Monday, December 12, 2011

The Emery Board

This weekly column is in honor of BYU's Jackson Emery, who, for two straight seasons, claimed his squad would go undefeated and win the National Championship.

College basketball has not seen a team go undefeated since Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers went 32-0 in 1975-1976. The closest we have seen since then was a Jameer Nelson-led St. Joseph's team that went 27-0 in the 2003-2004 season before losing to Xavier in the Atlantic-10 tournament. Every season a team flirts with the notion of an undefeated season, but every season that notion slowly fades as January turns to February and February turns to March.

The Emery Board: 3rd Edition
After a roller-coaster weekend, we are left with just nine undefeated teams. Indiana remains undefeated thanks to a game-winning three point buzzer-beater by Christian Watford. Murray State stayed in the mix with a strong road victory at Memphis. Plus, there was the Crosstown Brawl. How does that effect Xavier's unbeaten record?

No.1 Syracuse (10-0)
Next game: 12/17 at North Carolina State (6-3)
First realistic loss: 12/17 at North Carolina State (6-3)

The Orange have looked down-right impressive this season. Fab Melo has improved by leaps and bounds, and the Orange sport one of the deepest benches in the country. Plus, all the distractions with the Bernie Fine investigation have yet to rattle this bunch. But they've also yet to play a true road game, and will receive a stern test from North Carolina State this Saturday.

No.4 Louisville (9-0)
Next game: 12/17 vs. Memphis (5-3)
First realistic loss: 12/17 vs. Memphis (5-3)

The Cardinals rolled through IUPUI and FDU this past week, and have a tough non-conference game against Memphis on the horizon. Gorgui Deing has been very impressive this year, and Kyle Kuric continues to improve as one of the leaders of this team. And remember, this team continues to fight the injury bug. With games against Georgetown and Kentucky down the road, it's unlikely they will stay undefeated for long, but this team should be considered a real threat to contend for a Final-Four bid.

No.7 Baylor (7-0)
Next game: 12/14 vs. Bethune-Cookman (3-4)
First realistic loss: 12/23 vs. West Virginia (6-2)

The Bears didn't play last week, and don't face any real competition until 12/22 when they play Saint Mary's. But that starts a tough stretch against quality teams, with West Virginia, Mississippi State and Texas A&M to follow. Guard-play and coaching will continue to be the team's question-marks. Can Pierre Jackson and A.J Walton get it done? And can Scott Drew actually coach this team up during late game situations? We should have some answers once 2012 rolls around.

No.8 Missouri (9-0)
Next game: 12/15 vs. Kennesaw State (2-5)
First realistic loss: 12/22 vs. No.19 Illinois (10-0)

This team continues to impress. The Tigers have yet to score less than 80 points in a game, and while rebounding will continue to be a question, the team's chemistry and efficiency will get them by. Phil Pressey is emerging as one of the best guards in the country, and if Kim English can continue to shoot well from outside, teams will have serious match-up problems. This team has rallied behind Frank Haith, and the results thus far have been tremendous. Illinois' seven-footer Meyers Leonard will provide Missouri with a tough match-up, but if the Tigers can defeat the Illini, it's likely they remain undefeated heading into the new year.

No.9 Xavier (8-0)
Next game: 12/18 vs. Oral Roberts (6-3)
First realistic loss: 12/18 vs. Oral Roberts (6-3)

If you spent your weekend under a rock, you might be confused as to why Oral Roberts has a chance to beat an undefeated, top-10 team. But due to the Crosstown Brawl, Xavier will be without their three best players for this game. While the length of suspensions are down-right embarrassing, this team is scary-good when they have all their horses on the court. After Oral Roberts, they play Long Beach State and Gonzaga. I have to imagine Xavier will lose one of the next three games. If not, then we have to start considering this team as a legitimate Final-Four contender.

No.11 Marquette (9-0)
Next game: 12/17 vs. Northern Colorado (3-5)
First realistic loss: 12/29 vs. No.25 Vanderbilt (6-3)

The Golden Eagles may be the most entertaining team in the country. They have a variety of weapons and role players, and one of the most talented coaches in the country. But injuries have started to pile up in the past week. Center Chris Otule will miss significant time with an ACL injury. Plus, freshman Juan Anderson injured his shoulder during practice and sophomore Jamil Wilson sprained his ankle late in the week. Marquette has a tough stretch of games towards the end of the month, and probably will suffer a defeat before January first. Nonetheless, this team is really talented and should be considered a legitimate Final-Four contender.

No.19 Illinois (10-0)
Next game: 12/17 vs. UNLV (9-2)
First realistic loss: 12/17 vs. UNLV (9-2)

Did any of us expect Illinois to be undefeated at this point in the season? If your answer is no, you're clearly lying. Center Meyers Leonard has been playing inspired basketball as of late, and transfer Sam Maniscalco has stepped up as well. This is a much different team than last year. The departures of Demetri McCamey and Jereme Richmond have made this team more cohesive and while they aren't uber-talented, they are a rough, tough team that will be a difficult out.

No.20 Indiana (9-0)
Next game: 12/17 vs. Notre Dame (7-4)
First realistic loss: 12/28 at Michigan State (8-2)

Christian Watford's buzzer-beating, game-winning three pointer against Kentucky has been the signature moment of the season. Indiana came into the contest undefeated but untested, and with the victory, Tom Crean got a career-defining win. This team has a superstar center in Cody Zeller, some big-time athletes in Will Sheehey and Victor Oladipo, and a bunch of veteran leadership. A let down will come at some point, but for now, this team should be given all the praise in the world.

Murray State (9-0)
Next game: 12/15 vs. Lipscomb (6-5)
First realistic loss: 12/30 at Eastern Illinois (6-3)

The Racers passed their first real test of the season, a road victory over Memphis. With all their tough non-conference games out of the way, the Racers have set themselves up to make a run at finishing the season undefeated. That might sound ridiculous, but no team in the Ohio Valley Conference is as talented as them, and if they can avoid a significant letdown, going undefeated isn't out of the realm of possibility.

Bottom of the Barrel

Binghamton (0-7)
Next game: 12/17 at Hofstra (3-7)
First real chance to win: 1/5 vs. Stony Brook (3-5)

Chicago State (0-9)
Next game: 12/14 at Wichita State (7-2)
First real chance to win: 12/17 at Loyola (IL) (2-7)

Grambling State (0-6)
Next game: 12/18 at Texas Tech (4-4)
First real chance to win: 1/3 vs. Alabama State (2-6)

Hartford (0-10)
Next game: 1221 at Marist (4/5)
First real chance to win: 1/15 at Binghamton (0-7)

Morgan State (0-7)
Next game: 12/14 at UMBC (1-7)
First real chance to win: 12/14 at UMBC (1-7)

Northern Illinois (0-8)
Next game: 12/14 vs. DePaul (6-3)
First real chance to win: 12/17 vs. Southern Illinois (1-5)

Towson (0-9)
Next game: 12/14 at Coppin State (3-5)
First real chance to win: 12/14 at Coppin State (3-5)

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