Kansas heads into the postseason as arguably the hottest team in the nation. The Jayhawks won another Big 12 title playing in what was perhaps the toughest conference this season. They’ve won 11 straight and 13 of their last 15 and look every bit like a potential NCAA tournament No. 1 overall seed should.
But is there such a thing as building momentum for the postseason? Does it even really matter?
Well, it’s not so simple. Consider the following ...
Numbers to know:
Looking at the past 10 national champions, only Connecticut in 2011 won it all despite having a losing record its final 10 games of the regular season. But only six of the past 10 title holders also won their conference tournaments.
So should Kansas stumble in the Big 12 tournament, it can take solace in the fact that both Duke (2015) and Kentucky (2012) were 10-0 to close the season, didn’t win their respective league tournaments, but still ended up cutting down the national championship nets.
Then again, the numbers suggest winning the conference tournament could also be cause for concern. (See, told you it’s not that simple.) Of the Final Four participants over the past 10 seasons, Kentucky (2015), Florida (2014) and Ohio State (2007) went 10-0 to close the regular season and won their conference tournaments, but failed to even make the national title game.
So is it actually good to lose a game? Five teams that went 9-1 over their last 10 regular-season games reached the national title game in the past 10 seasons. Three of them won (Louisville in 2013, Duke in 2010, North Carolina in 2009), with Wisconsin in 2015 and Memphis in 2008 coming up short.
There are also a proud group of “underachievers” that ended up reaching the Final Four. In the past five seasons, four teams reached the final weekend despite finishing the last 10 games of the regular season at 5-5. Three of those teams played in the 2013 Final Four (Syracuse, Michigan and Wichita State), while VCU made a surprise run in 2011 after its uninspiring regular-season finish.
Speaking of 2011, there’s always a chance UConn’s national championship that year could be replicated. The Huskies proved why it’s good to get out of conference play early. They were battered by the Big East gauntlet, losing six of their last 10 regular-season games and finishing tied for ninth in the league. Thing is, Kemba Walker and that bunch didn’t lose any games to teams out of conference all season.
Oklahoma hopes it can do the same thing this season. The Sooners stumbled to a 6-4 record down the stretch in Big 12 play, but they were 12-0 this season against nonconference opponents.
In a season with as many upsets as we've already seen, a team could emerge like UConn in 2014. That team did absolutely nothing to hint toward its title run as it closed the regular season. The Huskies did win seven of their last 10 games and reached the American Athletic Conference tournament championship. But they were twice blown out by Louisville during that stretch -- first in an 81-48 bludgeoning in the regular-season finale, then a 71-61 loss in the tournament title game. Those losses didn't stop UConn from winning Kevin Ollie's first championship as coach.
It just goes to show that in the postseason, winning one game can constitute momentum when losing means elimination.
Big man on campus
College kids don’t really need an excuse to wild out, but thanks in large part to Brice Johnson’s 18 points and 21 rebounds in North Carolina’s 76-72 win at Duke, an estimated 15,000 people poured onto Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill on Saturday night to celebrate the Tar Heels’ first ACC regular-season title since 2012. Johnson led the league with 19 double-doubles this season after having a combined 10 in his previous three seasons. “Brice Johnson offensively has done some things that have been done very seldom in my years as a head coach, rebounding the ball and scoring the ball,” said North Carolina coach Roy Williams. It marked Johnson’s second 20-plus-rebound performance this season (he had 23 against Florida State).
Coach of the week
The Pac-12 standings were congested at the top five games ago, with Oregon and Arizona tied for the lead and Utah, California and USC all tied for third place, just one game back. Dana Altman navigated the Ducks through the clutter with a five-game winning streak en route to their first league title since 2002 and the program’s fifth overall. Oregon has offensive firepower with Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks leading the way, but Altman’s team improved after a 3-2 start in conference by getting better defensively. The Ducks have the fourth-highest block percentage nationally, thanks in large part to Chris Boucher, and are 16-0 when holding opponents under 70 points.
The place to be
The Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The Big 12 was arguably the nation’s best conference this season. And while Kansas ran away with its 12th straight regular-season title, its regular-season dominance hasn’t resulted in a tournament crown the past two seasons. The league tournament figures to be one of the most unpredictable in college basketball. Seven teams finished at .500 or better in the Big 12, which was the highest percentage among Power 5 conferences. With teams playing one another for a third time, there’s no telling what will happen.