Predicting When Every Undefeated College Basketball Team Will Lose
Between the length of a college basketball season and the sport's relative parity, it's extremely rare for a men's team to finish undefeated.
Already in mid-January, just six of the nation's 347 programs are still unbeaten for the 2020-21 campaign: Alabama A&M, Siena, Winthrop, Drake, Baylor and Gonzaga.
Since the advent of the NCAA tournament in 1939, per NCAA.com, only 19 teams have posted an undefeated record in the regular season. But there's a decent chance No. 20 is playing right now.
And if you've watched the season at all, it won't be a surprise (Gonzaga) which team (Gonzaga) we think it'll be (Gonzaga).
Other than the Zags, though, we've identified a problematic game for the other five unbeatens, using season performance, location and relevant off-court context as factors.
Alabama A&M Bulldogs
Third-year head coach Dylan Howard and his Alabama A&M players have endured a tough season. A positive COVID-19 test has already paused basketball activities twice.
But hey, 3-0 is 3-0.
Given the extremely small sample size, it's premature to suggest all numbers so far are indicative of what to expect. Still, the Bulldogs are shooting just 25.3 percent from three and have finished worse than 300th nationally in that category every season since 2013-14.
If that worrying trend holds true, the Jan. 23 matchup with Southern, which defeated Alabama A&M by 20-plus points in both matchups last season, will bring the first loss.
Led by Jalen Pickett—the MAAC's reigning Player of the Year—Siena has built a 6-0 record in this challenging season. The Saints were unable to play any nonconference games due to positive coronavirus tests and subsequent shutdowns.
In an effort to reduce travel, the league will have weekend doubleheaders all season. But that immediate rematch, in theory, makes it difficult to sweep an evenly matched team. Siena has already survived close calls with Monmouth and Rider.
Saint Peter's, which is up next on Friday and Saturday, stands as a quality opponent. The Peacocks recently beat Monmouth and have the MAAC's best defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com.
Fortunately for Siena, splitting the series wouldn't do much damage to its MAAC title hopes. The key regular-season matchups will be Feb. 5 and 6 at Rick Pitino-coached Iona.
As long as Winthrop navigates the Big South tournament—much easier said than done recently—expect to hear the Eagles as a popular upset pick in March Madness.
The up-tempo offense leans on Chandler Vaudrin, who's averaging 12.1 points, 7.7 assists and 7.1 rebounds. Winthrop has a half-dozen quality long-range threats, including Charles Falden, Adonis Arms and Josh Corbin. A prolific offense has propelled the Eagles to a 14-0 start overall.
Similar to the MAAC, the Big South has doubleheaders for all conference games. But of Winthrop's next four opponents—Presbyterian, Hampton, Charleston Southern and Gardner-Webb—only Presbyterian's contrasting style seems like a concern.
The Eagles have a good chance to reach 21-0 before a back-to-back Feb. 11 and Feb. 12 at Radford, the league's second-best team, results in their first loss.
Prior to a coronavirus shutdown in early January, Drake was rolling through its schedule. The Bulldogs have won 12 of their 13 games by 10-plus points and currently rank second nationally in three-point percentage and third in effective field-goal percentage.
Green Bay transfer ShanQuan Hemphill is the leading scorer, and Roman Penn, D.J. Wilkins, Joseph Yesufu, Tremell Murphy, Okay Djamgouz and Jonah Jackson are all shooting 38.5 percent or better from three.
But if Drake ends its extended layoff as scheduled, its first opponent will be Missouri State. The Bears are eighth in effective field-goal percentage—just five spots behind Drake.
It's easy to see a couple of talented offenses splitting the back-to-back slated for Jan. 26 and 27 at Missouri State.
Drake, nevertheless, has intriguing upside for the NCAA tournament.
Baylor just finished a three-day stretch that featured a win at Texas Tech and a home victory over Kansas. There's no doubt the 13-0 Bears are capable of pulling off an undefeated regular season.
In the last 40 years, though, the only power-conference team to enter March Madness unbeaten is 2014-15 Kentucky. The safer (albeit less fun) projection is to expect a loss from Baylor somewhere in a reasonably tough Big 12 slate.
We're circling the Feb. 2 showdown on the road at Texas, which boasts the second-lowest opponent assist rate allowed, good perimeter defense and a deep frontcourt. The Longhorns' combination of forcing tough shots and ability to compete on the glass is necessary to beat this outstanding Baylor team.
Baylor also hosts Texas Tech and travels to both West Virginia and Kansas later in February.
Mark Few became Gonzaga's head coach in 1999. Since then, the Bulldogs have a total of 31 losses in West Coast Conference play and five undefeated WCC records in those 21 years.
And the 2020-21 squad might be the program's best ever.
After toppling Kansas, Auburn, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia, the Zags have smacked San Francisco and traditional WCC threats BYU and St. Mary's by 14-plus points. Barring any injuries, 14-0 Gonzaga is playing at an extra-superior level this season.
The one wild card is whether the school can finalize a date for the postponed Baylor clash. Otherwise, the Bulldogs will likely be undefeated heading into the NCAA tournament.