College Basketball This Week: Who Will Be The Last Undefeated Team Standing?
As many college basketball conferences are moving into the home stretch of their regular seasons, there are surprisingly two teams – Syracuse and Wichita State – that are still undefeated. Which one of these two teams will still be undefeated by the time their conference seasons are done and they enter the rigors of their conference tournaments?
How Syracuse has made it to this point of the season undefeated is a tough question. They are “only” scoring 71.1 points per game (187th in the NCAA), averaging 12.8 assists per game (175th) and have a field goal percentage of .460 (94th). What does this tell you? That their outstanding zone defense – perfected years ago by head coach Jim Boeheim – is simply locking teams down and allowing the Orange to get past their opponents. Playing in the tough ACC, however, that may not be enough to reach the end of the regular season with an undefeated record intact.
The true test for the Orange will come February 22-March 1 when they have a three game road trip. They start off with #8 Duke on the 22nd, a team that they needed overtime to beat at home back on February 1. The game against Boston College shouldn’t be a tough one, but #17 Virginia will be another difficult test. If they can make it through those three games (and tonight’s contest against #25 Pittsburgh), they should be able to make it to the ACC Tournament undefeated. I’m not betting on it, though.
Wichita State is an entirely different story. Their league, the Missouri Valley Conference, was significantly weakened by the departure of the Creighton Bluejays to the revamped Big East. Creighton used to be the most significant challenge to the Shockers and, with them gone, Wichita State has run rampant over the league. With five games remaining on their conference schedule – and little significant opposition over that time (they do have three road games) – the Shockers should make the MVC Tournament with their undefeated record intact.
So why isn’t #4 Wichita State moving up the Top 25 (they’ve been in that slot for the last several weeks)? They don’t have a significant win anywhere on their schedule, unless you want to count a St. Louis team that was unranked at the time they played or a Tennessee team that is among the dregs of the SEC. The MVC is also one of the lowest ranked conferences as to strength of schedule, meaning that Wichita State isn’t earning any points by beating up on overmatched opposition (I personally believe that the Shockers will be looking to move to another conference for next season).
Who will be the last one standing? I’d place my money on Wichita State, but don’t be surprised if Syracuse has the mettle to be able to make that run, too.
This week’s college basketball games feature a host of key battles that will help to shape the run to the NCAA tournament. It’s almost time to start looking at filling out those brackets (and, hey, if you’re really good, take $1 billion off of Warren Buffet), so it’s time to start watching intently (home team in CAPS, pick in bold).
#1 Syracuse vs. #25 PITTSBURGH
Even though going into Pitt to play is a difficult task, the Panthers haven’t been exactly ferocious on their home floor. Two of their last four games have been losses at home (to Duke and Virginia, to be honest) and it took double overtime for the Panthers to overcome a Virginia Tech team in their last game. I would expect Syracuse to stifle the Pitt attack and keep them off the boards, control the pace of the game and win this one, even though Pitt is a 2.5 point favorite in the game.
#8 Duke vs. NORTH CAROLINA
This is one of the classic rivalry games in college basketball and it always brings out the best in both teams. Duke, a 2.5 point favorite, should destroy the Tar Heels in this game. After losing two of their first three ACC tilts, the Blue Devils have won seven of their last eight games (the loss to Syracuse is the only blemish). The North Carolina team is very inconsistent (victory over then-#3 Louisville, loss to University of Alabama-Birmingham, for example) and lost their first three ACC contests (they are currently on a five game winning streak, though). It should be an entertaining game, but Duke should take it running away.
#3 Florida vs. #14 KENTUCKY
Although they have run off 14 consecutive victories (including wins over Kansas and Memphis), it is tough to decipher how the Gators have reached the level they’re at. There isn’t anything that is outstanding about the squad, but head coach Billy Donovan has them running like a machine. This is the time of year, however, that Kentucky’s John Calipari has the Wildcats getting into tournament shape (OK, last year it didn’t work). He has his usual talented crop of freshmen (that will be gone next year) that are beginning to come together and, with the Rupp Arena crowd screaming for Big Blue, they should pull the upset over the Gators.
#20 Memphis vs. #24 CONNECTICUT
The team that Calipari left, Memphis, when he took the job in Lexington has done fairly well since his departure. This is a battle for position in the hierarchy of the American Athletic Conference (those Big East schools that got pushed out), with the winner of this game looking to avoid playing #10 Cincinnati until the AAC Tournament final. With PG Shabazz Napier running the show for the Huskies, I believe that Connecticut will have more than enough offense to defeat the Tigers (they’ve already done it once, back on January 16), especially since the game is on their home floor. If the game were in Tennessee, then the outcome would be completely different.
#4 Wichita State vs. EVANSVILLE
This game won’t even be close. Wichita State bested Evansville at the start of February by 14 points and, even though this game is on the home floor of the Purple Aces (last in the MVC with a 3-9 record), the Shockers shouldn’t have much trouble defeating them again. To give you an example of how poor the MVC is, the conference records of Wichita State’s remaining opponents (Loyola-Chicago, Drake, Bradley and Missouri State) is a woeful 19-29.
#6 Villanova vs. #18 CREIGHTON
The last time these two teams met in Philadelphia, Creighton absolutely decimated the Wildcats from the 3-point line in romping to a 96-68 victory. On Creighton’s home floor in Kansas, don’t expect Villanova to have found some answers for the Bluejays and potential NCAA Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott.
Last Time Out: A pretty depressing 2-3 record, with Duke’s thumping of Pitt on the Panthers’ home floor probably the biggest miss we had.
Season: 8-5-1, still pretty good to this point.
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