College Basketball Handicapping: Who Will Be Last Unbeaten?
by Trevor Whenham - 1/13/2011
Timing is everything in sports betting. It’s apparently also pretty important in writing. I was about to sit down and write this article -- about which undefeated team would be the last standing -- yesterday, but for a number of minor reasons I wrote others instead and left this one until today. Good thing. The point I was going to make was that Duke was, by a solid margin, the best positioned of the five teams to survive to the end without a loss. Oops.
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I was going to write that about three hours before Duke lost to Florida State in the biggest shocker of the season so far. The delay saved me some embarrassment. It also showed just how hard going undefeated is in college basketball.
With Duke having fallen there are now four unbeaten teams standing. Which one will be the last? Let’s take a look:
Kansas - Now that Duke has fallen, Kansas has the best chance of going all the way. Their toughest opponent in conference play by far is Texas, and the Longhorns have to travel to Lawrence for their only meeting. That gives Kansas the clear edge there. The same goes for the third best team in the conference -- Texas A&M has to travel to Kansas as well.
The biggest threats to the team are probably a road trip to Baylor next week, and a season-ending trip to Missouri -- the second time they will have played the Tigers. Given the respectability of the Big 12, though -- they are easily the third best conference in the country -- Kansas has a remarkably manageable schedule.
There are certainly no guarantees with this squad, though, as the last week has shown that they are far from perfect. On Sunday they were taken to overtime by Michigan. They shot terribly in that game, and would have lost the game if Michigan hadn’t shot just as poorly. Three days later they got a real scare at Iowa State.
Kansas has as much talent as any team in the country, and their top two of Marcus Morris and Josh Selby is probably the best duo in the country. However, even this team can’t afford to relax and take it too easy.
Ohio State - The Big Ten is the toughest overall conference in my opinion, but I still give the Buckeyes the second best chance of surviving untainted. Their talent is ridiculously good with the combination of some impressive, experienced pieces and the best freshman in the country.
There are three games that could easily trip up this team -- trips to Illinois, Purdue and Wisconsin. All three of those opponents are very good -- especially Purdue -- but Ohio State has the advantage of being better than all three, and they provide real matchup issues for the best team -- Purdue.
Like Kansas, though, a recent game against Michigan last night showed the Buckeyes that any game can be lost. The Wolverines fell way behind early in the second half, but closed hard and the game came down to the final seconds. The Wolverines used one tactic that Ohio State needs to be very aware of -- they double-teamed Jared Sullinger for much of the game, and that limited his effectiveness and frustrated him. That’s precisely what allowed the under-skilled Wolverines to compete. That kind of thing will happen to freshmen,, but the Buckeyes need to make sure it doesn’t happen too often.
San Diego State - I couldn’t be more impressed with this team and what former Michigan Coach Steve Fisher has done with it. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t make it through January unbeaten. That’s no fault of their own, but rather just a reflection of how good the Mountain West is this year.
Not only is the league the best mid-major by far, but I think the group is better than at least two major conferences. Two of their next three games will be brutal -- they play New Mexico in The Pit on Saturday, and then travel to BYU on the 26th. If they win both of those games then this team is significantly better than people think they are -- and they are already ranked sixth in the country.
They also have to travel to UNLV in the middle of February. This team is not going to stay unbeaten, but there is no shame in that in this case.
Syracuse - You can never say ‘never’ in sports, but there is virtually no chance that Syracuse will go unbeaten. They have played a fairly soft non-conference schedule, and they have yet to play a really scary Big East opponent. That changes soon.
They travel to Pittsburgh on Monday. A win there would be incredibly impressive, but is less than likely. They also have trips to Marquette, Connecticut, Louisville, Villanova and Georgetown. Just brutal.
Scoop Jardine is really good, but he’s not a miracle worker, so he can’t carry his team through that unscathed. An interesting note here -- Like Kansas and Ohio State, the Orange have had their biggest scare of the season when they played Michigan. The Wolverines certainly didn’t do themselves any favors when they were making their schedule.
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