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CBT Weekly Roundtable: Who will be the next undefeated team to lose?

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In a new series here on College Basketball Talk, every Thursday we’re going to have a discussion about some of the hot topics in college basketball. Today’s installment? The 12 teams still left undefeated. Who is the first to lose? Can anyone actually make it to February without a loss? Will we ever see another undefeated team?

Rob Dauster: We are now more than a month into the season. Most of the teams have made it through a third of their regular season schedule, which means that it’s now far enough into the season to start discussing who is still undefeated.

After UConn’s loss to Stanford on Wednesday night, there are 12 teams without a blemish to their name: Arizona, Syracuse, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Villanova, Wichita State, Oregon, Iowa State, UMass, Missouri, Toledo and St. Mary’s.

So I’m going to put you on the spot, Raph: Who will be the nest team from this group to lose?

Raphielle Johnson: Alright. I looked at the schedules of the 12 remaining undefeated teams and two have match-ups that will test them this weekend. UMass visits Florida State, and Missouri takes on rival Illinois in St. Louis. Of these two I think the Minutemen are the ones who go down, because for as athletic as UMass is I think Florida State can match them. Guys like Okaro White and Robert Gilchrist can compete with the likes of Raphiael Putney, Cady Lalanne and Sampson Carter in the front court. Obviously the key player for Florida State to corral is Chaz Williams, and I believe the Seminoles have what it takes to keep him from going wild. FSU ranks 6th nationally in two-point percentage defense, and as long as they challenge UMass’ looks on the outside I think they win.

Who’s your pick?

RD: I think you’re right that Florida State can give UMass a fight. The Seminoles have the size inside to deal with some of Derek Kellogg’s big men, and Leonard Hamilton is nothing if not a good defensive coach.

Here’s one for you: BYU over Oregon. Look, I’m not sold on the Cougars being anything special. They’re essentially a four-man team and they don’t play any defense. But I think they actually matchup fairly well with Oregon, they like to run like Oregon does and on the nights when BYU shoots the ball well, they’re going to be able to compete with anyone in the country. They just have to hope that the Stanford game wasn’t the only time this season that Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino both go crazy.

I think the more interesting discussion is actually who will remain undefeated for the longest, and I think that award will fall into the hands of Wichita State. The Valley is way down this year, and the Shockers are better than they were when they went to the Final Four. They’ll enter every game as the favorite the rest of the way. No one is going to make it out of the Valley unscathed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Wichita State made it until February 5th without a loss.

RJ: Wichita State is a good choice. Thought about Toledo, but for as much as I like Rian Pearson, Justin Drummond and Julius “Juice” Brown I can’t pick the Rockets to win at Kansas on December 30. But that is a very good team, and they’re the favorites to win the MAC at this point in time.

But back to the Shockers. I certainly understand where many are coming from when stating why they’ve got a shot at being the last undefeated team remaining, but I wouldn’t sleep on that Missouri State game on January 11. Paul Lusk’s Bears are off to an 8-2 start with Jamar Gulley leading the way, and you don’t just waltz into JQH Arena and leave with a win. That being said, Gregg Marshall’s got a very good basketball team. Ron Baker, before his ankle injury slowed him down some, was in the running for “180” mention and from an offensive standpoint he may be one of the most improved players in the country. Add in the talented Cleanthony Early, a defensive stopper in Tekele Cotton and the maturing Fred Van Vleet and you’ve got some guys capable of making another deep run in the NCAA tournament.

But I’ll take another team to answer this question: Syracuse. Yes they’ve got a big home game against No. 8 Villanova on the 28th (the Wildcats are also undefeated), but I really think Jim Boeheim’s team has the ability to get to that home game against Duke on February 1 without a blemish. While the ACC has been good (but not up to the expectations of some) I don’t think it represents this lethal gauntlet that the Orange will immediately struggle with. Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney continue to improve, as does Dajuan Coleman, and we already know how good that Fair/Grant forward combo is. With the talent, weapons and depth on that roster, I’ll take Syracuse regardless of the fact that they’re in the ACC.

RD: I’ll be honest: I don’t like much of this ‘undefeated’ talk, especially when it comes so early in the season. Nobody is going to go undefeated this season. There probably won’t be anyone going undefeated in any season, ever again. Unless the NBA decides, for some reason, that every athlete must stay in school for two or three years, I just think that it is too hard for teams built around talented freshmen to win early and often enough to go an entire year without a blemish.

Let’s call it like it is: the only teams that are going to be good enough to go undefeated are teams that are freshmen-heavy. That’s just the way it is in this day and age. There aren’t going to be juniors that are good enough to build a team that talented around because if they’re that good, they are probably entering their second season in the NBA by then.

If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that the Kentucky team with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were A) a special, once-in-a-decade (if not more) kind of team that was built are superstar freshmen as role players, and B) not replicable. That group came as close as we’ve seen anyone get to being undefeated.

It happening.

So lemme ask you this, Raph: Come February, is there anyone in the country that still is without a loss?

RJ: No, and one reason why is what you mentioned above. And another reason, for me at least, is fatigue. Not so much for physical reasons but rather mentally. Why are we discussing it? Because it’s a simple and convenient topic to talk about. And the deeper into a season that a team gets without a loss the more they hear about it and the more it weighs on them, I’d imagine.

Does that mean a loss is a good thing? Hell no, and I hate when people try to spin such results that way. If you’re a mature team you can learn from wins as well. If this were the days prior to the Internet, and sports media weren’t so prevalent, I’d give a team like Syracuse a fair shot at doing it. But I think external “pressure” can be too much to overcome.

The goal is to get better as the season rolls on, with the goal of playing your best ball in March (and hopefully early April). As long as you do that, whatever else comes along is gravy.

Kansas forward arrested on suspicion of battery

DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 19:  Carlton Bragg Jr. #15 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts after scoring in the first half against the Connecticut Huskies during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 19, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. was arrested on suspicion of domestic battery, according to a report from the Kansas City Star.

Bragg, who was still in custody as of Friday morning, is being held without bond. No charges have yet been filed.

“We are still trying to gather information,” head coach Bill Self told The Star. “But it is a charge which we take very seriously.”

Bragg is a 6-foot-8 sophomore that lost his spot in the starting lineup earlier this year. He is averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 boards in 16 minutes. No. 3 Kansas hosts Nebraska on Saturday.

Frank Martin comments on Sindarius Thornwell suspension

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Sindarius Thornwell #0 of the South Carolina Gamecocks drives to the basket defended by Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange in the second half during the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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South Carolina head coach Frank Martin commented on Sindarius Thornwell’s suspension during his call-in show on Thursday.

Thornwell, who was the leading scorer for the 8-0 No. 19 Gamecocks, was suspended indefinitely last Sunday. Martin has yet to provide a reason for the suspension.

“He’s been with us at practice, he’ll travel with us, he’s excited about our team, his role on the team,” he said, according to South Carolina’s 247 site. “Sindarius is one of my favorite guys I’ve ever come across. He messed up and it is what it is. He’s like a son to me. He messed up and he’s owned up to his mess up.”

“Outside of that, I’m not going to get into anything else. He has my full support. Our job is to prepare our team to play, we don’t prepare individual players to play. It’s no different to someone rolling an ankle. We’re down because of a bad decision. We’ll be fine.”

Thornwell is averaging 18.7 points, 6.0 boards and 4.1 assists. The Gamecocks play Seton Hall in New York City on Monday night.

UCF star point guard out indefinitely with thumb injury

STORRS, CT - JANUARY 22: B.J. Taylor #1 of the Central Florida Knights carries the ball up the court in front of Ryan Boatright #11 of the Connecticut Huskies in the first half during the game at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion on January 22, 2015 in Storrs, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Sophomore guard B.J. Taylor is out indefinitely after suffering a hand injury, UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins confirmed at a press conference earlier today.

According to a report from 247 Sports’ UCF site, the injury is a broken thumb, which was suffered in Saturday’s win over UMass.

Taylor is not expected to miss the rest of the season but will be out for an extended amount of time. He missed all of 2015-16 season dealing with a foot injury.

On the season, Taylor, a 6-foot-2 point guard, was having an all-AAC caliber season, averaging 17.0 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 boards.

Weekend Preview: Villanova tested by Notre Dame, bounce-backs for Xavier, Butler

Notre Dame's Steve Vasturia (32), Bonzie Colson (35) and V.J. Beachem (3) talk during the second half of a first-round men's college basketball game against Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 18, 2016, in New York. Notre Dame won 70-63. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 23 Notre Dame, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This is a fascinating matchup for a couple of reasons. For starters, this is the first real test that undefeated Notre Dame is going to be getting this season. We honestly have no idea how good the Irish actually are, and you wouldn’t be alone in needing to see a team starting Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson prove it before buying in.

But we also haven’t see Villanova tested in a while, either. They won at Purdue earlier this season and, since then, have more-or-less coasted to their undefeated mark. This will not only be a nice gauge game for Villanova, but it will also be a chance for them to pad an NCAA tournament résumé that will need to be strong for them to get a No. 1 seed this year.

The other part of this that’s fascinating? Both of these teams play small ball. There are going to be times on Saturday where 6-foot-5 Bonzie Colson is playing center and being guarded by 6-foot-5 Kris Jenkins, who will be at center for the Wildcats.

No. 22 Cincinnati at No. 16 Butler, Sat. 4:30 p.m.: Butler could really use this win. Coming off of a road loss to Indiana State during the week, the Bulldogs will be playing back in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday. But here’s the thing: Cincinnati could really use this win as well, and that Bearcat program already owns a road win over Iowa State.

The matchup here will be intriguing as well. Butler plays a more open, run-and-gun style than they did under Brad Stevens. Tyler Lewis is a show-man in transition, as is Kamar Baldwin, and getting Kelan Martin spotting up or attacking a close out is always a good coaching maneuver. Cincinnati is tough and big and physical. They try to wear you down. They pound the glass. They really, really defend. How does Butler handle it?

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FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • No. 17 Wisconsin at Marquette, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: In one of the more under-appreciated rivalries in college basketball, Marquette will be looking to land a marquee win to bolster the non-conference portion of their NCAA tournament résumé. Will
    Nigel Hayes continue to play like an all-american?
  • Utah at No. 13 Xavier, Sat. 5:30 p.m.: The Musketeers have lost back-to-back games and are really struggling to shoot the ball from the perimeter. Utah has struggled this season as they have a young roster waiting on a pair of transfers to get eligible.
  • Michigan at No. 2 UCLA, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: UCLA is now a week removed from their win over then-No. 1 Kentucky in Rupp Arena. This will be the first time they see the floor since then. Michigan had the look of a tournament team earlier in the season, but they’ve lost a pair of winnable games in recent weeks.
  • Hofstra vs. No. 6 Kentucky, Sun. 3:00 p.m.: The Wildcats will square off with Hofstra on Sunday, a game that is only really notable because it will be played in the Barclays Center.
  • No. 21 Florida at Florida State, Sun. 4:00 p.m.: The Gators looked the part of an NCAA tournament team when they lost to Duke in New York City on Tuesday. Florida State is more talented, however, but it’s difficult to trust them. This will be a big win for whoever gets it.

FIVE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

1. Kentucky’s perimeter shooting is officially a concern: The Wildcats are currently shooting 32.2 percent from beyond the arc, which is 254th nationally. The only real threat they have from three in their starting lineup is Malik Monk, and he’s streaky. They can play Derek Willis at the four, but Willis is such a step-down on the defensive end of the floor from Wenyen Gabriel that it may not end up being a net-positive to play him, not when the Wildcats rely so heavily on their defense to create offense in transition.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I’m not even sure there is an answer. This is just what Coach Cal has to work with this season. Can they improve? Probably. The great thing about being a bad shooting team is that shooting is the easiest thing to develop. Teams without size can’t get bigger. Teams without athleticism can’t get more athletic. The only problem? There are just four months left of the season. How much better can Kentucky really get?

One thing worth noting here: The 2010 Kentucky team, the one with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, the one that lost in the Elite 8 because of their shooting issues, finished the season making 33.1 percent of their threes.

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 07:  De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Valparaiso Crusaders at Rupp Arena on December 7, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
De’Aaron Fox (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

2. Let’s see if Notre Dame is for real: The Fighting Irish are one of nine undefeated teams left in college basketball, but as good as they have been this season, Mike Brey’s club still hasn’t really beaten anyone. The Colorado win looks better after the Buffaloes beat Xavier. Beating Fort Wayne, the team that upset Indiana, is good. Northwestern and Iowa are Big Ten teams.

But none of those four wins – none of Notre Dame’s nine wins – have come against a team we know will be in the NCAA tournament. We know Villanova will be, and the interesting thing about this matchup is how well the two teams matchup, particularly up front. Neither the Irish nor the Wildcats have much size inside. If Notre Dame can pull off the upset, it will be time to start talking about them much more.

3. UCLA’s first action since the win at Kentucky: The last time that we saw the Bruins take the court they put up 97 points on Kentucky in Rupp Arena. That’s pretty good. It’s also an easy way to get a big head, especially for a team that has so many freshmen on the roster. UCLA will face off with Michigan at home on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how they come out early on in this one.

4. Bounce-back chances for Big East programs: No. 13 Xavier has lost two games in a row now, both of them coming on the road. They were felled at No. 4 Baylor before getting dropped at Colorado on Wednesday. The Musketeers will host Utah, a winnable game that could help them find a rhythm shooting the ball.

No. 16 Butler is coming off of a loss of their home, having been upset at Indiana State by the Sycamores. The Bulldogs will have a bigger test than the Musketeers, as they host a top 25 team in No. 22 Cincinnati.

5. Jonathan Isaac’s health, Florida State’s tournament hopes?: Isaac is the forgotten top ten pick. He’s been terrific this season and has a chance to play his way into the top ten if he continues doing what he’s been doing, but he’s missed the last two games with a hip injury. This is an important game for the Seminoles, as they host Florida this weekend. Will Isaac be available?

UT-Arlington dominates, upsets No. 12 St. Mary’s

Texas-Arlington's Kevin Hervey, left, reacts to a 73-68 NCAA college basketball game win as Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate looks on  in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
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UT-Arlington made a statement on Thursday night, completely dominating No. 12 Saint Mary’s in a 65-51 upset win in a true road game in Moraga.

Back in October, I ranked both the Gaels and the Mavericks in the top-5 of my Mid-Major Power Rankings. Saint Mary’s was the obvious top choice, one of the nation’s most efficient offenses that returned Emmett Naar and Jock Landale. UT-Arlington, ranked fifth, served as a dangerous opponent. The Mavs had defeated Ohio State and Memphis in 2015, but their season was derailed once Kevin Hervey, a player with serious pro potential, tore his ACL.

With five starters back, including Hervey, who is just now getting back to 100 percent, UT-Arlington looks every bit the part of a March Cinderella.

The Mavericks jumped out to an early lead by forcing the Gaels to play out of character. Saint Mary’s had already committed a season-high 14 turnovers before the midway point of the second half. The Gaels, who entered shooting 40 percent from three as a team, were held to 8-of-27 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

UT-Arlington did an incredible job of closing out on shooters. And it didn’t matter the matchup, at times we saw Hervey, a 6-foot-9 junior, come out and run a guard off the 3-point line. While those statistics mentioned above up appear in the box score, the amount of deflections don’t. The Mavericks used its length and athleticism to get their hands everywhere on the defensive end of the floor, making it difficult to find good looks.

In the first half, UT-Arlington controlled the glass. Saint Mary’s found more success in that department after halftime, as Kevin Clark’s offensive putback capped an 11-2 run, which cut the deficit to 52-41. However, the Mavs were able to counter each time the Gaels threatened, never letting the lead get to single digits.

Aside from the struggles the typically-efficient Saint Mary’s offense had, the Gaels failed to keep UT-Arlington guards Erick Neal and Kaelon Wilson out of the lane, whether it be on a high ball screen or a handoff. Saint Mary’s never seemed to have a help-side defender there to protect the rim. Neal had 13 points and eight assists (five turnovers), while Wilson had 10 points off the bench. Hervey had a game-high 15 points and seven rebounds.

UT-Arlington is winners of eight straight after losing three straight. One of those wins includes a double-digit win over Texas in Austin. The Mavericks are the clear-cut favorite to win the Sun Belt. Come Selection Sunday, I’d say plenty of at-large teams would not like to be paired with Scott Cross’ team.