With Syracuse off to their best start in school history (first time they’ve won 20 straight to start a season) the big question becomes whether they can run the table the rest of the way. If history is any indication the answer is not very likely.
The undefeated question used to pop up much more frequently, but with each passing year since the last time it was accomplished (Indiana, 1976) the odds seem to be more and more against it.
Here are the 10 best starts since that time and how they fared in the NCAA Tournament:
10. Ohio State, 2010-11—24-0; Tournament finish: Lost in regional semis, with a 34-3 record.
Why so good? The Buckeyes had freshman power forward phenomenon Jared Sullinger leading the team in scoring (17.2) and rebounding (10.2). Their balanced attack featured four players averaging 10 points or more per game.
First Loss: At Wisconsin 71–67. Badgers guard Jordan Taylor scored 27 points and dished 7 assists in the win.
6 (tie). Memphis, 2007-08—26-0; Tournament finish: Lost in national final, with a 38-2 record.
Why so good? John Calipari’s squad had freshman Derrick Rose (14.5 points per game) at point guard, Chris Douglas-Roberts (18.1 points) at the wing and Robert Dozier (8.6 points, 6.9 rebounds) in the paint.
First Loss: Tennessee 66–62. The top-ranked Tigers hit just 8-17 free throws to lose to the second-ranked Volunteers.
6 (tie). Stanford, 2003-04—26-0; Tournament finish: Lost in second round, with a 30-2 record.
Why so good? Mike Montgomery had a lot of success in college, before trying his hand in the NBA, and this team may have featured his best player ever, in small forward Josh Childress. Childress averaged 15.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game (both team-highs) as the Cardinal held teams to an average of 60.5 points per game.
First Loss: At Washington 75–62. The Cardinal shot just 39 percent for the game in the loss.
6 (tie). Massachusetts, 1995-96—26-0; Tournament finish: ]Lost in national semis, with a 35-2 record.
Why so good? Marcus Camby. John Calipari’s amazing turnaround of the Minutemen peaked in 1996 when Camby, a junior, averaged 20.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3.9 blocks per game.
First Loss: At George Washington 86–76. GW led by as much as 23 points before UMass rallied to pull within 73—64 late in the game.
6 (tie). Oregon State, 1980-81—26-0; Tournament finish: Lost in first round, with a 26-2 record.
Why so good? The 6-foot-10-inch All-American Steve Johnson averaged 21.0 points and 7.7 rebounds for hall of fame head coach Ralph Miller’s best squad in his 38 years of coaching.
First Loss: Arizona State 87–67. Sophomore Byron Scott scored 25 points in the rout, as the Sun Devils hit 64 percent of their shots.
5. Saint Joseph’s, 2003-04—27-0; Tournament finish: Lost in regional finals, with a 30-2 record.
Why so good? Future NBA guards Jameer Nelson (20.6 points, 5.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds per game) and Delonte West (18.9 points, 4.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds per game) did pretty much everything for the team.
First Loss: Xavier 87–67. Musketeers grabbed a 22-point halftime lead and shot a blistering 71.4 percent for the game.
3 (tie). Illinois, 2004-05—29-0; Tournament finish: Lost in national finals, with a 37-2 record.
Why so good? Guards Deron Williams, Luther Head, and Dee Brown were the major contributors for Bruce Weber’s second team, though all three were recruited by former coach Bill Self.
First Loss: At Ohio State 65—64. Ohio State forward Matt Sylvester hit a 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left to sink the Illini, who shot just 38.3 percent for the game.
3 (tie). San Francisco, 1976-77—29-0;
3 (tie). San Francisco, 1976-77—29-0;Tournament finish: Lost in first round, with a 29-2 record.
Why so good? Future NBA center Bill Cartwright (19.4 points, 8.5 rebounds) was among four players that averaged better than 14 points a game for the Dons.
First Loss: At Notre Dame 93–82. The Irish handily won this one just a few years after stopping UCLA’s 88-game winning streak.
2. Indiana State, 1978-79—33-0; Tournament finish: Lost in national finals, with a 33-1 record.
Why so good? Larry Bird. One of the greatest players of all time put the team on his back for the season averaging an incredible 28.6 points, 14.9 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per contest. Since his departure the Sycamores have only been to the tournament three times.
First Loss: Michigan State 75—64. Magic Johnson and the Spartans defeated Indiana State in one of the most-anticipated title games in history. Bird hit just 7 of 19 shots, as he was harassed by constant double and triple teams every time he touched the ball.
1. UNLV, 1990-91—34-0; Tournament finish: Lost in national semis, with a 34-1 record.
Why so good? The Runnin’ Rebels boasted five future NBA draft picks, plus 1990 Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament, Anderson Hunt. Most notable of their players though was Larry Johnson who averaged 22.7 points and 10.9 rebounds a contest.
First Loss: Duke 79–77. One of the bigger upsets in Final Four history was a rematch of the previous year’s title, which UNLV won by 30 points. The game featured 17 ties and 25 lead changes, but was altered slightly when UNLV point guard Greg Anthony fouled out with 3:51 remaining.