Monday, January 19, 2004 Updated: January 21, 6:30 PM ET
How long will perfection last?
By Joe Lunardi Special to ESPN.com
Welcome to the Martin Luther King holiday, unofficial midpoint of the college basketball season.
A year ago at this time, the best record in America belonged to Pittsburgh, which had won 14 of its first 15 games of the season. This year, Pitt once again reaches the January midpoint with the nation's best record. More remarkable, despite needing two flashlights and a map to find their way out of town, the Panthers are unbeaten. Pittsburgh is 18-0, although for Bracketology puposes, the Panthers are 17-0 vs. Division I opponents.
And even more remarkable than the Panthers' perfection is that Pitt is joined by three other unbeaten Division I teams.
As you may have heard, college basketball teams just don't go unbeaten anymore. More games in more places, plus the urgency to play better competition in order to enhance a team's NCAA Tournament positioning, have folks pretty much putting the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers -- the last major college unbeaten -- on an unreachable pedestal.
Heck, it's been 13 years since a Division I team even reached the NCAA Tournament undefeated. That would be the 1990-91 UNLV Runnin' Rebels, who failed to defend their national title while falling in an epic Final Four battle with soon-to-be two-time champion Christian Laettner and Duke.
So, while I think it's fair to say the legendary '76 Hoosiers are safe in the record books, this may be the best chance in a long time for a team to enter Selection Sunday with a zero on the right side of the W-L ledger. It's been so long, in fact, that said feat pre-dates bracketology.
Can it be done in 2004? Let's take a look (and also set some odds):
Record: 18-0 | InsideRPI: No. 15 Best Win: N-Alabama (No. 10) Won't Be Favored ... Monday at Connecticut
It may be that the Panthers are already off the list by the time you read this. Pitt, after pretty much coasting since the Coaches vs. Cancer event in November, has a heckuva week on tap. If the Panthers survive Big Monday at UConn, they still have to win at the Carrier Dome on Saturday to remain perfect. And the host Orangemen have been perfect themselves since losing on opening night to Charlotte.
ODDS OF REACHING THE NCAA TOURNAMENT UNBEATEN: 40-1
Record: 13-0 | InsideRPI: No. 13 Best Win: Clemson (No. 44) Won't Be Favored ... Wednesday at Louisville
The Bearcats have the best margin of victory (+25.2 ppg) in the country. They visit No. 2 on the list (Louisville, +21.9 ppg) on Wednesday night. This may just be the week the No. 158 non-conference schedule catches up with Cincy. If not, the Bearcats must also visit Xavier, Wake Forest, Charlotte and DePaul before all is said and done.
ODDS OF REACHING THE NCAA TOURNAMENT UNBEATEN: 10-1
Record: 14-0 | InsideRPI: No. 17 Best Win: N-Kansas (No. 8) Will Be Favored ... In every remaining regular season game.
Stanford's unofficial best win to date came at Pac-10 rival Arizona, where the Cardinal -- despite owning the Wildcats in the desert in recent years -- had the best statistical chance of losing. It didn't happen, and now Stanford is looking at only league games remaining. Double-dip road trips to the Oregon and Los Angeles schools are daunting, but Stanford will be the better team in all four games. Only Oregon (Mac Court) and hated rival Cal (at Berkeley) are legitimate upset possibilities prior to the conference tournament.
ODDS OF REACHING THE NCAA TOURNAMENT UNBEATEN: 5-1
Record: 15-0 | InsideRPI: No. 1 Best Win: N-Gonzaga (No. 16) Will Be Favored ... In every remaining regular season game.
This is the most interesting case of all. The Hawks have already survived Gonzaga, along with trips to Cal and Xavier (previously 47-3 at Cintas Center). They will be favored in every remaining game excepting a possible Atlantic 10 title matchup at Dayton. Other rough spots figure to be visits to Philly Big Five rival Villanova and also Rhode Island, where URI nipped the Hawks at the buzzer a year ago.
ODDS OF REACHING THE NCAA TOURNAMENT UNBEATEN: 3-1
Joe Lunardi is the resident Bracketologist for ESPN.com, ESPN Insider and ESPN Radio. He may be reached at email@example.com.