It is always a fun guessing game to project an upset and when a great time will eventually fall, especially a team that is undefeated. As of right now, there are still 10 unbeaten teams left in the NCAA. Some of the top dogs have already fallen, like Duke, Kentucky, Maryland and North Carolina. The collection of teams remaining unbeaten is a very interesting group. A couple of these teams have played as good as advertised, namely Oklahoma, Michigan State and Iowa State. A handful of these teams, like Xavier, Purdue and SMU, were expected to be good teams, but have vastly exceeded expectations to this point. The remaining field is made up of complete surprises, like South Carolina and Arkansas-Little Rock. But none of these teams will run the table throughout the season, so here’s when each of them will slip up.
Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans
This squad has been one of the bigger surprises this season after going 14-18 last year. The Trojans have a couple of solid wins over San Diego State and Tulsa, two teams that could potentially make the tournament this year. Fun fact: Arkansas-Little Rock allows the least amount of points per game. They are 7-0 right now, and they could eventually get up to 10-0. However, the undefeated season should come to an end against Texas Tech. Tech isn’t a very good basketball team, for the BIG 12. But BIG 12 basketball is on another planet compared to Sun Belt basketball. But if A-LR can keep up their defensive prowess, it’s a potential tournament team.
Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State is a consensus top five team in the nation right now, as they stand at 7-0. The Cyclones don’t seem to be missing Fred Hoiberg at all. They rank 13th in the nation in scoring per game, led by Wooden Award Candidate Georges Niang. Iowa State also ranks in the top 20 in assists, led by maestro Monte Morris who averages 7.3 per game. They’ve played a cupcake schedule up to this point with their hardest competition being an average at best Illinois team, whom they beat comfortably by 11. Looking ahead for the Cyclones, it doesn’t get too much tougher until a matchup with 23rd ranked Cincinnati, who is always tough defensively and seems to be making strides on offense. But the BIG 12 leaders should still handle Cincy. Just over a week following the Cincinnati game, the Cyclones travel to Oklahoma to face off against the also unbeaten Sooners. This is where Iowa State’s run ends. In a potentially instant-classic matchup, I’ll take the Sooners and Buddy Hield at home over the Cyclones.
Michigan State Spartans
The number one team in the nation, Michigan State has looked fantastic up to this point. Denzel Valentine is making an early bid for Player of the Year, as he already has two triple doubles in nine games and leads the Spartans in points, rebounds and assists, truly dominant. An all around great team, MSU ranks 45th in points per game, 1st in assists per game, 11th in rebounding and allow the 12th fewest points per game in the nation. An early statement win over Kansas, which featured a Valentine triple double, proved the team was legit from the jump. Impressive wins over Kris Dunn and the Providence Friars and #24 Louisville has Michigan State looking like a national title contender. The Spartans could potentially stay undefeated until late January with a matchup against #6 ranked Maryland. Even though the game is at home, the Terps have been as good as advertised to this point in the season. Potential trap games for MSU could be Iowa (twice), Florida and maybe Wisconsin. But expect the Spartans to run the table until they run into Maryland.
Speaking of Oklahoma, they look like a national championship contender at 6-0. They rank top 20 in points, 2nd in rebounding and top 50 in assists per game. The defense even allows just 61 points per game, good for 19th in the country. Oklahoma also has a Wooden Award candidate in Buddy Hield, who leads the team in points with a hair over 20 a game. Oklahoma edged out a win over upset-minded Memphis, but held on for a six point win. Another impressive win over Wisconsin has only been trumped by a truly dominant performance over #9 Villanova, whom the Sooners beat soundly by 23. We’ve already established that Oklahoma will win at home over Iowa State, but the undefeated season quest doesn’t get much easier, as they travel to Allen FieldHouse to face #2 Kansas just two days later. Another big time BIG 12 matchup, Allen FieldHouse will be jumping, but no one simply goes into Kansas at the field house and knocks off Kansas, not even Oklahoma.
Purdue is also a team that up to this point is 9-0. Purdue was a team that a lot of people, myself included, overlooked. Purdue has an embarrassment of riches in the front court, including Isaac Haas, who leads the team in points, A.J. Hammons and stud freshman Caleb Swanigan. The trio has the Boilermakers ranked seventh in rebounds per game, and they also help anchor one of the top defensive units in the nation. A pretty easy schedule up to this point, Purdue has played Florida and Pittsburgh, and that’s basically it. Two games that Purdue could potentially lose in the recent future are against #18 Butler and #21 Vanderbilt. But I’m going to say that Purdue falls to the Butler Bulldogs. The experience of Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones and Andrew Chrabascz will be too tough for Purdue to handle.
Saint Mary’s Gaels
The Gaels have made the NIT Tournament the last two seasons and want to finally get into the Big Dance (we’ll see how they do against Gonzaga). And so far, so good. They are off to a solid 6-0 start. The Gaels love to share the rock and rank sixth in assists per game. Led by guards Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon, Saint Mary’s has already beaten two teams who went dancing last year, and the NIT champions last year in Stanford. Unfortunately for the Gaels, theres not much to look forward to in the next matchup vs the California Bears who are the mix for a PAC 12 championship. Good start Saint Mary’s but the unbeaten season finished come Saturday.
SMU actually earns a lot of credit. They aren’t postseason eligible due to due NCAA violations, but they are still playing hard even though they can’t go dancing this year. They could easily have just laid down and not competed, but the 7-0 start shows me that they’ll still leave it all out on the court. SMU was a legit NCAA Tournament contender until the suspension. Anyways, the ‘Stangs are led by Nic Moore, who leads the squad in points and assists and is the senior leader on this team. SMU has had an easy schedule, but has taken care of business and are now ranked #19 in the nation.The lone impressive win on the resumé is a blowout win over Michigan. Looking ahead, the schedule doesn’t get too much harder until a showdown against Cincinnati on January 7th. This game could really go either way, but Cincy’s defense is just too good for the Mustangs.
South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina might have the easiest schedule out of any unbeaten team. The best team they have played is Tulsa, big whoop. Regardless, the Gamecocks have taken care of business and stand at 8-0. Led by Mindaugas Kacinas and Sindarious Thornwell (sick names, both pronounced exactly how they look), “the other USC” stands unbeaten. They aren’t elite in any category, but once again, they’re undefeated. South Carolina should stay perfect until a matchup versus Memphis. Memphis is a team that always has talent, but hasn’t seen it lead to on the court production since the days of Derrick Rose, which technically don’t even exist. Bottomline, South Carolina’s record is misleading and I would expect them to fall off quite a bit in conference play.
Xavier’s schedule also doesn’t jump off the page as impressive, but the teams that they’ve played, they’ve dominated. X has won every game except one by double digits. The 9-0 Musketeers impressive win over #24 Michigan at Ann Arbor showed how legit they could be. Xavier has scored over 90 in three straight games, which is impressive in any right. Sophomore Trevon Bluiett leads them in points with a shade under 16 per. Xavier is an elite rebounding team, ranking 15th in the country. If you really want to get into Xavier’s start read Tyler’s article here. The next game for the Musketeers is against hated rival Cincinnati. X gets the win at home over the Bearcats but will lose their first game New Year’s Eve at #9 Villanova.
UNC Wilmington Seahawks
Last but certainly not least, the UNC Wilmington Seahawks are 5-0. The only undefeated team with an easier schedule than South Carolina, the Seahawks have played cupcakes. Best team they’ve played? Western Michigan? Sure, I guess. UNC Wilmington still does some things right. They rank second in the NCAA in steals with 12 per game and seventh in points with 89 per game, lead by Craig Ponder. So congrats on that UNC. Unfortunately for Seahawks fans, the unbeaten season ends Saturday against Georgetown. Sorry UNC Wilmington, but you’ve got no chance in a game at Georgetown on Saturday.