Who Will Be the Last Remaining Undefeated College Basketball Team in 2013-14?
It only took four weeks to go from 351 undefeated college basketball teams to these final 17 survivors, and it's time to figure out which one will last the longest.
It's been 37 years since Indiana put together the last undefeated season in college hoops. Chances are quite high that streak will extend to 38 years by the time all is said and done this April.
That doesn't mean there won't be a few teams who threaten to pull off the feat.
If Wichita State can get past Tennessee and Alabama in the next two weeks, it's merely the Missouri Valley Conference standing between the Shockers and perfection. If Arizona and Syracuse continue to be as good as advertised in the first month of the season, it might be mid-February before either is truly pushed to the brink.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though, because many of these teams will be fortunate to survive the weekend with a perfect record intact.
The following slides are ordered chronologically by when each team's first expected loss will occur.
First expected loss: December 7 @ New Mexico
Other possible first losses: December 14 @ Xavier, December 17 vs. Pittsburgh
Get all of the "undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats" statements out of your system, because they might suffer three losses in the next two weeks.
Coincidentally, New Mexico will likely be putting an end to Cincinnati's perfect season for a second consecutive December. The Lobos won a 55-54 nail-biter in Cincinnati on the 27th of last December and should win more comfortably in the confines of The Pit this weekend.
Even if they manage to escape New Mexico with a zero in the loss column, the Bearcats have a pair of major challenges awaiting them in their next two games against loathed rival Xavier and former Big East foe Pittsburgh.
If nothing else, at least they'll finally be tested after opening the season with seven home games against no one better than an NC State team expected to finish near the bottom of the ACC standings this year.
First expected loss: December 7 vs. UCLA
Other possible first losses: December 21 vs. Illinois, January 21 @ LSU, February 1 vs. Kentucky
If forced to buy stock in one team that hasn't been ranked at any point this season, you could do a whole lot worse than Missouri.
We weren't expecting too much out of the Tigers this year. They lost four of their top five scorers from last season. They did have the 19th-ranked 2013 recruiting class, but they didn't add any 5-star players that could effortlessly replace the likes of Laurence Bowers or Phil Pressey.
However, Jordan Clarkson—a transfer from Tulsa—has been lightning in a bottle, averaging better than 20 points per game. He and Jabari Brown—also averaging close to 20 points per game—have been a smaller, lower-profile version of Duke's Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.
More than 65 percent of the Tigers' points come from three guys who are shorter than 6'6", so they'll likely struggle against bigger teams.
Even though it's a home game against UCLA this weekend, Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker and the Wear brothers should give the Bruins more than enough quality height to end Missouri's perfect season.
Boise State Broncos
First expected loss: December 10 @ Kentucky
Other possible first losses: December 14 vs. Saint Mary's, January 8 @ San Diego State
Boise State is doing everything in its power to single-handedly increase our national rate of points per game, averaging just shy of 95 points per game through its first eight contests.
However, there's a fine line between putting up a ton of points in home games against the likes of Simpson University and a road game against Kentucky.
The Broncos nearly lost a home game to Utah earlier this week.
Kentucky might end their perfect season by halftime on Tuesday.
Wichita State Shockers
First expected loss: December 17 @ Alabama
Other possible first losses: January 25 @ Drake, February 5 @ Indiana State
If I'm wrong about the Alabama game, feel free to look over the rest of their schedule and vault the Shockers to the top of the list. After December 17, the only thing standing between Wichita State and perfection might be an early-February road trip to Indiana State.
The transitive property never applies in any sport, especially college basketball, but it may be worth noting that Indiana State lost to 2-6 Tulsa on a neutral court.
Wichita State won at Tulsa by 23 points.
The Shockers will certainly win the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title. It's just a question of whether they can go 18-0 in doing so.
First expected loss: December 18 @ Ohio
Other possible first losses: December 7 vs. BYU, December 21 vs. Florida State, December 28 vs. Providence
Massachusetts is a ranked team for the first time in a decade and a half. That in itself makes the first month of the 2013-14 season a memorable one for the Minutemen.
They will enter the weekend with a 7-0 record that includes an astounding 16-point victory over New Mexico, a two-point win over LSU that figures to look better as the season progresses and a more-impressive-than-it-probably-seems 12-point road win over Eastern Michigan.
It hasn't quite been a murderer's row, but there's a reason that Massachusetts' seven wins were worth 266 more AP votes than Cincinnati's seven wins.
Only time will tell whether the Minutemen can make it back to the NCAA tournament after a 15-year hiatus, but their perfect record won't see the light of January.
They might be able to slip by BYU on Saturday, but the road trip to Ohio on the 18th figures to be problematic—seeing as how the 6-1 Bobcats nearly messed around and won a road game against Ohio State three weeks ago.
First expected loss: December 19 vs. Duke
Other possible first losses: December 7 @ Missouri, January 9 vs. Arizona, January 16 @ Colorado
UCLA opened the season ranked No. 22 in the AP poll. Despite an 8-0 record, the Bruins have only been able to climb to No. 18.
To be fair, outside of the five-point win over Drexel in the season opener, they haven't played anyone better than Morehead State.
That will change considerably over the next four weeks, starting this weekend in an undefeated showdown with Missouri.
Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson and company should be able to get past the Tigers, but Duke will likely be too much for them to handle in New York City.
First expected loss: December 28 @ Syracuse
Other possible first losses: December 15 vs. La Salle, December 31 @ Butler
Having already played games against Kansas and Iowa, Villanova is unquestionably the most surprising member of the still-undefeated club.
Enjoy it while it lasts, Wildcats, because the turn of the calendar year is going to be a brutal one.
Between December 28 and January 11, Villanova plays four road games against Syracuse, Butler, Seton Hall and St. John's—sandwiched around a home game against Providence that doesn't figure to be a walk in the park, either.
And let's not overlook upcoming games against St. Joseph's and La Salle. In each of the past two seasons, the Wildcats have lost two of their four Big 5 games.
Frankly, they're more likely to lose each of the next eight games than they are to still be undefeated in mid-January.
First expected loss: December 30 @ Kansas
Other possible first losses: January 8 @ Western Michigan, February 1 @ Ohio
I am not ashamed to admit that I'm rooting for Toledo.
It's always more fun when the last remaining undefeated team plays in a conference that perennially sends just one team to the NCAA tournament. For example, most of the country probably didn't even know Murray State had a D-I basketball program until it opened the 2011-12 season with 23 consecutive wins.
Considering they're easily the most obscure undefeated team remaining, it's a crying shame that the Toledo Rockets have to travel to Phog Allen Fieldhouse on December 30. It would have been fun to watch them climb into the Top 25 in advance of their first trip to the NCAA tournament in 34 years.
But alas, they're going to lose to Kansas. Anyone believing otherwise is just fooling themselves.
Saint Mary's Gaels
First expected loss: January 2 @ Gonzaga
Other possible first losses: December 14 vs. Boise State, January 30 @ San Diego
Believe it or not, the Gaels did not have an undefeated November in any of Matthew Dellavedova's four seasons with the program.
With Brad Waldow and Stephen Holt now leading the way, they finally pulled it off. They haven't played anything resembling a traditional powerhouse, but the wins over Drake, Louisiana Tech and North Dakota State are worth admiring.
More notable than the aforementioned Dellavedova factoid, Saint Mary's has only won at Gonzaga once since 1995—a buzzer-beating win on January 27, 2011 during one of the worst seasons that Gonzaga has had under Mark Few's tutelage.
Unfortunately for the Gaels' perfect record, they travel to Gonzaga two days after the calendar flips to 2014.
First expected loss: January 5 @ Colorado
Other possible first losses: December 8 @ Ole Miss, December 14 vs. Illinois, December 21 vs. BYU
Oregon has won six consecutive games by at least 15 points, but they were all at home against opponents with virtually no hope of doing anything this season.
The one interesting game the Ducks have played was nearly a month ago in South Korea against Georgetown—and most of the postgame buzz involved either Joshua Smith's potential resurgence at Georgetown or the sheer amount of fouls called on both teams.
Long story short, I have no read on this team yet, and neither do you.
Sunday's road trip to Ole Miss might be our first glimpse at how well this team will actually do this season.
Even if they are prepared to defend being ranked No. 13 in the country by taking care of business against Ole Miss, Illinois and BYU, a road trip to Colorado is no easy task for anyone. If you don't believe me yet, you will after Kansas struggles to escape Boulder with a win on Saturday.
Ohio State Buckeyes
First expected loss: January 7 @ Michigan State
Other possible first losses: December 21 vs. Notre Dame
There aren't many teams out there who look better than Ohio State right now, but if you think anyone is going undefeated in the Big Ten this year, you're crazy.
The schedule makers really didn't do any favors for the Buckeyes' bid for an undefeated season, sending them on the road to Michigan State just eight days into conference play.
Two games against Iowa and a pair of road games against Wisconsin and Minnesota in the four weeks after playing the Spartans will really ensure they don't sneak too deep into the season without a loss.
Who knows if they'll even make it to the start of the Big Ten season without a loss? A neutral-site game against Notre Dame on December 21 could be the Buckeyes' undoing.
First expected loss: January 14 @ Indiana
Other possible first losses: December 7 vs. Marquette, January 5 vs. Iowa, January 18 vs. Michigan, February 1 vs. Ohio State
Wisconsin takes the cake when it comes to quantity of quality wins.
Florida, Saint Louis and Virginia are pretty much locks to make the NCAA tournament. St. John's, West Virginia and Green Bay could each get there as well. Aside from tourney dreams, the biggest thing those teams have in common is a loss to Wisconsin.
Saturday will be another opportunity for Wisconsin to add to that list when Marquette comes to town. Then again, Saturday could also be the end of the Badgers' perfect season.
Unlike Ohio State, the Big Ten schedule makers have smiled upon Wisconsin this season. No road trip to Ohio State. No road trip to Michigan State. The schedule doesn't get particularly daunting until back-to-back road games against Michigan and Iowa in late February.
However, my money is on their downfall coming on the mid-January trip to Indiana.
The Hoosiers have struggled a bit in the early going, but they have eight more games—including a tune-up against Michigan State—to improve in advance of a big home game against the team that handed them two losses last year. Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell combined for 17 points in 104 minutes between those two games.
Things should be a little different this year.
First expected loss: January 16 @ Memphis
Other possible first losses: January 4 @ Southern Methodist, January 8 vs. Harvard, January 18 vs. Louisville
Connecticut has been playing with fire since the opening day of the season. The 78-77 win in Brooklyn over Maryland was just the first of four games that the Huskies have won by one or two points.
If we're being perfectly honest, the recent win over short-handed Florida is the only game they've played that should have been a challenge for a team ranked 12th in the nation. Considering their insistence on making games more challenging than they need to be, it wouldn't be an overwhelming shock if they stumbled at SMU or were upset at home by Harvard.
Even the home game against Stanford on December 18 could prove problematic.
Should they survive those pitfalls, though, there's no chance they're escaping games against Memphis and Louisville in a span of 52 hours in mid-January.
Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are great, but so are Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon Jr., Chris Crawford, Chris Jones and Russ Smith—and those guys have better supporting casts to boot.
First expected loss: January 18 @ Syracuse
Other possible first losses: December 17 vs. Cincinnati, January 6 vs. Maryland
Tuesday's nine-point home win over Penn State in the ACC/B1G Challenge was the first time this season that Pittsburgh failed to win a game by at least 17 points. The Panthers haven't played any ranked opponents yet, but four of those eight wins came against teams that had won six games by the end of the day on December 1.
Lamar Patterson has taken a huge leap this year and would likely earn ACC first-team honors if he keeps averaging 17.0 points, 5.4 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. Talib Zanna is having a pretty fine season as well, averaging 13.1 points and 7.3 rebounds through seven games played.
Are the fifth-year seniors capable of keeping this team unbeaten for much longer, though?
A favorable schedule over the next month and a half should certainly help matters. Outside of a neutral-court game against Cincinnati—but really, when has Madison Square Garden ever been neutral for Pittsburgh?—a home game against Maryland is about the only thing that could potentially keep Pittsburgh from taking a 17-0 record to Syracuse.
Unless I'm grossly underestimating this team, it's safe to assume that will be the end of their undefeated run. No offense to Pittsburgh, though, because there's not a single team in the country right now that would be expected to win a road game against Syracuse.
Iowa State Cyclones
First expected loss: January 29 @ Kansas
Other possible first losses: December 13 vs. Iowa, December 25 vs. Boise State or Saint Mary's, January 7 vs. Baylor, January 13 vs. Kansas, February 3 @ Oklahoma State
Fred Hoiberg doesn't lose home games.
Since the start of the 2011-12 season, the Cyclones are 37-3 at home. The only home game they dropped last season was a controversial overtime loss to Kansas.
This year's team is likely better than either of the previous two seasons, so no, I'm not too concerned about Iowa State's perfect season ending in Ames. The games against Iowa and Kansas should be great, but the Cyclones will find a way to prevail.
The Diamond Head Classic could make things interesting, but neutral-site games against George Mason, Oregon State and either Boise State or Saint Mary's shouldn't produce a loss for a Top 25 team.
Aside from that tournament and their home games, the only things left on ISU's docket until late January are a neutral-court game against Northern Iowa and a trio of road games against Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Texas. Frankly, any one of those games could result in a loss, but Iowa State should be favored in all of them.
Road games against Kansas and Oklahoma State in a span of five days, however, will be more than a little difficult to win.
Iowa State should be one of the longest-lasting unbeatens, but it won't be the last man standing.
First expected loss: February 22 @ Duke
Other possible first losses: December 28 vs. Villanova, January 11 vs. North Carolina, February 1 vs. Duke, February 12 @ Pittsburgh, March 1 @ Virginia
If it feels like we end up talking about Syracuse's chances at an undefeated season every year, it's because we do.
Since the start of the 2009-10 season, Syracuse is 59-1 in the months of November and December. I've never been shy about pointing out that it's a small miracle if the Orange play even one true road game during the nonconference portion of their schedule, but that's still pretty incredible.
So here they are again—sitting at 8-0 after winning the Maui Invitational and demoralizing Indiana in the ACC/B1G Challenge—looking like one of the best teams in the nation.
Here's the thing about their chances of going undefeated: Strong zone defense is about the only Kryptonite to opposing offenses in light of this year's rule changes, and Jim Boeheim has had the best zone defense for the past 30 years. It's the kind of defense that enables Syracuse to go on 23-3 runs while forcing eight turnovers, like it did in the second half against Indiana on Tuesday.
The Orange will eventually get victimized by some team shooting 60 percent from long range, but it might not be until they travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium near the end of February.
First expected loss: None
Other possible first losses: December 14 @ Michigan, January 9 @ UCLA, February 14 @ Arizona State, February 22 @ Colorado, March 8 @ Oregon
The polls won't update until Monday, but after Michigan State's loss to North Carolina on Wednesday night, Arizona is effectively the No. 1 team in the country.
I'm not suggesting the Wildcats will actually go undefeated. At best, there's a five percent chance of them entering the NCAA tournament without any losses. But how in the world can one forecast a specific loss for the best team when it doesn't play another game this season against a team ranked in the top 12?
Road games against currently ranked Michigan, UCLA and Oregon are potential losses, as are the road trips to Colorado and Arizona State. At least one of those five games will likely result in a loss, but it's impossible to pinpoint which one(s).
Arizona should be the favorite in every game it plays this season.
Now, thanks to this glowing vote of confidence in their ability to be the last remaining undefeated team, watch the Wildcats lose at home to UNLV on Saturday.