Virginia should win its game tonight against Duke in college basketball’s marquee match-up this weekend. With a week to practice after last Sunday’s closer than expected game against Virginia Tech, the Cavaliers should be rested and ready. The real test will come Monday night in Chapel Hill against the No. 13 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. Looking ahead, Virginia would be wise to not get too emotionally high for today’s game against the Blue Devils. If they play their game, they’ll win. As for the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats, they should remain unbeaten after their game against Alabama tonight at Rupp Arena. The more interesting match-up for the Wildcats will be Tuesday night when they play the improving Georgia Bulldogs. At 14-5, Georgia has played opponents tough this season, particularly during their losses. They are no easy out. This is the state of the unbeaten teams as we enter Super Bowl weekend.
No. 2 Virginia faced a tougher than expected challenge this past Sunday down in southwest Virginia, narrowly escaping the rebuilding Virginia Tech Hokies, 50-47, in a game that nearly went to overtime. Still, bitter in-state rivalries often serve a useful purpose for a contending team: toughening them up for the next test and, more importantly, reminding them that you’d better take care of your backyard neighbor before venturing out into greener pastures. Which brings us to this Saturday’s marquee game against Duke in Charlottesville. If Virginia’s smart, their humbling experience in Blacksburg will set up an intense, rigorous week of practice under Coach Tony Bennett who will not need to remind them about “drinking the Kool-aid,” which he most certainly would’ve done had Virginia won easily against Virginia Tech. The guess here is that Virginia should win easily against the Blue Devils this Super Bowl weekend who will be coming off a tough road trip to South Bend on Thursday night against another top-ten team in Notre Dame. As for the unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats, they continue to cruise, and so much for this writer’s prediction of a possible upset loss to South Carolina last weekend!
The Unbeatens – January 24, 2015
Kentucky, 18-0, could be facing a trap game this afternoon in Columbia, South Carolina, against the capable Gamecocks. Coming of a closer-than-expected home game against Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, the young, incredibly talented Wildcats, still appear vulnerable to a first loss. Virginia meanwhile continues to just flat out impress. The Cavaliers and their suffocating defense shut down Georgia Tech on Thursday night in Charlottesville, 57-28. It’s not that the win against the struggling Yellow Jackets was unexpected. It’s the eye popping, who-are-these-guys?, score, holding an opponent to just 28 points that really gets your attention. Virginia should have an easy trip down Interstate 81 to Blacksburg on Sunday against the rebuilding Hokies of Virginia Tech.
After this weekend, don’t be surprised if there’s one unbeaten team left and that would be Virginia. The quest for perfection and Indiana’s perfect 32-0 season remains elusive, however, but if there’s one team out there to watch right now, yes, it’s Virginia.
By the way, while writing this blog, I continue to look back at the team photograph of the 1976 Hoosiers on their home court at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. Wow, talk about intimidating. Scott May and Kent Benson, both sitting in the front row, hands on their knees, have that confident look that serves notice to any future team who dares challenge their throne of perfection.
It’s been 39 years since college basketball’s last unbeaten team, Indiana, 1976. The Hoosiers, led by all-Americans Scott May and Kent Benson, went 32-0. This powerhouse from the Midwest, coached by a young, hungry Bobby Knight, was clearly the best team, they knew they were the best team…and so did everybody else.
As we’re already into mid-January (gee what happened to the holidays?), we’ve got two unbeaten teams remaining, Kentucky and Virginia, both 16-0. College basketball’s perennial blue blood, the Kentucky Wildcats, have a deep, talented team, another NBA-caliber Calipari freshman class. But will the loaded Wildcats run the table? Probably not. If two recent, closer-than-expected games against SEC teams Ole Miss and Texas A&M provide any clues, then a loss may be coming (and that may not be a bad thing for the young squad in need of perhaps, a little humility). All the same, No. 1 Kentucky will likely win its game this afternoon against Alabama on the road in Tuscaloosa. But you never know, as the Crimson Tide is an improved team this year, and the school does need a lift after its own blue blood, the beloved football team, lost to Ohio State (shocking!) in the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl semi-final.
As for the Virginia Cavaliers, this is an interesting team, perhaps even a team that the efficient 1976 Hoosiers would like. While not the most talented team in their own conference, the experienced Cavaliers boast an old-school, suffocating defense, holding opponents to under 34 percent shooting. Guards Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes run a patient, efficient Virginia offense. As the nation’s No. 2 ranked team, coach Tony Bennett will not let the Cavaliers grow complacent and “drink the Kool-Aid.” The team has a trip today up to Chestnut Hill in Boston and should win against Boston College. A tough stretch in late January/early February looms.
Still, in mid-January, it’s fun to track the last two unbeaten teams in college basketball, who clearly stand-out right now from the rest of the field.