The number of undefeated teams in college basketball had dwindled all the way to five by Dec. 11 last season, back before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the sport’s scheduling norms. Over a month further along on the calendar this season, there are still eight undefeated teams: Alabama A&M, Baylor, Citadel, Drake, Gonzaga, Michigan, Siena and Winthrop. Two more — American and Loyola (MD) American of the Patriot League — have yet to play and could technically up that number to ten.
A late start to the season and the dozens of cancellations and postponements that have resulted from the pandemic explain why more teams have still managed to avoid a loss at this point in the season; there have been fewer total games and fewer chances to lose as a result. But history and common sense tells us that the number of unbeaten is going to thin quickly in the next few weeks, and perhaps even in the next few days as conference play continues to reach full throttle.
So for this week’s edition of the Dribble Handoff, our writers are making their picks for which undefeated team will be the first to lose. Since Alabama A&M has played just two games and Siena has played only four, they were taken off the table as options. Unsurprisingly, Gonzaga went unselected by our four-member panel, as the No. 1 Bulldogs continue to look capable of running through West Coast Conference play with an undefeated record.
Honestly, I didn’t realize The Citadel is still undefeated until one of our editors, Marcus Nelson, pointed out that The Citadel is indeed still undefeated. But now that I’m aware, Duggar Baucom’s Bulldogs are the obvious answer to this question, if only because they’re listed as 13.5-point underdogs to Furman this afternoon. Beyond that, The Citadel’s 8-0 record has almost no substance. Four of the wins are against teams that don’t even play Division I basketball, another three are against schools ranked outside of the top 270 of the NET; the only decent win is a 92-87 win over Chattanooga. But playing Furman is a pretty sizable step up in competition. So The Citadel should be 8-1 in a few hours — and then, more than likely, things will spiral considering KenPom projects the Bulldogs to be underdogs in literally every game remaining on their schedule. — Gary Parrish
Well, this isn’t where I planned on being, but I’ve got to take a look at the schedule and acknowledge the league connected to the team. What Michigan pulled off against Wisconsin on Tuesday night amounted to one of the most impressive wins of the season so far. Juwan Howard’s team, at one point, led by the nicely outrageous score of 69-29; it pulled off a 43-6 run! This is not the kind of team I want to be picking against.
This is the Big Ten. It’s the best conference in college basketball. Michigan’s next game is scheduled for this weekend against Minnesota — a Minnesota team that lost only one week ago by a larger margin (82-57) than Wisconsin did on Tuesday night. But if you take a look at how teams playing each other in back-to-backs or on short turnarounds this season, you’ll see the first game gives little indication of a repeat performance on both sides in the second. And Minnesota is good enough to make the NCAA Tournament. So while it’s easy to envision Michigan continuing its unbeaten streak deep into January, it’s just as easy for me to see the Wolverines finding themselves in a close game on the road this weekend and taking their first L. — Matt Norlander
Baylor leads the entire sport this season in scoring margin, ahead of an historically great Gonzaga team. It is also 11-0 on the season with double-digit wins in each of its four Big 12 games. So why am I fading the Bears here? Because the conference slate is about to tighten up significantly compared to its first four games in league play. On deck over its next three is a road trip to Lubbock to face No. 15 Texas Tech, followed by a home bout vs. Kansas and another road test in Stillwater to take on an Oklahoma State team that just beat Kansas. Those teams are a combined 10-7 in Big 12 play this season, a sharp contrast to the four previous Big 12 foes it has faced to this point which are a combined 5-16 in league play this season. Baylor is going to most likely enter those games as the favorite, but that scoring margin is going to dip and find itself in some close ones over the next few weeks. The chances it gets tripped up along this upcoming gauntlet are higher than at any other point in the season thus far. — Kyle Boone
Winthrop has finished with a winning record in Big South play for seven straight years under Pat Kelsey and is well on its way to making it eight straight years after starting 8-0 in the conference (11-0 overall) this season. But the Eagles have never lost fewer than three league games during that span, and they have been living on the edge a bit recently while hoisting a ton of 3-pointers and leading the nation in adjusted tempo. The Eagles trailed Gardner-Webb 46-40 at halftime on Sunday before coming back to win 91-83 over a team that is now just 3-8. A few days earlier, the Eagles narrowly survived an upset bid from a Charleston Southern team that is now just 1-9. So while Winthrop appears likely to win the Big South, as was predicted in the league’s preseason poll, the bet here is that the Eagles will soon suffer their first loss and produce a final conference record in line with recent norms. — David Cobb