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THE UNDEFEATEDS: When will each of the six remaining lose?

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No. 22 USC Trojans (3-0): For a team that entered the season with just four players that had played a second of basketball for USC prior to the season, it’s impressive that head coach Andy Enfield has managed to steer them to a 13-0 with wins at Texas A&M, at home against SMU and over BYU on a neutral court. It’s worth noting they’ve done all this more-or-less without Bennie Boatwright, their starting four-man who has dealt with knee and back injuries.

  • First loss: 12/30 at Oregon, 14-0. The Trojans will playing their second road game in three days when they play in Eugene, and by then, it’s probably fair to assume that this Oregon team, who was in the top five in the preseason will get things figured out. The key? When does Boatwright get back.
  • Next game: 12/28 at Oregon State

No. 1 Villanova (12-0): Villanova is the reigning national champion, and they look to be even better this season than last. That’s, in large part, due to Player of the Year favorite, Josh Hart; like Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine last season, Hart has really improved as a senior. Villanova is also playing without Phil Booth, who has a knee injury. This group has more than earned the right to be in the same conversation – To lead the conversation? – as the likes of Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA, the biggest brands with the most talent in the sport. Jay Wright may not have NBA scouts beating down the doors of practice to get a look at the guys on his roster, but this veteran group is greater as a whole than the sum of their parts.

  • First loss: 12/31 at Creighton, 13-0: Creighton has always been a tough matchup for Villanova because Creighton plays the same kind of small-ball, four-around-one style. What’s traditionally made Villanova so difficult for opponents to deal with is that they create mismatches offensively. Wright’s players are versatile defenders. Creighton, however, can do the same thing. Cole Huff, the Bluejays four-man, can play as a small forward and is most comfortable on the perimeter. He will have no issues defending the lines of Eric Paschall or Kris Jenkins. Throw in the fact that Creighton packs 17,000 fans into their home games, and I think they can hand the Wildcats their first loss.
  • Next game: 12/28 vs. DePaul

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No. 4 Baylor (12-0): Baylor has been the most surprising team in college basketball this season. The Bears have piled up wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier, which would put them squarely in the conversation for a No. 1 seed in the season ended today. They’ll need to beat Kansas at least once and win either a share of the Big 12 regular season title or the tournament title to have a shot at a No. 1 seed, but it’s not out of the question. I’m not yet ready to say that Baylor is in the same class as the likes of KU, Kentucky, Duke, Villanova, North Carolina or UCLA, but I am ready to say that every single one of us missed wildly on how good Baylor would be this season.

  • First loss: 1/10 at West Virginia, 15-0. The Mountaineers are another team we missed on in the preseason, and I think they provide a nightmare matchup for Baylor. The Bears strength is their front court, but that can get taken away by the pressure WVU provides. I think pressure can beat the Bears, and no one has a tougher press than Press Virginia.
  • Next game: 12/30 vs. Oklahoma
LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Greg McDermott of the Creighton Bluejays talks with Maurice Watson Jr. #10 during the team's game against the Massachusetts Minutemen during the championship game of the Men Who Speak Up Main Event basketball tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena on November 25, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Creighton won 97-76.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

No. 10 Creighton (12-0): The Bluejays are such a fun team to watch. They push the ball as fast as anyone and they are the best three-point shooting team in college basketball at 45.5 percent. Their six best shooters all check-in at better than 41.0 percent, while five of those six shoot better than the team average. The Bluejays are UCLA with a fifth-year senior at the point, the nation’s leader in assists in Maurice Watson Jr., instead of a superstar freshman. This team is more talented than the team Creighton had during Doug McDermott’s senior season.

This week is huge for the Bluejays. They host both Seton Hall and Villanova, two teams that play with the kind of toughness than can expose Creighton’s interior. If they’re going to be a Big East title contender, they have to get these two wins.

  • First loss: 1/16 at Xavier, 18-0: There are two things you can count on with a program run by Chris Mack: toughness and defense will never, ever be an issue. They’re hard to beat in the Cintas Center and there’s a chance that Myles Davis will be back by then. I don’t want to bet against Xavier in a situation like that were they really need a win.
  • Next game: 12/28 vs. Seton Hall

No. 7 Gonzaga (12-0): Of the six teams left without a loss, I think Gonzaga probably has the best chance to get to the NCAA tournament unblemished. Part of that is because they play in the West Coast Conference, a league where every road game is their opponent’s Super Bowl, although those opponents are decidedly mid-major competition. Gonzaga? They’re as high-major as high-major gets and have a roster that is stocked with talent. Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins have played really well together in the back court, while Jordan Mathews works as a floor-spacer and Silas Melson has seemed to embrace his role within the team. But the front court is where this team is so exciting. Przemek Karnowski and Johnathan Williams III are veterans that fit well together, but there’s an argument to be made that their freshmen backups – Killian Tillie and Zach Collins – are the second-best front court pairing in the league. I think this is the best team that Mark Few has had in Spokane, and that includes the Adam Morrison and Kelly Olynyk years.

The biggest concern with the Zags: Who is their go-to guy? Who gets their name called when Mark Few needs to stop a run or when Gonzaga needs a bucket in the final minute to win a game? There isn’t really a star on this roster.

  • First loss: 2/11 at Saint Mary’s, 25-0: This year is the first time that the Zags have reached 12-0 since joining Division I. They’ll have two more real tests before their road trip to Moraga – they host the Gaels in mid-January and visit BYU in early February – but if they can get to this game unscathed, they’ll have a shot to be undefeated when the postseason comes around.
  • Next game: 12/29 vs. Pepperdine

No. 2 UCLA (13-0): We mentioned earlier how Creighton’s offense is a powerhouse. Well, UCLA is the only team in the country that has a higher effective field goal percentage, and not only do they play at a faster pace than Creighton, they are one of just eight teams that has a higher offensive efficiency score, according to KenPom. In fact, in the 15 years that KenPom has been in existence, UCLA is on pace to become the first team since Kansas in 2001-02 to finish the season top five in offensive efficiency and in tempo, meaning there’s an argument to be made that we may be watching the best offensive in college hoops since Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich and Roy Williams were lighting fools up in Lawrence.

  • First loss will be 2/25 at Arizona, 28-0: I think UCLA can get past this road trip to Oregon because I think that the Bruins will have a bit of an advantage over USC; they play the Ducks on the first day of the road trip. The trip to play the Mountain teams (Colorado and Utah) is always tricky given the altitude, and that starts a stretch where they play five of seven on the road, including at USC and capped with a visit to Markelle Fultz and Washington. But I think this group gets through all that mostly because I think the Pac-12 is down this year. (That visit to Utah looks a bit tougher now with Sedrick Barefield and David Collette becoming eligible.) Where I think UCLA gets tripped up is at Arizona, who should have Parker Jackson-Cartwright (and maybe/hopefully Allonzo Trier) back and who should be getting the best out of Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins. That’s a fierce rivalry that only has fuel added to the fire by T.J. Leaf, a UCLA player that was originally an Arizona commit.
  • Next game: 12/28 at Oregon
SPOKANE, WA - DECEMBER 07:  Nigel Williams-Goss #5 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives against the Washington Huskies in the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 7, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  Gonzaga defeated Washington 98-71.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
Nigel Williams-Goss (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.