. But there’s a reason for it – they started the season so, so hot, and finished it so, so not.
Saint Louis was once ranked in the AP’s top 10 this year, and started the season with an impressive 25-2 record. They play fantastic defense, allowing the 18th-fewest points in the country per game, giving them an efficiency ranking of third.
But the Billikens’ strength of schedule was 68th-best in the country, and they finished the season with really bad losses to Duquesne (151st in nERD) and St. Bonaventure (86th). Over their final five games, the only team they beat was Massachusetts, who have had struggles of their own down the stretch.
An opening matchup against North Carolina State will be a clash between offense and defense. And while Saint Louis is struggling, TJ Warren and NC State are soaring. It should be one of the best 12/5 games to watch.
Syracuse Orange, 3 Seed
Started 25-0, Finished 3-5
If there’s one struggling team entering the tournament that everyone knows about, it’s the Syracause Orange.
After starting the season 25-0 – and, as a Pitt fan and alum, I must remind you all of this – the Orange have gone 3-5, including brutal losses to Boston College (138th in nERD) and Georgia Tech (116th). As a result, Boeheim’s club went from being a near lock to get a one seed to sitting in a talented region as a three.
Syrcause beats you with their defense – our numbers have them with the 14th-best one in the country this year. But like Iowa, Syrcause’s strength hasn’t helped them down the stretch. During their 3-5 finish, the Orange allowed 60 or more points (a 59.5 average this year) in all five losses, including a loss to Virginia where they allowed 75.
Funny enough, they’re playing a Western Michigan team in the first round that enters the tournament winning 12 of their final 13 games. Western Michigan doesn’t have a powerful offense to match ‘Cuse’s defense, but they should have the confidence to potentially pull an upset.Honorary mentions: Massachusetts, Colorado