College basketball: Seven undefeated teams remain after one month

Behold the casualty rate of one month of the college basketball season. When it all began on Nov. 11, there were 351 teams who could say they had no losses. On Dec. 11, there were only seven — none of which are named Kentucky, Duke, Kansas or North Carolina. The bluebloods fell like nearly everyone else and are among the 26 teams with one loss.

RELATED: AP Top 25

Let us pay homage, then, to the Spotless Septet; where they’ve been, and where they’re going.

BAYLOR

Johnathan Motley's length and scoring abilities have led Baylor on both ends.

Sean Pokorny | USA TODAY Sports Images

Johnathan Motley’s length and scoring abilities have led Baylor on both ends.

Why the Bears are 8-0

Nobody saw them coming. Sixty-four teams got at least one vote in either the Associated Press or coaches’ preseason poll. But not Baylor. The Bears have proceeded to mow down four ranked opponents and three top-10 foes by an average margin of 12.5 points.

They’re doing it with relentlessness, having trailed at halftime in four of the eight games. But the second half is Baylor Time. The Bears wiped out Michigan 43-25 in the second 20 minutes, Louisville 42-24 and Xavier 45-27.

RELATED: Baylor goes from unranked to No. 4 in a month

The geezers are pretty resolute. The starting lineup has an average age of 21.9 with all five in at least their fourth year of college basketball, counting redshirt seasons. Johnathan Motley’s pertinent numbers are not only his 16.3 points and eight rebounds a game, but also the 6.3 percent body fat over his 6-foot-10 frame and 7-foot-4 wingspan.

The closest call

When you’re down 22 points in the first half and 15 at halftime to Louisville, defeat certainly seems imminent. Nah. King McClure came off the bench and scored all 15 points in the second half and the Bears got by 66-63.

Bogeys on the radar screen

Nothing in the foreseeable future, with four highly winnable games ahead. Then comes a Dec. 30 trip to Oklahoma. Coach Scott Drew appreciates the flashy first month, but he wants to keep things in perspective.

“When we started this season we knew we played great teams early and had chances to get off to a great start,” he said. “But we’ve got bigger goals.”

One of those goals would be to do better in March. The Bears have come crashing down against Georgia State and Yale in the first round the past two years. Do that again, and nobody will remember how they wore down Louisville and Xavier.

CREIGHTON

Greg McDermott has gotten the Bluejays to be one of the nation's most lethal scoring teams.

Steve Branscombe | USA TODAY Sports Images

Greg McDermott has gotten the Bluejays to be one of the nation’s most lethal scoring teams.

Why the Bluejays are 10-0

Just try and stop ‘em. They’re the only team in the nation to shoot 50 percent or better in every game, coming into Saturday second in the nation in field-goal percentage and 3-point shooting, averaging nearly 92 points a tipoff.

Creighton attacks from everywhere, against anyone. Wisconsin is not known for leaking points, but the Bluejays put the Badgers away with a 19-4 blitz. They had seven players score in double figures when they outran North Carolina State 112-94. Seven-footer Justin Patton has hit 34 of his last 38 shots. Guard Marcus Foster has revived his career after stormy days at Kansas State with an 18-point average, and Maurice Watson Jr. is still the nation’s active leader in career assists and scored 25 points against Nebraska.

“He’s controlled games this year where he’s scored eight points, and he’s controlled games where he’s scored 25,” coach Greg McDermott said.

And don’t even think about beating the Bluejays at home, where the 16,909 average attendance is fifth best in the country, and better than 13 NBA teams. That might be one reason why they’ve won 96 consecutive games there against teams with .500 or under records, going back to 2002. Nobody surprises them in Omaha. 

The closest call

Creighton was down 50-40 to Ole Miss in the second half but blew past the Rebels with a 16-of-26 3-point barrage. The 86-77 win is one of only two decided by single digits.

Bogeys on the radar screen

If the Bluejays can get past Oral Roberts, Arizona State and a home game with Seton Hall, it would set up a titanic Big East New Year’s Eve party with Villanova in Omaha. If they’re 13-0 by then, they could well have set school history in the polls. They’re No. 10 now and have never been ranked higher than ninth.

GONZAGA

7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski has been a force down low for the Zags.

James Snook | USA TODAY Sports Images

7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski has been a force down low for the Zags.

Why the Bulldogs are 10-0

Let Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, just after a 98-71 shelling by the Zags, explain: “They’re a well-oiled machine.”

Not to mention a record-setting one, since this is the best Division I start in school history, which is a high bar for a program that has been to 18 consecutive NCAA Tournaments. 

Gonzaga’s offense is something like a basketball Swiss Army Knife with many uses. In 10 games, seven different players have led the team in scoring.

“We have so many different pieces,” guard Jordan Mathews said after the Washington game. “I think that’s going to be the theme throughout the year. Everybody always says we’re so deep, I can imagine it being tough to play us on a night like this.”

And if they don’t win with 98 points, quicker than you can say Przemek Karnowski — the 7-foot-1 wall from Poland inside – they win with defense, as they did to get No. 10 Saturday night against Akron by a score of 61-43, despite not making a field goal the last eight minutes. Gonzaga has had scoring games in the 100s, 90s, 80s, 70s and 60s this season. One thing in common with all of them: the winner.

The closest call

The program that is 143-7 when leading at halftime since 2011 nearly blew an 18-point lead in the second half against Iowa State. The Cyclones had a 3-point shot to win in the last 20 seconds but missed and lost 73-71.

Bogeys on the radar screen

The Zags have eight days off before a tricky trip to Tennessee. The West Coast Conference starts soon after, and that means two games — or more — with Saint Mary’s, the other half of the big two of the WCC.

SOUTH CAROLINA

South Carolina has stayed undefeated mainly due to its swarming defense.

Steve Mitchell | USA TODAY Sports Images

South Carolina has stayed undefeated mainly due to its swarming defense.

Why the Gamecocks are 8-0

Let the chant begin: Defense! Defense! Defense! South Carolina came into the weekend third in the nation in fewest points allowed and second in opponent field-goal percentage. In the four most recent games, the Gamecocks held Michigan 31 points under its average, Syracuse 36, Vermont 24 and Florida International 21. They have permitted only 57 assists and 38 fast-break points in eight games, and they are outscoring the opposition 282-148 in the paint.

One basketball bylaw going back to James Naismith: If the other team has trouble scoring, you tend to get the lead. Hence, South Carolina has not trailed in 3 1/2 games, or more than 145 minutes. And the Gamecocks have been doing this lately with leading scorer Sindarius Thornwell on indefinite suspension.

The closest call

Monmouth had South Carolina by the throat until PJ Dozier hit a baseline jumper at the buzzer in overtime to win 70-69.

Bogeys on the radar screen

The Gamecocks get capable Seton Hall in Madison Square Garden on Monday, where it’ll be a Pirate crowd. At the end of the month is a trip to Memphis. It might be good if Thornwell is back by then. Then SEC play begins, and everyone in the state of South Carolina knows what happened last season. The Gamecocks started 15-0, came down with a bad case of the SEC blues, and went 10-9 the rest of the way and lost in the second round of the NIT. They still won 25 games, but drew some heat for the finish, which still gets the needle hopping on coach Frank Martin’s annoyed-o-meter.

“Everything is about being in the right place in March as a basketball team. I hope we get there,” Martin said. “I thought our guys last year did that, but at the end of the day they said it wasn’t good enough. I’ve never seen a team get penalized for being undefeated in non-conference basketball. Never in my life. It was like we committed the biggest sin in the world because we didn’t lose. It was unbelievable the way that was held against us last year.”

UCLA

Freshmen Lonzo Ball (left) and T.J. Leaf (right) have combined to be arguably the best duo in the nation.

Gary A. Vasquez | USA TODAY Sports Images

Freshmen Lonzo Ball (left) and T.J. Leaf (right) have combined to be arguably the best duo in the nation.

Why the Bruins are 10-0

We could call them Showtime, if the Lakers of Magic Johnson hadn’t beaten them to it. The 102-84 sprint past Michigan on Saturday was the fourth time they have broken 100. They have been held under 97 only three times and are shooting 56 percent, with six players averaging at least 11 points a game. They put 97 points on Kentucky — in Rupp Arena — and nobody had ever done that to John Calipari before. Their 47 percent shooting from the 3-point line is higher than 265 teams were shooting from anywhere coming into the weekend.

RELATED: UCLA looking like a legitimate Final Four contender

Well, you get the idea. The Michigan game was fairly routine with freshman fingers on the button of this nuclear-powered attack — T.J. Leaf with 21 points and eight rebounds, Lonzo Ball 19 and seven, and UCLA as a unit shooting 67 percent with 15 3-pointers and 23 assists on 39 baskets.

In short, nobody — nooooobody — has been able to stop them. Whose bright idea was it to pick them third in the Pac-12?

The closest call

It wasn’t Kentucky in Rupp, where UCLA went up 13 and breezed to the wire, 97-92. Texas A&M had the Bruins tied with just over two minutes left, before they scooted away to win 74-67.

Bogeys on the radar screen

Ohio State in Las Vegas on  Dec. 17 should get UCLA’s attention. Eleven days later, it’s off to Oregon. The Pac-12 ground will shake.

USC

USC has leaned on several players, including freshman De'Anthony Melton.

Robert Hanashiro | USA TODAY Sports Images

USC has leaned on several players, including freshman De’Anthony Melton.

Why the Trojans are 8-0

They’re a plucky bunch, having trailed by at least nine points in four games, including each of the first three. But any holes have been escapable so far. They missed 16 of their first 17 shots against BYU but then the offense suddenly was put in the microwave and they won 91-84. They were down late 62-55 against Texas A&M but went on a 10-1 tear to save the game.

Balance helps. Six players are averaging at least 10.5 points a game, though that includes Bennie Boatwright, who is out six weeks with a sprained knee. Seven have scored at least 14 points in a game. That’s all part of the best USC start since 2000, and matching the best since 1971.

Pretty good for a team picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12.

The closest call

The Trojans needed every last ounce of resolve to get past Texas A&M in College Station 65-63, carried at the end by freshman De’Anthony Melton, who was playing only his third college game.

Bogeys on the radar screen

Pepperdine, Troy, Cornell, Missouri State and either DePaul or Wyoming. Does that sound like 13-0? Maybe, but December goes out like a lion, with a hazardous journey on the Oregon Trail, first to Oregon State and then the surging Ducks.

VILLANOVA

Josh Hart scored half of Villanova's 74 points in a tight win over Notre Dame.

Vincent Carchietta | USA TODAY Sports Images

Josh Hart scored half of Villanova’s 74 points in a tight win over Notre Dame.

Why the Wildcats are 10-0

They’ve kind of gotten into the habit. With so much of the gang returning from last April, they’ve won 16 in row going back to their magical spring, doing it with familiar guys who have noses for the finish line. Josh Hart most of all, whose picture should be in the dictionary next to the word efficient.

He is averaging 19.5 points and seven rebounds, is shooting 57 percent overall and 46 percent from the 3-point line, and he has just 15 turnovers in 10 games. He had Villanova’s first triple-double in 30 years against Saint Joseph’s, and by the time he was finished with Notre Dame on Saturday with 37 points, his national player of the year candidacy was a go. Coach Jay Wright called him “as complete a player as we’ve ever had.”

RELATED: Naismith Watch: Hart leads the way

Between Hart’s skill and savvy, Kris Jenkins still burying 3-pointers, and Jalen Brunson and all the other national championship veterans, the Wildcats have found a way against every upset attempt so far. This while understanding that — as both the No. 1 team and the defending national champions — there is a target bigger than the commonwealth of Pennsylvania on their backs.

The closest call

Notre Dame led most of the game Saturday and was up 11 but could not hold back Villanova. To be precise, it could not hold back Hart, since he was the only Wildcat in double figures. Villanova also slipped by at Purdue 79-76 by taking over the second half.

Bogeys on the radar screen

If they can take care of Temple Tuesday, the Wildcats will run their Philadelphia Big Five winning streak to a rather astounding 18 in a row. Then look how they’ll welcome in 2017, with trips to Creighton and Butler within five days. It’ll be a challenge not to stumble, but lots of big names have done that.

On Dec. 11, there were 26 teams with one loss.