- Brian Pedersen Diehards
And then there were 8.
From a list of 351 Division I college basketball programs, less than 3 percent have managed to get this far into the 2017-18 season without suffering a loss. And as impressive as that feat is for those still perfect, they shouldn’t expect it to last much longer.
Why? Because it’s been more than 40 years since a team made it through the entire season unbeaten, the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers the last to do it.
A few have gotten close in recent years, with Gonzaga starting 29-0 last season before losing in its regular season finale and Wichita State winning its first 35 games before Kentucky knocked the Shockers off in the second round of the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Losses can come at any moment — just ask No. 2 Kansas, which was shocked by unheralded Washington on Wednesday — and each of the remaining unbeaten teams figure to get taken out sooner rather than later. And we’re gonna take a stab at when their perfection will come to an end.
Here’s a breakdown of the last 8 unbeaten schools, listed in order of how soon they will experience defeat.
Best win: Dec. 5 vs. SMU
Projected first loss: Friday vs. Nevada (in Los Angeles)
TCU hired Jamie Dixon away from Pittsburgh last year in hopes he could be the guy to both make the program competitive in the Big 12 and get into the NCAA tournament. The Horned Frogs last went dancing in 1997-98 and have gone 14-76 in league play since joining the Big 12 six years ago.
The squad last year won 24 games and the NIT championship, and the way it’s started in 2017-18 an NCAA bid is very possible. Assuming TCU doesn’t fold against tougher competition.
This is the second time in four years TCU has started at least 9-0, winning its first 13 games to start the 2014-15 season. That Horned Frogs team ended up finishing 18-15, wholly unprepared for the rigors of the Big 12 after playing the weakest nonconference schedule in the country (per KenPom.com).
The current squad has played the 200th-toughest schedule to this point, beating a solid SMU team at home on Tuesday, but Friday against No. 22 Nevada will raise the competition bar even more. The Wolfpack, who lost for the first time Tuesday at Texas Tech, figure to have more fans at the Staples Center in Los Angeles than the Horned Frogs.
Get past Nevada and TCU will enter Big 12 play unbeaten but probably won’t stay that way for long. The first two games are Dec. 30 against Oklahoma and star freshman Trae Young and then Jan. 2 at No. 23 Baylor, against whom it is 0-11 since joining the Big 12.
Best win: Nov. 24 vs. Xavier (in Las Vegas)
Projected first loss: Sunday at Kansas
Off to its best start since 1980-81, Arizona State sports wins over Kansas State and then-No. 15 Xavier over Thanksgiving. The Sun Devils dropped 102 points on Xavier and are averaging 92.7 points per game, fourth-best in the country.
But ASU has yet to play on another team’s home court, having gone 5-0 at home and 2-0 in Las Vegas. It plays another neutral-site game Friday, against St. John’s in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic in Los Angeles, and less than 40 hours after that game ends it will be playing in one of the most ominous venues in college basketball.
Kansas, ASU’s foe on Sunday, has won 62 of its last 63 games at Allen Fieldhouse including a 54-game home win streak that ended in February. The Jayhawks just lost for the first time on Wednesday, to Washington, but that was on a neutral court.
If ASU manages to pull off a similar shocker in Lawrence then it figures to take a perfect record into Pac-12 play. But it opens with three straight league road games, starting at Arizona, where it last won in 2010.
Best win: Dec. 3 vs. Dayton
Projected first loss: Dec. 12 at Cincinnati
Former UCLA coach Ben Howland led Mississippi State to a 16-16 in his first season, losing three times in nonconference play including twice at home. Home has been where the Bulldogs have been throughout their best start since 2003-04, feasting on a lineup of opponents that comprise the seventh-weakest schedule in the country to this point.
And that’s before hosting Division II North Georgia on Saturday.
Mississippi State narrowly beat its last opponent, Dayton, on a layup by Quinndary Weatherspoon with 0.8 seconds left. He’s the most experienced member of a team that lacks a senior in its rotation and starts two freshmen, so it’s understandable that Howland has served up only cupcakes on the schedule so far.
But to be competitive in the SEC will require beating better teams, so the game next week at Cincinnati will be somewhat of a baptism by fire for this group. The No. 17 Bearcats allow 61.2 points per game, and hold opponents to 36.2 percent shooting, with MSU scoring 76.4 per game and shooting 49.5 percent.
Record: 6-0 (Thursday vs. Howard)
Best win: Nov. 25 at Richmond
Projected first loss: Dec. 16 vs. Syracuse
Georgetown went into the Thursday night game against Howard having thus far played the easiest schedule in Division I basketball. That didn’t change after its 81-67 win over the Bison, who are 1-9 with their win coming against a non-Division I school.
That’s kind of par for the course for the teams the Hoyas have faced to this point. Georgetown has won its first seven games (by an average of 19 points) against teams with a combined record of 13-52.
Georgetown was supposed to be in the PK80 tournament in Portland over Thanksgiving but pulled out after it hired Patrick Ewing as coach. The former Hoyas great, who has never coached in college, has taken over a rebuilding project and part of that process has been a super-soft nonconference slate to help build confidence.
The only game before Big East play begins that is of any substance is the one the Hoyas will lose. Syracuse, which is 7-1 with its only loss against Kansas, may end up being favored even though the game will be in Washington, D.C.
Best win: Nov. 29 at Minnesota
Projected first loss: Dec. 22-25 at Diamond Head Classic, Hawaii
It’s hard to find a team that has a bigger road win under its belt already than Miami, which helped its league dominate the ACC/Big Ten Challenge by pulling out an 86-81 victory at then-No. 12 Minnesota. That game has helped make up for what’s otherwise been a rather uninspiring schedule to this point.
But that’s about to change for the Hurricanes, who after playing six of their first eight games in south Florida won’t be on the court in that area again until early January. Their next six contests are all a long way from home, starting Dec. 16 at George Washington in Washington, D.C., and finishing with ACC openers at Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech.
In between is a Christmas trip to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Invitational, a tournament that tends to favor West Coast teams that don’t have to travel as far. And to make matters worse, Miami opens against the tournament host in a game that will tip at 1 a.m. in Florida.
A win over Hawaii would move the Hurricanes into the semifinals against either Davidson or New Mexico State with the possibility of facing Pac-12 contender USC or strong mid-major Middle Tennessee in the finals on Christmas night.
Best win: Dec. 4 at Florida
Projected first loss: Dec. 30 at Duke
Road games have been a bugaboo for Florida State under coach Leonard Hamilton, who is in his 16 th season at the school. Last year the Seminoles were 18-0 in Tallahassee and 8-9 everywhere else.
But so far this season FSU has won four times away from home, twice in Jamaica and then in consecutive road games at Rutgers on Nov. 28 and Monday at fifth-ranked Florida. Their next two games are on neutral courts, Sunday against Tulane in Tampa and then Dec. 16 against Oklahoma State in Sunrise, Fla.
All of that success away from home should bode well for the ‘Noles when ACC play begins, but the first league road game is going to be their undoing. They must play No. 1 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Florida State is 2-19 all time and hasn’t won there since 2012.
While losing that game is our official projection, we’ll go one step further and guarantee FSU has at least once loss by Jan. 7. That’s because after opening at Duke it hosts defending national champion North Carolina and then visits unbeaten Miami.
Best win: Dec. 5 vs. Gonzaga (in New York City)
Projected first loss: Jan. 13 at St. John’s
While the other ranked teams in the field went 1-5, Villanova rolled to the Battle 4 Atlantis field title. The Wildcats have also beaten No. 12 Gonzaga at the Jimmy V Classic in New York City on Tuesday and won by 41 on the road against Big 5 rival Saint Joseph’s.
It’s hard to imagine this team, which is senior-less but still experienced, not winning the Big East title for the fifth straight year. And because of that past league dominance, the Wildcats probably have the best chance of any remaining unbeaten team to make it through the regular season unblemished. But it won’t, and that first loss won’t come to a currently ranked team.
It will come after taking down No. 13 Xavier at home on Jan. 10. Three days after that the Wildcats go to a rising St. John’s team for the start of a 3-game road trip that also takes them to Georgetown and Connecticut.
If Villanova gets through that swing still unblemished it may remain that way until mid-February when it goes to Xavier and then plays at No. 19 Seton Hall in an 11-day span.
Best win: Nov. 14 vs. Michigan State (in Chicago)
Projected first loss: Jan. 15 at Miami
Top-ranked Duke has looked the part of a team that has received every first-place vote in the past two Associated Press Top 25 polls. The Blue Devils have handled several notable foes, handing No. 3 Michigan State its only loss and rolling through a stacked PK80 tournament field, and blowing out its six home opponents by an average of 29.7 points.
And now Duke enters the lightest portion of its schedule, both in terms of competition and actual games. After opening ACC play at Boston College on Saturday the Blue Devils play just once in a 20-day span, Dec. 20 at home against Evansville.
We’re predicting the Blue Devils will make it into 2018 unblemished, though its final game of 2017 will be tough. Unbeaten Florida State comes to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Dec. 30.
Road games in the ACC will be where Duke faces its biggest tests, just like last year when it was 3-6. The first road trip, Jan. 6-10 at N.C. State and Pittsburgh, probably won’t be that difficult though N.C. State has been an Achilles heel for the Blue Devils in recent years.
It will be the trip to Miami on Jan. 15 that can allow the 1975-76 Indiana alumni to pop the champagne. Duke has lost 3 of 4 at BankUnited Center, including last February when the Hurricanes held the Blue Devils to 50 points and 31.8 percent shooting.
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