As of Wednesday, January 19, we are down to three unbeaten teams in college basketball — #1 Ohio State, #2 Kansas and #5 San Diego State. Previously undefeated Duke lost last week at Florida State and Syracuse lost Monday at Pittsburgh, proving once again that conference play is a completely different animal than the non-conference slate. With only a little over six weeks left in the regular season (which seems rather impossible), it is at least feasible that one of these three schools could run the regular season table and join 1991 UNLV and 2004 St. Joseph’s as the only two teams to have done so since Bob Knight’s dominant Indiana Hoosiers way back in 1976.
If you look at the above teams and hoped to draw a conclusion from it, you might note that UNLV and St. Joe’s played in high mid-major conferences when they ran the regular season table. Although there were a few decent opponents who could challenge the Rebels and Hawks in those leagues, they generally enjoyed more ‘nights off’ where they didn’t have to bring their best stuff to win the game. Does this give Steve Fisher’s Aztecs an inherent advantage over OSU and Kansas by virtue of its Mountain West affiliation? You might initially believe so, but not according to Pomeroy’s projections.
We talked about how difficult it is for any team to run the table in the regular season back in December when Duke was gettting some buzz in that respect prior to Kyrie Irving’s toe injury. There are any number of factors that can cause an off night, but the biggest confounding factor is how the schedule lays out in front of them. According to the Pomeroy data, SDSU will be favored in all but two remaining games, Ohio State all but one, and Kansas will be the favorite in each of its final thirteen games. But that’s just the math — it doesn’t account for the increasing attention and pressure that builds on a team as it approaches March with a zero in the right-hand column, nor does it consider all the other issues (injuries, team chemistry, tiring out, etc.) that teams face as the season wears on. That’s what we’re here for, the analysis.
Let’s take a look at the three unbeaten teams and make an educated prediction as to when each will finally lose. It’s going to happen; the only question is the when and where. Last year we went 3-1 in this exercise, and if we can do so well as to keep our head above .500 again this year, we’ll be pleased.