The 10 Hottest Teams Entering the 2024 NCAA Tournament

Zack Bussiere
Zack Bussiere@ZackBussiere

The college basketball season is a long one. From November to March, teams compile wins and losses over more than 30 games with dreams of making the Big Dance and winning the National Championship.

While overall records can help teams earn them a spot in the tournament, they are not always an accurate representation of how a team is performing heading into March.

In a single-elimination format, form matters. Teams need to be at their best right now to prevent an early exit and avoid a long offseason of wondering what could have been.

Using Bart Torvik’s BARTHAG metric -- an indicator of a team’s odds of beating an average D1 team -- let’s look at the 10 hottest teams, looking at data from only since the start of February.

Odds via the college basketball odds at FanDuel Sportsbook. Stats via Bart Torvik. nERD via numberFire. All Bart Torvik stats cited below reference ranks relative to data since the start of February unless otherwise noted.

10 Hottest NCAA Tournament Teams

Connecticut (1 Seed, East Region)

The tournament’s top overall seed is also the hottest team. Since the start of February, the Huskies are 12-1 with a 0.9790 BARTHAG. Their only loss came in a blowout defeat to Creighton on February 20th -- that loss was also their first loss of 2024.

UConn's 130.4 adjusted offensive efficiency (ADJOE) ranks second, and their 93.3 adjusted defensive efficiency (ADJDE) ranks 11th. They are the only 1 seed that is not coming off a loss in their conference tournament, defeating Marquette to win their first Big East Championship in over a decade.

UConn owns numberFire’s third-highest nERD (19.44) and is the favorite to win it all, with +370 odds to win the college basketball National Championship.

Houston (1 Seed, South Region)

Right on the Huskies’ heels we find another 1 seed, the Houston Cougars. The Cougars are 11-2 since the start of February, with a 0.9707 BARTHAG. Entering the Big 12 Championship, Houston hadn’t lost since their 78-65 defeat on the road at Kansas in early February. Their 11-game winning streak was abruptly ended with a 28-point loss to Iowa State on Saturday.

While that loss will be fresh in everyone’s mind, Houston still enters the tournament as an elite defensive team. Their 89.9 ADJDE ranks second, behind only Iowa State, and their 121.9 ADJOE ranks 16th.

The Cougars boast numberFire’s highest nERD (20.4) and the best odds to win the whole thing (18.0%). Per FanDuel Sportsbook, the Cougars have the second-best odds to win the college basketball National Championship (+600).

Iowa State (2 Seed, East Region)

Fresh off their victory over Houston in the Big 12 Championship, the Cyclones enter the tournament as the third-hottest team. They are 11-3 since the start of February, with all their losses coming on the road. Each team they lost to (Kansas State, Baylor, and Houston) they then defeated in the Big 12 Tournament.

The Cyclones have made their mark on defense. Their 84.4 ADJDE ranks first, offsetting a 113.5 ADJOE that ranks 64th. Iowa State’s defense allows them to survive slow starts and compete with anyone, but their offensive struggles could be an issue if they do fall behind.

As the 2 seed in the East, they are on a potential collision course with UConn, the team with the best offense in college basketball. If the two sides meet, we will have an unstoppable force versus an immovable object for a spot in the Final 4.

The Cyclones have numberFire’s eighth-highest nERD (16.75) and +152 odds to make the Elite 8.

Auburn (4 Seed, East Region)

Coming off their 86-67 victory over Florida in the SEC Championship, the Auburn Tigers are the fourth-hottest team entering the Big Dance. Three of the top four teams in this article reside in the East Region, creating a difficult path for all three. The Tigers are 10-3 since February and undefeated in six games in March. Their losses came against Tennessee, Kentucky, and Florida.

Auburn has been playing great basketball on both ends of the court. Their 125.2 ADJOE ranks 8th, and their 95.0 ADJDE ranks 15th. Despite being a 4 seed, the Tigers own numberFire’s fifth-best nERD (19.01). They are underrated as a 4 seed and enter the tournament as one of the hottest teams in college basketball, setting up a potential blockbuster showdown with UConn in the Sweet 16.

Auburn is listed at -245 odds to make the Sweet 16 and has the eighth-best odds to win the college basketball National Championship (+2200).

Arizona (2 Seed, West Region)

Despite losing two of their last three games, Arizona enters the Big Dance as the fifth-hottest team. They are 10-3 since February, but, concerningly, all their losses came against teams that are seeded 7th or worse (USC didn't even make the tournament). They have been solid -- but not elite -- on both sides of the ball recently, ranking 12th in each of ADJOE and ADJDE.

The losses are cause for concern, but the Wildcats still project as one of the best teams in the country. They own numberFire’s fourth-highest nERD (19.16) and +1300 odds to win the college basketball National Championship -- the best odds of any non 1 seed.

Purdue (1 Seed, Midwest Region)

Purdue’s loss to Wisconsin in the Big 10 Tournament semifinals did little to dispel the echoes of 2023’s historic first-round loss to 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson. The Boilermakers’ have been an elite regular-season team, but tournament success continues to elude them. Since February, they are 9-2, with their other loss coming at Ohio State.

Purdue has maintained their excellent play on offense -- their 126.1 ADJOE ranks sixth -- but their defense has struggled lately, with a 98.0 ADJDE since February 1 that ranks 38th.

The Boilers' struggles in tournament play are concerning, but Purdue still projects as a top team. They sport numberFire’s second-highest nERD (19.80) and have the third-best odds to win the college basketball National Championship (+700).

Creighton (3 Seed, Midwest Region)

Creighton enters the tournament as the seventh-hottest team in college basketball. Since February, they are 7-4, and the strength of their resume is more about their wins than their losses. Their four losses have come against Butler, St. Johns, and Providence (twice). Those results don’t inspire confidence, but the Bluejays have balanced out those Ls with wins over UConn and Marquette.

They are one of only three teams to defeat the Huskies this season, and their 85 points in that victory are the second-most points scored against UConn this season.

The Bluejays have the firepower to make a deep run in the tournament, and their 127.4 ADJOE ranks fifth. But their defense is a concern, with their 99.5 ADJDE ranking 56th. Creighton’s defense could put them in a tricky spot if they have an off night on offense.

Overall, the Bluejays carry numberFire’s 12th-highest nERD (15.21). They have -194 odds to make the Sweet 16 and +480 odds to make the Final Four.

Duke (4 Seed, South Region)

Duke is a respectable 8-4 since the start of February and has the eighth-highest BARTHAG (0.9446). Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, two of those losses came in their last two games, and they will enter the tournament on a losing streak, just their second of the season. Two of Duke’s four losses also came against North Carolina.

Like the two sides above them on this list, Duke’s defense has been their weakness. Their 97.2 ADJDE ranks 32nd while they remain a top-10 side on offense, with a 124.4 ADJOE that ranks ninth. Duke is one of two 4 seeds to enter the tournament ranked inside the top 10 on BARTHAG and on numberFire’s nERD (15.85), indicating that they are slightly underrated as a 4 seed -- setting up a potentially tricky Sweet 16 clash for Houston.

Duke owns the third-best odds to make the Final Four (+650) among teams in the South.

Nebraska (8 Seed, South Region)

Adding to the difficulty of Houston’s path to the Final 4 is the presence of Nebraska in the South Region. The Cornhuskers are the only team seeded higher than 4 on this list, and they enter the Big Dance coming off a 98-87 loss to Illinois in the Big 10 Championship. Nebraska is 8-4 since the start of February, including two losses to Illinois.

What makes the Cornhuskers so dangerous is their defense, which has drastically improved down the stretch. Their 90.1 ADJDE ranks third, behind only Houston and Iowa State. Their 115.2 ADJOE ranks 49th, with their offense doing just enough to earn victories. When facing an 8 seed, you don’t expect to contend with a top-3 defense, but that’s what Nebraska is bringing to the tournament.

Their nERD (11.93) ranks 29th, and the Huskers are 1.5-point favorites against Texas A&M in the first round.

Tennessee (2 Seed, Midwest Region)

The final spot in the top 10 belongs to the Tennessee Volunteers. Like Duke, Tennessee is entering the tournament on a two-game losing streak, but since February, they have been one of the 10-best teams in college basketball. Before their current two-game skid, the Volunteers had just one loss over their previous 10 games.

As has been the case for the entire season, Tennessee has earned their wins on defense. Their 92.7 ADJDE ranks sixth, helping to support a 118.0 ADJOE that ranks 34th.

The Volunteers’ nERD (17.47) is the second-highest among 2 seeds and the sixth-highest overall. They have the sixth-best odds to win the college basketball national championship (+1700) and +350 odds to make the Final Four.

Notable Absences From the Top 10

North Carolina (1 Seed, West Region)

The most notable absence from the top 10 is North Carolina -- the Tar Heels are the only 1 seed that did not make the list. They are coming off an 84-76 loss to NC State in the ACC Championship, and their BARTHAG since February (0.9274) ranks 14th. During that time, they are 10-3, with losses to Clemson and Syracuse, and the Heels rank outside the top 15 in both ADJOE (119.2; 25th overall) and ADJDE (95.5; 17th overall). Despite their position as a 1 seed, North Carolina’s nERD (16.77) ranks seventh -- behind two 2 seeds and a 4 seed. The good news for the Tar Heels? Of the four 1 seeds, they possess the easiest path to the Final 4. They can be found at +380 odds to make the Final Four, compared to Arizona's +230 odds.

Marquette (2 Seed, West Region)

Marquette, the only 2 seed to not make the top 10, barely missing out on a spot by finishing with a BARTHAG (0.9393) that ranks 11th. Since February, the Golden Eagles are 9-4, but three of those losses have come against UConn and the other came on the road against Creighton. Marquette hasn’t lost to a non-top-10 side since back-to-back losses to Butler and Seton Hall in early January. Their record is even more impressive considering their best player, guard Tyler Kolek, has missed all of March with an oblique injury. The Golden Eagles are planning on Kolek being available for their first-round game against Western Kentucky on Friday. Their odds to win the college basketball national championship sit at +2500, 10th-best.

Kentucky (3 Seed, South Region)

Kentucky enters the tournament as one of the most interesting teams in the nation. They are 8-4 since February, and their 0.9071 BARTHAG ranks 22nd -- lowest among the 12 teams seeded either 1st, 2nd or 3rd. The story for the Wildcats remains the same as it has all season: they are an elite offensive team but an abysmal defensive team. Their 128.0 ADJOE ranks 4th, and their 105.0 ADJDE ranks 150th. The 2 seed in their region, Marquette, is a good-but-not-great defensive team, so there is a path for Kentucky to shoot their way to the Elite 8. Whatever happens, it will be fascinating to watch. The 'Cats currently have +700 odds to win the South Region.

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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.