- Ken Pomeroy
Not to deflate fan bases everywhere, but it's nearly impossible to end the season with zero losses. This shouldn't be news to most. However, every year it's a fun topic of discussion, probably because the accomplishment is just close enough to being possible to stoke one's imagination. This season is a little different in that there is some talk of the feat before the season even begins. So let's put this to rest right now: Louisville is not going undefeated this season.
OK, neither is Kentucky. At this point I'd like to advise John Calipari to water down the nonconference schedule if 40-0 is truly on his coaching bucket list. Playing at North Carolina along with several other competitive neutral-site games is no way to make this happen. (And, to their credit, many teams schedule with the assumption of some early struggles against top competition.)
We could discuss the chances of any of the top teams going unbeaten, but whether those chances are truly 1-in-100 or 1-in-500, they are remote. It would be like discussing the chances of Andrew Wiggins not being a first-round pick. We could dream up a scenario in which this would happen, but it's not the best use of our time.
Instead, let's dig deeper into something that probably will happen -- an undefeated conference season. Since 2003, there have been 23 such achievements in college hoops, roughly two per season. In the macro view, it's not unusual, but in the micro view it is: There have been 350 conference seasons played over that time, so a perfect conference slate has happened in just 6.6 percent of conference seasons.
And it's only going to get more difficult. Of those 350 seasons, 146 were campaigns of 18 games of longer, and only three (2.1 percent) of those seasons featured an undefeated champion. With conference membership expanding, over half of all conferences now play a schedule of at least 18 games in length.
Still, chances are good that at least one of the 350 members of a Division I conference finishes the season with a perfect conference record. Who are the best candidates for that? Naturally, it will be teams that are much better than everyone else in their conference. It doesn't hurt to be in a conference with a shorter schedule, either.
Of course, we'll have more information in late December on which teams have the best chance to pull that off, but what's the fun in waiting? Based on a combination of analytics (both Dan Hanner's and my own projection systems) and human opinion (preseason media polls and the general temperature of expert opinion), I've picked out the five teams most likely to navigate their conference's schedule without a loss this season.