The dream of an unbeaten season is really just a dream. Unachievable except in the 813 section of your municipal library. But going unbeaten in conference play is done every year (if you don’t count 2011 as a “year”), sometimes by a team that doesn’t seem all that remarkable. As of this moment there are 18 teams that are showing at least a 1% chance of going unbeaten in conference play. Let’s get to know them better.
1. Kentucky (SEC) 15.2%. The Wildcats have won their first three conference games by margins of 23, 42, and 26. Not only will they be favored in their remaining 15 SEC games, but they may be a double-digit favorite in all but one game (at Florida on February 4). Kentucky is also currently my pick to be the Selection Sunday favorite to win the NCAA tournament.
2. Gonzaga (WCC) 12.4%. That 12.4% is also the chance the Zags enter the WCC tournament with an unblemished record. They still have to play Saint Mary’s twice and the road game will be roughly a toss-up. Besides those two games, a road game at BYU is the only contest where they will not be a double-digit favorite.
3. Texas Southern (SWAC) 10.2%. Mike Davis’s team has played 16 games and every single one of them has been a true road game. The Tigers are 7-9 overall and have won their first three conference games, including the toughest game on the schedule, at Southern. But all three games were close, and were contested without center Derrick Griffin, the reigning SWAC player of the year. Griffin quit the team before conference play to prepare for the NFL Draft. So these chances may be overestimated.
4. North Carolina Central (MEAC) 7.6%. The Eagles will make their MEAC debut tonight but based on non-conference play, they are the overwhelming favorite to win the MEAC regular season.
5. Wichita State (MVC) 7.1%. The Shockers are the gift that keeps on giving…losses to MVC opponents. They are off to a 4-0 and have yet to trail in the second half of any conference game. They should be favored in every game the rest of the way with the only question being Saturday’s game at #50 Illinois State.
6. Cincinnati (American) 4.4%. The Bearcats are 3-0 in the American and have cleared road games against Temple and Houston from the path to perfection. They’ll probably be an underdog at SMU on February 12 and late road games against UCF and UConn promise to be the kind of low-scoring slogs that usually result in close scores.
7. Oakland (Horizon) 3.9%. Head coach Greg Kampe’s situation deserves an article all its own. After years of appearing to ignore the defensive end, Oakland is suddenly winning with defense. Gone are the days of winning games 108-97 – the Grizzlies beat UIC over the weekend in a 58-57 nailbiter. Oakland won convincingly at Valpo last Friday to open the door for some undefeated talk. They are 4-0 and should be favored in every game the rest of way, although not by a lot in a few cases.
8. Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun) 3.5%. There are only 14 games on the A-Sun slate, so that makes the task a bit more manageable for the Eagles. Then throw in the fact that FGCU is currently 98th while no other A-Sun team is in the top 200. Still, road games against Lipscomb and NJIT won’t be easy.
9. Middle Tennessee (Conference USA) 3.4%. The Blue Raiders are much better than last season’s team thanks to Arkansas cast-off Jacorey Williams, who is the frontrunner to win C-USA player of the year. The team is 4-0 but still has two games with Marshall among its remaining 14 conference contests.
10. Saint Mary’s (WCC) 3.1%. There are two teams from the WCC on this list, which tells you something about the WCC. There are two very good teams, a potentially annoying BYU team and then six other teams ranking outside the top 150. It’s hard to imagine the Saint Mary’s sweeping Gonzaga, but it’s not hard to imagine the Zags providing the Gaels’ only loss(es).
11. Vermont (America East) 2.9%. There’s not a lot of separation between UVM and the rest of America East, but it’s opened up more than we might have expected a few weeks ago. They’ll be favored in each of their remaining 14 games, but almost all of the road games will be challenging.
12. New Mexico State (WAC) 2.9%. The Aggies only need to play 14 conference games and they have already won two, both on the road. They should be an underdog at Cal State Bakersfield, though.
13. UNC Wilmington (CAA) 2.8%. I’m guessing that of all the teams ranked in my top 50, America is least familiar with UNCW. The Seahawks were expected to contend for a title in the tough CAA – the best or second-best single-bid conference in the country depending on how the MVC shakes out – but they’ve started 15-2 and 4-0 in conference play, which includes three road wins.
14. Princeton (Ivy) 1.6%. There was a path to a two-bid Ivy this season, what with its new season-ending mini-tournament, but it involved the Tigers taking care of some business in non-conference play. Though they played plenty of competitive games against decent competition, they largely failed to do that. They’re probably still the favorite in the Ivy, but Princeton also has lost two starters to season-ending injuries.
15. Bucknell (Patriot) 1.3%. The only time the Patriot League cracked the top 20 of my conference ratings was when CJ McCollum and Mike Muscala were playing in it. It’s ranked 21st this season and Bucknell has cracked the top 100 after a 4-0 start in the PL which includes three road wins. There’s a good chance the league sends a dangerous team to the tournament, whether it’s Bucknell, or the teams who are most likely to spoil their unbeaten dreams, Lehigh and Boston U.
16. Arizona (Pac-12) 1.2%. There are two unbeatens in the Pac-12, but the Wildcats have a better shot than Oregon partly because they still get to play the Washington schools twice each. Arizona will be an underdog twice – in games at Oregon and UCLA – even in Allonzo Trier magically appears on the court.
17. Dayton (Atlantic-10) 1.2%. It’s back-to-back Miller action. The Flyers are gunning for their fourth-consecutive tournament bid and this may be Archie’s best team thanks to an infusion of perimeter shooting that gives the offense some pop. Dayton is 15 games from perfection but that includes two games against Saint Louis, who would be featured in the list of teams with the best chance of going winless.
18. East Tennessee State (Sun Belt) 1.1%. The 65th-ranked Bucs aren’t even the top-rated team in the league. That honor belongs to #59 Chattanooga. But both of those teams have put some distance between them and the rest of the league. The only game in which ETSU is expected to be an underdog is the roadie against the Mocs.
It’s instructive to note that all of these teams are favorites in almost all of their remaining games, yet have have small chances to actually win them all. For instance, Kentucky is heavily-favored in each of its remaining games but this site is only giving them about a 1-in-6 chance to win all of those games. Resist the urge to conflate the two ideas and publicly state things like “kenpom is predicting Kentucky to win the rest of its games”. Thank you.