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Which College Basketball Team Can Stay Perfect the Longest?

Jr. Guard Nick Johnson and the Arizona Wildcats are a perfect 9-0 this season

Perfection. This is the ultimate goal for each team at the beginning of every season.

A third of the way through the season, only 14 out of 351 Division I college basketball teams remain within a hopeful reach of this astonishing feat:

(1) Arizona, (2) Syracuse, (3) Ohio State, (4) Wisconsin, (9) Connecticut, (10) Villanova, (13) Wichita State, (15) Oregon, (17) Iowa State, (22) Massachusetts, (24) Missouri, Pittsburgh, Toledo, and Saint Mary’s.

UCLA was knocked off the undefeated list this past Saturday after losing to Missouri and Boise State was also handed their first loss after losing to Kentucky on Tuesday night.

Since 1939, only nine Division I teams have ever completed the regular season undefeated, with seven continuing their perfection throughout the NCAA tournament. Four out of the seven teams to win those national titles have been the UCLA Bruins in 1964,67,72, and 73, leaving a total of only four different schools having a perfect season. The remaining schools to do so were the San Francisco Dons in 1956, North Carolina Tar Heels in 1957, and most recently the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers led by legendary coach Bob Knight. Many dominant teams have come and gone since then, but it takes a truly special team to be perfect. The most recent, yet not so recent chance at perfection came in 1991, when a perfect UNLV team lost to Duke in the semi-final of the tournament.

So does any team have a shot at perfection this season? Or will another season go by, making it 38 years since it has last been done.

With conference play right around the corner, the stronger teams in weaker conferences have the best shot at an undefeated regular season. Number 13 ranked Wichita State plays a decent Tennessee team this upcoming Saturday at home, and then doesn’t face much competition heading into the Missouri Valley Conference play. Other than Wichita State, no team in the conference has received a single top 25 vote throughout the season. Missouri State, Drake and Indiana State will be the most significant matchups for the Shockers in their division and they have to play each of those teams twice. Needless to say it will be no easy task, but it doesn’t seem impossible. As far as perfection after the regular season, the Shockers will be very likely to lose in the tournament.

Toledo is another undefeated team that has the potential to dominate within it’s conference. However, they play away at Kansas on December 30th and the likeliness of a loss is extremely high. If somehow, someway they pull of the upset, going undefeated throughout the Mid-American conference is a possibility. Playing away games against Ohio, Western Michigan, and Eastern Michigan will prove to be very difficult, but if they continue to average over 90 ppg and shoot over .522 percent from the floor, it’d be interesting to see if they can pull it off. This being said, a first round loss in the NCAA tournament would be bound to happen. 

Having a perfect regular season is one thing, doing that as well as winning the tournament is a an even more difficult task. The Arizona Wildcats have dominated thus far earning themselves the number one spot in the rankings. Aside from a recent shaky five point win over a sub-par UNLV team, the Wildcats have shown hardly any weakness. If they want to continue this winning streak they can’t ever play like they did against UNLV again, especially playing in the Pac-12 conference. A non-conference game away against Michigan this weekend won’t be an easy win, and playing UCLA, Oregon, and Colorado each two more times within the conference will be difficult to say the least. These games will be tough, but neither of these teams have been ranked within the top 10 all season and the Wildcats will be favorites to win. If by the slight chance they do go undefeated through the regular season they will be in great position to make a run at a national title.

Syracuse, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Connecticut all have their work cut out for them within their extremely competitive conferences and at least one loss for each of these teams is a safe bet. Villanova has a matchup at Syracuse that will be very difficult to leave with a win. They play in a conference full of currently unranked teams, but not one of these teams has losing record. Nova has to face Marquette, Georgetown, and Creighton two times each in conference play; all teams who were predicted to finish in front of them before the season began. Villanova has been very impressive earning them a top ten ranking, but a few losses are probable for the streaking Wildcats by the time the season comes to an end.  

Oregon and Iowa State will begin to lose as a result of their highly competitive conferences. Oregon has to deal with a difficult Pac-12 conference including Arizona and UCLA twice. Iowa State sits in the stacked Big 12 conference and has to play Baylor, Kansas, and Oklahoma State two times each. Massachusetts has only played one game that wasn’t home or neutral, and has a tough matchup away against Ohio coming up. After a stretch of away games from mid-January into February, playing VCU will also be a likely loss. Missouri may struggle against Illinois later in December, but if winning they could extend this streak for another month or so. After that they play LSU, Kentucky, and Florida all within a two-week span and the streak will end. Saint Mary’s plays Boise State this weekend, and has to play BYU, Gonzaga, and San Diego State two times each. Their first game of the new year away at Gonzaga will most likely be a loss. Pittsburgh doesn’t have a chance playing in the ACC conference. At best they’ll make it to mid-January until games against Syracuse, UNC, and Duke come into the schedule.

The Arizona Wildcats look as if they have the best chance at a perfect run through the season and the tournament. It being done only seven times since the tournament began in 1939 proves just how difficult it is. The odds are good for the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers to remain Division I basketball’s last undefeated champion, but with 14 undefeated teams remaining, the chance at a chase for perfection still exists.