College Basketball: Power Ranking the Remaining Unbeaten Teams
As the weekend arrived, there remained only 12 unbeaten teams in college basketball.
As always there were some surprises, not the least of which was the Baylor loss to Gonzaga. BYU also went down to UCLA, a team that seems to play much better against top foes, while Cleveland State’s great 12-0 run to start the season ended at the hands of West Virginia.
Others survived, others were idle, and by Sunday night, only nine unbeaten teams remained.
Here is a look at the nine, from No. 9 to No. 1, and the game that will end their respective streaks.
9. Cincinnati (10-0)
Yancy Gates leads this year's Bearcats.
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The Bearcats are a team that has played a very weak non-conference schedule, unless you count games against Dayton and Oklahoma, and I don’t.
They have beaten up on some very suspect opponents, only two of which had winning records. The team does have better balance and, contrary to last year’s team which featured Deonta Vaughn and Lance Stephenson, doesn’t seem to need two or three balls on offense.
The Big East is going to be a different story, but teams get confident when they win, regardless of who they play. The Bearcats will get to 13-0, making it to New Year’s Eve before losing to Seton Hall.
8. Northwestern (7-0)
John Shurna needs to be huge for the Wildcats.
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Many pick the Wildcats to earn their first NCAA appearance this season and they will have to earn it.
They have played a total of zero quality opponents and won’t until their Big Ten season opener at Purdue on New Year’s Eve.
If the Wildcats expect to make the Big Dance, they need some wins over Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Purdue...you get the idea. In this year’s Big Ten, this will be no easy task.
They will be 9-0 when their streak ends against the Boilermakers.
7. UCF (10-0)
Keith Clanton leads a balanced attack for the Knights.
The Knights haven’t ventured far from home for any of their games but have managed to beat Florida and Miami (Fla.) to keep their record perfect. They beat the hometown Hurricanes by six despite missing 22 (yes, 22) free throws.
This team, with the addition of MSU transfer Tom Herzog, will contend in Conference USA. Keith Clanton is an underrated player and Marcus Jordan is creating some hype on the court now as well.
The 14-0 Knights will taste defeat for the first time at Southern Mississippi on Jan. 15.
6. Syracuse (11-0)
Rick Jackson has been a force inside for the Orange.
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The Orange have beaten the teams they were supposed to beat and have added wins against a decent N.C. State team (minus Tracy Smith) and Michigan State.
They really haven’t done anything wrong, but they haven’t been very convincing other than the State game.
Kris Joseph is not Wesley Johnson and Fab Melo isn’t playing a whole lot. Rick Jackson is a rebounding monster and has vastly improved his offensive game.
Their Big East season starts with five games that could all be wins. Alas, the ‘Cuse will be 16-0 before being upset at St. John’s on Jan. 12.
5. San Diego State (12-0)
Kawhi Leonard and the Aztecs look to repeat as MWC tourney champs.
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Coming into the season, the Aztecs were expected to battle BYU and UNLV for the Mountain West title and nothing they have done has changed that.
A good road win at Gonzaga has propelled them to their best start in the team’s 90-year history.
The only poor performance they’ve had was when illness was making the rounds and both Kawhi Leonard and Chase Tapley sat out.
With a weak non-conference schedule ahead and some winnable games at the beginning of the conference season, the Aztecs will be 18-0 when they lose for the first time, in the Pit against New Mexico on Jan. 12.
4. Connecticut (8-0)
Walker is the runaway leader for Player-of-the-Year to this point.
Kemba Walker. Kemba Walker. Kemba...OK, I’ll stop. Right now, though, he is the sole reason the Huskies are unbeaten.
Their win at the Maui Invitational was a surprise to say the least, as many had picked Wichita State to win the opener between the two. Wins against Michigan State and Kentucky followed.
The rest of their schedule has been less than daunting and there have been some games that have been ugly. Still, the Huskies are unbeaten and ranked No. 4 in the country.
Their 10-0 start ends Dec. 27 when they travel to Pittsburgh for their Big East opener.
3. Ohio State (10-0)
Sullinger and company roll into Big Ten play with confidence.
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Good road wins at Florida and Florida State have the Buckeyes near the top of the polls.
The rest of their non-conference schedule has been less than challenging and while Jared Sullinger has been very impressive, the Big Ten schedule is fast approaching.
Fortunately for Ohio State, the early conference schedule is soft as well. Of their first six, the Buckeyes play Iowa twice, Michigan, Penn State and Indiana. Their home date with Minnesota seems to be the most dangerous game in that stretch.
That’s why the Bucs will be 19-0 before a Jan. 22 loss to Illinois at Champaign.
2. Kansas (10-0)
Marcus Morris and Josh Selby hope to lead Kansas to another Big 12 title.
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It didn’t take Josh Selby long to make his mark with the Jayhawks, hitting the winning shot as Kansas beat a stubborn USC team to stay unbeaten.
With Selby, Kansas will have several different options in the backcourt and the bruising Morris twins up front.
The rest of the Jayhawks' non-conference schedule is cake and their first stiff test in the Big 12 will come January 17, when their 17-game winning streak ends in Waco against Baylor.
1. Duke (10-0)
Nolan Smith becomes the point man with Irving's injury.
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Big wins against Michigan State (boy, they play a tough schedule) and Kansas State have enabled the Blue Devils to stay perfect. Good wins against determined Butler and Marquette teams will also help their non-conference resume.
However, the status of Kyrie Irving remains the focal point for most discussion involving Duke basketball.
The timetable for Irving’s return is unknown, but he does have a hard cast on his foot after suffering a toe injury.
They are still title contenders without him. But inevitably, all teams lose at least once or twice and I’ll go out on a huge limb here and say the Devils' streak ends at 15 on Jan. 12 at the hands of the Florida State Seminoles.
When They Will Fall...
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1. Connecticut Dec. 27 @ Pitt
2. Northwestern Dec. 31 @ Purdue
3. Cincinnati Dec. 31 vs. Seton Hall
4. Syracuse Jan.12 @ St. John's
5. San Diego State Jan. 15 @ New Mexico
6. Duke Jan. 12 @ Florida State
7. UCF Jan. 15 @ Southern Mississippi
8. Kansas Jan. 17 @ Baylor
9. Ohio State Jan. 22 @ Illinois
(The odds are probably not very good that three unbeaten teams will go down in one day, but you never know.)