Our staff projects when (if?) the last unbeaten teams will fall
Let’s start with this: An undefeated season in college basketball is extremely, extremely unlikely.
So much so, we’re about ready to call matching Indiana’s 32-0 season from 1975-76 impossible.
Five teams remain in the hunt, though, and that’s enough for fans to dream of the possibility of an unblemished season. We’re not here to squash those hopes as much to bring a dose of reality for the last five undefeated teams in college basketball.
These are all fine teams with opportunities to finish with impressive records and deep runs in the NCAA Tournament, but odds are, a loss is coming.
If you're just catching up, here's how each team has come this far and its concerns going forward. We also included our basketball staff picks for when each of the final five will, finally, learn the agony of defeat.
Breaking Down the Last Undefeated Teams in 2013-14
Arizona (15-0, 2-0 Pac-12)
Why Arizona is undefeated: The Wildcats are among the best defensive teams in the country, even if you take away the absurd game against Washington State. Arizona held Washington State (a bad team without its leading scorer, to boot) to 25 points and 20 percent shooting, including seven points in the first half. Opponents shoot 40.1 percent from 2-point range against the Wildcats and 28.2 percent from 3, both in the top 10 nationally. Aaron Gordon is one of the nation’s top freshmen, but unlike the rookies at Kentucky and Kansas, he has a few veterans around him, chiefly guard Nick Johnson. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell (3.2 assist-to-turnover ratio) has become the ideal point guard for a team with plenty of weapons.
Why Arizona won’t stay that way: The Pac-12 may be the toughest conference this season, and Arizona will play all but the lackluster Washington schools twice. That means road trips to face veteran teams at UCLA, Oregon and Colorado. The latter two are in the top 20, and the Bruins might not be too far off. Each school has the top-tier players who can go head to head with Arizona.
When will Arizona lose its first game?
David Fox: Jan. 9 at UCLA
Braden Gall: Feb. 1 at Cal
Mitch Light: Feb. 22 at Colorado
Iowa State (14-0, 2-0)
Why Iowa State is undefeated: In what seems to be the perfect match between a transfer and a school, Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane took his statsheet-stuffing ability to Iowa State. He’s turned the Cyclones from NCAA Tournament contender into a Big 12 title possibility. As Iowa State pulled away from Baylor on Tuesday, Kane had 30 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and five steals against another Big 12 championship contender. Georges Niang, Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue are a dangerous trio of 6-6/6-7 forwards.
Why Iowa State won’t stay that way: Iowa State doesn’t have a lot of big bodies in the frontcourt, which limits the Cyclones around the basket. Bigger lineups for Kansas and Texas could be matchup problems.
When will Iowa State lose its first game?
David Fox: Jan. 18 at Texas
Braden Gall: Jan. 18 at Texas
Mitch Light: Jan. 29 at Kansas
Syracuse (15-0, 2-0)
Why Syracuse is undefeated: Freshman Tyler Ennis has taken over the point guard to a degree few expected, even for a five-star recruit. Ennis has been a key set-up man for ACC player of the year contender C.J. Fair and even more important has been careful with the ball. The rookie hasn’t had more than two turnovers in a game all season. Jeremi Grant has also taken the next step Jim Boeheim needed. Grant was a role payer on last year’s Final Four team and now averages 12.3 points and 6.1 rebounds. Syracuse is third nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom.com.
Why Syracuse won’t stay that way: The ACC schedule. If Syracuse gets to late February undefeated, the Orange will have a three-game road swing through the heart of the ACC — or what the ACC used to be. Syracuse will visit Duke (Feb. 22), Maryland (Feb. 24) and Virginia (March 1).
When will Syracuse lose its first game?
David Fox: Feb. 12 at Pittsburgh
Braden Gall: Feb. 12 at Pittsburgh
Mitch Light: Feb. 22 at Duke
Wichita State (16-0, 3-0 Missouri Valley)
Why Wichita State is undefeated: In part, at least, the schedule. With key players from the Final Four team, the Shockers had trouble getting games non-conference games this year. Still, Wichita State managed to play BYU, Saint Louis, Tennessee and Alabama and win them all. Only the game against the Volunteers was at home. Don’t disregard the roster at the expense of the schedule, though. This team may better than last year’s. Fred VanVleet has assumed point guard duties as well as coach Gregg Marshall could have hoped. Ron Baker has shown he’s capable of doing over the course of the entire season what he did in the NCAA Tournament.
Why Wichita State won’t stay that way: Because going undefeated is tough, right? Without Creighton in the Missouri Valley, Wichita State’s toughest league games will be back-to-back road trips against Indiana State (Feb. 5) and Northern Iowa (Feb. 8)
When will Wichita State lose its first game?
David Fox: Missouri Valley Tournament
Braden Gall: Jan. 25 at Drake
Mitch Light: Feb. 5 at Indiana State
Wisconsin (16-0, 3-0 Big Ten)
Why Wisconsin is undefeated: Coach Bo Ryan has a system and he sticks to it. The Badgers are ranked in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom.com — a trait that’s usually a prerequisite to winning the national championship. Sam Dekker has improved from last season, mainly by playing closer to the basket. Frank Kaminsky has cooled since his 43-point outburst against North Dakota on Nov. 19, but he’s been a consistent contributor.
Why Wisconsin won’t stay that way: The Big Ten is tough, but Wisconsin lucks out by missing road trips to Michigan State and Ohio State. The Badgers had their toughest test against Iowa on Sunday, a game Wisconsin may have lost if not for the free throws as a result of coach Fran McCaffery’s ejection. Dekker and Kaminsky were a combined 5 of 20 from the field as the Hawkeyes grabbed 16 offensive rebounds.
When will Wisconsin lose its first game?
David Fox: Jan. 14 at Indiana
Braden Gall: Jan. 22 at Minnesota
Mitch Light: Jan. 14 at Indiana