The unbeaten list is shrinking. Baylor, BYU and Cleveland State dropped off during the weekend. Louisville and Tennessee did so last week.
That leaves nine teams, seven of which should enter the new year without any blemishes. Finishing the regular season without a loss? That’s another story.
Let’s break it down, from least likely to most likely.
With games against St. Francis and Mount St. Mary’s, the Wildcats are a lock to match their best start since 1993-94. After that, it gets dicey.
They open their Big Ten schedule on the road at Purdue (Dec. 31), home against Michigan State (Jan. 3) and at Illinois (Jan. 6). If Northwestern runs that gauntlet, we’ll revisit this exercise. But that ain’t gonna happen.
Big East rival UConn might actually lose before the Bearcats, but they’re second on this list for two reasons: 1) They haven’t played anyone. 2)They won’t until Jan. 6 when against cross-town rival Xavier. If they get by the Musketeers – which hasn’t happened since 2007 – the Bearcats have Villanova (Jan. 9) and Syracuse (Jan. 15) less than a week.
The Huskies open their Big East slate with Pitt (Dec. 27), South Florida (Dec. 31), Notre Dame (Jan. 4), then travel to Texas on Jan. 8. That’s a brutal stretch for a team already playing over its head.
Central Florida (10-0)
Memphis is usually the C-USA team flirting with a perfect start. But the Knights have run through a relatively soft slate, including a Dec. 1 win against Florida. Expect some more single-digit victories until a Jan. 15 trip to Southern Mississippi. If UCF wins there, it’ll be 17-0 when it heads to Memphis on Jan. 26. That’ll do it.
San Diego State (12-0)
Aztecs have won on road (Gonzaga, Cal) and at home (St. Mary’s, Wichita State). Don’t expect any missteps until mid-January when they host UNLV (Jan. 12) and travel to New Mexico (Jan. 15). Both are winnable games, which makes the Jan. 26 trip to BYU the make-or-break matchup. SDSU wins that, and there’s no game on its schedule it can’t pull off.
The Orange seem destined to top last season’s 13-0 start. Two more home non-conference games, then Providence and Notre Dame – at home – to open Big East play. That’s a recipe for a 15-0 start. After that, anything goes. If ‘Cuse makes it to the end of the month without a loss (Jan. 17 at Pitt, Jan. 22 vs. ‘Nova, Jan. 29 at Marquette), it’ll be a small miracle.
Kenpom.com gives the Jayhawks a 6.8 percent chance of going unbeaten. That seems high. Trips to Michigan (Jan. 9) and Baylor (Jan. 17) aren’t gimmies, especially for a team that’s struggled against the likes of USC and UCLA. At home. Considering Texas and K-State visit Allen Fieldhouse before February, it’s hard to see KU getting to 20-0 like it did in 2007-08. But it’ll be close.
Ohio State (10-0)
Ideal way to open conference play: at Indiana, at Iowa and home against Minnesota. That’s 16-0. If the Buckeyes avoid a stumble at Michigan (Jan. 9), they’ll be 19-0 for a Jan. 22 trip to Illinois. Jared Sullinger against the Illini’s butter-soft frontcourt? That’s 20 straight.
If Ohio State get into Feb., the three-game stretch of at Wisconsin, vs. Michigan State and at Purdue presents a formidable – and probably unattainable – challenge.
It always comes down to Duke, doesn’t it?
The Devils open ACC play with a favorable schedule – no trips to Boston College or Clemson, two places they usually struggle – and could have Kyrie Irving back for most of it. Plus, the conference isn’t daunting. That’s why kenpom.com gives Duke a 19.98 percent chance of going unbeaten.
So who’s going to beat Duke? Best bets are Florida State (Feb. 12), Maryland (Feb. 2) and Virginia Tech (Feb. 26), all of which are road games.
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