How long will the Unscathed Eight last?
Unbeatens try to stay perfect as the clock ticks toward 2014.
A toast to those without blemish (so far). Call them the Unscathed Eight. Eight teams with perfect records going into the last hours of 2013.
Their numbers are certain to dwindle -- possibly starting Monday night -- and the room will likely be empty in the end, as college basketball parity demands. But for now, it should be noted how this is a bumper crop of unbeatens.
According to the Wichita State sports information department -- the 13-0 Shockers are one of the gang -- there have been 114 perfect teams on Jan. 1 the past 19 years. Of the 114 teams, 52 ended up in the Sweet 16, a total of 17 made the Final Four, and five won national championships.
None finished with a zero in the right side of the hyphen. You have to go back 38 years and Indiana for that.
So here's to the Unscathed Eight, before they begin to vanish, one defeat at a time.
You've got to like the 13-0 Wildcats because . . . they're not afraid to do the dirty work of winning. The 40.2-27.6 edge in rebounding suggests their physical will. The 37.1 field goal shooting percentage allowed suggests their defense. Duke's Jabari Parker has shot 56.6 percent against everyone else but went 7-for-21 against Arizona.
Also, the Wildcats are the top-ranked team in the nation and openly glad to be there. "You can carry it as a burden and take all of the negative connotations you want," coach Sean Miller said at a press conference the other day. "On the flip side, we've really embraced the fact that we are the No. 1 team in the country. You can't take it from us. We earned it."
You might see them finally lose . . . on the L.A. swing through UCLA and USC next week. Those are their only road games until Jan. 29.
You've got to like the 12-0 Orange because . . . when they haven't been zoning opponents into frustration -- high-scoring Indiana managed only 52 points, not to be confused with the paltry 50 the Hoosiers put up in last spring's Sweet 16 -- they've been brushing aside an 18-point deficit to evict Villanova from the unbeaten club. "Nothing phased them," Jim Boeheim said after that one. Sounds like a team that knows its way. So does the 6.4 turnover margin.
You might finally see them lose . . . Jan. 11 at home against North Carolina. Of course, that depends on whether the Good Tar Heels or the Bad Tar Heels show up.
You've got to like the 11-0 Cyclones because . . . they're averaging 87 points and getting all hands involved. Five different players have scored at least 20 in a game. The 18.5 assists per game are fourth best in the nation.
You might finally see them lose . . . during a Big 12 trial by fire coming soon. In 12 days, starting Jan. 7, they play ranked Baylor and Kansas at home and go to Oklahoma and Texas. Combined record of those four: 39-7.
You've got to like the 13-0 Buckeyes because . . . they're suffocating opponents on 36.4 percent shooting and 54 points while averaging only 15.2 fouls a game. So never mind the extra whistles this season. They have held all 13 victims under 70, and two under 40. The one time they were really in trouble, they scored 14 points in the last minute against Notre Dame.
You might finally see them lose . . . now that the Big Ten meat grinder is beginning. They haven't yet played a team currently ranked, but that changes Jan. 7 at Michigan State. "We are going to learn a lot about this team," Lenzelle Smith Jr. said.
You've got to like the 13-0 Badgers because . . . this is their best start since 1913-1914. They can win your way or their way, beating Virginia 48-38 and Florida 59-53, but also breaking 80 five times. They hit 80 only five times all last season. Every starter has led the team in scoring at least one game.
You might finally see them lose . . . this weekend when Iowa calls. But visitors rarely thrive in Madison. A better chance is Jan. 14 at Indiana.
You've got to like to the 12-0 Ducks because . . . they score even more than their football team. Oregon is No. 3 in scoring among the shoulder pad set, but leads the basketball universe with a 90.8 average, passing 100 points four times. Pick a statistic, any statistic. They are fourth in the country in field goal shooting, seventh in 3-point shooting and tied for 12th in free throw shooting.
You might finally seem them lose . . . during their tour of the Pac-12 inland this week. First, they're at 11-1 Utah, then 11-2 Colorado.
You've got to like the 13-0 Shockers because . . . that Final Four trip was clearly no fluke. They are a relentless bunch, trailing at halftime six times already. But in the end, only three wins have been in single digits.
You might finally seem them lose . . . somewhere out there on the Missouri Valley Conference trail, but with Creighton gone, you wonder where. Missouri State and Indiana State seem the biggest threats, so the Jan. 11 visit to Missouri State should be instructive.
You've got to like the 12-0 Rockets because . . . they've been so stubborn about this unbeaten bit, winning five games by four or fewer points. They have also made 61 more free throws than their opponents have shot, and all five starters average in double figures.
You might finally seem them lose . . . by bedtime Monday night. They're at Kansas, where perfect records go to die. Win that one, and they won't have to worry about being the only unranked unbeaten anymore.