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The lowdown on the unbeatens

Some contenders, some pretenders and a Soufflé

Posted: Wednesday December 14, 2005 4:05PM; Updated: Thursday December 15, 2005 6:00PM
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Strange: The official bio of Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie takes great pains to note that he's "the only coach in history to lead the [nation's] most improved team in consecutive seasons."

Yet, nowhere do we find that he's now the only coach in history to win the 'Bag's coveted Golden Soufflé award in consecutive seasons. That's right, folks: In an unprecedented feat, Texas A&M has won its second straight Soufflé, awarded annually to the Most Dubious Undefeated Team in mid-December. Well done, Aggies!

John Thompson was scheduled to present this year's Soufflé, but he had a prior engagement at St. Leo.

Most colleges are in finals this week, so it's a good time to stop and take a look at the remaining undefeated teams to see which ones can back it up and which ones can't. The last two seasons we've been treated to some longer-than-expected undefeated runs by Illinois, Stanford and Saint Joseph's, and while we don't think that'll happen this year (Could Duke run the table in a less fearsome ACC?) you never know.

Here are the 18 undefeated teams left in Division I:

Texas A&M (6-0)
Best win so far: Penn State
Will face reality on: Jan. 7 at Texas Tech
Once again, the Aggies are loading up on cupcakes (Southern, Mississippi Valley State, Savannah State) and don't play on the road until after New Year's, when cold reality hits with three straight road games (Pacific, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State). We'll give Gillispie some credit for an 8-8 Big 12 mark last year, but come on: Don't be crowing about having the nation's most improved record if you're playing opposition like this out of conference.
  Teams That Can Back It Up
Duke (9-0)
Legit wins: Memphis, at Indiana, Texas
Next big test: Jan. 8 at Wake Forest
Goes to show you how useless a little knowledge can be: Just about every smart-guy pundit picked Texas to beat Duke, not so much for what Texas had done but for what Duke hadn't done yet. Give the Devils a large enough sample-size of games, and they'll show you why nearly everyone had them at No. 1 to start the season.
Connecticut (7-0)
Legit wins: Gonzaga, Arizona, Arkansas
Next big test: Jan. 7 vs. LSU
Are you like me? Are you thinking the story of the season might be the inevitable clash of UConn's Jim Calhoun and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski in Indy? It's a fascinating big-game rivalry, not least because Calhoun has Coach K's number of late (four straight victories, including the 1999 "Shock the World" game and the de facto 2004 title game in San Antonio). Can Coach K beat Coach Crabby without Christian Laettner? Stay tuned.
Illinois (10-0)
Legit wins: at North Carolina, at Oregon, Georgetown, Wichita State, Xavier
Next big test: Jan. 5 vs. Michigan State
Well, well, well. The Illini are rolling, and if Dee Brown keeps playing this way (26 points and seven dimes in a blowout of Oregon) Bruce Weber's team will continue confounding preseason expectations for the second straight year.
Villanova (7-0)
Legit wins: Oklahoma, at Bucknell
Next big test: Jan. 5 at Louisville
Pesky Penn gave the Wildcats pause, but this electric unit is doing just fine without the injured Curtis Sumpter. The Big East conference race is going to be as good as (or even better than) advertised.
Florida (9-0)
Legit wins: Wake Forest, Syracuse
Next big test: Jan. 7 at Georgia
We had a hunch the SEC would be down and that one team would stand apart, but we thought that team would be Kentucky. Turns out it may well be the Gators, who are playing the kind of unselfish ball we remember from way back in the spring of 2000.
  The Jury's Still Out On...
Louisville (6-0)
Best win so far: Richmond
Put up or shut up time: Dec. 17 at Kentucky
Is this the most thinly-credentialed top-five team in years? We think so. Coach Rick Pitino put together a lame non-conference schedule, and we may not even learn much when the Cardinals play a reeling Kentucky team this weekend. In fact, we might not get a good read on the 'Ville until it hosts Villanova on Jan. 5.
Washington (8-0)
Best win so far: Gonzaga
Put up or shut up time: Dec. 31 vs. Arizona
I almost put U-Dub in the "Teams That Can Back It Up" category for its win over Gonzaga, but I still need to see more out of this crew, which leads the nation in scoring (96.4) and is one of just four Top 25 teams to be starting at least two freshmen (Justin Dentmon and Jon Brockman).
Michigan (7-0)
Best win so far: Notre Dame
Put up or shut up time: Saturday vs. UCLA
The Wolverines have broken hearts before in recent years, but is this finally the season that coach Tommy Amaker puts it together? Beating the Bruins would be a nice way to answer in the affirmative -- and it would vault Michigan into the crowded bunch of teams that has a genuine chance of winning the Big Ten.
Missouri State (6-0)
Best win so far: at Oral Roberts
Put up or shut up time: Dec. 15 at Arkansas
The school formerly known as Southwest Missouri State lost its directional prefix on Aug. 28 in a Midnight Madness celebration that had nothing to do with hoops. Coach Barry Hinson's sharpshooters (the nation's leading 3-point shooting team at 50 percent) raised some eyebrows by winning on the road at Oral Roberts, and they'll really make people take notice if they can prevail at Bud Walton Arena on Thursday.
Indiana State (5-0)
Best win so far: Indiana
Put up or shut up time: Dec. 28 at Wichita State
Nice win against Indiana, a sign that the Missouri Valley is stacked -- again.
George Washington (7-0)
Best win so far: Maryland
Put up or shut up time: Dec. 31 at N.C. State
Yet another win over Maryland shows GW is becoming a player in talent-rich D.C., but aside from the Terps it hasn't exactly been a Hobbesian schedule, has it, Karl Hobbs?
Iona (7-0)
Best win so far: at Iowa State
Put up or shut up time: Dec. 23 vs. Kentucky
Coach Jeff Ruland has the Gaels rolling, and an ambush of Kentucky next week might send the Big Blue Nation into apoplexy.
Ohio State (4-0)
Best win so far: at Saint Joseph's
Put up or shut up time: Saturday at Iowa State
Four games? What is it with undefeated Ohio schools having played only four games so far? Saturday's trip to Des Moines will tell us how much the Buckeyes really have.
  What Are You Doing Here?
Clemson (8-0)
Best win so far: at Penn State
Will face reality on: Dec. 28 at Georgia
Coach Oliver Purnell had better load up on wins now, because not many are forthcoming in the ACC.
LaSalle (5-0)
Best win so far: Drexel
Will face reality on: Dec. 22 at Villanova
We like Wooden Award candidate Steven Smith, but the Explorers are headed for trouble at 'Nova.
Pittsburgh (7-0)
Best win so far: Auburn
Will face reality on: Dec. 31 vs. Wisconsin
The usual light-scheduling rules are in place at Pitt, which is just behind Texas A&M in this department.
Tennessee (5-0)
Best win so far: Murray State
Will face reality on: Saturday at Texas
Fun game of the week: How will coach Bruce Pearl's full-court press work in Austin? We smell either a tight game ... or a 40-point beatdown.

On to the 'Bag

Thank you for referencing the points-per-100-possessions stats of the teams at the Maui Invitational. Why are these stats not used more often? Is it just because points per game and shooting percentage are easy to pull from box scores? Is there a Web site or other easy place to access these stats? Using these stats, who have been the best offensive and defensive teams of the last few years?
-- Bill Toledo, Ohio

Bill, one of the great results of the blogging craze is that college basketball (a sport that generally has a smarter following than, say, the NFL) has attracted some extremely sharp minds who look at statistics in enlightened ways. Namely, they focus on tempo-free stats, which give you a much more accurate view of efficiency that isn't connected merely to how many possessions a team has or how many shots an individual player gets in a game.