Many college basketball fans and media members focus on identifying which team(s) is "getting hot at the right time" entering the NCAA tournament. But what about the exact opposite? What is the worst a team has performed entering Selection Sunday and still made the Big Dance? We went searching for the answer.
We went through the last 20 NCAA tournament fields, combing through more regular season and conference tournament schedules than we'd care to admit and found the answer for the coldest team. (If UConn's Big East tournament run in 2011 that consisted of five wins in five days, eventually leading to a national championship, is considered "getting hot" then it's fair to call a long losing streak at the end of the season being "cold," right?)
Ironically, the culprit is one of the most successful college basketball programs in recent memory – Villanova.
Yes, the Wildcats, who in the last five seasons are 156-21 with one national championship and four Big East regular season titles to their name, and who have peaked at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll in each of the last three seasons, had fallen on hard times as recently as earlier this decade.
Jay Wright's 2011 Villanova team lost its final five games entering the NCAA tournament. (For perspective, Villanova lost five games in 16 days during that stretch. The Wildcats haven't lost more than five games in a season in their last five campaigns.)
|vs. No. 17 Syracuse||L, 69-64|
|vs. No. 23 St. John's||L, 81-68|
|at No. 8 Notre Dame||L, 93-72|
|at No. 4 Pittsburgh||L, 60-50|
|vs. South Florida (Big East tournament)||L, 70-69|
This was, of course, during the old Big East days and the team's losing streak was a product of its schedule as much as anything.
The Wildcats played four ranked teams to end the regular season, culminating with a pair of road games against AP top-10 teams: vs. No. 17 Syracuse, vs. No. 23 St. John's, at No. 8 Notre Dame and at No. 4 Pittsburgh. Then Villanova fell to South Florida in its first game of the Big East Tournament, 70-69.
The bookends of the team's five-game losing streak entering the tournament could've been wins had the ball bounced differently. Villanova's loss to Syracuse was a one-point game in the final 20 seconds and the Wildcats nearly won their opening game in the Big East tournament. South Florida's Anthony Crater drove the length of the floor and scored the game-winning layup with 5.1 seconds left.
Villanova's Maalik Wayns almost played the role of hero as his pull-up 3-pointer as time expired hit off the back of the rim.
Despite its late-season slide, Villanova wasn't even on the bubble. The Wildcats started the 2010-11 season with a 16-1 record and they spent more weeks of that season ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 poll than they did outside of it. Ultimately, it wasn't until after their regular season finale loss at Pitt that they finally fell out of the poll.
The NCAA Selection Committee awarded Villanova a No. 9 seed after the Wildcats went 21-11 – they lost 10 of their final 15 games, if you're keeping score at home – and 9-9 in the Big East. Their season ended on a six-game losing streak after No. 8 seed George Mason defeated the Wildcats 61-57 in the Round of 64.
Villanova owns the longest losing streak entering the last 20 NCAA tournaments. Two teams entered the tournament during that stretch with four-game losing streaks and coincidentally, one of those two occasions came in both the same conference and same year as Villanova. Georgetown made the 2011 NCAA tournament despite its four-game losing streak entering Selection Sunday and North Carolina State made the 2006 tournament on a four-game losing streak.