Who Will Be the Last Undefeated Team of the 2017-18 CBB Season?

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystDecember 7, 2017

Who Will Be the Last Undefeated Team of the 2017-18 CBB Season?

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    Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges
    Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal BridgesAbbie Parr/Getty Images

    After dismantling Gonzaga in New York City Tuesday night, Villanova has the best odds of being the last undefeated team in the 2017-18 men's college basketball season.

    The season isn't even four full weeks old, yet 342 teams have already suffered at least one loss. That's usually the case, though, as the combination of the Champions Classic, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and the bevy of early-season tournaments inevitably whittles the field of unbeatens down to the 8-12 range after one month.

    We've already told you that Villanova should last the longest without picking up an L, but in what order will the other eight go down?

    This list is a combination of strength of team and strength of schedule, with a heavy emphasis on the latter. For instance, Arizona State is a legitimate Top 25 team, but it has the misfortune of playing at Kansas on Sunday. Thus, the Sun Devils will appear early on the list, even though we would expect them to win a neutral-court game against half of the teams ranked ahead of them.

                               

    Teams are ranked in chronological order of first projected loss. Percentages were calculated using KenPom victory odds.

9. Valparaiso Crusaders

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    Valparaiso head coach Matt Lottich
    Valparaiso head coach Matt LottichJohn Locher/Associated Press

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Jan. 1: 0.2

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Feb. 1: Effectively Zero

    Upcoming Challenges: at Purdue (Dec. 7), at Ball State (Dec. 9), at Northwestern (Dec. 14)

    First Projected Loss: Dec. 7

                       

    Here's hoping you're reading this in the first 12 to 14 hours after publish. Otherwise, Valparaiso has already suffered its first loss of the season in a road game against Purdue.

    The Crusaders have been impressive thus far. Senior leader Tevonn Walker is averaging 17.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals. Nebraska transfer Bakari Evelyn is leading the team in assists and ranks second in points. Oklahoma State transfer Joe Burton has also been a nice addition. And with big men Jaume Sorolla (7'0") and Derrik Smits (7'2"), Valparaiso at least has the size to theoretically match up with Purdue.

    However, this team has yet to face a stiffer challenge than a home game against Utah State, which isn't saying much.

    The Crusaders have one of the best three-point defenses in the country, limiting opponents to a 25.0 success rate from distance. That should bode well against a Purdue team with four starters who average a combined 18.5 three-point attempts per game. But it must be noted that Valparaiso has yet to face a team that ranks in the top 100 in three-point percentage. At No. 27 in that category, Purdue will be a major test for that perimeter D.

    Furthermore, Valparaiso has had the luxury of facing undersized teams to this point in the season. Utah State and Samford don't start anyone taller than 6'8". UNC-Wilmington's tallest starter is 6'7". But Purdue is going to come at the Crusaders with a 7'2" starter (Isaac Haas) and his 7'3" backup (Matt Haarms). That'll be too much.

    But 8-0 is a promising start for the newest member of the Missouri Valley Conference. Though we aren't giving Valpo much of a chance in a road game against one of the best teams in the Big Ten, the Crusaders might be at the head of the MVC class.

8. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Tra Holder
    Tra HolderDavid Becker/Getty Images

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Jan. 1: 0.5

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Feb. 1: Effectively Zero

    Upcoming Challenges: N. St. John's (Dec. 8), at Kansas (Dec. 10), vs. Vanderbilt (Dec. 17), at Arizona (Dec. 30)

    First Projected Loss: Dec. 10

                       

    If this were solely a ranking of the best undefeated teams, Arizona State would likely be at No. 5, slightly ahead of both Florida State and TCU.

    Though the Sun Devils have been a mess on defense, they have one of the most efficient offenses in the nation. As a team, they're shooting 42.0 percent from three and 60.9 percent from two. And when they aren't draining shots from the field, they're getting points at the charity stripe, thanks to the highest free-throw rate in the nation.

    Tra Holder (22.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.9 SPG, 50.0% 3PT) has been "National Player of the Year candidate" good, and fellow senior Shannon Evans has been nearly as impressive. (I'll be posting a ranking of the top backcourt duos in the nation soon, and you better believe these Sun Devils will be on it.) De'Quon Lake is averaging 11.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks while shooting 78.9 percent from the field. Good luck finding a better candidate for best JUCO transfer in the country. Freshmen Remy Martin and Romello White have also been outstanding.

    In-state rival Arizona is gradually starting to look more like the Final Four contender we were expecting in the preseason. By the start of conference play, the Wildcats will likely be the favorites in the Pac-12. But there's a strong case to be made for Arizona State as the second-best team in this league.

    However, this isn't just a ranking of undefeated teams. The schedule matters, and it's about to get ugly for the Sun Devils.

    They play a neutral-court game against a St. John's team that has been causing all sorts of problems with its defense. And thenjust 40 hours after that challengeArizona State has to travel to Lawrence for a road game against Kansas, which has been every bit as efficient on offense as the Sun Devils and drastically better than them on defense.

    Based on the percent chances of victory on KenPom, the odds of Arizona State getting to Monday with a zero in the loss column are less than 1 in 25.

7. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Ben Howland and Quinndary Weatherspoon
    Ben Howland and Quinndary WeatherspoonWesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Jan. 1: 1.0

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Feb. 1: Effectively Zero

    Upcoming Challenges: at Cincinnati (Dec. 12), vs. Arkansas (Jan. 2), at Ole Miss (Jan. 6), at Florida (Jan. 10)

    First Projected Loss: Dec. 12

                   

    Back in September, we called out Mississippi State for having one of the weakest nonconference schedules in the country. The upcoming road game against Cincinnati kept the Bulldogs from ranking among the 10 worst schedules. Aside from that major challenge, though, this is a joke, and it's no surprise this team is undefeated.

    Mississippi State is 7-0, but all seven of those games came at home against teams outside the KenPom Top 100. And with the exception of the Cincinnati game, each remaining opponent before January resides outside the KenPom Top 250. Even if they enter SEC play with a 12-1 record, the Bulldogs are probably going to need at least 10 or 11 conference wins to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee enough for a bid.

    That's partially because Mississippi State hasn't exactly been confidently taking care of business against the opponents that are somewhat respectable, beating Dayton, Jacksonville State and Stephen F. Austin by a combined margin of just 10 points.

    And if you're barely scraping by at home against those teams, you're probably going to get slaughtered at Cincinnati.

    As a team, Mississippi State has not been good from three-point range (29.9 percent). The Bulldogs also cough the ball up a lot, entering play on Wednesday ranked 294th in the nation in offensive turnover percentage. Their efficiency on two-point attempts ranks top five nationally, but so does Cincinnati's two-point defense. And the Bearcats will gladly take advantage of Mississippi State's lackluster ball-handling.

6. Georgetown Hoyas

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    Patrick Ewing
    Patrick EwingNick Wass/Associated Press

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Jan. 1: 6.7

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Feb. 1: Effectively Zero

    Upcoming Challenges: vs. Syracuse (Dec. 16), vs. Butler (Dec. 27), at Marquette (Dec. 30)

    First Projected Loss: Dec. 16

                             

    Maybe Georgetown isn't as bad as everyone was expecting. This team still has a talented frontcourt duo in Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson. Senior point guard and former JUCO transfer Jonathan Mulmore has been much, much better than he was last year. Same goes for Kaleb Johnson. And freshman shooting guard Jahvon Blair has been solid.

    But it's too early to make a legitimate assessment of the Hoyas, because on that previously mentioned list of cupcake nonconference schedules, they ranked No. 1. And it wasn't even close.

    Because the Hoyas pulled out of the PK80 in August and did nothing to replace those games, they only play 11 nonconference games10 of which come against teams outside the KenPom Top 200.

    Before the season began, the road game against Richmond looked like it might be a good challenge for Georgetown. However, the Spiders lost seven of their first eight games, including a 33-point home loss to Jacksonville State. After 10 consecutive years of finishing .500 or better, Richmond is unexpectedly one of the worst teams in the A-10. And Georgetown barely beat the Spiders.

    Thus, Georgetown's only chance to show anything remotely impressive in nonconference play would be a home win over Syracuse next Saturday. Quite the opposite of Richmond, Syracuse has been much better than expected, starting 7-1 with wins over Maryland, Connecticut, Oakland and Toledo. The Orange also weren't completely embarrassed on a neutral floor against Kansas. They'll be a serious challenge for Georgetown.

    Even if the Hoyas get through their former conference rival, it's unlikely they reach January with a perfect record, as they'll face both Butler and Marquette before the new year.

5. Florida State Seminoles

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    Terance Mann
    Terance MannAlex Menendez/Getty Images

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Jan. 1: 11.3

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Feb. 1: Effectively Zero

    Upcoming Challenges: vs. Oklahoma State (Dec. 16), at Duke (Dec. 30), vs. North Carolina (Jan. 3), at Miami (Jan. 7)

    First Projected Loss: Dec. 30

                             

    After two years of deferring to the likes of Dwayne Bacon, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Jonathan Isaac and Malik Beasley, Terance Mann is running the show for Florida State.

    And he's running it well. Mann scored a career-high 25 points in FSU's statement win over Florida this past Monday. It seemed like every time the Gators had even a sliver of hope of getting back into the game, there went Mann, flying down the lane for a bucket, outjumping everyone on a Florida team without much size until John Egbunu returns.

    The Seminoles have also been playing without their primary rim protector (7'4" Christ Koumadje), but Florida was unable to duplicate Mann's efforts.

    The 'Noles have four guys averaging at least 11 points per game, as well as three freshmenMfiondu Kabengele, M.J. Walker and Ike Obiaguwho have been making significant contributions on both ends of the floor.

    Given the depth and talent on this roster, it's hard to believe this team lost four of its five starters from last season.

    However, this surprisingly hot start will come to an end in a road game against Duke at the end of the month.

    In addition to poor free-throw shooting, the one area where Florida State has most struggled in its first seven games is on the defensive glass. The Seminoles entered play on Wednesday ranked 310th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. Among major-conference teams, only Nebraska (318th) has been worse.

    And taking lackluster defensive rebounding into Cameron Indoor Stadium against Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr. and the rest of the Blue Devils is asking for trouble, considering Duke leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage.

    Florida State is a darn fine offensive rebounding team in its own right, and it might be able to take advantage of Duke's porous man-to-man defense to keep things interesting. In the end, though, Duke should wear down FSU, as it has done to several quality opponents already this season.

4. TCU Horned Frogs

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    Kenrich Williams
    Kenrich WilliamsRon Jenkins/Associated Press

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Jan. 1: 36.6

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Feb. 1: 0.1

    Upcoming Challenges: N. Nevada (Dec. 9), vs. Oklahoma (Dec. 30), at Baylor (Jan. 2), vs. Kansas (Jan. 6), at Texas (Jan. 10), at Oklahoma (Jan. 13)

    First Projected Loss: Jan. 2

                             

    This isn't the first time TCU has been one of the last undefeated teams standing. Just three years ago, the Horned Frogs started out 13-0 against a rather pathetic nonconference schedule. They proceeded to lose 15 of their next 20 games and came nowhere close to reaching the NCAA tournament.

    This year's TCU is much different.

    Led by Desmond Bane and Vladimir Brodziansky, the Horned Frogs have one of the most efficient offenses in the country. And with Kenrich Williams averaging a double-double, they're also one of the best defensive rebounding teams. Perhaps the biggest change from 2014-15, though, is that they're playing zone and defending (well) without fouling. 

    In Trent Johnson's final few seasons as head coach, TCU tried to win by being more physical than its opponent. It didn't shoot well, but it was going to turn you over and keep you from getting any easy buckets in the paint. The end result was a team that didn't win a lot of games and was almost unwatchable because of all the free throws on both ends of the floor.

    With Jamie Dixon calling the shots, this is a drastically more polished and disciplined team that is beating quality nonconference opponents, and one that should be a real factor in the Big 12.

    That doesn't mean the Horned Frogs are going undefeated, though. In fact, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if they lose to Nevada Saturday night in Los Angeles in a game that likely won't tip off until 1 a.m. on the East Coast. (Who's ready for some #Big12AfterDark?) That's an extremely talented Wolf Pack team with a starting five comprised almost entirely of former major-conference transfers, and it's a game they need to win more than TCU does.

    If TCU survives that neutral-court test, though, it won't get far into Big 12 play before taking a loss. Given the schedule, the Horned Frogs might even go 1-4 in their first five conference games. But don't sound the alarm if that happens. They'll bounce back to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998.

3. Miami Hurricanes

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    Bruce Brown
    Bruce BrownChris Szagola/Associated Press

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Jan. 1: 31.9

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Feb. 1: 0.9

    Upcoming Challenges: N. USC (Dec 25*), at Clemson (Jan. 13), vs. Duke (Jan. 15), at Florida State (Jan. 27), at Virginia Tech (Feb. 3)

    First Projected Loss: Jan. 13

    *Projected game against USC in championship game of Diamond Head Classic

                         

    Miami has yet to play in its early-season tournament, so we had to make some estimates to come up with its percentages. For the sake of argument, we're giving Miami an 84 percent chance of beating Davidson in the semifinal of the Diamond Head Classic and a 62 percent chance of beating USC. Those numbers (and opponents) may be different from actual, but it's what we're going with.

    Save for the road game against Minnesota, Miami has been sensational on defense. The Hurricanes have held their other seven opponents to a combined total of 376 points in 491 possessions (53.7 points per game). The trifecta of Bruce Brown, Dewan Huell and Anthony Lawrence Jr. is going to be a serious headache for opposing teams all season long.

    Of course, aside from that game against the Golden Gophers, the schedule has been nothing special. Miami's second-toughest opponent was La Salle, and the 'Canes had a whale of a time trying to score in that game. Had the Explorers not shot 0-of-15 from three-point range, that could've been a huge upset.

    Still, we're buying what this team is selling.

    After a slow start following offseason knee surgery, potential one-and-done freshman Lonnie Walker IV has made eight of 11 three-point attempts in December. He is now one of five 'Canes shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range—a list that includes 5'7" freshman Chris Lykes, who might be one of the best backup point guards in the country.

    This eight-man rotation is legit, and it's looking like the top candidate to challenge Duke for the ACC title.

    But two days before the big showdown with the Blue Devils, Miami has a brutal trap game at Clemson. The Tigers don't have much depth, but their starting five is going to be a problem, particularly in Littlejohn Coliseum. Even if Miami isn't peeking ahead to the game against Duke, that's a game Clemson could win.

    At any rate, both the road game against Clemson and the home game against Duke are coin flips, at best, so the Hurricanes will likely come away from that two-game stretch with at least one loss.

2. Duke Blue Devils

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    Marvin Bagley III
    Marvin Bagley IIIGerry Broome/Associated Press

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Jan. 1: 63.7

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Feb. 1: 7.2

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Mar. 1: 0.4

    Upcoming Challenges: at Miami (Jan. 15), vs. Virginia (Jan. 27), at St. John's (Feb. 3), at North Carolina (Feb. 8), at Clemson (Feb. 18), at Virginia Tech (Feb. 26), vs. North Carolina (Mar. 3)

    First Projected Loss: Jan. 27

                            

    Duke has the talent to go 40-0, but does it have the consistent effort or the defensive intensity to get the job done?

    Marvin Bagley III has been outstanding, recording a double-double in nine of 11 games. When he can stay out of foul trouble, Wendell Carter Jr. has also been a fine source of points, rebounds and blocks. Trevon Duvalas long as he isn't shooting jumpers—has been a wonderful addition at point guard. And Grayson Allen has been better than ever.

    But the Blue Devils trailed with 10 minutes remaining in each game against Michigan State, Texas, Florida and Indianaotherwise known as the only four KenPom Top 100 opponents they have faced. The comebacks were impressive, but the initial deficits raise legitimate questions about how long this team can go without dropping a game.

    Road games against Miami and North Carolina stand out as the most likely losses, but the home game against Virginia might actually be the most concerning.

    One of the biggest keys to success for Virginia's pack-line defense has been defensive rebounding, and that's no different this year. Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt are the leaders on the defensive glass, but everyone on the floor boxes out and crashes the glass when a shot goes up. And second-chance points have been a huge part of Duke's offense this season.

    Moreover, Duke isn't the three-point shooting team that we're grown accustomed to seeing. Outside of Allen and Gary Trent Jr., no one on this team is much of a threat to catch fire from distancewhich is the tried-and-true method for thwarting Tony Bennett's defense.

    Duke is 5-2 against Virginia over the past six seasons, but five of those games were decided by six points or fewer. And while last year's 65-55 game was an exception to that rule, that was a 48-44 contest with three minutes remaining when Jayson Tatum took over and Duke made a ton of free throws. Long story short, this is always a tight game, and it could be where the Cavaliers stake their claim as a title contender.

1. Villanova Wildcats

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    Mikal Bridges
    Mikal BridgesJulie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Jan. 1: 47.7

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Feb. 1: 14.7

    Percent Chance Undefeated on Mar. 1: 1.7

    Upcoming Challenges: at Temple (Dec. 13), at Butler (Dec. 30), at St. John's (Jan. 13), at Providence (Feb. 14), at Xavier (Feb. 17), at Creighton (Feb. 24), at Seton Hall (Feb. 28)

    First Projected Loss: Feb. 17

                         

    Not only is Villanova arguably the best team in the country, but it's Big East schedule is set up in such a way that it's hard to see the Wildcats losing before mid-February.

    Aside from Villanova, the four best teams in this conference are Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton and Providence. (Maybe St. John's belongs in that conversation. We'll find out on Friday when the Johnnies face Arizona State.) But the Wildcats don't play their road games against any of those four teams until Valentine's Day.

    Unfortunately for Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Co, that could mean things get a little ugly heading into March. Playing road games against all four of those teams in the span of 15 days could result in multiple losses and bad momentum heading into the Big East and NCAA tournaments.

    Until that point, though, KenPom gives Villanova at least a 74 percent chance of winning each game. Assuming the Wildcats can win at Temple next Wednesday, there's about a 1 in 10 chance they start the season with a 25-0 record.

    Given what they showed in an 88-72 win over Gonzaga on Tuesday night, though, 10 percent seems a bit low.

    Brunson didn't play well due to foul trouble—excessive whistles also limited Donte DiVincenzo to just 13 minutesbut Bridges went wild, Phil Booth was lights-out and Omari Spellman had a double-double while shutting down Gonzaga's frontcourt. The Bulldogs are legitimately one of the 15 best teams in the country, and Villanova just beat them into a pulp.

    Sooner or later, Villanova will go ice-cold from three-point range as an entire team, resulting in a loss in a game it should've won. We've seen it happen multiple times in several consecutive seasons. But unless you somehow know when that game will be, just assume this team will keep winning well into February.

                             

    Advanced stats courtesy of KenPom.com

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.