A look at some unsuspecting undefeateds
At the time of this writing, there remain 14 undefeated teams in college basketball. It is by no means an anomaly compared to previous seasons, but what might stick out are a few of the teams currently enjoying an unblemished record this holiday season.
Kentucky, Syracuse and Ohio State? You sort of expected them to run the table at least into the second week of December.
But a team that lost 61 percent of its scoring from a year ago, is averaging 83 points a game with a new head coach, or puts academics before hoops? That, my college basketball friend, is worth a look.
There’s plenty of season left, but here’s an audit of just how legit six teams that surprisingly remain undefeated are, now that they have our undivided attention.
Not listed is Hartford, or a handful of other America East teams, a conference with the dubious distinction of accounting for nearly half of the country’s eight winless clubs.
Kansas State aside - whose five wins are just not enough to qualify - if your team is undefeated and not discussed, well, then it’s because I had a hunch they’d be perfect. Consider it a compliment (I saw it coming, Murray State fans! I really did, and you are in good shape for a 30+ win season), by simply enjoying your squad’s current start.
- They had us at…Saturday’s 82-75 win over Gonzaga, in which sophomore Meyers Leonard outplayed the Bulldogs’ Elias Harris, a now former NBA prospect.
- When they’ll lose: After averting a small crisis against St. Bonaventure, the Fighting Illini have two can’t-miss non conference games remaining before embarking into conference play. Both the 12/17 match-up against UNLV and annual game with Missouri are loseable, but also excellent opportunities to build that resume for the NCAA Tournament Committee. Remain undefeated before Christmas and Bruce Weber will be the head coach of a top 12 team entering the new year.
- Then what? On paper this team has much less talent than a season ago, but gone is the inconsistent play of Demetri McCamey and blue chip prospect turned criminal Jereme Richmond. If Leonard continues to lead the way, and Brandon Paul attacks the basket instead of relying on an average jumpshot, this could be your second best Big Ten squad. Consider yourself warned, Michigan.
- They had us at…a November 22nd 92-53 drubbing of Cal, one of those wins that evokes “oooohhh, so that’s how it’s gonna be” reactions.
- When they’ll lose: The aforementioned Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois will be of extra importance to both teams if they arrive in St. Louis undefeated. Get a win, and Frank Haith shouldn’t have much to worry about until a game against Texas in mid-January, other than proof-reading his National Coach of the Year submission, of course.
- Then what? The Big 12 is wide open, and if the Tigers are either undefeated or have a lone loss when they tip off league play against Oklahoma on January 3rd, they should be the favorites to win the conference. As a shameless self-promotion, I really like how they play.
- They had us at… Tuesday’s nail-biter against Washington, but a line to jump on the bandwagon really began Saturday after the Golden Eagles defeated in-state rival Wisconsin.
- When they’ll lose: Their December 29th match-up against Vanderbilt could set either team in opposite directions, but I’m not entirely positive Marquette is a shoe-in to stay undefeated until then. Cross-town rival Milwaukee currently sits at 8-1, eying the chance to knock off the Golden Eagles just a few days before Christmas. You know those guys aren’t intimidated, and Marquette should not take them lightly.
- Then what? Coming into the season I predicted the Golden Eagles to challenge Louisville for third place in the Big East. That’s looking accurate to date, as Buzz Williams’ club could earn a three-seed for the NCAA Tournament.
- They had us at…This.
- When they’ll lose: The Musketeers are in the midst of one of the most treacherous strings of non-conference games in recent memory; like the 2009-2010 Presbyterian Blue Hose treacherous, only difference is that Chris Mack isn’t doing it for the money. They’ve already downed Vanderbilt in Nashville, broken the rules of win-probability against Purdue, and got revenge in Hinkle over Butler. But Cincinnati, Oral Roberts, Long Beach State (in the Diamond Head Classic), and Gonzaga remain. Something’s gotta give, right? We shouldn’t fault this team if they can’t remain unbeaten to start the new year.
- Then what? Oh hum, another Atlantic 10 regular season title is theirs to lose. Thankfully, a reprieve from the monotony comes in the form of Memphis on February 4th, a team with a style of play and personnel Xavier teams traditionally have trouble with.
- They had us at…the moment people started talking about the importance of this weekend’s game against Kentucky.
- When they’ll lose: Saturday against the Wildcats, actually. Enjoy the build-up, everyone, because UK will take care of business in Bloomington.
- Then what?: It’s time for IU to start getting real about earning an NCAA Tournament berth. Six players average nine or more points a game for the Hoosiers, and they’re one of the most efficient offensive teams this season. Kentucky aside, Tom Crean did not schedule a difficult non-conference slate. Personally, I have reservations about celebrating this program’s return to relevance, but true signs of improvement are staring us in the face.
- They had us at…a weekend in Paradise, when they won the Battle 4 Atlantis by downing Utah, Florida State and UCF.
- When they’ll lose: The Crimson are 6.5 point underdogs tonight against UConn, and rightfully so. If they can pull off the improbable and beat the Huskies, Jim Calhoun will throw a nice fit we can all enjoy, and an incredible story for the 2011-2012 college basketball season will be in the works.
- Then what? I can’t go into much detail for fear of jinxing Tommy Amaker’s club, but all I’m saying is tonight’s game could be the one we look back on in a few months and pinpoint as the moment when a lot of fantastic things were set into motion.