Latest: Who are the hottest teams heading into March?

By this point in February, things start to get real for college basketball teams across the country. Regular-season conference championships are at stake. League tournaments, and thereby automatic bids to the NCAA tournament, are right around the corner. And then a national title will be on the line for the 68 teams that compete in March Madness.

Championships aren’t won or lost in February, something we saw as recently as last year. LSU, for example, dropped two late contests in SEC play, routed by South Carolina on Super Bowl Sunday and then upset in the conference tournament semifinal by Tennessee. But the Tigers emerged as the best version of themselves in late March and early April, making the program’s first Final Four in 15 years and winning its first national championship.

It’s much better to be jelling and have things figured out at this time of year than still searching for answers. So as March creeps up, here are five hot teams picking up momentum at the right time, some that have shaken things up in ESPN’s Bracketology and might be poised for deep runs this spring.

Fresh off its first Elite Eight appearance in 30 years, Ohio State didn’t meet expectations early on, dropping marquee nonconference contests to USC and UCLA, but the Buckeyes have taken care of business in Big Ten play. After falling at Michigan on Dec. 30, the Buckeyes haven’t lost in the 2024 calendar year, most significantly beating Iowa in overtime in Columbus. Last week they pulled off a 80-47 rout over Nebraska, who the game prior had upset Iowa, in perhaps the most complete game of the season for Kevin McGuff’s squad.

A 13-game win streak has propelled Ohio State into the No. 2 ranking in the Associated Press poll, while the Buckeyes have also assumed a 1½-game lead over Iowa in the Big Ten standings and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA selection committee’s first top 16 reveal. At this rate, no remaining regular-season game might have as much juice as their rematch against the Hawkeyes in Iowa City on March 3.

The Buckeyes have thrived with Jacy Sheldon (17.8 PPG) back into the fold (she played in just 13 games last year due to injury), and if they get the version of Cotie McMahon that dropped 33 points against Iowa last month, they could reach Cleveland and the Final Four. While they have multiple options for how to score offensively, their defense has caused the biggest problems in the Big Ten. By forcing over 20 turnovers per game and boasting the best defensive rating in conference play (89.1 points allowed per 100 possessions according to CBB Analytics), Ohio State has only allowed three Big Ten teams to score more than 72 points.



Oregon State tops UCLA’s heroics on Talia von Oelhoffen’s buzzer-beater

Lauren Betts’ bucket in final seconds puts UCLA up, then Talia von Oelhoffen drills a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Oregon State the win.

Following a 13-win season that included just four victories in conference play, the Beavers were picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 preseason poll. Instead, Scott Rueck has led his team into a tie for second place in the conference standings and a No. 2 seed in Charlie Creme’s latest Bracketology. After going undefeated in nonconference play, Oregon State dropped early games to the L.A. schools but has since won 9 of its last 11, sweeping Colorado, defeating Utah in Salt Lake City and currently coming off a particularly thrilling weekend in which they beat UCLA at the buzzer in one of the best finishes to a basketball game.

With top scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers (17.5 PPG, 10.7 RPG) unavailable due to a facial injury she suffered against UCLA, the Beavers fell to USC the next game — their sole loss at Gill Coliseum this year — but they gave the Trojans and JuJu Watkins everything they could handle.

Beers provides a paint presence inside, and the Beavers surround her with players who can knock down 3s (Timea Gardiner, Talia von Oelhoffen and Lily Hansford have each made at least 30 on the season). But their bench unit has been a separator, and while their defense isn’t flashy it is still tough to go against (in conference play they’re holding opponents to a league-best 40.1% effective field goal percentage, according to CBB Analytics).

Oregon State hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since 2021, but the Beavers are looking like a team few will want to face in Corvallis and then potentially Portland. And Rueck knows a thing or two about deep postseason runs, taking the Beavers to two Sweet 16s, one Elite Eight and a Final Four from 2016-19.



Georgia Amoore sinks a smooth reverse layup

Georgia Amoore makes a reverse layup to extend Virginia Tech’s lead.

ESPN College GameDay’s third stop of the season comes Sunday in Blacksburg, Virginia, and the visit comes at a perfect time. After falling to Iowa and LSU in nonconference play and then suffering consecutive losses to Florida State and Duke, Virginia Tech enters Sunday’s matchup against North Carolina on a nine-game win streak. The run mirrors how the Hokies took the ACC by storm last February on their way to reaching the program’s first Final Four. Most impressively this season, they swept the regular-season series against NC State and have won four consecutive road matchups against ranked ACC teams.

Virginia Tech currently sits on the No. 3 seed line in Bracketology and atop the ACC standings. The Hokies are 13-2 with three regular-season games remaining, including just one against a Top 25 opponent.

Elizabeth Kitley (22.9 PPG, 11.8 RPG) and Georgia Amoore (17.8 PPG, 7.5 APG) are on the shortlist for best duos in the country. With both putting up career numbers this season, Kitley could become a three-time ACC player of the year while Amoore is one of the best point guards in the college game. As a group that has needed to be patient as its newer players grow into their roles, the Hokies’ X factor remains which player will help their all-American pair. Matilda Ekh seems to have gotten more comfortable as a third scoring option, and Kenny Brooks will need her, Cayla King and the rest of their complementary pieces to be at their best to make it deep into March.



Oklahoma cruises on the road with win over Cincinnati

Oklahoma cruises on the road with win over Cincinnati

With three starters from last year graduated and a fourth out for the year with an injury, the Sooners were picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 preseason poll. Most onlookers assumed it would be a down year for Oklahoma, especially after the Sooners went 6-5 in nonconference play, most shockingly losing to Southern by nine.

But Jennie Baranczyk’s squad seems to have turned a corner in Big 12 competition, as Oklahoma tops the conference standings with three games remaining. The Sooners have won 10 of their last 11 contests, including putting up 91 points in a win over Texas in Austin.

Skylar Vann (15.5 PPG) and Payton Verhulst (12.0 PPG) have emerged as its top scorers, but Oklahoma has no issues sharing the ball. In fact, their 71.4% assist rate is the best in the nation, according to Her Hoop Stats. And while they’re not necessarily elite defensively, the Sooners have improved on that end of the floor. They rank No. 5 in league play in defensive rating by allowing 90.9 points per 100 possessions with an opponent effective field goal percentage of 44.0% (second best in the league), according to CBB Analytics.

If the Sooners — who were co-regular season champs last year with Texas — stay on this track, they could win back-to-back Big 12 titles for the first time since 2006-2007, significant considering prior to last year, they hadn’t won a conference crown since 2009. Oklahoma is a No. 6 seed in the latest Bracketology.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the three teams in the country who have won at least 20 consecutive games: South Carolina, Gonzaga and Fairfield. Whereas the Gamecocks and Bulldogs are perennial tournament teams, the Stags went 20 years in between appearances in the Big Dance (2001 to 2022). But they’re the clear favorites to represent the MAAC come March under second-year coach Carly Thibault-DuDonis.

Their current 21-game win streak has garnered some attention in the AP poll (they’re the No. 2 team receiving votes outside the Top 25 behind UNLV), with their sole loss on the year to projected NCAA tournament team Vanderbilt in the second game of the season.

Plenty of freshmen have made waves around the country this season, and Fairfield has one of its own: Meghan Andersen leads the team in scoring (15.9 PPG), rebounding (5.1 PPG) and blocks (1.3 BPG).

What to watch this weekend

No. 11 Colorado at No. 7 USC
10 p.m. ET Friday, Pac-12 Network

USC is on the rise with six straight Pac-12 wins, including one recently over Oregon State in Corvallis, and the Trojans will look to extend that streak when they host the Buffaloes on Friday. Colorado, meanwhile, could use a confidence-boosting week in L.A. after dropping two straight to Oregon State and Utah, losses which bumped them off the No. 1 line in Bracketology and has allowed Stanford to strengthen its stronghold atop the Pac-12 standings.

No. 24 Baylor at No. 22 West Virginia
2 p.m. ET Saturday, Big 12 Network/ESPN+

The Big 12 has been unpredictable this season. After both teams went undefeated in nonconference play, the Bears are in the middle of the pack in the league at 9-6, while West Virginia sits in fourth at 11-4, with both projected as No. 6 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Baylor won the first meeting 65-58, but the Mountaineers, who are coming off a tough overtime loss at Kansas State, won’t want to drop two in a row.

No. 13 LSU at Tennessee
Noon ET Sunday, ESPN/ESPN App

This battle of the second- and third-best teams in the SEC should tell us more about where each squad is really at. The Tigers have been up and down in conference play, nearly beating South Carolina but dropping games to unranked Auburn and Mississippi State. Tennessee has four conference losses after suffering five in nonconference play but has had a good past two weeks or so, also competing with the Gamecocks. The Lady Vols are still missing a marquee win this season, so capitalizing off hosting the Tigers would go a long way.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

AT&T Offers $5 Credit to Customers National Banana Bread Day 2024 Recipes National Margarita Day: Must visit restaurants and bars in Orlando AT&T outage: Everything you need to know about it!! Oppenheimer IMAX 70mm