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Mike Lopresti | | December 10, 2019

1 impressive thing about every unbeaten men's college basketball team

Louisville retains top spot in latest Power 36 rankings

And now there are eight.

The 2019-20 unbeaten teams fell like confetti over the weekend — seven on Saturday alone, from Delaware to Arizona. Which leaves us with the O-Loss Octet; the last unblemished records as the college basketball schedule slows for exams and Christmas. This, compared to the 33 teams out there with one defeat.

Here’s something to know about each.

Auburn (8-0)

Maybe this isn’t as good as winning the Iron Bowl and knocking Alabama out of the playoffs — really, what could top that for Auburn? — but it’s still pretty swell. The Tigers know how to target with their defense. They’re holding the opponent’s top scorers to an 11-point average and 30.4 percent shooting. Meanwhile, they’re putting up 85 points a game. They’re also 20-1 since Feb. 23, over two seasons, though the loss kinda lingers. Virginia in the final second at the Final Four.

What’s ahead: Auburn is in its quiet stretch, the only game in 17 days an overtime victory over Furman. But 8-1 Saint Louis will meet the Tigers in Birmingham on Saturday, and that ought to get the blood flowing.

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Butler (9-0)

Courtesy of Stephen F. Austin and its coup at Duke, Butler now owns the nation’s longest non-conference home court winning streak at 56 games. That stretches back to 2012, through four different coaches. The last guy to lose a non-league game at home was named Brad Stevens.

If you’re going to have a streak, home-to-Hoosiers Hinkle Fieldhouse is as good a place as any. Seemed that way Saturday, anyway, when Butler thrashed Florida 76-62 with its usual efficiency; 19 assists on 25 field goals. The Bulldogs’ 9.9 turnovers a game are second fewest in the nation.

“It’s something you guys talk about,” coach LaVall Jordan said of the winning streak, and the media. “We talk about making sure that nobody comes into Hinkle Fieldhouse and plays harder than we do. Guys have a lot of pride in playing here. It’s a big part of the reason that they come here, because Hinkle is a special place. The way to show appreciation is through action.”

By the way, Butler was picked to finish eighth, or third from the bottom, in the Big East.

What’s ahead: Hinkle won’t help the Bulldogs Tuesday when they make a difficult trip to Baylor. The Bears just took scratched off one of the other unbeatens, edging Arizona Saturday.

Duquesne (7-0)

This is the best start in 40 years for the Dukes, mainly because they refuse to lose. They’ve trailed by double digits in four of their seven games. For that 7-0 record, they’re outscoring opponents only 208-200 in the first half, but 295-201 in the second. Then again, comebacks are part of the DNA of Keith Dambrot’s program.

Duquesne rallied to win four games last season after trailing by at least 18 points. Dambrot’s first Dukes team in 2017-18 was 1-10 when behind at halftime. Duquesne is 13-8 since. Tough to score inside or out on these guys. They’re ninth in the nation in blocked shots, but also sixth in 3-point defense. The 57.3 points allowed per game are the fewest for Duquesne since 1954. That team included Sid Dambrot — Keith’s father.

What’s ahead: The next seven games are either on home or on neutral floors, and there is not an opponent with a current winning record until Saint Louis, on Jan. 2. 

Liberty (11-0)

There’s only one 11-0 team in the nation at the moment, and that would be the Flames, who are already through a third of their regular season schedule. It has been quite the joyride. Out of 440 minutes played, Liberty has trailed only 20 minutes and 21 seconds.

The dominance comes from defense and efficiency — the Flames are second in the nation in points allowed at 49.6 points a game, third in fewest turnovers, fourth in field goal percentage defense, and seventh in fewest fouls committed. That sounds positively Virginia-ish, doesn’t it? By the way, guess where Liberty coach Ritchie McKay spent six years as an assistant? Yep, 68 miles up the road in Charlottesville with Tony Bennett.

What’s ahead: A lot of SEC traffic. Liberty’s perfect record will get a test Saturday at Vanderbilt. A trip to LSU comes later in the month.

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Louisville (9-0)

The Cardinals ascent to No. 1 has been mostly about defense, and that’s what might keep them there a while. They have held opponents to scoring droughts of at least three minutes 28 different times this season. And look at what they did to Michigan.

The Wolverines shot 54 percent against Gonzaga the game before they went to Louisville, and 55.2 percent against Iowa the game after. They stopped in Louisville, their number was 25.9. Another sign of the Cardinals’ many skills: They are the only team in the nation ranked in the top 20 in both field-goal shooting (17th) and field-goal defense (fifth).

Such balance is hard to find. Dayton, for example, is No. 1 in the nation in shooting, but 296th in field-goal defense. Virginia is No. 1 in field-goal defense, but 319th in shooting.

What’s ahead: Texas Tech in Madison Square Garden Tuesday. And then there is Dec. 28, and a visit to a certain state of Kentucky team in Lexington. The Cardinals are just getting used to this No. 1 business. In their entire history, they have won only three regular-season games as the top-ranked team in the Associated Press poll. They’ve won that many national championship games.

Maryland (10-0)

The Terrapins’ have the best turnover margin in the Big Ten, and are second in field-goal percentage defense. Their fastest start in 21 years was preserved Saturday by Anthony Cowan Jr., who scored five points in the final 19 seconds to get them past Illinois 59-58. Cowan is just the kind of leader a team needs to maneuver through the buzz of an unbeaten record. He has started all 109 games since his first day on campus, and earned his degree in three years.

What’s ahead: Ah, the varied pace of the long season. Maryland just won five games in 10 days, including a tricky hop-step-and-jump past Marquette, Notre Dame and Illinois in one week. Now the Terrapins play only three times in the next 27 days. But two are hazardous road games, at Penn State Tuesday and Seton Hall on Dec. 19.

Ohio State (9-0)

Nobody batters opponents like the Ohio State basketball team. Well, except maybe the Ohio State football team. The Buckeyes’ average winning margin is 26.2, the fattest in the land. Penn State can attest to the constant peril of facing about Ohio State. The Nittany Lions worked feverishly to make it a game in the second half Saturday — then the Buckeyes scored 40 points in 12 minutes. A vapor trail, to a 106-74 win.

Ohio State hadn’t broken 100 against a Big Ten team in nearly 14 years. Oh yeah, when they’re not running up the point total, the Buckeyes are holding the other teams to 33 percent shooting, behind only Virginia nationally.

Ohio State is only the fourth team in AP poll history to beat two top-10 opponents by at least 25 points in the same season. The other three — Villanova in 2015-16, Duke 2000-01 and UCLA 1967-68 — all ended up national champions.

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What’s ahead: Big Ten road games are seldom easy, so next Sunday in Minnesota should get the Buckeyes’ attention. They have only played one game outside their own arena. Of course, that was in Chapel Hill and they crushed North Carolina 74-49, so it wasn’t much of a problem. Dec. 21 in Las Vegas should get a lot of noise. Ohio State vs. Kentucky.

San Diego State (10-0)

The Aztecs have a lot of real estate to represent, since they’re the only remaining unbeaten team west of the Mississippi River. They’ve won five of their 10 games away from home, and most impressive was their work at the Continental Tires Las Vegas Invitational; an 83-52 shredding of Creighton and 83-73 victory over Iowa.

Washington State transfer Malachi Flynn has been a huge boost, scoring 21-28-23 in three games, and then keeping San Diego State in the Unbeaten's Club on Sunday, with a 3-pointer in a San Jose State crowd with 0.9 seconds left. “That’s a March Madness type of a shot,” coach Brian Dutcher said. “Except it happened in December.”

What’s ahead: Utah in Los Angeles on Dec. 21. And off in the distance is the Jan. 4 trip to Utah State. It probably won’t get bigger in the Mountain West this season than that.

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