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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Just How Good Are UNC, Memphis and Kansas?

Beyond the Arc

These guys are good.

North Carolina, Memphis and Kansas. Three undefeated teams, all loaded with future NBA players and carrying Final Four expectations and title aspirations.

It’s funny, too. They’ve been this good all season.

This was the preseason AP poll.

North Carolina (29) 0-0 1,728
UCLA (24) 0-0 1,710
Memphis (18) 0-0 1,680
Kansas 0-0 1,568
The fifth was Georgetown, which received the only other first-place vote and was the only other team to garner more than 1,500 points. These were supposedly the elite teams.

And after 11 weeks, little has changed. When the rankings come out Monday, those will be the top 5 teams again. UCLA, after taking apart previously unbeaten Washington State, is as good as ever (with Kevin Love, maybe even better than the last two seasons). The Hoyas aren’t as imposing, but a win against Pitt tonight will improve their public perception even more.

But it goes back to those unbeaten teams. Just when will they lose? Ever?

According to, North Carolina (17-0) will be the first. The Heels have a 2.51 percent chance of winning the rest of their games, which makes sense.

The ACC is once again atop the RPI, elevating the Heels’ schedule to a tougher level than Kansas’ or Memphis’. UNC just dismantled N.C. State, but nothing’s guaranteed during a team’s conference schedule. The Heels needed OT to escape at Clemson, and trips to Miami, FSU, Virginia and B.C. remain, not to mention two games against Duke.

Kansas (16-0) has a slightly higher chance of not losing – 13.67 percent. After facing Oklahoma and Missouri this week (Tigers get to play KU at home, never an easy place to play and where I picked the Jayhawks to lose back in December), they don’t face the real meat of their Big 12 schedule until February. (Playing at K-State on Jan. 30 doesn’t count. KU hasn’t lost in Manhattan since 1983.)

A trip to Texas on Feb. 11 is a serious obstacle, as is the March 8 regular-season finale at Texas A&M. But the odds of the Jayhawks rolling into College Station 30-0 is remote.

That brings us to Memphis, which has a 47.3 percent chance of being unbeaten, according to (Hard to believe it’s that low considering the Tigers are 29-1 in the regular-season against C-USA the last two seasons, but it’s true that conference games are never a gimme AND games against Tennessee and Gonzaga remain. Pomeroy wrote a separate piece on the Tigers’ chances of going undefeated on, where he says there’s a 10 percent chance of a 40-0 season.)

ANYWAY, if these powerhouses continue their great starts, we may have three teams undefeated heading into February. Maybe even two unbeaten teams when March rolls around (which last happened in 2004 when St. Joe’s and Stanford pulled that trick). At that point, the inevitable question will arise: Is a loss before the NCAA Tournament a good thing?

Seth Davis says no, mostly because it helps with it would relive any added pressure that comes with trying to win the NCAA Tournament. (So what if no undefeated team has won the title since 1976.; no 1-loss team has either, and there have been 18 of those.) I side with Pomeroy – forget that. Go for history.

If there’s anything we should learn from other sports and apply here, take a page from the New England Patriots’ perfect run. No one sets out to lose a game, but a shot at making history and being one of the only unbeaten national champions is worth the added “stress” of entering the NCAA Tournament without a loss.

If you can make history, you do it. You don't worry about how stressful it might be.

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