Assessing remaining unbeatens, Gonzaga's struggles and more mail
Nobody's surprised KU and Baylor are undefeated; UCF and UConn, though ...
Is one offensive system (flex, dribble drive, Princeton, etc.) better than the rest?
More free-throw analysis, plus your thoughts on my most recent AP ballot
We begin, appropriately enough, with a query from Sin City asking me to predict the future.
Which undefeated team are you most surprised about and which one will stay undefeated the longest?
-- Shane Hale, Las Vegas
I am happy to offer my reply, Shane, especially since we lost two members of the undefeated ranks Tuesday night when Tennessee and Louisville fell at home to Oakland and Drexel, respectively. (Please don't tell Al Davis that Oakland is located in the state of Michigan.) But I must emphasize that these predictions are purely for entertainment purpose. So please, no wagering. Besides, anyone who drops lettuce in a Vegas sports book based on my opinions is a blazin' fool.
I've offered my list in order from least surprising to most. Herewith:
Degree of surprise (on a scale of 1 to 10): 0
Aside from their neutral-court wins over Memphis and Arizona, the Jayhawks have loaded up on home cookin'. Time to hit the road, Jack.
Projected first loss: KU has a stretch of games beginning Jan. 9 in which it plays four out of seven games on the road, with games against Texas and Kansas State at home.
Degree of surprise: 0
To: Scott Drew. From: Seth. Feel free to play somebody. Anybody.
Projected first loss: Either at home against Kansas on Jan. 17 or at Kansas State a week later.
Degree of surprise: 2
Most figured the Devils would still be unbeaten, but it wasn't unreasonable to think they might get clipped during that tough two-week gauntlet against Marquette, Kansas State, Michigan State and Butler.
Projected first loss: Jan. 12 at Florida State. Given the weakness of the ACC, if it doesn't happen here, it might not happen until at least the middle of February.
Degree of surprise: 3
The Wildcats are good, but considering their best win came at home against Georgia Tech, the jury is out on just how good.
Projected first loss: Dec. 31 at Purdue. Even if it gets by the Boilermakers, Northwestern follows that with Michigan State at home and Illinois on the road. Anyone want to predict they'll go 3-0 in that stretch?
Degree of surprise: 3
It would be higher if the Bearcats had beaten somebody half-decent. Their best win so far is at home against Dayton.
Projected first loss: Jan. 9 at Villanova. That's assuming they get past Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout three days before.
Ohio State (8-0)
Degree of surprise: 4
The Buckeyes were ranked in top five to start the season, but it's not easy winning true road contests at Florida and Florida State.
Projected first loss: Jan. 22 at Illinois. That kicks off OSU's toughest Big Ten stretch, which won't let up until Feb. 26, when they get Indiana at home.
Degree of surprise: 4
You have to be really good and a little lucky to be undefeated, and the Cougs have been both. Their record includes a double-overtime win over South Florida and a one-point victory over Saint Mary's.
Projected first loss: Jan. 5 at UNLV. Should BYU get past this one, it will face a couple of trap games at Utah (Jan. 11) and at Colorado State (Jan. 22).
San Diego State (11-0)
Degree of surprise: 5
Like everyone else, I knew the Aztecs would be good. But considering they've played four true road games (including at Gonzaga and Cal), I thought they might have slipped up at least once by now.
Projected first loss: Jan. 26 at BYU. How fun this will be if both teams enter this game undefeated. San Diego State knows quite well that it takes some doing to win in Provo.
Degree of surprise: 6
Based on their early offensive struggles, I didn't think the Orange could get past Michigan State, much less win in such convincing fashion.
Projected first loss: Jan. 17 at Pitt, or at home Jan. 22 against Villanova.
Degree of surprise: 7
The Knights have played a pretty weak schedule so far, but regardless of what you think of Florida, beating the Gators at Amway Center was solid.
Projected first loss: Dec. 18 vs. Miami. If UCF can pull this out on a neutral court, the Knights will still have two road tests looming at UMass (Dec. 22) and Houston (Jan. 8).
Cleveland State (12-0)
Degree of surprise: 7
I'm not doubting the Vikings are good, I'm simply withholding judgment. Still, to be undefeated to this point despite having played five true road games is darn impressive.
Projected first loss: Saturday at West Virginia. If the Vikes pull this one off, then circle Jan. 7 on your calendar. That's when they travel to Hinkle Fieldhouse to play Butler. It will be the game of the year in the Horizon League.
Degree of surprise: 8
The only reason I'm not more surprised is because of that crotchety Irish guy on the sidelines. How silly we all were to doubt him.
Projected first loss: Dec. 27 at Pitt. This starts a brutal stretch in which the Huskies play three out of four games on the road. (The other two road games are at Notre Dame and Texas.)
Now on to the rest of your e-mails.
Do you think there is a particular style of basketball (post-up, flex, dribble drive, Princeton, etc.) that appears to be more effective than the others? How would you rank them? Please assume you can recruit the players needed for that particular style.
-- Eric, Huntsville, Ala.
The basic answer is no, I don't believe one system is more effective than another. The bottom line is, the team with the greater talent usually wins. If a team with lesser talent wins, it has more to do with that coach's ability to teach his guys his system, rather than which system he has chosen to teach.
Jim Boeheim is a great example. Syracuse doesn't win so often because a zone is a better way of playing defense than man-to-man. After all, Bob Knight won 902 games and you can count on two hands the number of possessions when his teams played zone. The reason Boeheim's teams win is because a) he recruits great players, and b) he is totally committed to playing zone all the time. He knows the system and he teaches it very, very well.
This is largely a matter of taste, but if I were a coach -- or if I were looking to hire a coach -- I would favor a high-possession, high-scoring attack over ball-control systems like the flex (Gary Williams, Bo Ryan) or the Princeton (John Thompson III, Bill Carmody). A running game is easier to recruit to and more fun to watch. Plus, you have a chance to keep guys from transferring because you can play a deep rotation. I'm thinking Bruce Pearl, Mike Anderson, Billy Donovan and Rick Pitino. There's lots of ways to skin a cat, but that's how I'd skin mine.
On Monday, I assessed the free-throw performances for 26 of the nation's top teams. That's a healthy number, but as usual, for my devoted readers it was not enough.
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