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.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.