Tracking The Unbeatens: Eight unblemished teams left; when will they lose?

(AP Photo/Al Goldis)
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There are just eight undefeated teams left in college basketball. When will they lose and what is the likelihood that they will go undefeated?

Michigan State: If anyone is actually going to go undefeated this season, the Spartans are going to be that team. We initially thought that the Big Ten was going to be loaded this season, but after Sparty, Purdue and Maryland, the rest of the league is … well, it’s a mess. Here’s the kicker: Michigan State doesn’t have to play at Maryland and they only get Purdue once, on the road. Five of their next eight games are on the road — including four of their first six in Big Ten play — but since of those five roadies are against a team close to being in the top 25, I’m picking their first game against elite competition in the conference as the first game they’re going to lose.

First Loss?: Jan. 23 vs. Maryland
Next Game: Dec. 19 at Northeastern

Oklahoma: No one in the Big 12 is going undefeated this season, not with three of the nation’s top ten and four of the nation’s top 15 teams playing in the only Power 5 conference that plays a true double round-robin. We’ll know really quickly whether or not the Sooners are for real one Big 12 play starts: their first two league games are on a Saturday against Iowa State at home followed by a Monday night trip to Phog Allen. I don’t think they make it out of the Phog unblemished, but if they do, it will be time to start considering them to be the No. 1 team in the country.

First Loss?: Jan. 4 at Kansas
Next Game: Dec. 19 vs. Creighton

Purdue: If the Boilermakers can get past Butler on Saturday — which will be no easy task — and Vanderbilt next Tuesday, we could be looking at an undefeated run into February, when Matt Painter’s club will travel to Maryland and get Michigan State at home in a four-day span. I think there’s a pretty good chance they make it that far without a loss simply because I’m not sure anyone in the Big Ten has the pieces to beat them. To do so, you need to have the size inside to slow down their overwhelming front court while also providing enough perimeter ball pressure to keep them from comfortably running offense. That’s assuming you’re able to run offense of your own against they physical, man-to-man. Purdue’s legit, guys.

First Loss?: Feb. 6 at Maryland
Next Game: Dec. 19 vs. Butler

Xavier: I’m higher on Xavier than just about anyone, and I think they make it through a home game against Auburn and a road trip to Wake Forest just fine. But they kick off Big East play at Villanova, and I think that game is going to trip them up. The Wildcats have a point to prove, and a team that’s won 32 Big East games the last two seasons isn’t going away any time soon. I’m not sure they can possibly play worse than they did against Oklahoma, and I think that it was bad enough to spur a change in how Jay Wright’s club is running offense. Xavier might be the favorite to win the Big East right now, but that doesn’t mean they’re the favorite to win at Villanova.

First Loss?: Dec. 31 at Villanova
Next Game: Dec. 19 vs. Auburn

Iowa State: I think the Cyclones get past Northern Iowa, but they’ll get a real test the following week when they have to play at Cincinnati. If Steve Prohm’s gets out of the Queen City unscathed, they’ll open up Big 12 play at Oklahoma. If the Cyclones are undefeated on Jan. 3rd, than I’m going to have to reevaluate how I judge this team.

First Loss?: Jan. 2 at Oklahoma
Next Game: Dec. 19 vs. Northern Iowa

SMU: I’m picking SMU to be the nation’s last remaining unbeaten team for a couple reasons: 1. I think they’re really good and can legitimately get to Feb. 18th, maybe further, without a loss, and 2. Because I would love to see a team that was given a morally wrong postseason ban, whose administration didn’t back them by appealing, put together the kind of season where it’s clear they’re a Final Four contender. And to be clear, I think they are good enough to get to a Final Four this season. I’ll freely admit it right now: I want to see SMU finish the regular season undefeated. I will be rooting for that.

First Loss?: Feb. 18 at UConn
Next Game: Dec. 16 vs. Nicholls State

South Carolina: I’m still not sure what to make of this South Carolina team, whose best win to date is over the same Tulsa team that’s lost to Oral Roberts and Arkansas-Little Rock. I think they can make the NCAA tournament, but I think they’ll falter on the road against in-state rival Clemson.

First Loss?: Dec. 18 at Clemson
Next Game: Dec. 15 vs. Drexel

Arkansas-Little Rock: The most surprising team on this list, the Trojans have notched wins at San Diego State, Tulsa and DePaul. How long can this undefeated run last? I think they can finish out their non-conference slate — which includes a trip to Texas Tech — without suffering a loss. Their league, the Sun Belt, is actually pretty tough this year. Louisiana has the conference’s best player in Shawn Long, Georgia State still has Kevin Ware and Jeremy Hollowell, and UT-Arlington has already won at Ohio State and Memphis.

First Loss?Jan. 23 at UT-Arlington
Next Game: De. 16 at Central Arkansas