A thought that may cross your mind when giving the bracket a first glance and trying to pick who will do well in the NCAA tournament: Go with the hot hand. Teams that peak in late February and early March have the best chance in the tournament. Seems logical, right?
Perhaps. Then again, when has March Madness ever operated logically?
If this NCAA tournament has proven anything, it’s that the value of momentum heading into the big dance is greatly overstated. In fact, there may be no value. It's a myth.
Observe this tweet from March 24:
Next time somebody tries to tell you about the importance of ‘momentum’ heading into the NCAA Tournament, show them this: pic.twitter.com/8Gwa72xBwz— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) March 24, 2017
Not only can't you rely on hot teams come tournament time, you can't rule out cold ones. It works both ways.
More people picked Duke to win the NCAA tournament than any other team in our Bracket Challenge Game. The reasoning seemed sound enough. The Blue Devils are supremely talented and rampaged through Clemson, Louisville, UNC and Notre Dame in four consecutive days en route to a 2-seed in the East Region.
Duke lost in the second round to South Carolina.
North Carolina, in its 20th Final Four this weekend, lost to Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinals.Iowa State was a trendy pick to emerge from the Midwest Region. Again, the reasoning sounded legitimate. Kansas and Louisville felt less trustworthy than other No. 1 and 2 seeds, so folks looking to take a shot may have done so with the Cyclones, who won the Big 12 tournament and were 9-1 in their 10 games heading into Selection Sunday.
Iowa State lost in the second round to Purdue -- a team that lost in its opening game of the Big Ten tournament.
If ever there was a team to be trusted going into March, it would have seemed to be Villanova this year. The Wildcats are the reigning national champions. They returned several key players. They'd lost three games all season. They won the Big East Tournament.
They lost in the second round to Wisconsin.
Numerous other examples illustrate the same point. SMU had lost once in three months before it was upset by USC, a team that was 3-5 in its eight games before the NCAA tournament. Vanderbilt beat Florida, which was a few minutes away from the Final Four, twice in six days. Vandy bowed out to Northwestern in the first round.
Of course, this isn’t to suggest that playing well before the tournament means you’re doomed, any more than playing poorly before it does. Michigan rode its momentum into the Sweet 16. Rhode Island nearly did the same. Gonzaga has been hot since November -- it just hasn't stopped. Teams like Creighton and Florida State struggled near the end of the season, and struggled early in the dance. You can cherry-pick examples for either side of the argument.
Momentum, one way or the other, just doesn’t really matter in most cases. Louisville lost one game from Jan. 28 to April 8 in capturing the national championship in 2013 (and that loss was in five overtimes). They were rolling.
Connecticut was rolling, too, in 2011, the other way, losing four of its last five regular-season games. But the Huskies swept through the Big East Tournament and the NCAAs to win the title.
In a single-elimination tournament with several talented teams, randomness supersedes late-season success. Or failure.
So now that you’ve scratched Duke, Villanova or Iowa State off of your bracket, go ahead and do the same for that pesky momentum myth.