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by Larry Ness - 02/16/2005
Savannah State capped an 0-28 season on Monday night, losing 49-44 to Florida A&M. It marks just the second time in the last 50 years that a Division I school has gone through an entire year without a win!
At the other end of the college spectrum top-ranked Illinois, the nation's lone unbeaten team at 25-0, will continue its quest for the perfect season with a game Wednesday night at Penn State. The Fightin' Illini are about a three-TD favorite and NO WONDER! Penn State is just 7-16 overall, including 1-9 in Big-10 play.
Illinois is 11-0 in conference play and its 25 straight wins has tied a school record set over a three-year period from 1914 to 1916. Illinois is attempting to become just the 7th school in the 86-year history of the Big-10 to make it through league play undefeated.
Who'da thunk it? When Bill Self skipped out on his recently signed multi-year contract with Illinois to replace Roy Williams at Kansas a year ago, the Illini-faithful were apparently less-than-thrilled when Southern Illinois head coach Bruce Weber got the job.
All Weber did in his first season at Illinois last year was lead the school to its first outright regular season title in 52 years! This year, Weber's team is ranked No. 1 by the AP, just the third time in school history the Illini have held that poll's top ranking.
The previous two times Illinois has been ranked No. 1 by the AP was in 1952 and 1989. In both of those seasons, Illinois spent just one week at the No. 1 spot. Illinois' No. 1 ranking again this week is the school's 11th consecutive week at the top! For those of you looking for an omen, it should be noted that Illinois made it to college basketball's Final Four in both the 1952 and 1989 seasons!
Can Illinois make it through the regular season unscathed? Stanford and St Joe's made impressive runs at undefeated seasons last year with the Cardinal not losing until their final regular season at Washington and the Hawks losing their first game of the year to Xavier in the second round of the A-10 tournament.
History shows that just 17 schools have entered the NCAA Tournament without a loss. Just SEVEN have gone on to win the title. Bob Knight's 1975-76 Indiana team was the most recent. Since that team finished off Michigan to capture Knight's first of three national titles and finish at 32-0, just two schools have made it through a regular season without losing.
Larry Bird's Indiana State team won its first 33 games in the 1978-79 season before losing the 1979 national title game to Michigan State and some guy named Earvin. In the 1990-91 season, defending champs UNLV won its first 34 games before losing in the national semifinals to Duke.
After Penn State, Illinois has road games at Iowa and Ohio State remaining, plus home games vs Northwestern and Purdue. The Big-10 Tournament begins March 10.
While Illinois is the lone unbeaten team in the nation, six other schools began this past week unbeaten in conference play. That's no easy task, as just three schools accomplished that feat last year. St Joe's in the Atlantic-10, Austin Peay of the Ohio Valley Conference and Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference.
Kansas fell in double-overtime in Lubbock to Texas Tech on Monday in the Big-12 and Tuesday night, Kentucky lost its first SEC game of the year at South Carolina. That leaves just Davidson (14-0 in the Southern Conference), Penn (7-0 in the Ivy League), Pacific (14-0 in the Big West) and Utah (10-0 in the Mountain West) still unbeaten their respective conferences through January 15.
Savannah State's sad story ended on Monday night with that five-point loss. The game was tied at 41 with 1:47 remaining but history was not to be denied! Playing as an independent (would any league WANT this school?), the Tigers (now there is an apt nickname!) opened the year by losing to Memphis in the Coaches vs Cancer Classic. It was the team's only lined game of the year. The Tigers were 34-point underdogs in that game and got "nipped at the wire", 102-40! The Tigers' average loss this season came by a margin of 23 PPG!
VMI of the Big South got its first conference win on Valentine's Day, beating Radford 67-54. That leaves Campbell of the Atlantic Sun, as the only school still winless in conference play at 0-16. Just two schools went winless in conference play last year, Cleveland St of the Horizon League and Texas A&M of the Big-12.
Campbell beat Wm & Mary at home and won at NC A&T earlier this year but has lost 18 straight since. The Fighting Camels (you can't make this stuff up!) have four more tries at getting their first win, beginning February 17 at Liscomb.
I'm not convinced ESPN's Bracket Buster games this Saturday are as big of a deal as they'd like us to think but with selection-Sunday less than a month away, I'll take a look on Monday at which schools and conferences could be on the outside-lookin'-in, come March 13.
Friday, I'll feature my NBA mid-season report.