NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
They rolled through the conference season, winning game after game in places like Durham, New Hampshire, and Ithaca, New York. They weren’t contending for Top 25 spots — and they might not even end up in the NCAA Tournament — but Vermont and Princeton accomplished something memorable in 2017: They were the only Division I teams in the country to go through league play in the regular season without a loss.
Vermont went 16-0 in America East play. The last team in that league to go unbeaten was Delaware back in 1992, when it was called the North Atlantic Conference. Princeton went 14-0 in the Ivy League, the first team to pull that off since Cornell in 2008.
Vermont and Princeton could both end up in the NIT if they lose in their conference tournaments. The Catamounts play Saturday in the title game of the America East Tournament, and the Tigers open the inaugural four-team Ivy Tournament that same day.
No matter what happens, though, what Vermont and Princeton achieved in the regular season is rare. There are five current leagues — the American Athletic, Big East, Mountain West, Northeast and Summit — that have never had an unbeaten team. In some other conferences, it’s been decades since anyone pulled it off.
With postseason play gaining steam, here’s a nod to regular-season supremacy — a list of the most recent team (before this year) to go unbeaten in the regular season in each current Division I conference where it’s happened ((in reverse chronological order):
Stephen F. Austin, 18-0 in 2016. The Lumberjacks were the only team to go unbeaten in conference last season, capping a four-year stretch in which they went 69-3 in Southland play during the regular season.
What Happened Next: The Southland Tournament was no problem, and Stephen F. Austin then beat West Virginia 70-56 to open the NCAA Tournament behind 33 points from Thomas Walkup. The Lumberjacks came achingly close to a Sweet 16 appearance but were denied when Notre Dame beat them on a tip-in in the final seconds.
North Carolina Central, 16-0 in 2015. Coach LeVelle Moton’s team lost only once in league play in 2014, then went unbeaten in 2015, outscoring conference opponents by over 15 points a game in the regular season.
What Happened Next: The Eagles didn’t even reach the title game of the MEAC Tournament, losing to Delaware State in the semifinals. N.C. Central had to settle for an NIT bid and lost to Miami.
Murray State, 16-0 in 2015. The Racers didn’t lose a regular-season game after November, going unbeaten in conference play in a season when no other OVC team had fewer than five losses.
What Happened Next: Murray State picked a bad time to lose to a conference opponent. In the OVC Tournament final, Belmont beat the Racers 88-87 on a 3-pointer in the final seconds, sending Murray State to the NIT. The Racers did win a couple games in that tournament.
Kentucky, 18-0 in 2015. The Wildcats had much higher aspirations when they finished the regular season 31-0. Karl-Anthony Towns and Co. were more than the rest of the SEC could handle.
What Happened Next: John Calipari’s team came within two games of going 40-0, but Kentucky’s run ended when Wisconsin knocked off the Wildcats in the national semifinals.
Wichita State, 18-0 in 2014. A year after a run to the Final Four, the Shockers were elite for an entire season, entering the NCAA Tournament with a 34-0 mark. Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet provided balanced scoring for a team that appeared poised for a deep run into the postseason.
What Happened Next: Wichita State received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament but had to face eighth-seeded Kentucky in the round of 32. Julius Randle and the Wildcats — who had started the season ranked No. 1 in the country — prevailed 78-76.
Memphis, 16-0 in 2013. No surprise that it’s Memphis holding this honor. The Tigers once went undefeated in this league for three straight seasons under John Calipari, and in 2013, Josh Pastner coached them to another unblemished mark.
What Happened Next: Southern Mississippi took Memphis to double overtime in the conference tournament final, but the Tigers prevailed. They went on to beat Saint Mary’s in their NCAA Tournament opener before losing to Michigan State.
Gonzaga, 16-0 in 2013. Mark Few’s team came within a game of an unbeaten regular season this year, and the Bulldogs have had similar runs of dominance in the recent past in the WCC. The 2013 season was the first of five straight first-place finishes for Gonzaga, a streak that’s still going.
What Happened Next: The Zags won the WCC Tournament but exited in the NCAA round of 32, when they lost to Final Four-bound Wichita State.
Butler, 18-0 in 2010. Coach Brad Stevens guided his team to nonconference wins over UCLA and Ohio State in addition to all those victories over Horizon League opponents. The regular season was terrific — and the best, of course, was still to come.
What Happened Next: The Bulldogs won the Horizon Tournament before embarking on a memorable run that took them all the way to the Final Four, where they came oh so close to knocking off Duke in the national title game. Butler spent a couple more seasons in the Horizon before joining the Atlantic 10 and eventually the Big East.
Cornell, 14-0 in 2008. The Big Red became the first Ivy team besides Princeton or Penn to make the NCAA Tournament since 1988. From 1991-2008, nine Ivy teams managed to go 14-0, but it’s a stronger, deeper league now, and Cornell was the last to go undefeated before this year’s Princeton team.
What Happened Next: Cornell lost its NCAA Tournament opener 77-53 to Stanford, but the Big Red won the next two Ivy titles as well and made it to the Sweet 16 in 2010.
Davidson, 20-0 in 2008. Imagine a world in which North Carolina and Duke were in the same conference with Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and LSU. That was the Southern Conference toward the end of the 1920s. The terrain has been a bit tamer recently, and Davidson was able to go through undefeated in Stephen Curry’s sophomore season.
What Happened Next: A star was born. After winning the conference tournament, Davidson made it all the way to the Elite Eight, with Curry scoring 128 points in four NCAA Tournament games. The Wildcats finally lost 59-57 in the regional final to eventual champion Kansas.
Winthrop, 14-0 in 2007. The last of Gregg Marshall’s nine seasons as Winthrop’s coach was tremendous. He’d actually taken the job at College of Charleston the previous offseason, then changed his mind and went back to coach what he knew could be a special team at Winthrop.
What Happened Next: The Eagles withstood a tough challenge from VMI in the Big South Tournament title game, then beat Notre Dame in their NCAA Tournament opener before losing to Oregon. Marshall did leave after that, taking the job at Wichita State.
George Washington, 16-0 in 2006. The Colonials lost only once in the regular season — at N.C. State in December — and earned their first top-10 ranking in the AP poll in 50 years.
What Happened Next: Temple knocked George Washington out of the conference tournament in the quarterfinals, and after beating UNC Wilmington in overtime in their NCAA Tournament opener, the Colonials were eliminated by top-seeded Duke.
Bucknell, 14-0 in 2006. A year after upsetting Kansas in the NCAA Tournament, the Bison returned with standouts Chris McNaughton and Charles Lee and breezed through the conference. Bucknell also won at Syracuse early in the season.
What Happened Next: Bucknell made it through the Patriot League Tournament, and its next NCAA Tournament victory wasn’t as much of a surprise. The Bison were a No. 9 seed when they knocked off eighth-seeded Arkansas before a loss to top-seeded Memphis.
Pacific, 18-0 in 2005. Bob Thomason , the conference’s career leader in victories, guided the Tigers to this undefeated campaign, which included a pair of tight wins over runner-up Utah State.
What Happened Next: The third matchup between Pacific and Utah State went the other way, with the Aggies prevailing 65-52 in the conference tournament title game. The Tigers received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and beat Pittsburgh before losing to top-seeded Washington.
Weber State, 14-0 in 2003. The Wildcats earned all sorts of attention four years earlier with their NCAA Tournament upset of North Carolina, and in 2003 they become the first team to go unbeaten through the Big Sky in 34 years.
What Happened Next: Weber State held off Eastern Washington in the Big Sky Tournament final, but the Wildcats bowed out in their NCAA Tournament opener, 81-74 against Wisconsin.
Kansas, 16-0 in 2002. One of several formidable Kansas teams under Roy Williams, these Jayhawks were led by Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison. The regular-season finale was a 95-92 win at rival Missouri that preserved the unbeaten Big 12 mark.
What Happened Next: Kansas finally lost in the Big 12 Tournament title game, to Oklahoma, but that was just a bump in the road. The Jayhawks made it to the Final Four before falling to Maryland in the national semifinals.
Duke, 16-0 in 1999. Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, Shane Battier and the Blue Devils romped through their conference schedule with staggering ease. Only one ACC team managed to hold the margin in single digits against Duke — Georgia Tech lost 87-79 to the Blue Devils.
What Happened Next: The ACC Tournament was more of the same, with the Blue Devils beating rival North Carolina in the final. Duke entered the national title game against Connecticut on a 32-game winning streak, but the Huskies prevailed 77-74.
Utah, 14-0 in 1999. A year after making it to the national championship game, Rick Majerus coached Utah through the WAC season without a loss. The Andre Miller-led Utes were clearly the class of the league.
What Happened Next: Utah won the WAC Tournament and beat Arkansas State in its NCAA Tournament opener, but the Utes were then eliminated by Miami of Ohio.
College of Charleston, 16-0 in 1997. Long before it was calling itself the ASUN , this league was known as the Trans America Athletic Conference. Coach John Kresse’s team was quite the powerhouse before moving to the Southern Conference after the 1997-98 season. The Cougars play in the CAA now.
What Happened Next: Charleston beat Florida International in the TAAC Tournament final, then the Cougars beat Maryland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before falling 73-69 to eventual champion Arizona.
New Orleans, 18-0 in 1993. Tim Floyd was coaching New Orleans when the Privateers rolled through the regular season behind future first-round draft pick Ervin Johnson .
What Happened Next: New Orleans lost to Western Kentucky in the Sun Belt Tournament but received an at-large bid to the NCAAs. The Privateers lost 73-55 to Xavier.
Delaware, 14-0 in 1992. The North Atlantic Conference was the precursor to America East, and in 1992, Delaware rolled through the eight-team league under coach Steve Steinwedel. The Blue Hens featured one of the all-time greatest basketball names: center Spencer Dunkley.
What Happened Next: Delaware won the NAC Tournament to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid, then the Blue Hens were blown out in the first round by Final Four-bound Cincinnati.
La Salle, 16-0, 1990. Led by Lionel Simmons, the AP’s national player of the year, the Explorers lost only once in the regular season — against Loyola Marymount by a score of 121-116. Simmons is still third on the Division I career list with 3,217 points.
What Happened Next: After winning the MAAC Tournament, La Salle beat Southern Mississippi by 16 in the NCAAs before losing in the second round to Clemson. La Salle stuck around the MAAC for a couple more seasons before moving to the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (a Horizon League precursor) and eventually the Atlantic 10.
William & Mary, 9-0 in 1983. The CAA was called the ECAC South back in 1983 and included only six teams. Coach Bruce Parkhill — in his final season with William & Mary before taking over at Penn State — led the team to its first 20-win season in over three decades.
What Happened Next: William & Mary lost to James Madison in the conference tournament final and went to the NIT. William & Mary is one of five original Division I members that have never made the NCAAs — the others are Northwestern, Army, St. Francis (N.Y.) and The Citadel.
Alcorn State, 12-0 in 1980. The SWAC couldn’t provide records going back this far, but according to sports-reference.com , the Braves of 1980 were the last to go through the league season without a loss. Alcorn State actually went unbeaten for the whole regular season in 1978-79 , and coach Davey Whitney led his team on another fine run a year later.
What Happened Next: The Braves went to the NCAA Tournament and beat South Alabama before losing to LSU.
UCLA, 14-0 in 1978. It’s not easy to go unbeaten in a top conference. Nobody’s done it in the Pac-12 — or the Pac-10 for that matter. You have to go all the way back to the days of the Pac-8 to find this UCLA team, which coach Gary Cunningham guided through the league season unscathed.
What Happened Next: There would be no Final Four for this UCLA team. The Bruins beat Kansas in the first round of the 32-team NCAA Tournament before losing to Arkansas.
Indiana, 18-0 in 1976. The only national champion on this list, Bob Knight’s Hoosiers were unbeaten in conference, out of conference and all the way through the NCAA Tournament. They finished 32-0 overall.
What Happened Next: Nobody has matched Indiana’s perfect season since then, and nobody has even managed to go unbeaten within the Big Ten. Illinois came close in 2005, but Ohio State handed the Illini their first loss in the regular-season finale.
Miami, Ohio, 12-0 in 1958. Here’s a little-known claim to fame for the MAC: It hasn’t had an undefeated team in conference play in nearly six decades, the longest span for any current league that’s had one. The coach was Dick Shrider, and Miami’s roster included future NBA player and executive Wayne Embry , who averaged 24.9 points and 18.0 rebounds a game — the latter a single-season school record that still stands.
What Happened Next: There was no MAC Tournament back then. The NCAA Tournament had 24 teams, and Miami beat Pittsburgh before losing to eventual champion Kentucky.
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