TRACKING THE UNBEATENS: We’re down to four

(AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

After Iowa downed No. 1 Michigan State on Tuesday night, there are now just four teams left in college basketball without a loss on their record. When will they lose, and is there any chance we see an undefeated team this season?

The most interesting remaining member of the Undefeateds is No. 2 Oklahoma (11-0) for a couple of reasons:

  • For starters, this is a team that rarely gets mentioned when we’re talking about the best teams in college basketball. For the most part, that title usually falls to one of North Carolina, Kansas, Maryland or Michigan State, when the latter is healthy. Part of that is because Oklahoma’s elite win this season came over a Villanova team that has a reputation for not being all that good. Part of it is because this is basically the same team as last season minus TaShawn Thomas. Part of it is because Oklahoma doesn’t the star power. Part of it is because Oklahoma is, well, Oklahoma.
  • But the other side of this is that the Sooners are not even the favorite to win their league right now. No. 2 Kansas is, because Kansas has won 11 straight Big 12 regular season titles and only a fool would pick them to do anything but win their 12th this season. And depending on your view of No. 11 Iowa State, you may think that Oklahoma is the third-best team in the league.

And that’s where this thing takes a serious left turn, because we’re going to find out right away whether or not the Sooners are truly the kind of team that can contend for a national title. Their first two games in Big 12 play? They host the Cyclones on Saturday and follow that up with a trip to Lawrence to take on Kansas for Big Monday.

That’s a fitting name, by the way.

Because that battle in Phog Allen Fieldhouse could very well end up being between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country.

Who will be ranked where is yet to be determined. Oklahoma is No. 3 in the AP Poll and No. 2 in the Coaches Poll, and vice versa for Kansas. Both teams still have a game to get through this weekend before the new polls come out.

But if they get through them unscathed, Monday night should give us a matchup of the two top-ranked teams in college basketball, and that’s always a good thing for the sport.

First Loss?: Jan. 4 at No. 2 Kansas
Next Game: Jan. 2 vs. No. 11 Iowa State

No. 6 Xavier (13-0): Like the Sooners, Xavier is going to be tested right away in Big East play. The Musketeers pay a visit to two-time reigning champions No. 16 Villanova on New Year’s Eve Day, following that up 48 hours later by hosting No. 9 Butler. At this point, I do think that Xavier is the best team in the Big East and the most likely team to end Villanova’s reign at the top of the conference. I do not know, however, if they are good enough to go on the road in their first league game and beat the Wildcats in their own building.

I will say this: I think Xavier matches up as well with Villanova as anyone. They have the big bodies inside that can pound the offensive glass and they have the dynamic back court playmaker in Edmond Sumner that can take advantage of the limited size and athleticism of Villanova’s guards.

First Loss?: Dec. 31 at No. 16 Villanova
Next Game:Dec. 31 at No. 16 Villanova

No. 17 SMU (12-0): I’m not even going to try to hide it, man.

I’m rooting for the Mustangs.

In every game they enter with an undefeated record, I want them to leave with an undefeated record. I want them to end the season with an undefeated record. I want them to be ranked No. 1 in the country without a blemish to their name when they are left out of the tournament because of the cruel and absurd postseason that was handed down by the NCAA. I want their athletic department to have to come face-to-face with the idea that they did not appeal the ban in a year where they fielded the only team in SMU history truly capable of reaching the Final Four.

That’s certainly not going to make it any easier for Nic Moore, Jordan Tolbert and Markus Kennedy to sit out the postseason during their senior season, but it won’t be a bad consolation prize to be the first team since Bobby Knight’s 1976 Indiana team to finish the year undefeated.

They might actually have a shot.

KenPom is projected SMU to finish the season at 27-3, but the only game he isn’t currently favored the Mustangs to win is a Feb. 18th visit to UConn. That’s projected as a one-point SMU loss.

So we’re not exactly talking about SMU capturing a live Bigfoot here. There’s a real chance this could happen.

First Loss?: Never!
Next Game: Jan. 2 vs. South Florida

No. 25 South Carolina (11-0): I see the undefeated record. I’ve spoken with coaches that have prepped for the Gamecocks who say this team is legit. I think P.J. Dozier has a tremendous future under Frank Martin. I’m just not ready to fully buy-in on a team whose best wins are Tulsa, Clemson and … Hofstra?

First Loss?Jan. 9 vs. Vanderbilt
Next Game: Dec. 30 vs. Francis Marion