With the 2015 March Madness bracket set, it’s time to take a look at the hottest teams in the country entering the tournament. Win streaks build confidence, and so much of a win-or-go-home style of tournament is about coming in confident and getting off to a fast start.
As you build your winning bracket, you’ll want to give serious consideration to the teams that are coming into the tourney playing well.
Let’s take a look at the five hottest teams in the country at the moment (paired with their current odds to cut down the nets).
- Kentucky Wildcats (20/19) – No. 1 (Midwest)
What did you expect? The hottest team in the country, of course, is the unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats (34-0!). I know it’s hard to believe, but their defense seems to be getting even better of late. True, they had some close calls during the year, including two OT games. But each of Kentucky’s last ten wins has been by at least eight points, and nine of the ten have been by at least 15. The Wildcats enter the tournament playing their best basketball of the season, which is terrifying.
- Villanova Wildcats (18/1) – No. 1 (East)
The last time Villanova reached the Final Four was back in 2009, but after their victory in the Big East tournament, the Wildcats have now won 15 games in a row. The last time they took a loss was back on January 19 against Georgetown. They’ve beaten three top-25 teams since then and also taken eight games from squads that cracked the tournament field.
- Arizona Wildcats (9/1) – No. 2 (West)
Arizona has been one of my favorite teams all season; the last time they lost was in February 7 in a road trip to Arizona State; since then, they have won 11 straight games, including torching the Oregon Ducks 80-52 in the Pac-12 championship game. The Wildcats are as athletic as a baseball game in Oakland and play stifling defense, which always counts for a little more in March.
- Wisconsin Badgers (12/1) – No. 1 (West)
Winning 16 of the last 17 is a good enough resume. Add to that a Big Ten Championship and a potential national player of the year (Frank Kaminsky), and you have yourself a team that should make a little more than just noise at the tournament. The Badgers are also loaded with veterans who have been deep in the dance before and already proved they can win the tough game. (Recall their epic battle with Arizona in the Elite 8 last year?)
- Northern Iowa Panthers (80/1) – No. 4 (Midwest)
The Panthers aren’t getting a lot of respect. But part of the fun of March Madness is picking an underdog or two. While Northern Iowa comes in as No. 4 seed, make no mistake, they are an underdog; coming from the Missouri Valley Conference, no one is giving them much of a shot of getting past the Sweet 16. Granted, that’s because they would run head-first into Kentucky. But the Panthers have won 19 of their last 20 games, only falling on the road to Wichita State, a former top-ten team. Northern Iowa can shoot the lights out and, if the squad can stay scorching hot, it will give any team it faces – including the No. 1 Wildcats – a run for its money.
(Photo credit: Keith Lovett (originally posted to Flickr as Jay Wright) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)