Ohio State NCAA Championship Hopes Affected As Last Undefeated Team?

Erik SchultzCorrespondent IJanuary 27, 2011

Jared Sullinger and the Ohio State Buckeyes are the nation's last undefeated team
Jared Sullinger and the Ohio State Buckeyes are the nation's last undefeated teamJoe Robbins/Getty Images

With San Diego State losing at BYU last night, the Ohio State Buckeyes now stand alone. 

Alert: Jimmer Fredette will not subsequently be mentioned in this article. 

At 21–0, Ohio State is the only team yet to lose this season.  The Buckeyes kept their undefeated streak intact, thanks to an impressive 23-point win over Purdue on Tuesday, in Columbus. 

Ohio State has now made it deeper into the season—both in terms of calendar date and games played—than last year’s Kentucky team, who was the nation’s last remaining undefeated team.  The Wildcats reached 19–0 before losing at South Carolina, on Jan. 26, 2010. 

That Kentucky team—lead by one-and-done sensations John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, went on to finish 35–3.  However, their season ended a bit earlier than expected—in the regional final, losing to West Virginia.

In 2009, it was Wake Forest—yes, the same Wake Forest who has been atrocious this season—who was the last team to be defeated.  Wake was 16–0 before losing to Virginia Tech.  From that point on, they went just 8–7.  Their season ended in incredibly disappointing fashion, getting blown out by 13-seed Cleveland State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

In 2007, another ACC team, Clemson, made it to 17–0 and briefly sat as the nation’s lone undefeated team.  After a loss to Maryland, Clemson went on a downward spiral from which they would not recover.  The Tigers finished just 7–9 in the ACC, and missed out entirely on the NCAA tournament.

The recent cases of Wake Forest and Clemson are much more the exception than the norm.  However, the point is that being the last undefeated team guarantees nothing in terms of NCAA tournament success.

The last time a team was both the last undefeated team AND won the national championship was the 1999 Connecticut Huskies, according to College Basketball-Reference.com.  They reached 19–0 before losing to Syracuse, and lost just two games on the season before beating Duke for the title.

Since that year, the overall performance of teams who ended up as the last undefeated has not been quite as good as you might expect.

Just two other teams reached the Final Four—Illinois in 2005 and Memphis in 2008.  Each of those teams lost in the title game. 

Three teams have lost in the Elite Eight: Stanford in 2001, Saint Joseph’s in 2004 and last year’s Kentucky team.  Each of those three teams was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.  Stanford also was the last undefeated team in 2000.  The Cardinal lost in the NCAA's second round, as a No. 1 seed, to North Carolina.

Three different Duke teams have been the last undefeated team during the last decade: 2002, 2003 and 2006.  Each of those teams went down in the Sweet 16.

What do these past teams’ performances tell us about what to expect from this year’s Ohio State team?  Honestly, not too much. 

Could the Buckeyes end up like the ’99 UConn team—winning it all?  Sure, this team has shown us plenty of reason to believe they can win it all.  Those same words, however, have been uttered about the teams of previous years (perhaps Clemson is the one exception). 

Could they end up like the ’09 Wake Forest team?  It is possible, but it seems this team is too balanced and too well-coached to suffer that kind of collapse.

In any case, the fates of the last undefeated teams of recent years do serve as an important reminder that being on top of the college basketball world in late January should not serve as an indication of who will cut down the nets in April.