Perfection is possible in 2013-14

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
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John Calipari has assembled one of the most talented recruiting classes in college basketball history. Perhaps the best ever.

[+] EnlargeAlex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsAlex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein will be joined by what might be the best recruiting class ever.
That's no exaggeration. With six McDonald's All-Americans and returning vets/NBA prospects Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky should be the favorite to win the national title.

There's even talk of a possible undefeated season.

And that's not a crazy thought. Multiple teams have come close to perfection in recent years. But they've all stumbled at some point.

We haven't had an undefeated college basketball squad since Indiana pulled off the feat in 1975-76. Will Kentucky or another title contender repeat the feat in 2013-14? We'll see.

But here's a list of the squads that nearly achieved perfection in recent years:

Kentucky (2011-2012), 38-2: Anthony Davis and Co. were clearly the nation's top team throughout the 2011-12 season. The Wildcats won the national championship with a team that featured six picks in that summer's NBA draft.

And they nearly finished that season without a loss. They won their first eight games before Indiana knocked them off their No. 1 perch with a 73-72 loss on Christian Watford's buzzer-beating 3-pointer in their ninth game of the year. Later that year, the Wildcats lost to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament. By then, however, they'd earned a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. But their rally in 2011-12 proved that an undefeated season is not a pipedream.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Canaan
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsIsaiah Canaan and the Racers opened the 2011-12 season 23-0 before falling to Tennessee State.
Murray State (2011-12), 31-2: The Wildcats weren't the only team in Kentucky pushing for an undefeated campaign that year. Isaiah Canaan and Murray State nearly achieved that feat the same year that Kentucky won the national title.

The Racers won their first 23 games. And then, Tennessee State ended their streak with a 72-68 victory on Feb. 9, 2012. Canaan had 31 points that night, but it wasn't enough to help Murray State maintain its streak. Steve Prohm's squad won its next eight games but ultimately lost to Marquette in the third round of the NCAA tournament. It was a great ride, though.

Memphis (2007-08), 38-2: For Memphis, the 2007-08 season ended on the wrong side of "Mario's Miracle," after former Kansas star Mario Chalmers hit a crucial 3-pointer in the Jayhawks' national championship game victory over the Tigers. But it's easy to forget how good Calipari's team was that season.

Memphis was 26-0 before suffering a four-point loss to rival Tennessee on Feb. 23, 2008, that ended its 47-game home winning streak. Derrick Rose had 31 points in that game, and Tennessee star Chris Lofton struggled in a 2-for-11 effort, but the Vols still earned the win and ruined Memphis' bid for perfection. The Tigers won their next 12 games before their national title overtime loss against Kansas.

Illinois (2004-05), 37-2: What a heartbreaking season for Illinois. Bruce Weber's squad had everything any coach would want in a national title contender. Dee Brown and Deron Williams formed one of the nation's top backcourts. On March 6, 2005, Illinois possessed a 29-0 record. And then Matt Sylvester happened. The Ohio State reserve hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the Buckeyes' upset of Weber's squad that day.

Illinois won its next eight matchups and reached the national championship game, where it faced a stacked North Carolina squad. Sean May scored 26 points, and the Tar Heels shot 52 percent from the field in a win. Illinois wasn't perfect. But it was close.

Saint Joseph's (2003-04), 30-2: Phil Martelli's squad landed on the national radar when a pair of NBA prospects (Jameer Nelson, Delonte West) led Saint Joseph's on one of the most captivating runs of the last 10 years. Saint Joseph's won its first 27 games of the 2003-04 season.

But on March 11, 2004, the same Xavier squad the Hawks had defeated earlier that season shocked the program with an 87-67 victory in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals. Critics suggested that the loss proved Saint Joseph's wasn't worthy of a top seed in the Big Dance. In the NCAA tournament, however, the Hawks defeated Liberty, Texas Tech and Wake Forest before suffering a two-point loss to Oklahoma State in the Elite Eight. The Hawks were good, just not perfect.

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