Wednesday December 16th, 2009

When Villanova suffered its first loss on Sunday at Temple, Wildcats coach Jay Wright didn't sound devastated, merely resigned. The dream of a perfect season had not been lost because Wright had never dreamt that was possible. "This team was not going to go undefeated, I promise you that," he said.

That quote, in one form or another, will be repeated 11 more times this season. That's how many teams are undefeated, and I promise you not one of their coaches believes they will end the season with the first perfect record since Indiana in 1976. This time last year, there was rampant speculation as to whether North Carolina could run in the table, but they're not even floating that possibility in Lawrence and Lexington. Everybody is going to lose this season. The only question is when.

Hoop Thinkers know that in this space, we answer such beguiling questions. What follows is a primer on the remaining unbeatens with my firm promise -- OK, my best guess -- as to when they will suffer their first setback. I've provided the list in the chronological order of the predicted first losses.

I like my chances to get most of these picks right. Just don't expect me to be perfect.

Record: 8-0

Best win: 89-79 at Cornell

Streak will end on: Dec. 19 vs. Temple

Skinny: While I wouldn't discount a true road win against a very good Cornell team, clearly the Pirates have not established their bona fides like most of the others on this list. If this game against Temple was coming two or three days after the Owls' upset of Villanova, I would probably pick the Hall to win. But Temple has had plenty of time to come down from its emotional high, and the Owls have played a far more rigorous schedule (Georgetown, Siena, Virginia Tech, St. John's, Villanova) than Seton Hall to this point. Seton Hall will benefit from gaining the eligibility of guard Keon Lawrence (suspension) and forward Jeff Robinson (second-semester transfer), but I doubt those guys will have much of an impact in just their first game.

Record: 9-0

Best win: 83-75 vs. Tulsa

Streak will end on: Dec. 19 at Saint Louis

Skinny: The Bears have done well to stay unblemished thus far, but keep in mind they also got off to a good start last year before losing 17 of their final 21 and finishing in 10th place in the Missouri Valley Conference. The rubber will once again hit the road -- literally -- when the Bears embark on the final three games of their current four-game road swing. Rick Majerus' Billikens aren't exactly a Final Four team, but their 6-3 record does include a win at home against Southern Illinois, which most Valley watchers would say is better than Missouri State.

Record: 8-0

Best win: 78-62 vs. Pittsburgh in Kansas City

Streak will end on: Dec. 22 vs. Michigan State

Skinny: The Longhorns have looked very impressive in the early going, but considering their best win is against a Pitt team that probably won't make the NCAA tournament, the jury is out on just how good they are. You also have to wonder how well that schedule has prepared them for their upcoming games. If they get by North Carolina on Saturday at Dallas Cowboys Stadium, they will have to rejigger their emotions for a Spartans team that has, by contrast, played a brutal early schedule. Michigan State has also won the last three meetings between these teams. Maybe the Spartans just have the Longhorns' number.

Record: 9-0

Best win: 99-92 (OT) vs. Washington

Streak will end on: Dec. 29 at New Mexico

Skinny: Raise your hands if you circled this game in the preseason as a potential battle of the unbeatens. The Red Raiders are one of the pleasant surprises in the early going, but aside from their win at home over the Huskies, their victories have come almost exclusively against weak teams at home. (They did not play in any early-season tournaments, and their only road wins have come at Stephen F. Austin and TCU.) If the Raiders can get by Wichita State on the road and Stanford at home, they will have their comeuppance in The Pit, which is always one of the toughest places to win.

Record: 10-0

Best wins: 86-78 vs. California; 84-81 vs. Texas A&M in Houston

Streak will end on: Jan. 1 vs. Dayton

Skinny: The Lobos are not pretenders. Steve Alford has a couple of real gems in his two versatile, lefty forwards Roman Martinez and Darington Hobson. While I would normally be hesitant to pick against this team in the Pit, in this case they will be facing a Dayton team that can match their talent but far exceeds them in experience and toughness. This game also comes right before the start of the conference season, which for New Mexico begins with a road date at San Diego State followed by home games against UNLV and Utah. And if New Mexico really is still undefeated going into this game, you can be sure the Flyers will be plenty amped up to hand them their first loss.

Record: 7-0

Best win: 73-66 vs. Texas A&M in Anaheim

Streak will end on: Jan. 1 at Purdue

Skinny: To beat the Mountaineers, you have to be able to match their muscle at all five positions. Purdue can do that, but the Boilermakers can also score more proficiently than West Virginia, especially at home. I know the Mountaineers would like to stay undefeated, but they've already played some important games, and since it's not a Big East contest, I don't see a real high incentive for them in this one.

Record: 9-0

Best win: 57-55 vs. Memphis in St. Louis

Streak will end on: Jan. 10 at Tennessee

Skinny: It's hard to envision the top-ranked Jayhawks losing in Allen Fieldhouse, so that leaves four possible road opponents: Temple (Jan. 2), Tennessee (Jan. 10), Iowa State (Jan. 23) and Kansas State (Jan. 30). Temple will provide a major test (as Jay Wright can attest), but I went with Tennessee because that will only be KU's third true road game of the season. I like this Vols team; they're one of the few squads in the country who come close to matching up with Kansas in both talent and experience.

Record: 9-0

Best wins: 73-72 vs. Tennessee in the Virgin Islands; 69-58 vs. Wake Forest

Streak will end on: Jan. 9 at Wisconsin

Skinny: This was an easy call. Madison is the place where perfect records go to die. The Badgers will be laying in wait to snap the Boilermakers' win streak, and they'll be more than happy to slow down the game and slug it out in the half court. Remember, Purdue is still playing without speedy point guard Lewis Jackson, who has not played this season (and may be done for the year) because of a foot injury.

Record: 8-0

Best wins: 72-65 vs. Butler in Madison Square Garden; 74-66 vs. Washington 74-66 in Anaheim

Streak will end on: Jan. 14 vs. Seton Hall

Skinny: It might surprise you to see me going with a home game against a middle-of-the-pack Big East team. I did so because a) Seton Hall is better than people realize and b) this game comes right after the Hoyas' home date with UConn and before their road game at Villanova. There's only so much energy a team can muster, and while Georgetown is Sweet 16 good (which is why I think they'll squeak by UConn), this team is not operating on a huge margin for error.

Record: 10-0

Best wins: 87-71 vs. North Carolina at Madison Square Garden; 85-73 vs. Florida in Tampa

Streak will end on: Jan. 16 at West Virginia

Skinny: I was tempted to go with the Jan. 6 date with Memphis in the Carrier Dome, but assuming the Orange survive that one, I envision them falling in Morgantown. That will be the second of a three-game road swing for Syracuse that includes games at Rutgers and Notre Dame. That means the Orange will be ripe for the picking.

Record: 10-0

Best wins: 68-66 vs. North Carolina; 64-61 vs. UConn in Madison Square Garden

Streak will end on: Jan. 26 at South Carolina

Skinny: According to coach John Calipari, the Cats are actually 5-5, so maybe I shouldn't have included them on this list. That aside, I think this team has the ability to rise to the occasion against good teams, even on the road, which is why I didn't select their Jan. 12 date in Gainesville. Kentucky is more likely to lose because it overlooked a lesser opponent that is good enough to beat them. By the time the Cats get to Columbia, the folks there will have had this game circled for months. For Kentucky, it will be just another game.

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