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Born Undefeated

UNC has officially finished their non-conference schedule undefeated, and are off to their fifth best start of the ACC era, as we first starting discussing back in December. It's slightly disconcerting that the next three best starts all finished their seasons with upsets in the NCAA tournament, to Indiana, Louisville, and Utah.

Going undefeated seems to be a bit of a hobby horse for the sports press this week, as folks start looking down the various schedules. First Ken Pomeroy speculated that Memphis would go the distance, and now Seth Davis considers that UNC, Kansas and Memphis might all finish without a loss. And more interestingly, he thinks that all of their fans should be hoping for a loss.

Both parts of that thesis are rather dumb. I don't particularly think any of the three teams are going to end the season undefeated, and looking at the Top 25 in January isn't very indicative of the upcoming schedules. Does anyone think we won't see at least a couple of other Big 12 and ACC teams crack the polls this year? They're both competitive conferences, and the thought of the Jayhawks or Heels waltzing through unscathed is rather silly.

Worse is the argument that fans should hope the teams lose to spare their tournament chances, which seems to be based solely on the fact that no one's had a perfect season since Indiana in 1976. Of course, the only teams since then to make it to March without a loss were UNLV in 1991 and Indiana State in 1979. This is because, surprisingly enough, going undefeated is hard. Neither UNLV or ISU cracked under pressure or otherwise blew their chances - both teams lost to the eventual champions on the final weekend, playing good basketball. The history books are littered with one-loss teams who also failed to win the national championship. It turns out that's pretty difficult as well.

So yes, pulling a UNC 1957 or an Indiana 1976 isn't likely to happen. While I'd like to think this year's Heels will do so, they almost certainly won't. Of course, the same thing was said about the NFL for the last 25 years, right up until the moment the Patriots proved everyone wrong. The odds of UNC cutting down the nets aren't any better if they play their first tournament game at 33-1 instead of 34-0, so hell, I'll be rooting for them to win every game from now until April. "Experiencing losing" is, well, for losers.

(After last year, there's probably no worse time to tempt fate with this post than before the State game. But what's life without risk, hubris, and drive-by Wolfpack gloating should things go the wrong way?)