Four Teams Chasing Perfection…

Posted by rtmsf on January 4th, 2010

Over the long holiday weekend, Syracuse and West Virginia fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, leaving only four teams — Kansas, Texas, Kentucky & Purdue — with a shot at the holy grail of a perfect season.  None of the coaches will admit to it on the record, but they all hate losing, and each of them would welcome a chance to become the first team since Indiana in 1976 to win every game put in front of them.  There’s only one problem.  It’s collectively called the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten gauntlets schedules. 

As you’re well aware, there have only been two schools in the last two decades who have run the regular season table — UNLV in 1991, and St. Joseph’s in 2004 — and of course the aforementioned Hoosiers a generation ago were the last to go unblemished throughout.  There are many reasons for this, especially given that it’s difficult to win every single game with a growing target on your back, but the primary reason that Tark’s Rebels and Martelli’s Hawks were able to do it when so many other great teams were not was because they played in mid-major conferences (the Big West and Atlantic 10, respectively).  This is not to say that those conferences are cakewalks, because they’re not.  Every league has its share of rivalry games, other good programs and rattlesnake pits disguised as home gyms that make life difficult on favorites.  But what those conferences provide that is often missing among the BCS conferences are the true bottom-feeders that give elite teams such as UNLV/St. Joe’s breaks on a given night.  Have a tough shooting night at Vandy or Baylor?  You’re going home with your first L.  A tough shooting night at Fordham or Long Beach, though?  You’re probably still ok. 

With the clear knowledge in mind that all four of the remaining unbeatens are going to lose a regular season game (or several), let’s take a look at the remaining schedules to pinpoint exactly when and where that might happen.  First, let’s see what Pomeroy has to say.  He provides percentage odds on every future game, and if you extrapolate out over the rest of the year, you can start to pinpoint the true likelihood of when that first loss might occur.

This is a good starting point, as Purdue appears to be the most likely candidate to lose next (@ Wisconsin on Saturday), while Kansas seems to be the most likely team to run the table (10.2% isn’t exactly a lock, though).  The statistical analysis Pomeroy provides only tells part of the story, though, so we’re going to break down each team’s likelihood of its next loss using another analytical tool – our brain. 

Purdue (13-0).   The Boilers are really good at home, as wins over Wake Forest and West Virginia attest.  The problem is that they’ve been a little shaky on the road, with come-from-behind wins over Tennessee (technically, a neutral site) and at Alabama.  The core group of Matt Painter’s squad lost four of its last five Big Ten road games last year, and there’s a general sense that Purdue is the team that doesn’t really belong among the remaining four unbeatens.  This is a really good team, but it’s not an all-time great team, so they’re going to take some Ls this season.

  • Will LoseJan. 9 @ Wisconsin. We’re going with Pomeroy on this one, although we think he’s overrating the Badgers at this point.  The problem for Purdue is that they have three road games to opponents that can beat them in the next fifteen days (@ Wisconsin, @ Northwestern, @ Illinois).  Throw in two games at home against Minnesota this week and Ohio State next week, and there has to be an off night for the Boilermakers somewhere in that mix. 

Kentucky (15-0).  Calipari’s young Cats are already talking undefeated even if he isn’t, but with the exception of only one true road environment at rebuilding Indiana, UK hasn’t experienced a truly raucous  building out for blood when the SEC’s flagship school comes to town.  Looking at the remaining schedule, it’s possible that Kentucky will get to the mid-February back-to-back road games against Mississippi State and Vandy unscathed, but there’s almost no chance of surviving both of those.  We’ll add that despite what Pomeroy’s statistics say, the SEC is far inferior to the Big 12, and as such, UK has the most likely shot to turn the trick this year.

  • Will Lose: Jan. 26 @ South Carolina.  Next Tuesday’s game at Florida will be circled on everyone’s calendar as the night UK goes down, but we think that Wall and company will have something to prove in that one (just as they did vs. UNC, UConn and the other ‘name’ programs).  No, we believe that when UK falls, it’ll be an upset, which is why we like the game against a shorthanded but still dangerous (ahem, Devan Downey) South Carolina team as the most likely candidate.   

Texas (13-0).  Texas’ six-point win over TAMU-Corpus Christi knocked the Horns out of the top spot in the RTC Top 25 this week, and Pomeroy’s numbers on the team have dropped in the last few weeks.  Still, four of their next six games are on the road, and they’ve only had one of those all season (@ Rice, an 18-pt win).  They should be able to sneak by Arkansas and Iowa State in their buildings, but the game that appears to be a big venus flytrap for Rick Barnes is their trip to Manhattan, KS, on Jan. 18 right before they travel to UConn on Jan. 23.  The Feb. 8 game against Kansas also looms, but there are multiple opportunities for a loss prior to that, and we’d expect UT to have at least one by the time that showdown rolls around. 

  • Will Lose: Jan. 18 @ Kansas State.  K-State is playing with a chip on its shoulder and if they can get past Missouri in Columbia this coming weekend, they should be at 16-1 and ready to blow the roof off of Bramlage Coliseum when Texas comes to town.   This will be a program-defining game for Kansas State, even moreso than the annual war against Kansas two weeks later because getting hyped for the Jayhawks is nothing new for KSU. 

Kansas (13-0).  Prior to this weekend, we would have given Temple a roughly even shot to pull off the upset over KU, which shows how much we know.  Kansas methodically ripped apart the Temple defense, which had to date been one of the very best in the nation.  An upcoming game against Tennessee in Knoxville also looked enticing for an upset bid until Bruce Pearl’s team pooped itself on New Year’s Day.  So what’s next?  Road games at Nebraska and Iowa State sandwiched by home games against Cornell, Texas Tech and Baylor.  In other words, five more wins for Bill Self’s team.  The rivalry game with K-State on Jan. 30 looks to be the next best shot, but we’re just not seeing it until February.

  • Will Lose:  Feb. 8 @ Texas.  We were very tempted to take K-State with another major upset, but we think that the Jayhawks will come extremely prepared and will befuddle the more inexperienced Wildcats in this one, even on the road.  That means the best chance for KU to lose its first game will be at Texas in February, which is without a doubt the Game of the Year in the regular season.  The somewhat scary thought is that if KU does manage to win this game and remain unbeaten this late into the year, only road games at Texas A&M (now without Derrick Roland) and their bitter rival Missouri would stand in their way from perfection.  Sounds great on paper, but we really don’t see it happening. 
rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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