"Last ten games." Everyone talks about it, and you might not hear a more-used expression during Championship Week other than "RPI." The Selection Committee looks at it to help determine who's in and who's out of the NCAA Tournament. Clubs that are on a hot streak are more likely to get a bid than a squad that has struggled down the stretch. Moreover, when you are filling out your brackets on the days following Selection Sunday, wouldn't it help to know who's playing well lately and who's stumbled to the finish lane?
Obviously, the top 3 or 4 seeds are all playing decent basketball, so we aren't talking about them. With that in mind, I'm going to look at five teams in the 6 to 12 seed range that are playing some of their best basketball and five more squads that are not playing very well at all.
The Wolfpack has won eleven in a row since losing to Utah State at home on January 23. That loss dropped them to 3-3 in the WAC and 12-5 overall. Since then, however, Nevada has been dominant. Only three of the eleven games have been decided by less than ten points, and the Wolfpack have scored at least 73 points in all but two games during that stretch. Nick Fazekas has had six straight double-doubles, while Marcellus Kemp has found his stroke again, scoring double-figures in five straight games and shooting 57% from long range in that span.
The Seahawks clinched their spot in the NCAA Tournament when they beat Hofstra on Monday night to win the Colonial Athletic Association conference tournament. UNCW has now won 16 of their last 18 games, including eight in a row. Moreover, they have defeated six Top-100 opponents during that span. Since February 9, the Seahawks have not won a game by less than seven points. Guard T.J. Carter has averaged over 18 points per game in his last seven contests, while forward Todd Hendley has scored in double-figures in six straight games himself.
After being squarely on the bubble for much of the season, the Razorbacks finally got off of the fence with five straight wins, including victories over Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee, the latter one coming on the road. Prior to that, they had lost six of eleven. That seems like ages ago now though. Ronnie Brewer has scored at least 20 points in three of those five wins, while Jonathon Modica has scored in double-figures in twelve straight games. With the athleticism that this Razorbacks team has, it is not a team that you want to play come March.
Another team that is playing themselves into the NCAA Tournament as a result of their recent success is Texas A&M. The Aggies have won seven straight, including a victory over Texas and three road wins. Before that streak, A&M was just 1-5 in road games. They don't win pretty and have only won two of the seven by more than four points. However, they find ways to get victories, and that's what counts. Acie Law has made a late run at Big XII honors, while Joseph Jones has anchored the interior.
The Bison are going to get into the NCAA Tournament even if they don't win the Patriot League title game. They have won 16 of their last 17 games and have only lost four times all season long. Two of their losses are to Duke and Villanova, while another one is to Northern Iowa on the road in double overtime. Only four of their last 16 wins have been by single-digits, and no one has been within five points of them. Charles Lee has scored at least 12 points in eleven straight games, actually averaging almost 16 per contest. Kevin Bettencourt has tallied almost 14 per game in his last four contests as well.
I don't see how some people still think that the Spartans are in the running for a top 5 seed. Moreover, I find it difficult to believe that they can just turn it on in the NCAA Tournament and make a long run. MSU has lost 5 of their last 7, including two home games, to finish 8-8 in the Big Ten, good for 7th place in the conference. However, their last six were against the top six in the league, so the struggles could be attributed to the tough schedule. On the other hand, though, those are the types of teams they are going to play in the NCAA Tournament. Outside of the big three of Paul Davis, Shannon Brown, and Maurice Ager, no Spartan has scored more than five points in any of the last four games. They need more production from their role players if they're looking for big-time success in March.
The Badgers were looking like a potential Final Four sleeper back in mid-January. Since then, though, they are 5-8 and have lost to North Dakota State, Purdue, and Northwestern. Additionally, they have won only one of their last seven road games, which doesn't bode well for the NCAA Tournament. Kammron Taylor, the team's second leading scorer, has only averaged about ten points per game in his last five contests. Another problem Wisconsin will face is that they are not an overwhelming offensive team that dominates teams and blows them out. When they are struggling, that becomes even more obvious.
North Carolina State
A month and a half ago, the Wolfpack were coming off of an extremely close loss to Duke, and they then won six our of their next seven and looked like a darkhorse in the NCAA Tournament. Since then, however, NC State has lost four of their final six, including each of their last three. They were blown out at home by North Carolina and looked outmanned against Wake Forest (yes, outmanned against Wake Forest). Personnel wise, point guard Tony Bethel has one assist, four turnovers, and nine fouls in the past three games.
Yet another Big Ten team is on the list. And they are the #1 conference in the country according to the RPI? Interesting. Anyway, the Wolverines have played themselves from a solid seed in the NCAA Tournament to a bubble team on the verge of not even making the field of 65. They have lost six of their last eight, including a defeat at the hands of Purdue and an 0-4 record on the road. The recent struggles have dropped them to 8-8 in the Big Ten. Courtney Sims has averaged less than 7 points per game in the last six contests, while third-leading scorer Dion Harris has averaged less than 4.
If one looks at the Wildcats' profile without seeing their RPI and SOS, there is no way that they would be an NCAA Tournament team. They have not beaten a Top 50 opponent since before the calendar turned to 2006. Arizona is 5-5 in their last 10 games, including a 1-4 record on the road. If not for their very good RPI and spectacular SOS, the Wildcats would likely be right on the bubble heading into Selection Sunday. As it stands, barring some sort of unforeseen occurrence, Arizona will be comfortably in the Big Dance. Why? I couldn't tell you that. Teams that only beat up on the bottom teams in their conference shouldn't be dancing. Moreover, with Hassan Adams suspended for DUI, the personnel of the Wildcats isn't even concrete right now. They are not going to be much of a threat in the NCAA Tournament.