Relax, 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. You’re safe for yet another year.
The last chances for another perfect season vanished Tuesday night faster than you could say Texas Tech and Stanford. They were the perpetrators of this double-barreled attack on the two remaining unbeatens, and by the time they were done with Baylor and USC, January was beginning to look like a food fight in college basketball. The sport is never more deliciously chaotic than when highly-ranked teams lose games they had every logical reason to win.
Baylor was at home. The Bears had won 22 in a row in Waco, by an average of 26 points. They had lost once in three years and 35 games in their friendly confines. And here was Texas Tech, surely worn after recent heavyweight games against Iowa State and Kansas, and some of its top players still fighting injuries.
The early Baylor 15-point lead seemed a sign. This could be a smack down. Only, it wasn’t. The Red Raiders shredded the Bears’ defense for 50.9 shooting, attacked the basket and disrupted Baylor’s rollicking offense. When it was over, they had not only taken down the No. 1 team 65-62, but had outscored Kansas and Baylor in the paint by a rather staggering 80-40.
It’s been some week for Texas Tech. The Red Raiders lost by four points at Iowa State with their top two scorers missing. Then beat No. 6 Kansas, then top-ranked Baylor. That made three opponents from the top-11 in seven days, and Texas Tech nearly bagged all of them. Mark Adams should be on the short list for new coach of the year. According to Stats by STATS, the last first-year coach to beat an AP No. 1 team on the road was Maryland’s Gary Williams 35 years ago.
For Baylor, it was a rare experience; not just the loss, but playing in a close game. Only one of the Bears’ 15 wins had been under eight points, but it was never going to stay that way once conference games began. “In the Big 12 every day we’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua said. “Our goal is to win the last game of the season and we’re going to learn from this.”
Stanford hadn’t played in 18 days, as COVID blew through Palo Alto. Some of the players had been forced into 10-day quarantine, so for much of the three weeks, the Cardinal had sat idle, trying to stay connected remotely. “They haven’t had a two-week period where they haven’t worked out since they were five years old,” coach Jerod Haase said. “So with that comes an unknown.”
In recent days, they had taken extra shooting and tried to get their rhythm and conditioning back. But as forward Harrison Ingram would say after his 21 points against USC, “Defense is something you really can’t replicate in a room.”
Besides that, this was an 8-4 team that had lost by 38 points to Baylor and 16 to Santa Clara. USC was in town with a spotless 13-0 record, and a shiny new No. 5 ranking in the Associated Press poll. The Trojans hadn’t been that high in 47 years. They had not lost to a team from the state of California in 1,048 days, winning the last 20 in-state meetings in a row, including their Stanford game last March when they hammered the Cardinal 79-42.
Stanford’s chances, then, seemed a tad meager on paper. But they weren’t. USC struggled to score and the defense that had held 12 of 13 opponents under 40 percent shooting could not stop the Cardinal offense. Look closely at Stanford, and you noticed signs that should have been a warning: The unbeaten record at home. The fact the Cardinal had never been out-rebounded this season, until the Trojans edged them by one. And they have spent their history going eyeball-to-eyeball with USC. This 75-69 result puts that series at 128-all.
“If you can’t get excited for a top-5 team after sitting out for almost three weeks, then our guys don’t have a pulse,” Haase said. “And I know they do have a pulse.”
They also have a mission. The Pac-12 put UCLA, USC and Arizona in the AP top-6 this week. They should all now know Stanford is more than the team picked to finished ninth in the league in the pre-season. “We still know there’s top-10 teams in this conference,” said Spencer Jones, who also had 21 points. “And we want to go at all of them.”
ZERO UNDEFEATEDS: Last two undefeated teams lose on the same day
So the only unbeaten team left in Division I basketball is the Colorado women. As for the men, we are now guaranteed that no perfect record will win the championship — pushing Indiana’s title as the last team to do it into its 47th year. But how about a one-loss team? In a rather curious statistical quirk, you have to go even further back in time to find the last of those. That would be 1974 North Carolina State, two years before Indiana’s perfect season.
There are still seven one-loss teams in 2022. But as Tuesday suggested with another wild night — Kansas beat Iowa State by a point after four lead changes in the final 38 seconds, Auburn held off Alabama in the first top-25 matchup between the two uneasy neighbors in 35 years, Florida State slipped past Miami with free throws at 0.8 seconds — probably not for long.