Top-ranked Kentucky, ACC contenders Duke and Virginia, Big East favorite Villanova and pleasant surprises Colorado State and TCU are the only six teams still without a loss. A look at why each is unbeaten and when each is most likely to suffer its first loss:
Colorado State (13-0)
Most impressive wins: at Colorado, UTEP, Georgia State, UCSB
Why they're unbeaten: A transfer-laden roster full of guys with plenty to prove has jelled quickly. Daniel Bejarano never cracked the rotation at Arizona. J.J. Avila (Navy), Stanton Kidd (North Carolina Central) and John Gillon (Arkansas Little Rock) were each lightly recruited players eager for a shot to win at a higher level. And Gian Clavell is a Puerto Rican wing who Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy plucked from a little-known junior college. That quintet has helped a Colorado State team picked fifth in the Mountain West preseason poll exceed expectations by picking up solid wins over Colorado, UTEP and Georgia State. Whereas Bejarano and Avila lacked the help they needed offensively last season, newcomers have stepped in to offer much-needed support so far this season. Kidd and Glavell have each averaged double figures and the Rams have done an admirable job sharing the ball, contributing to an efficient offense and a top 20 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Why they won't stay that way: Though the Mountain West isn't as formidable as years past, winning on the road in that league is tougher than many realize. Road trips are long and arduous and many crowds are big and hostile. Colorado State has emerged as the biggest threat to unseat preseason favorite San Diego State atop the Mountain West, but youthful UNLV showed progress with its win against Arizona and Boise State and Wyoming are playing well too. The first big road test for the Rams comes Jan. 3 against a New Mexico team that is injury-plagued yet is always tough to beat at home. Pass that, and Colorado State has a good chance to still be unbeaten entering a four-game late-January stretch that includes a home game against San Diego State and road tests at Boise State and Wyoming.
Most likely first loss: at New Mexico on Jan. 3
Most impressive wins: at Wisconsin, Michigan State, Stanford, UConn
Why they're unbeaten: Duke has somehow gotten even more potent offensively even after sending Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood to the NBA. The Blue Devils are shooting 52.3 percent from the field and scoring a ridiculous 1.26 points per possession, both among the top three in the nation in those categories. Jahlil Okafor is averaging 18.3 points and 8.8 rebounds and has proven every bit as dominant as advertised as an interior focal point on offense. Fellow freshmen Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow have also thrived, the former emerging as an elite pass-first point guard and the latter providing slashing, rebounding, perimeter defense and even some timely outside shooting. Quinn Cook has moved off ball without complaints and shot nearly 40 percent from behind the arc. Amile Jefferson has taken advantage of chances created by Okafor's double teams. In short, if Duke isn't the most lethal offensive team in the nation, the Blue Devils are certainly on the short list.
Why they won't stay that way: Duke is definitely better defensively than it was last season when it had no rim protector at center and no commitment to staying in front of its man on the perimeter. How much better the Blue Devils are, however, will become clear over the course of ACC play. Okafor can be exploited by a big man who can shoot from the perimeter and some of Duke's guards can still be susceptible against dribble penetration. There's one stretch of the schedule in particular in which the Blue Devils could have a hard time. They visit Louisville on Jan. 17, host Pittsburgh on Jan. 19 and then embark on a three-game road trip that includes stops at St. John's, Notre Dame and Virginia. Of those games, the matchup with Louisville could be the toughest and the most attention-grabbing. Mike Krzyzewski could be going for win No. 1,000 that night, but Louisville's defensive pressure and ability to attack the rim off the dribble and via the offensive glass will pose problems for Duke.
Most likely first loss: at Louisville on Jan. 17
Most impressive wins: at Louisville, Texas, Kansas, North Carolina
Why they're unbeaten: One of the most dominant defenses in recent memory has propelled Kentucky to a 13-0 start despite facing three top 10 opponents and a fourth that began the season ranked No. 6. Opposing teams averaging .73 points per possession against the Wildcats and are shooting 29.7 percent from the floor, both the lowest in the nation by far. Every Kentucky rotation player besides Tyler Ulis stands 6-foot-6 or taller and the Wildcats are able to pressure the ball on the perimeter without fear of giving up anything off the dribble because of their stable of 7-footers patrolling the paint. Kentucky's offense isn't as far along as its defense, but the Wildcats are a terror on the offensive glass, yanking down a national best 46 percent of their misses. That helps to make up for erratic outside shooting and occasional turnover issues.
Why they won't stay that way: Well, there's a very realistic chance they will. Kentucky has been the most dominant team in college basketball so far this season and all of its toughest tests are now behind it. No SEC team is currently ranked in the AP Top 25, though Arkansas, LSU and Florida are each among those receiving votes. The toughest two stretches of the Wildcats' schedule come Feb. 7-10 when they visit Florida and LSU and Feb. 28-March 7 when they have home games against Arkansas and Florida sandwiched around a trip to Georgia. It seems highly unlikely Kentucky will lose at home this season, but a road game against a decent opponent the Wildcats don't take seriously could be cause for concern. Kentucky did after all trail Buffalo and Columbia deep into games earlier this season.
Most likely first loss: None but keep an eye on Jan. 17 at Alabama and Feb. 10 at LSU
Most impressive wins: at Ole Miss, Washington State, Mississippi State
Why they're unbeaten: TCU's surprising 13-0 record is a product of both its improvement and a tissue-soft schedule hand-picked to produce early-season wins. Nine of the Horned Frogs' 13 victims are teams ranked 250th or below in the KenPom rankings. A pair of other wins came against perhaps the two worst power-conference teams in the nation. The only decent win TCU attained in November and December was a solid road victory at Ole Miss. One reason TCU can't be completely disregarded as an impostor, however, is the Horned Frogs aren't just beating these bad teams — they're annihilating them. All but two of TCU's wins are by double figures, and the Horned Frogs are ranked in the top 15 nationally in both points per possession scored and points per possession surrendered.
Why they won't stay that way: The schedule is about to stiffen dramatically. Seven Big 12 teams reside in the KenPom Top 25, and TCU will face each of those teams twice apiece. That's a gauntlet no team in the nation would be likely to endure unscathed, let alone one that has gone 2-34 in league play in its first two seasons in the Big 12 and fell by 10 or more points in 27 of its 34 losses. This TCU team is clearly deeper, healthier and better than either of those two, but how much stronger the Horned Frogs are won't be clear until a few weeks into conference play. They open with West Virginia at home on Saturday, then travel to Kansas State before returning home to face Baylor. Two out of three wins would be a big statement that TCU is a legitimate NCAA tournament threat.
Most likely first loss: at Kansas State on Jan. 7
Most impressive wins: Syracuse, VCU, Michigan, Illinois
Why they're unbeaten: Villanova continues to prove that it's possible to win — and win big — without a star. The sixth-ranked Wildcats are off to an impressive 12-0 start even though no player averages more than 12.6 points per game, no player logs more than 28 minutes per game and no player is likely to be selected in the NBA draft anytime soon. The secret is that the experienced Wildcats have all the intangibles needed to be an elite team without elite talent, from taking care of the basketball, to giving a consistent effort on defense to making good decisions down the stretch in close games. It also doesn't hurt that every Villanova player on the floor is typically a threat to score. Seven Villanova players average 7.6 or more points per game and an eighth, freshman Phil Booth, averages nearly six despite playing only 12 minutes per game. The Wildcats also do all the little things to make
Why they won't stay that way: Unlike last season when the Big East was somewhat of a two-team league before Providence came on late in the season, the conference is much deeper this year. That means Villanova will be tested early and often this season by the likes of St. John's, Georgetown, Butler, Providence, Xavier and Seton Hall. Villanova typically does all the little things well but it's not so talented that it can suffer a letdown against a quality opponent and still win. It also doesn't help that the Wildcats are an erratic 3-point shooting team prone to cold and hot streaks. Villanova's toughest early season tests come at Seton Hall, at St. John's and at Georgetown. Facing Seton Hall without Isaiah Whitehead is a big plus, as is the Wildcats' ability to take care of the ball and keep St. John's out of transition. The Georgetown game could be the toughest of the three as the Hoyas have perimeter firepower and a mammoth senior center who's a terrible mismatch for the Wildcats.
Most likely first loss: at Georgetown on Jan. 19
Most impressive wins: at Maryland, at VCU, George Washington, Harvard
Why they're unbeaten: This has been Tony Bennett's best team for two reasons: Virginia's always stingy pack-line defense is even tougher to score against than ever before and the Cavaliers are also much more efficient on offense than in previous years. Opponents are shooting only 31.2 percent against a Virginia defense designed to limit transition opportunities, protect the paint and force teams into contested jump shots. That's a lower percentage allowed than any team in the nation besides Kentucky. The Cavaliers might not score a ton of points since they play at such a slow tempo, but they are taking advantage of the possessions they do have. Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon lead an offense that is both the top 25 nationally in field goal percentage and offensive rebounding percentage, a combination that has Virginia averaging a gaudy 1.17 points per possession.
Why they won't stay that way: Can Virginia win the ACC? It's a possibility. Can Virginia go undefeated in ACC play? No. Too many difficult games await Virginia starting with road games against Miami and Notre Dame in early January. If neither of those two games result in the Cavaliers' first loss, it's unlikely they'll survive three straight against Duke, North Carolina and Louisville three weeks later. Of those three, Duke in particular poses some challenges for Virginia with its outside shooting prowess. Louisville will struggle to score against a team that limits its chances off the dribble and in transition and North Carolina is a poor shooting team besides Marcus Paige, but the Blue Devils are well built to handle a pack-line defense.
Most likely first loss: vs. Duke on Jan. 31
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