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Jacob Myers | | January 8, 2019

What an undefeated record on Jan. 1 means for March Madness title chances

The top 36 teams in college basketball, right now

Undefeated records are great, but there’s not a team that would take a long undefeated start to a season over a national championship. We wanted to see if an unblemished start predicted if a team won the NCAA Division I men's basketball championship. The answer: not really.

We chose New Year's Day as a logical starting point to measure a team's national championship chances if they are undefeated on that day. This year, there were four undefeated teams in Division I men’s basketball Jan. 1. Nevada’s loss this past Saturday left Michigan, Virginia and Houston as the teams still without a loss.

Here are three key points we found from scouring the last 10 years of data:

  • Since the 2009 NCAA tournament, just two teams have won the national championship after making it to New Year’s Day undefeated: North Carolina in 2009 and Duke in 2015.
  • Out of all 42 teams that made it to Jan. 1 undefeated since 2009, the same amount of teams missed — or were ineligible for — the NCAA tournament as the number of teams that made the national championship game. In addition to North Carolina and Duke, Gonzaga made the title game in 2017 and Michigan in 2013.
  • It’s rare for a team which makes it to Jan. 1 without a loss to miss the NCAA tournament. It’s likely that team wins a game or two, but winning the national championship is even more rare.

MORE: Toughest tests left for 3 undefeated teams | Katz's Power 36

This is how far the teams that were undefeated on Jan. 1 have gone in their NCAA tournaments since 2009 by round:

  • Missed/ineligible for NCAA tournament - 4
  • Lost in first/second round - 5
  • Lost in second/third round - 10
  • Lost in Sweet Sixteen - 8
  • Lost in Elite Eight - 7
  • Lost in Final Four - 4
  • Lost in NCAA championship - 2
  • Won NCAA championship - 2

A note: We looked at teams that made it to at least Jan. 1 without a loss. Teams that lost on New Year’s Day are still included.

RELATED: 9 conference championships predicted at halfway point

Here are a few other points of interest that stuck out in this analysis of undefeated teams and how they did in March Madness. 

  • 2017-18 was the only year in the past 10 seasons where no team made it to Jan. 1 undefeated. The high was seven undefeated teams on New Year’s Day in 2011 and 2014.
  • Seven teams have made it past Jan. 31 undefeated. Only two have entered the NCAA tournament unbeaten in the past 10 seasons.
  • Of the 42 teams that made it to Jan. 1 undefeated since 2009, 16 earned No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament that season. The lowest seed in the past 10 seasons was Texas as a No. 8 in 2010.
  • If Michigan, Virginia, Houston or Nevada want to make the Final Four, history shows they will have to earn a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Michigan as a No. 4 seed in 2013 had the lowest seed of the teams that made it to Jan. 1 undefeated to make the Final Four. The other seven teams were either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
  • Going later in the season without a loss doesn’t exactly mean more NCAA tournament success. Kentucky in 2015 and Gonzaga in 2017 are the only two Final Four teams on this list since 2009 to have its first loss after Jan. 14.

All things considered, Michigan, Virginia and Nevada should contend for top seeds in the NCAA tournament this season. And there’s no reason to think Houston can’t be a top-three seed either. Time will tell if one of those four teams can make it five straight seasons that a team undefeated on Jan. 1 makes the NCAA tournament Final Four.

Here are all the teams since 2009 that were undefeated as of Jan. 1 and where they finished:

Year School First loss Finish Final Record
2009 North Carolina Jan. 4 NCAA champion 34-4
  Pittsburgh Jan. 17 Elite Eight 31-5
  Clemson Jan. 17 First round 23-9
  Wake Forest Jan. 21 First round 24-7
2010 West Virginia Jan. 1 Final Four 31-7
  Syracuse Jan. 2 Sweet Sixteen 30-5
  Purdue Jan. 9 Sweet Sixteen 29-6
  Kansas Jan. 10 Second round 33-3
  Texas Jan. 18 First round 24-10
  Kentucky Jan. 26 Elite Eight 35-3
2011 UCF Jan. 8 Missed tournament 21-12 (All wins vacated)
  Cincinnati Jan. 9 Third round 26-9
  Duke Jan. 12 Sweet Sixteen 32-5
  Syracuse Jan. 17 Third round 20-8 (seven wins vacated)
  Kansas Jan. 22 Elite Eight 35-3
  San Diego State Jan. 26 Sweet Sixteen 34-3
  Ohio State Feb. 12 Sweet Sixteen 34-3
2012 Missouri Jan. 7 Second round 30-5
  Baylor Jan. 16 Elite Eight 30-8
  Syracuse Jan. 21 Elite Eight 34-3 (All wins vacated)
  Murray State Feb. 9 Third round 31-2
2013 Arizona Jan. 10 Sweet Sixteen 27-8
  Duke Jan. 12 Elite Eight 30-6
  Michigan Jan. 13 NCAA runner-up 31-8
2014 Oregon Jan. 5 Third round 24-10
  Ohio State Jan. 7 Second round 25-10
  Iowa State Jan. 11 Sweet Sixteen 28-8
  Wisconsin Jan. 14 Final Four 30-8
  Arizona Feb. 1 Elite Eight 33-5
  Syracuse Feb. 19 Third round 28-6
  Wichita State March 23 Third round 35-1
2015 Villanova Jan. 3 Third round 33-3
  Colorado State Jan. 3 Missed tournament 27-7
  Duke Jan. 11 NCAA champion 35-4
  Virginia Jan. 31 Third round 30-4
  Kentucky April 4 Final Four 38-1
2016 Oklahoma Jan. 4 Final Four 29-8
  South Carolina Jan. 13 Missed tournament 25-9
  SMU Jan. 27 Ineligible for postseason 25-5
2017 Villanova Jan. 4 Second round 32-4
  Baylor Jan. 10 Sweet Sixteen 27-8
  Gonzaga Feb. 25 NCAA runner-up 37-2
2018 None      

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