ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The holidays can bring a bit of a lull to the college basketball season, as it’s after the preseason tournaments and inter-conference challenges but before the start of conference play.
Michigan is a prime example. After marquee nonconference matchups against Villanova, North Carolina and South Carolina, the Wolverines will play Western Michigan, Air Force and Binghamton over the next three weeks.
The Wolverines don’t have any weeknight games, so fans will be waiting seven or eight days between matchups.
Since there’s not much Michigan basketball going on, why not take a glance around the country?
Michigan is one of only nine undefeated teams left in the nation, along with Kansas, Virginia, Nevada, Texas Tech, Buffalo, Furman, Houston and St. John’s.
It seems unlikely that Michigan would spend any time as the only undefeated team in the country this season, but with such a manageable upcoming schedule, it’s actually possible.
If Michigan takes care of business against Western Michigan, Air Force, Binghamton and Penn State at home, it would be 14-0 heading into a Jan. 6 matchup against No. 25 Indiana.
Here’s a look at the tough games between now and then for every other undefeated team.
No. 1 Kansas (8-0)
Tough games before Jan. 6: No. 17 Villanova, at No. 20 Arizona state, Oklahoma, at Iowa State
When the newest AP Poll was released Monday, Kansas took over as the No. 1 team in the country. But it hasn’t been an easy path to 8-0 for the Jayhawks.
Kansas pulled out impressive wins against Michigan State, Marquette and Tennessee in November, but it has been less than dominant in December. Stanford and New Mexico State both pushed Kansas to the brink.
Legerald Vick hit a desperation 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation to save Kansas against Stanford, and New Mexico State held a lead with under five minutes remaining at the Phog.
The next four weeks will not be easy for the new No. 1 team in the land. It has tests against top-20 teams the next two weekends, including a home game against defending national champion Villanova and a trip to No. 20 Arizona State.
Oklahoma and Iowa State will be its first two Big 12 tests, and while they’re not ranked in the Top 25, Oklahoma is 8-1 and ranked No. 33 in KenPom and Iowa State is a road game against No. 29 in KenPom.
If Kansas gets through Jan. 5 undefeated, it will have certainly earned the No. 1 ranking.
No. 6 Virginia (9-0)
Tough games before Jan. 6: No. 10 Florida State
Like Kansas, Virginia has survived its share of early season tests. It took down a pair of ranked Big Ten teams in Wisconsin and Maryland and outlasted Dayton and VCU.
Virginia has a fairly easy nonconference schedule ahead, with a trip to South Carolina the lone remaining road game. The Gamecocks played Michigan tough last weekend in Ann Arbor, but they enter this matchup with a losing record.
The best chance for a Virginia loss before Jan. 6 will come at home against No. 10 Florida State, as the two teams open conference play.
Florida State has only lost to Villanova and picked up solid nonconference victories against Florida, LSU, Purdue and Connecticut.
No. 11 Texas Tech (8-0)
Tough games before Jan. 6: No. 2 Duke, at West Virginia, No. 25 Kansas State
The start to the 2018-19 season has been similar for Texas Tech and Michigan, as both return elite defensive teams coming off deep NCAA Tournament runs.
While the offensive end has been a bit of a struggle for Texas Tech, only Michigan has had a more efficient defense.
The Red Raiders picked up wins against Southern Cal, Nebraska and Memphis over the first month, but none of those teams are currently ranked and only Nebraska looks like an NCAA Tournament team.
Duke is the most talented team in the country, with three future top-five NBA draft picks in the freshman class. It will be a tough test for Texas Tech when the two teams meet at Madison Square Garden.
Big 12 play will kick off with a tough back-to-back for Texas Tech: a road game against inconsistent West Virginia and then a date with No. 25 Kansas State, which is also coming off an Elite Eight run.
No. 14 Buffalo (9-0)
Tough games before Jan. 6: at No. 25 Syracuse, at No. 21 Marquette
Buffalo has already won three true road games against West Virginia, Southern Illinois and St. Bonaventure, but the tests will get much tougher next week.
Buffalo will play four straight true road games starting Dec. 18. It will play two ranked teams in Syracuse and Marquette before trips to Canisius and Eastern Michigan.
Buffalo is a great MAC team but hasn’t proven itself against strong major conference teams. That will change in a week, and if the Bulls survive, talks of a possible undefeated regular season could follow.
No. 23 Furman (10-0)
Tough games before Jan. 6: at LSU
Furman is the biggest surprise among undefeated teams, but it has only played one Top 25 opponent.
The Paladins beat Villanova on the road in overtime to put themselves on the map, and they’ve taken care of business ever since.
Only Michigan, Furman and Nevada have won 10 games this season.
The strength of Furman’s resume is its five true road victories, including the one at Villanova and another at Loyola-Chicago, which went to the Final Four last season.
LSU hasn’t been overly impressive this season after starting the year ranked in the Top 25, but it played tough against Florida State and has taken care of business against the lesser teams on its schedule.
Furman has been an excellent road team and LSU is undefeated at home, so something will have to give.
No. 24 Houston (8-0)
Tough games before Jan. 6: LSU
If Michigan is going to be the last undefeated team in the country, it needs LSU to go on a roll. Not only are the Tigers the only tough matchup for Furman between now and Jan. 6, they’re also the toughest test for Houston over that stretch.
Houston is coming off an excellent couple of weeks in which it won at BYU and Oklahoma State and knocked off then-No. 18 Oregon.
Most importantly, the Cougars will host an LSU team that hasn’t played a single true road game this season.
If Houston can survive that game, Utah State, Memphis and Tulsa will be the only teams standing in the way of a 15-0 start, and all of those games will take place in Houston.
St. John’s (9-0)
Tough games before Jan. 6: at Seton Hall, No. 21 Marquette, at Georgetown
There’s a reason St. John’s is the only undefeated team not ranked in the Top 25: It hasn’t played a single team with fewer than three losses.
The best win for the Red Storm so far came against VCU in overtime on a neutral court. Other than that game, wins over Georgia Tech and Rutgers barely move the needle.
The schedule will be much tougher after Christmas, as St. John’s plays a road game against a Seton Hall team that just beat Kentucky. A New Year’s Day game against No. 21 Marquette and ensuing trip to Georgetown won’t be easy, either.
If St. John’s gets through that stretch undefeated, it’s a guarantee it will be ranked in the Top 25.
No. 7 Nevada (10-0)
Tough games before Jan. 6: None
Nevada is the last team on this list because it doesn’t have any tough games between now and Jan. 6 and appears to be the least likely team to lose.
In fact, Nevada doesn’t have a top 50 KenPom team left on its entire schedule.
Unless disaster strikes, the only real tests for Nevada before Jan. 6 will come against South Dakota State and Utah State.
South Dakota State isn’t a great team and has already lost to Florida Gulf Coast, Tulane and Memphis, but there’s always a chance that Mike Daum — who’s averaging 25.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game — will go off and give the Jackrabbits a chance.
Utah State was competitive against an Arizona State team that gave Nevada all it could handle, but since the game is in Reno, the Wolf Pack has a huge edge.
Nevada has already won the toughest game on its schedule — at No. 20 Arizona State — so it will take a major upset to knock it from the ranks of the unbeaten.
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