Will final four unbeatens remain perfect in January?
The calendar has turned to 2012, and there are just four unbeaten teams remaining among the 345 that play Division I basketball.
Three of them are from the “power leagues,” including Baylor and Missouri of the Big 12. The other unbeaten “Big Six” school is Syracuse, from the Big East. The final unbeaten is Murray State, from the Ohio Valley Conference.
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Here’s a quick look at each of the quartet and their chances of being unbeaten when January ends.
Best wins: 77-67 vs. San Diego State on Nov. 15, 86-83 at BYU on Dec. 17, 72-59 vs. Saint Mary’s on Dec. 22, 83-81 vs. West Virginia on Dec. 23, 54-52 vs. Mississippi State on Dec. 28
Toughest January games: Jan. 10 at Kansas State, Jan. 16 at Kansas, Jan. 21 vs. Missouri, Jan. 28 vs. Texas
Prediction: The Bears have played a solid schedule and against a wide variety of opponents. They were not only able to survive a run-and-gun affair at BYU but also squeak by in a physical affair against Mississippi State. There still are questions about the backcourt, but the frontcourt is loaded with talented players. The Bears play K-State, Kansas and Missouri during a four-game stretch in the middle of this month; it seems unlikely that they will escape unscathed. If they do? February is a much easier month than January. Still, expect the Bears to emerge from January with two losses.
Best wins: 92-53 vs. California on Nov. 22, 81-71 vs. Villanova on Dec. 6, 78-74 vs. Illinois on Dec. 22
Toughest January games: Jan. 7 at Kansas State, Jan. 16 vs. Texas A&M, Jan. 21 at Baylor, Jan. 30 at Texas
Prediction: Mizzou’s schedule strength is just 250th, though the neutral-court wins over Cal and Illinois are impressive. Mizzou lost star F Laurence Bowers before the season to a knee injury, but the Tigers have been able to overcome his absence. New coach Frank Haith prefers a guard-heavy lineup anyway, and he frequently has made use of a four-guard set. The game at Kansas State bears watching because of K-State’s physical nature. While it wouldn’t be that big a surprise if Mizzou wins that, it’s hard to see this small team winning at Baylor on Jan. 21. Missouri is going to have at least one loss, and more likely two, by the end of the month.
Best wins: 62-55 at UAB on Nov. 20, 90-81 vs. Southern Miss on Nov. 26, 75-58 vs. Dayton on Dec. 4, 76-72 at Memphis on Dec. 11
Toughest January games: Jan. 7 at Austin Peay, Jan. 18 at Morehead State
Prediction: Murray is the only Ohio Valley Conference team that has an RPI better than 195th, and nine of the league’s 11 teams are 211th or worse. Frankly, it would be a shocker if Murray loses in January. Road trips to Austin Peay and Morehead State looked extremely daunting before the season, but they don’t look tough at all right now. Indeed, the toughest games look to be Feb. 23 at Tennessee State and Feb. 25 at Tennessee Tech – and those are the final two regular-season games.
Best wins: 69-63 vs. Stanford on Nov. 25, 72-68 vs. Florida on Dec. 2, 75-49 vs. Seton Hall on Dec. 28
Toughest January games: Jan. 7 vs. Marquette, Jan. 16 vs. Pitt, Jan. 23 at Cincinnati, Jan. 28 vs. West Virginia
Prediction: Eventually, someone in the Big East is going to step up and bite Syracuse; actually, it seems likely that will happen three or four times. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Orange are still unbeaten at the end of January. Of note: Syracuse has played just one true road game, vs. North Carolina State on Dec. 17, a game it won by 16.
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