After squeaking by LSU on Tuesday night, Kentucky remains the only undefeated team in men’s Division I basketball at 24-0. The Wildcats also remain a comfortable No. 1 in the Basketball Power Index, a spot they’ve held since the first BPI ratings for this season debuted in mid-December.
As the regular season comes to a close and the madness of March approaches, the biggest storyline in college hoops is only getting bigger: How long can Kentucky stay unblemished? Can it run the table all the way through the NCAA tournament and finish 40-0?
We can use Kentucky’s remaining schedule and some knowledge about the SEC and NCAA tournaments, along with BPI, to project what the chances are of Kentucky making it to various points of the season with its perfect record intact.
Remainder of the Regular Season
Kentucky has seven regular-season games left. Beginning with Saturday’s home game versus South Carolina (2 p.m. ET on ESPN), the next four games are against teams ranked worse than 60th in BPI.
Kentucky’s Remaining Schedule
According to BPI, the Wildcats are extremely heavy favorites in six of those seven remaining games. The only exception is their March 3 game at Georgia, where Kentucky has an 84 percent chance to win.
Put it all together, and it’s a 71 percent chance that Kentucky finishes up regular-season play without a loss.
Chance of finishing regular season undefeated (31-0): 71 percent
As the top seed in the SEC tournament in Nashville, Kentucky would have to win three games to win the tournament.
Given the current conference standings and corresponding seeds, John Calipari’s team would be a massive favorite to win the SEC tournament, at 82 percent. This isn’t really a reflection of Kentucky being unbeatable, but rather more due to the SEC lacking a major challenger for the top team.
The conference is fairly balanced and deep, with eight teams in the current BPI Top 50. But after the Wildcats, the next highest-ranked SEC team in BPI is Arkansas at No. 21.
Even if Kentucky faces the hardest possible opponent in each round -- something like Florida in the quarterfinals, Georgia in the semifinals and Arkansas in the final -- the chance they win the tournament is still quite high, at 79 percent. In other words, the SEC tournament is unlikely to be a major roadblock in the Wildcats’ pursuit of perfection.
Putting together the 71 percent chance of running the table in the regular season with the 82 percent chance of winning the SEC tournament, it’s actually more likely than not that Kentucky will enter the NCAA tournament undefeated.
Chance of being undefeated through SEC tournament (34-0): 59 percent
While the SEC may not provide a major obstacle, the NCAA tournament is a different story. In the later rounds of the tournament, it’s fairly likely that the Wildcats will face a couple of teams that are more than capable of taking them down. And as we’ve seen in the past, all it takes in the single-elimination NCAA tournament is 40 minutes of an underdog outplaying the favorite to end a potentially historic team’s title hopes.
Obviously we don’t know exactly which teams Kentucky would face in the NCAA tournament, but if they enter undefeated, they’d be the overall No. 1 seed. Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology provides a pretty good example of what Kentucky’s path to the Final Four and a national title could look like based on how things look right now.
Given the bracket as Joe currently has it, Kentucky would be more than 90 percent likely to make the Sweet 16 and more than 70 percent likely to make the Final Four. The Wildcats would probably face some tough opponents in the Final Four, though, so their overall chance of winning the title would be “only” 41 percent.
That’s actually an extremely large number for any single team in a six-game, single-elimination tournament at neutral sites, but that’s how far ahead of the rest of the field Kentucky appears to be based on its play to this point in the season.
Put together that chance to win the tourney with the 59 percent chance of entering the tournament undefeated, and you get a 24 percent chance of Kentucky winning 16 more games this season and finishing 40-0.
Chance of finishing NCAA tournament undefeated (40-0): 24 percent