On that note, here are five undefeated teams – as of Saturday morning, December 7 – whose unbeaten records are suspect. We could very well see all of them in the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket - a couple could even be Top 5 seeds – but through the first month of the season, we haven’t learned much despite the group compiling a 40-0 record.
UCLA (8-0) – The Bruins leave home for the first time today (at Missouri, see Weekend Preview). It will be their only true road game before Pac-12 play begins; and the Bruins don’t play a conference road game until January 16 (at Colorado). Their only other non-conference NCAA-level game (right now) appears to be a matchup with Duke (Dec. 19). UCLA’s best win to date is probably Drexel at home. The Bruins’ overall non-conference schedule is okay (Northwestern, Santa Barbara, Alabama), but it would be nice to leave So Cal once in a while.
Pittsburgh (9-0) – The Panthers don’t leave home until January 4 (@NC State). Which means Pitt will have completed its non-conference schedule without playing a true road game. Prior to that, the Panthers will have played Stanford, Duquesne, and Cincinnati on neutral courts. And the Panthers’ win over Stanford is probably their best to date; although Penn State fans might argue differently. Either way, Pittsburgh might be a Top 4 seed, but that will have to be earned in the ACC – unless Stanford, Penn State, or Cincinnati shines in the coming weeks. Read more…
Massachusetts is unbeaten heading into its matchup with BYU this weekend. Of their seven wins, the Minutemen have five victories away from home – four on neutral courts and a roadie at Eastern Michigan. Can UMass keep it going? Chaz Williams and Cady Lalanne have been superb and lead five Minutemen averaging double figures in the scorebook. It’s certainly been a team effort. Much like UMass, BYU has put together a solid start to the 2013-14 season. The Cougars’ only losses are to Iowa State (two points) and Wichita State. BYU also ranks among the top teams in the nation in points per game, assists per game, and rebounding. Together, Guards Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino average 40 points a contest. Should be a fun one to follow.
Here are some of the weekend’s other Inside the Bracket matchups:
UCLA at Missouri – The visiting Bruins are unbeaten although largely untested, save a tight home opener with Drexel. This is the only true road game on UCLA’s non-conference schedule; that alone adds some intrigue and importance. The Bruins don’t play another road game until a January 16 trip to Colorado. Missouri hasn’t left home either, and doesn’t play a neutral-court game until the Tigers’ annual battle with Illinois in St. Louis. The Tigers best win probably came Thursday night against West Virginia.
Clemson at Arkansas – Both squads are part of a large group of bubble teams that will dwindle and change as the season progresses. While losing twice in Maui, the Razorbacks played well enough to beat Minnesota and battle both Gonzaga and California down to the wire. They also have an underrated home win over SMU. In the revamped ACC, Clemson has some tough sledding ahead. The Tigers gave Massachusetts all it wanted in Puerto Rico in their only loss. This is Clemson’s first road test; a victory would certainly add a nugget to the Tigers’ resume.
Marquette at Wisconsin – It’s been somewhat of a rough start for the Golden Eagles who were manhandled by Ohio State at home and taken to task by San Diego State at the Wooden Legacy. With three losses, Marquette would love to put a high-end road victory on its resume. Albeit an ugly game at Virginia, the Badgers remain unbeaten and have been as consistent as any team in the country through the first month. A win at the Kohl Center would put Wisconsin in prime position to complete its non-conference season without a setback. Read more…
Teams: Miami-Fla, George Washington, Marquette, Fullerton, Charleston, San Diego State, Creighton, Arizona State
Favorites: Marquette / Creighton - Finding a favorite in the new-look Big East is a tough task. Marquette and Creighton are two of the teams considered for that position. In a field without an otherwise clear-cut favorite, we’ll give the Golden Eagles and Bluejays top billing. Creighton finished off its first two weeks with a victory over Tulsa, but the Bluejays best win is the roadie at St. Joseph’s. Offensively, Creighton is a fine-tuned machine, ranking among the best in the nation in scoring, assists, and field goal percentage. Marquette is like a reverse reflection of the Jays. Thus far, the Golden Eagles rank near the bottom of Division 1 in field goal percentage and scoring. They make up for it with tenacious defense and rebounding.
Contender: Arizona State - It’s interesting that ASU hosted Marquette on November 25 (a two-point ASU victory). They could meet again as the Sun Devils and Golden Eagles are on opposite sides of the bracket. In the opening two weeks, ASU has proven to be a balanced team in several offensive categories; they rank high nationally in points, rebounds, and assists. Jahii Carson can carry the Sun Devils; he’s averaging 23 points a game and is hitting over 50-percent of his three-point attempts. Read more…
Teams: Kansas, Wake Forest, Villanova, USC, Tennessee, UTEP, Xavier, Iowa
Favorite: Kansas - The Jayhawks earned a No. 1 seed in our preseason bracket projection and have already beaten Duke on a neutral court. Even in a deep and talented field, Andrew Wiggins and company will be favored in any game they play in the Bahamas. Plus, the bracket sets up nicely for the Jayhawks. Following the opener with Wake Forest, KU will face either Villanova or USC in the semifinals. If the Jayhawks play well, expect to see them in the title game.
Contenders: Iowa / Tennessee - This is the year that Iowa is supposed to finish in the top of half of the Big Ten conference and return to the NCAA tournament. Between now and mid-March we’ll see if those predictions hold true. Iowa arrives in the Bahamas averaging over 90 points a game, led by Roy Devin-Marble (14 ppg) and Aaron White (13 ppg / 7.6 rpg). The Hawkeyes are also among the nation’s best in rebounding and assists. Much like Iowa, this is the year Tennessee is supposed to break through and participate in March Madness. They opened the season ranked in our Power 24. Since then, the Volunteers have fallen four points short in a road loss at Xavier and won three at home against lesser competition. Jordan McRae (21 ppg) and Jarnell Stokes have been the most consistent offensive threats. Can the Volunteers play like a Top 25 team when it matters? We’ll find out. Read more…
Teams: Purdue, Oklahoma State, Butler, Washington State, Memphis Siena, LSU, St. Joseph’s
Favorite: Oklahoma State - Through five games, Marcus Smart and the high-powered Cowboys are averaging over 100 points a game. That includes a dominant 101-80 victory over Memphis. Smart and Markel Brown combine to average 36 points a game. OSU has the firepower to make a deep run next March. If the Cowboys continue to play defense and rebound, they’ll be tough to beat in Orlando.
Contenders: Memphis - The Tigers have to be disappointed by the drubbing Oklahoma State put on them in Stillwater. How will they respond? Memphis is arguably the second most talented team in the field. Shaq Goodwin must continue to progress. Nick King leads the Tigers in scoring through three games; he’s also second on the team in rebounding. Overall, the Tigers share the scoring load with nine players averaging at least five points. As the season is young, there are some questions about how this year’s group will mesh. Read more…