RE: Good reads
Nation's hottest, coldest teams
John Gasaway [ARCHIVE]
ESPN Insider | March 12, 2014
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports
Louisville ended the season on high note with a convincing 81-48 win over UConn.
That sound you hear is all of the casual sports fans around you at last paying attention to college basketball. And the first question they often ask is simple: Which team is hot right now?
True, not every team that has entered the NCAA tournament "on a roll" has been able to carry that momentum into the postseason. (See Gonzaga in 2012-13.) By the same token, teams that struggle late in the season can still do quite well in March and even April. (See Connecticut in 2010-11.)
Still, your friend, the casual fan, may be on to something. It's hardly a stretch to assume that in the majority of cases -- and making due allowance for the opponent -- a team that's doing well will continue to do so. Call it hoops inertia.
To measure who's hot and who's not, I'll look at the per-possession scoring margins that teams have posted over their past 10 games. I'll go ahead and surprise you at the top and point out that teams such as Wichita State (plus-0.24) and Florida (plus-0.18) have been very hot over their past 10 contests -- and indeed a good deal longer than that. But beyond these obvious suspects, who else is ending the season on a roll? Which teams are staggering to the finish line?
I have the answers. Here's a look at the nation's 10 hottest and 10 coldest teams over the past 10 games.
Top 10 hottest teams
1. Louisville Cardinals (Per-possession scoring margin over past 10 games: plus-0.29)
All season long, the Cardinals have absolutely feasted on the teams in the bottom half of the American Athletic Conference, a domination that's reflected in the "plus-0.29" shown above. Then for good measure Rick Pitino's group ended the season by giving the same treatment to Connecticut, beating the Huskies 81-48 in Louisville. You're still looking at a team that's 0-2 against Memphis, of course, but there's no doubt the Cards finished strong.
2. New Mexico Lobos (plus-0.19)
Craig Neal's men have played outstanding defense late in the season, holding Mountain West opponents to just 0.91 points per possession over the past 10 games. In fact, in that stretch opposing offenses were held to 39 percent shooting on their 2-pointers. If the Lobos are labeled a "surprise team" in about 10 days, I'm not sure it'll really be all that surprising.
3. Tennessee Volunteers (plus-0.19)
Cuonzo Martin's team owes part of its late-season statistical excellence to a rather uncharitable 76-38 thrashing of in-state rival Vanderbilt in Knoxville on March 1. Still, a team that can throw Jordan McRae, Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon at you is certainly formidable. Assuming UT earns a bid, this team can make some noise in the brackets.
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports
The Cavaliers' wins over their last 10 games came by an average margin of 15 points.
4. Virginia Cavaliers (plus-0.18)
It's no surprise to find Tony Bennett's team here: Virginia's two ACC losses were by four points (at Duke) and six points (at Maryland, in overtime). Conversely, the wins came by an average margin of 15 points. Doubt the Cavaliers at your own risk.
5. Kansas Jayhawks (plus-0.16)
The interesting aspect of KU's very good track record over the past 10 games is that Joel Embiid sat out three of the contests. The Jayhawks are naturally more dangerous with a player of Embiid's potential, but also bear in mind they're not helpless without him -- if they have to play without him.
6. Villanova Wildcats (plus-0.16)
When they're not playing Creighton, Jay Wright's men are undefeated in calendar year 2014. Also note that in his past three outings, Darrun Hilliard has averaged 21 points. Hilliard and his teammates appear to be peaking at a good time.
7. Arizona Wildcats (plus-0.13)
Brandon Ashley was lost to injury in the third minute of the first of these 10 games, yet Arizona still shows up here on a list of the hottest late-season teams. The Wildcats would, of course, be a better team with Ashley. Then again they're also a strong outfit as is.
8. Duke Blue Devils (plus-0.12)
This is impressive: Duke played Syracuse and North Carolina two times apiece over these 10 games and still came out ahead by 0.12 points per trip. I know people everywhere are surprised by Virginia and puzzled by the Orange, but don't lose sight of the Blue Devils.
9. Virginia Commonwealth Rams (plus-0.12)
The Rams caught a bit of good fortune late in the season, when their past 10 opponents hit just 27 percent of their 3-point attempts. That, plus VCU's usual success at forcing turnovers, meant those 10 opposing offenses scored just 0.91 points per possession.
10. San Diego State Aztecs (plus-0.12)
Steve Fisher's men were a model of consistency all season long in Mountain West play, taking care of the ball, drawing fouls and playing outstanding D. All of the above were on display during the Aztecs' closing 10-game stretch.
Top 10 coldest teams
Now it's time to look at the coldest teams around, but first I want to define our terms. I care about tournament teams. It certainly won't come as news to you, for instance, to learn that TCU hasn't fared especially well over the past 10 games.
And teams such as California, Minnesota and Xavier, to take three examples from the bubble, have not performed especially well over the past 10 games either. Now those three are at risk for missing the NCAA tournament entirely. And since I'm interested in programs that we think will indeed make the field of 68, I've limited myself here to teams currently projected as No. 10 seeds or better by my colleague Joe Lunardi.
Without further ado, here are the 10 coldest solid-tournament-trajectory teams over the past 10 games:
William Purnell/Icon SMI
Over the last 10 games, the Horns have hit just 44 percent of their 2s.
1. Texas Longhorns (Per-possession scoring margin over last 10 games: minus-0.02)
Over the past 10 games, the Longhorns have really struggled to get the ball in the basket, connecting on just 44 percent of their 2-pointers and 31 percent of their 3-pointers. In addition, their opponents have stopped committing turnovers almost entirely. Playing the Horns turns any offense into Wisconsin for a game.
2. Kansas State Wildcats (minus-0.01)
Late in the season K-State has been committing more turnovers than its opponents, attempting fewer free throws than the opposing team does and suffering from poor rebounding at both ends of the floor. Good field-goal defense has helped to minimize these issues, but the Wildcats still have been outscored over their past 10 games.
3. Arizona State Sun Devils (minus-0.01)
There are plenty of highly successful coaches who de-emphasize offensive rebounding in exchange for peace of mind when it comes to transition defense. But if you're going to do that, as Herb Sendek does, it helps to be an excellent defensive rebounding team. And with the Sun Devils only "fair" in that department, ASU's posting offensive and defensive rebounding rates that are both about 10 percentage points worse than its past 10 opponents'.
4. Iowa Hawkeyes (0.00)
There's no doubt about it: The Hawkeyes have been highly entertaining late in the season. Fran McCaffery's men have been scoring like crazy. But so have their opponents. Over the past 10 games, opposing offenses have connected on a whopping 54 percent of their 2-point shots against Iowa.
5. Pittsburgh Panthers (0.00)
Fairly good 3-point shooting (36 percent) has allowed the Panthers to tread water during a 10-game stretch in which Jamie Dixon's men have converted on just 43 percent of their attempts inside the arc. In terms of season totals, Pitt looks respectable on a per-possession basis, but that's based mostly on games played in January, not February or March.
6. Massachusetts Minutemen (plus-0.01)
The wins the Minutemen recorded in November against Nebraska and New Mexico look fantastic now, but once Derek Kellogg's men got to A-10 play they consistently scored only about as many points as they allowed. In fact, the per-possession numbers from UMass over the past 10 games aren't all that far off from the team's season totals in conference play.
7. Syracuse Orange (plus-0.01)
Jim Boeheim's team simply has not been able to make shots late in the season, hitting just 43 percent of its 2s over the past 10 games. Opposing teams have fared much better from the field, but Syracuse has managed to stay in most of these games thanks solely to a huge turnover advantage.
8. Iowa State Cyclones (plus-0.02)
The Cyclones opened the regular season 14-0 and posted wins over Michigan, BYU and Iowa. It was an excellent start, but once Fred Hoiberg's men reached Big 12 play, they outscored opponents by just 0.01 points per possession. The past 10 games have therefore represented an improvement of sorts for ISU.
9. Memphis Tigers (plus-0.02)
I don't usually find fault with an offense that connects on 56 percent of its 2s the way Memphis has over the past 10 games. But there's a first time for everything, and the problem for Josh Pastner & Co. late in the season has been turnovers. The Tigers have given the ball away on 21 percent of their possessions over that stretch.
10. Saint Louis Billikens (plus-0.02)
Similar to some other members of this "coldest" club, the late-season performance of the Billikens really isn't that different from what we saw from this team earlier in the season. It's just that Jim Crews' team was winning close games without losing any of them -- up until two weeks ago. The Billiken defense is still excellent but this offense simply lacks opportunities: SLU doesn't pursue offensive rebounds but it does commit turnovers at a healthy rate.