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The Mad Geek

Which team has the best shot at going undefeated? KenPom says it’s not KU

Forty and 0.

It seems like everywhere you turn, you hear someone bringing up the possibility of the Kansas men’s basketball team running the table this season, whether it’s the first reader comment under a story or a fan blog or Xavier Henry after his first game.

But, truthfully, what are KU’s realistic chances of completing a perfect season? And, even before that, what are the Jayhawks’ chances of going 31-0 — which would be a perfect run through the regular season?

For help with that question, I sought help from an unbiased source: KenPom.com.

If you don’t know already, the site is a stat-nerd’s delight, giving all of Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistics and his statistical projections (based on each team’s statistics) for the rest of the NCAA basketball season.

Turns out, according to Ken Pom, there is one team in the NCAA that has a better than 25-percent chance of completing an undefeated regular season ... but it’s not Kansas.

Below are the undefeated teams left, followed by KenPom’s projection of the likelihood of that team completing an undefeated regular season*.

Following each team’s projections, I’ll give some analysis of that team’s chances of staying unbeaten through the regular season.

* — KenPom's stats and projections are updated every day, so these numbers might be different if you are viewing this blog after Friday, Dec. 18.

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1. Texas 25.88%
Current Record — 9-0
Projected record — 30-1
Three toughest games — Feb. 8 vs. Kansas (76-percent chance of winning game); Jan. 18 at Kansas State (82 percent); Feb. 17 at Missouri (82 percent).

Analysis — Ken Pom loves him some Texas. Because of the Longhorns’ phenomenal defense so far (UT leads the nation in two-point percentage defense at 35.6 percent and is second in three-point percentage defense at 22.0 percent), the Longhorns’ defensive efficiency numbers are off the charts. The undefeated percentage still seems a bit optimistic. Ken Pom gives the Longhorns a 97-percent chance of beating North Carolina on Saturday at the Jerry Dome in Arlington, Texas, then a 95-percent chance of beating Michigan State the following Tuesday at home. The Longhorns might be good, but I can’t say they’re that good just yet.

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2. Kansas 2.90%
Current Record — 9-0
Projected record — 28-3
Three toughest games — Feb 8 at Texas (24 percent); Jan. 10 at Tennessee (68 percent); March 6 at Missouri (73 percent).

Analysis — KU’s non-conference schedule the rest of the way should be challenging, as Cal is ranked No. 10 in the KenPom rankings, and road trips to Temple (31st in KenPom) and Tennessee (11th in KenPom) won’t be easy, either. At this point, the Big 12 North (even though there is technically no Big 12 North in basketball) looks to be better than the South, which means KU must play Missouri (14th in KenPom) and Kansas State (17th in KenPom) twice, while UT only has to face those teams once. That’s part of the reason UT’s chance of an undefeated record might be so much higher than KU’s.

3. Syracuse 2.47%
Current Record — 10-0
Projected Record — 28-3
Three Toughest Games — Jan. 16 at West Virginia (32 percent); Feb. 18 at Georgetown (59 percent); Jan. 6 vs. Memphis (74 percent).

Analysis — One weird note to start off about Syracuse: It’s actually made a higher percentage of its two-point shots (62.4 percent) than free throws (62.1 percent) this year. Crazy.

Anyways, SU has been balanced so far, ranking in the top 10 of the Ken Pom’s adjusted efficiency ratings in both offense and defense. The Orange has a difficult conference slate, though, and add in a non-conference game against Memphis, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see it make a push for an undefeated regular season. If it did happen, you can bet Le Moyne would be the proudest Division-II school in the country.

4. West Virginia 1.98%
Current Record — 7-0
Projected Record — 27-3
Three Toughest Games — Jan. 1 at Purdue (44 percent); Feb. 22 at UConn (73 percent); Jan. 23 vs. Ohio State (76 percent).

Analysis — Ken Pom loves Huggy Bear’s defense (fourth nationally in adjusted efficiency) but hates his team’s remaining schedule (three teams left ranked in KenPom’s top 10). The New Year’s Day game at Purdue should be a great test for the Mountaineers.

5. New Mexico 1.95%
Current Record — 11-0
Projected Record — 28-3
Three Toughest Games — Feb. 27 at BYU (42 percent); Jan. 5 at San Diego State (50 percent); Jan. 27 vs. BYU (72 percent).

Analysis — New Mexico has just four games left against top-50 KenPom teams (two vs. BYU, two vs. San Diego State), so an undefeated run isn’t out of the question. If it’s going to happen, though, the Lobos will have to be better defensively. New Mexico ranks 74th on the defensive efficiency ratings, and opposing teams are making 48.9 percent of their twos against the Lobos, which is better than the NCAA average (47.6 percent).

6. Missouri State 0.93%
Current Record — 9-0
Projected Record — 25-4
Three Toughest Games — Feb. 14 at Wichita State (43 percent); Jan. 3 at Northern Iowa (46 percent); Dec. 19 vs. St. Louis (66 percent).

Analysis — Missouri State coach Cuonzo Martin is a tough guy not to root for. With a KenPom projected record of 25-4, it looks like his team will be easy to root for this year, too. The Bears aren’t dominant offensively (55th in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency) or defensively (44th in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency), but it hasn’t hurt that they have made 42.8 percent of their three-pointers this season (NCAA average is 34.1 percent). If Missouri State can get by St. Louis on Saturday, it should still be undefeated heading into the new year.

7. Purdue 0.22 %
Current Record — 9-0
Projected Record — 25-5
Three Toughest Games — Feb. 24 at Minnesota (37 percent); Feb. 17 at Ohio State (38 percent); Jan. 9 at Wisconsin (49 percent).

Analysis — Purdue needs to enjoy its next two cupcakes of Ball State (234th in KenPom) and SIU Edwardsville (325th), because the schedule gets brutal after that. How’s this for a four-game stretch in January? Purdue will play vs. West Virginia (3rd in KenPom), vs. Minnesota (8th), at Wisconsin (8th) and vs. Ohio State (9th). It’s hard to see Purdue surviving that stretch without picking up at least one loss.

T8. Georgetown 0.00%
Current Record — 8-0
Projected Record — 22-7
Three Toughest Games — March 1 at West Virginia (15 percent); Jan. 25 at Syracuse (16 percent); Jan. 30 vs. Duke (40 percent).

Analysis — A lack of depth kills any chance the Hoyas might have at making a serious undefeated run in the Big East, as only 22.2 percent of Georgetown’s minutes come from its bench players (ranking 333rd nationally). Georgetown also has four games remaining against top-five KenPom opponents.

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T8. Kentucky 0.00%
Current Record — 10-0
Projected Record — 24-7
Three Toughest Games — Feb. 27 at Tennessee (14 percent); Feb. 16 at Mississippi State (18 percent); Jan. 12 at Florida (27 percent).

Analysis — If Kentucky flounders down the stretch, we can’t say Ken Pom didn’t try to warn us. Ken Pom’s projection calls for seven UK losses, with all of them coming during SEC play. That would mean a 15-0 start for John Calipari’s crew before a 9-7 finish. So what’s not to like about the Wildcats? Their adjusted offensive and defensive numbers aren’t too impressive (44th offense, 70th defense) and the Wildcats' turnover percentage of 23.5 percent offensively ranks well above the national average of 21.0 percent.

T8. Seton Hall 0.00%
Current Record — 8-0
Projected Record — 19-10
Three Toughest Games — Feb. 20 at West Virginia (7 percent); Jan. 14 at Georgetown (18 percent); Dec. 26 vs. West Virginia (21 percent)

Analysis — In its first eight games, Seton Hall has played just one team in KenPom’s top 200, and that was Cornell (64th). That 0.00% above might even be the Pirates’ likelihood of making it to 2010 undefeated, as they have games against Temple (31st in KenPom), West Virginia (3rd) and Syracuse (5th) all before New Year's Day.

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T8. Texas Tech 0.00%
Current Record — 9-0
Projected Record — 19-11
Three Toughest Games — Jan. 27 at Texas (2 percent); Jan. 16 at Kansas (3 percent); Feb. 20 vs. Texas (7 percent).

Analysis — Texas Tech coach Pat Knight won’t be sending Ken Pomeroy a Christmas Card anytime soon. Ken Pom’s final projection for TTU (19-11, 7-9 in conference) would most likely leave the Red Raiders out of the NCAA Tournament. It seems Pomeroy’s projections are trying to tell us the Red Raiders’ nine consecutive wins have been a bit of a fluke. TTU has only played one opponent in the top 100 of KenPom’s rankings (Washington, 36th in KenPom), and Tech needed overtime to win that home game. The Red Raiders will need to improve offensively, as their adjusted efficiency rating of 106.3 (100th nationally) is third-worst in the Big 12.

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