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Mike Lopresti | | January 10, 2019

College basketball: The toughest tests for the 2 unbeaten teams

Michigan is No. 1 as Seton Hall and Nebraska rise in Andy Katz's Power 36

We're down to two.

Two perfect records, in two different conferences. What peril is dead ahead for them?


The Wolverines became impossible not to notice — or keep out of the top 10 — when they shredded three ranked opponents. That'd be Villanova by 27 points, North Carolina by 17 and Purdue by 19. Then Michigan went and held its ground for a 74-63 win over No. 21 Indiana. It’s one of their best starts in school history, and they’ve been playing basketball at Michigan for 103 years.

No. 2 Michigan knocks off Indiana, 74-63

A basic truth since James Naismith nailed up his peach basket: If the opponents can’t score, you don’t lose much. Michigan is allowing less than 60 points a game. The Wolverines are also second in fewest fouls per game and sixth in fewest turnovers.

When might it end?

Michigan turned around and took an impressive 11-point victory over nationally-ranked Indiana in Ann Arbor. Before falling to Michigan the 12-3 Hoosiers had won six in a row, were second in the nation with their 52.9 shooting, and saw Juwan Morgan come off only the second triple double in school history while making 22 of 25 shots in the past three games. Morgan scored 25, but Michigan held him to 9 of 22 shooting. 

MORE: The best feel-good stories in college sports from 2018

Next up, a truly foreboding stretch will be Jan. 19 at Wisconsin and Jan. 25 at Indiana -- two of the toughest places to visit in the Big Ten. Beat the Badgers’ Ethan Happ on his own court, and then try to stop the Hoosiers’ offense in Bloomington. That’ll be a dangerous week. Besides, Wisconsin is an old hand at ruining perfect records. Ask Kentucky about the 2015 Final Four.

ALSO: 27 reasons why the ACC is so good as conference play begins

What means more than an unbeaten record?

John Beilein had a team in the national championship game in 2013, and again last April. Both were losses, with anguish in the end, instead of one shining moment. He wouldn’t mind finding out if the third time is really the charm, and if Michigan can be the team to finally end the 18-year Big Ten title drought.


The Jan. 19 game in Durham looks like a real stopper, but know this: Virginia won in Durham last year 65-63, and its past four appearances at Duke were decided by a combined margin of 10 points. The Cavaliers have been a tough out in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Ryan M. Kelly | Getty Images Virginia basketball beats MarshallAn undefeated season would be one antidote to help Virginia forget about its loss to UMBC last March.

What means more than an unbeaten record?

The Cavaliers have one loss going back to last February. The loss might ring a bell. UMBC, first round, No. 1 seed vs. No. 16. You know the rest. Only a magical season, and maybe the first Final Four trip in 25 years, would make them forget that.

RELATED: 7 college basketball teams quietly putting together strong NCAA tournament resumes

It’s the usual Tony Bennett concoction of tempo control, defense and efficiency. Virginia was leading the nation in scoring defense, 3-point defense, fewest turnovers and assist-turnover ratio. Throw out the 71 points Maryland somehow managed and the Cavaliers are allowing only 49 a game. They’re also averaging one turnover every five minutes or so. And they make the most of what offense they get. When a Bennett team scores 70 points, it is 115-6.

When might it end?

Non-conference fun time is over. The Cavaliers face a brutal opening stretch in ACC play — Florida State (now a win) at home, Boston College and Clemson on the road, Virginia Tech at home, a trip to Duke. Fifteen days, five teams who took a combined record of 52-9 into 2019 -- three of them ranked in the top-10. Yikes.

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