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By Phil Neuffer, Assoc. Editor - Archive - Email
Starting strong
Trent Johnson The Horned Frogs' faithful have had plenty to cheer about on the court.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There are still 10 undefeated teams left at the Division I level with less than a month gone in the 2014-15 season.

Some of those squads who have yet to suffer a loss are familiar names, as nobody is surprised that talent-rich programs like Kentucky, Duke and Arizona are all sitting pretty with a goose egg in the loss column.

For teams like TCU (8-0), Colorado State (8-0), Northern Iowa (8-0) and Washington (7-0), the undefeated look is a new one.

The real intrigue now lies in determining which squads are for real, and which are destined for a harsh dose of reality in the coming weeks.

In Fort Worth, fans may be consumed by disappointment over TCU's rejection from the College Football Playoff, but the Horned Frogs' faithful have had plenty to cheer about on the court.

TCU has never been much of a basketball power, with only two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 40 years. The Horned Frogs have had a losing record in eight of the last nine seasons, including a 9-22 debacle in 2013-14. That is what makes their 8-0 success rate through the month of November and the beginning of December so startling.

Sure, they have yet to really take down any team considered top notch, although triumphs over Mississippi State (61-52) and on the road against Ole Miss (66-54) are solid for sure. However, just the fact that the Horned Frogs are within reach of 10 wins before February is an accomplishment.

TCU's success has been and will need to continue to be built on defense, as it ranks 10th in the country in opponent field goal percentage (.349). With a roster made up of a host of supplementary scorers (Kyan Anderson (12.5 ppg) is the only consistent double-digit threat), the Horned Frogs better hope their defense holds up.

The Pac-12 has two of the remaining unbeaten teams, but Washington wasn't the lock to have the kind of the start that Arizona was.

Coming off back-to-back seasons with moderate success, the Huskies did not seem to be headed in the right direction and that meant the heat was increasing under Lorenzo Romar's seat on the bench. A 6-0 start didn't exactly wipe all that away, but the seventh win might have bought Romar some more time.

The Huskies hosted then No. 13 San Diego State on Sunday and thanks to some suffocating defense, escaped with a 49-36 victory. Was it a pretty win? Absolutely not, but it counts just the same as any of its previous victories in the standings. In the minds of college basketball fans and pundits alike, it weighs even heavier.

As with TCU, Washington can thank its commitment to defense for not only its win over the Aztecs, but its overall success. The Huskies are sixth in the country in opponent field goal percentage (.336), thanks to some excellent rim protection. They are blocking seven shots per game, which is tied for sixth in the nation. Robert Upshaw leads the way, swatting four shots per contest.

"Length, first of all," Romar said when asked why his team has been so strong defensively. "We have more shot blockers as opposed to last year when we were so small that if you got near the rim we wouldn't make you pay for it. But this year we make you pay for it."

Of course, for all the defensive superlatives for the Horned Frogs and Huskies, they are still ranked outside the top-30 in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency according to the Ken Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings. That fact makes the hopes of continued domination seem that much more precarious, especially as these teams enter January and the crunch of playing teams from power conferences every night.

Meanwhile, Colorado State and Northern Iowa may be able to hide a bit in the more diluted Mountain West and Missouri Valley Conferences, respectively.

That is not to say that the Rams and Panthers are not strong teams. Colorado State has wins over Georgia State (80-70) and UC Santa Barbara (65-63), which are impressive at the mid-major level.

Northern Iowa has its fair share of mid-major wins, a 79-77 overtime triumph at Stephen F. Austin perhaps the most eye-opening. The Panthers also defeated Virginia Tech (73-54) and Northwestern (61-42) to log some wins against power conference teams, albeit weaker ones.

It also is worth mentioning that of the teams discussed above, Northern Iowa is the second-highest in Pomeroy's overall ratings, sitting at 38th. Washington is ranked 35th, while TCU (58) and Colorado State (70) are further down the list. The Huskies (17) and Panthers (23) are the only teams ranked in AP Top-25 as well.


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