-- Each weekday, our college hoops experts discuss the biggest issues, trends and themes in college basketball.
1. What chances do you give SMU of going undefeated?
Andy Katz: None. The Mustangs still have to play Gonzaga, and running the table in the American seems like a long shot. UConn, Cincinnati and Tulsa are more than capable of knocking off SMU.
Eamonn Brennan: Zero. Don't get me wrong: The Mustangs are really good, and they do play in a conference where the night-to-night routines are alleviated by the likes of East Carolina, UCF, Tulane, South Florida and so on. Then again, the American does have a few challengers at hand, namely UConn and Cincinnati, and besides, it takes something special, something like what Kentucky had last year, to think seriously about the U-word. SMU is not that team.
Dana O'Neil: None, but only because I don't give any team a good chance of going undefeated. There's no doubt the Mustangs are the class of the American, and with no postseason hopes, winning them all would certainly be a nice runner-up prize (not to mention make things super awkward for the NCAA), but I don't see it happening. Either Cincinnati or UConn will have something to say about it before the season is over.
Katz: A bit. Any surgery can have risks and a longer rehab than projected. But the Spartans could benefit greatly from having others play a leading role.
Brennan: Michigan State coach Tom Izzo doesn't sound too stressed, which is good enough for me. If one of the nation's premier player of the year candidates does have to miss two weeks -- with just Tuesday night's game versus Oakland remaining on the nonconference schedule, and just two conference games between now and Jan. 5 -- now is the right time to do it. The absence also allows some of the Spartans' other guards to briefly take on larger roles. The only concern is if the injury lingers or limits Valentine over the long term because few players are as important to their teams. For now, MSU should be fine.
O'Neil: Not terribly if, in fact, this is not as serious as Izzo indicated. In the grand scheme of things, Valentine might miss three or four games, and that won't change things too dramatically for the Spartans. Even if they lose, they get the asterisk from the selection committee come seeding time. Michigan State has other leaders in Matt Costello and Lourawls Nairn Jr., plus good players to stem the tide in Eron Harris and Matt McQuaid.
3. What will be the deciding factor in Iowa State-Cincinnati?
Katz: Late-game management. Both teams have been in close games lately. How each team handles decisions in the final possessions will determine what should be a final-few-plays type of game.
Brennan: Iowa State just has to make 3s. Typically, the Cyclones can survive cold nights from the perimeter on the strength of the easy baskets they generate at the rim. That would have been the case Saturday against Northern Iowa (ISU shot 3-of-17 from 3 but 29-of-44 from 2 en route to 1.14 points per trip) had Wes Washpun & Co. not made 13-of-22 of from 3 on the other end of the floor. Cincinnati is a different situation. The Bearcats are among the nation's stingiest 2-point defenses, and they will do everything they can to make Steve Prohm's team settle uncomfortably for perimeter shots.
O'Neil: It won't show up on the stat sheet, but toughness will be the difference. Cincinnati, in typical Cincinnati fashion, will get after Iowa State and make the Cyclones as uncomfortable on offense as possible. How Iowa State responds to the challenge will determine who wins this game.