Here's when college basketball's last six unbeaten teams could lose their first game
Parity is not a synonymous term with college basketball, but early returns are showing an unusual bending of events through just over a month into the season. Amazingly, there are only six undefeated teams left. College basketball can sometimes count on catching Christmas with that many still standing sans a scar.
Not this season, though. After Mississippi State’s predictable 65-50 road loss Tuesday night to Cincinnati, just a half-dozen teams remain with a bagel in the L column — and the number could dwindle even more before the weekend arrives. Almost everyone’s been tripped up, though. It could make for a lot of fun but complicated parsing of team resumés down the road.
How to account for this? It’s hard to, really. There is no one reason. Be it road games, neutral-site tournaments, injuries, suspensions or otherwise, 345 teams have taken on a loss and that’s led to a lot of inconsistency within the rankings and seen a power structure change among top conferences. The SEC is ranked higher than the Big Ten. The Pac-12 is barely ahead of the AAC at KenPom.
It’s a turn from recent seasons, when college basketball’s been boosted in three of the past four years by having a team get deep into February, if not March or April, before losing its first game. Remember when these teams flirted with undefeated seasons?
- 2013-14: Wichita State ran the regular-season table and earned a No. 1 seed as an unbeaten team heading into the NCAAs before losing to Kentucky in the Round of 32.
- 2014-15: Kentucky made it to 38-0 before falling to Wisconsin in the Final Four.
- 2016-17: Gonzaga got all the way to its final game of the regular season before losing in baffling fashion on its home floor to BYU.
It doesn’t seem like we’re going to get that kind of run this season, even if the current No. 1 team in the country looks capable. In fact, Villanova might not make it to next week without a loss.
Here’s who remains perfect, with thoughts on each team’s season so far, when the first loss should arrive and a prognostication on NCAA Tournament seeding.
- Best two wins: vs. SMU, vs. Nevada (in Los Angeles)
- Next three opponents: vs. Texas Southern (Dec. 18); vs. William & Mary (Dec. 22); vs. Oklahoma (Dec. 30)
- Seed guess for Selection Sunday: No. 3
Jamie Dixon’s team has not yet received consistent acclaim for playing beyond expectations this season, but that should change soon. The Horned Frogs were expected to be a lock for the top four of the Big 12. Might they wind up actually tussling with Kansas atop the league standings? The Frogs are shooting 61 percent from 2-point range, fourth-best in the country. That’s because Kenrich Williams, Vladimir Brodziansky, J.D. Miller and Ahmed Hamdy could be the best frontline in college basketball. All juniors or seniors. All helping put TCU on the map nationally. This team is no fraud. Just because it hasn’t been a program of note in decades doesn’t mean it’s worth your skepticism.
TCU will get to 12-0, then that home game vs. Oklahoma’s going to be tremendous. Both teams should crack 85. If TCU wins there, the road game against Baylor on Jan. 2 is probably where it finally gets tripped up. The Big 12 overall is too loaded this season to entertain any team lasting into mid-January before taking a league loss. It’s the best conference in the country.
- Best two wins: vs. Tennessee (in the Bahamas), vs. Gonzaga (at Madison Square Garden)
- Next three opponents: at Temple (Dec. 13); at Hofstra (Dec. 22); at DePaul (Dec. 27 on CBS Sports Network)
- Seed guess for Selection Sunday: No. 1
The Temple tilt will be an Big 5 matchup on the Owls’ home floor. Fran Dunphy’s team could surprise you and wind up in the NCAAs. Nova has looked as good as anyone this season — but this is going to be a battle. It’s going to be an interesting next two weeks for Jay Wright. After Temple comes a game at Hofstra, where Wright coached before earning the VU gig. After that, league play starts on the road at DePaul. DePaul’s not that good, but every coach wants to open conference play at home.
The Wildcats could get picked off before 2018 arrives, but with how well they are balanced they’re not going to drop out of the top 10 all season. It’s not just Jalen Brunson as a POY candidate at point guard. Mikal Bridges has found his new level. In fact, Bridges ranks third in KenPom’s POY metric, a shocking development. Omari Spellman is a borderline top-10 freshman (albeit he’s a redshirt) in America. Phil Booth, Eric Paschall, Donte DiVincenzo: all capable of putting up 15-plus on the right night. To me, the most likely team to be the last one standing without a loss. But at least three are coming Villlanova’s way before we get to the Big East Tournament.
- Best two wins: vs. Xavier (in Las Vegas), at Kansas
- Next three opponents: vs. Vanderbilt (Dec. 17); vs. Longwood (Dec. 19); vs. Pacific (Dec. 22)
- Seed guess for Selection Sunday: No. 3
Beating Kansas on Sunday was huge for ASU’s ranking and national reputation. Amazingly, ASU is on this list because it just earned its second non-league win against a top-10 team in 38 years. The only other top-10 win the Sun Devils have had vs. a team outside the Pac-8/Pac-10/Pac-12 since 1978-79 came in 1994 against Maryland. Arizona State’s off to its second 9-0 start in school history. Its longest winning streak is actually 18 games, which came back in 1961-62. That season, ASU got as high as No. 3 in the AP poll, a school record. The Sun Devils are now No. 5, their highest ranking since 1981.
The Sun Devils are poised to enter league play undefeated. Vanderbilt’s up next, and the Commodores are only 3-6 this season. All three upcoming games are on ASU’s home floor. This sets up a tremendous Dec. 30 game at Arizona to open Pac-12 play. It could be the game of that weekend. ASU’s unlikely to get through the first quarter of the league schedule before losing, though. Even if it gets by Arizona, Colorado and Utah on the road follow. ASU’s got a top-five offense, but the D is just average. Someone’s going to pick them off within the next month. Still, what a story and what a fun team. Shannon Evans, Tra Holder and Kodi Justice are the best three-headed senior attack in college hoops right now.
- Best two wins: at Rutgers, at Florida
- Next three opponents: vs. Oklahoma State (Dec. 16 in Sunrise, Fla.); vs. Charleston Southern (Dec. 18); vs. Southern Miss (Dec. 21)
- Seed guess for Selection Sunday: No. 6
That Oklahoma State home game later this week is tricker than you might think. FSU should win, but just keep an eye on it. The Notes blipped the national radar with their 83-66 beatdown at Florida on Dec. 4. Other than that, not a lot. Winning at Rutgers isn’t nothing, but it isn’t something. FSU ranks 28th in offensive and defensive efficiency at KenPom. It’s top-10 in offensive rebound percentage, which is a big plus at this stage, but we have to account for the relative lack of size FSU’s faced against most non-conference teams as well. Can’t deny that this team is better than was expected on the whole, though. It lost Jonathan Isaac, Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes to the NBA Draft. It came back with some experience but no one who was an alpha. So far junior small forward Terance Mann and sophomore point guard C.J. Walker have flourished.
The absolute furthest this team will go before losing a game is Dec. 30. On that day, the Noles head to Duke.
- Best two wins: at Richmond, Mount St. Mary’s
- Next three opponents: vs. Syracuse (Dec. 16 on CBS ); vs. North Texas (Dec. 20); vs. Alabama A&M (Dec. 23)
- Seed guess for Selection Sunday: NIT
The Hoyas’ notoriously miserable non-conference schedule, which ranks as the worst (351 out of 351) in the sport is the reason why this team is not ranked at the moment. Nor should it be. With Patrick Ewing in his first year as a head coach, Georgetown pillowed up the non-con in an effort to build confidence and team morale. So far, so good. That is: no mortifying losses to SWAC or MEAC teams. Mississippi State — after losing to Cincinnati on Tuesday night and dropping its first game of the season — didn’t receive the backlash of Georgetown, but let the record reflect that as of Tuesday night it ranked 346th in non-conference SOS.
The Hoyas are probably losing at home Saturday vs. Syracuse, but it’s a rivalry game so perhaps not. I don’t think SU’s an NCAA Tournament team this season, so if the Hoyas can win that one then they’re probably not facing the threat of a loss until the Big East opener on Dec. 27 at home vs. Butler. The absolute longest I see this streak going is Dec. 30. That’s a roadie at Marquette. Georgetown’s not making it to 2018 undefeated.
- Best two wins: at Minnesota, vs. La Salle (in Reading, Pennsylvania)
- Next three opponents: at George Washington (Dec. 16 on CBS Sports Network); at Hawaii (Dec. 22); vs. Davidson or New Mexico State (Dec. 23 in Hawaii)
- Seed guess for Selection Sunday: No. 2
A program that was caught up with the FBI’s investigation — coach Jim Larranaga was subpoenaed but no one from Miami was attached to the scheme directly — has not let that saga affect its on-court play. The Hurricanes’ win at Minnesota looked great at the time, and will still carry value, but Minnesota hasn’t been right since that 86-81 loss. Miami was my preseason pick to win the ACC. I stand by it. This team is loaded with athletes who have the size to make every night a nightmare for ACC foes. Larranaga’s coaching a top-five defense. The offense will only get better. The best sign for The U is that Bruce Brown’s merely been good so far. He’s their best overall player, yet sophomore power forward Dewan Huell and freshman shooting guard Lonnie Walker have been more efficient. When all the pieces click, Miami can make a Final Four run.
The schedule gets interesting. George Washington’s not good this season, but no road game against a team from a top-10 conference is automatic. Then Miami has to fly to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic. It plays Hawaii first, then will face either Davidson or New Mexico State. The U’s better than both of those teams, of course. From there, a potential championship game appearance in that bracket against Princeton (a possible re-match), Middle Tennessee, Akron or USC . Then it returns to the continental United States to play at Pitt, then at Georgia Tech. That will be five straight games away from home. In the big picture, it’s a lot to ask. I think Miami gets picked off in one of those five.