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College basketball: Which undefeated team will be the last one standing?

(Darren Yamashita/USA TODAY Sports)

After No. 20 Kansas fell to unranked Nebraska last week, just six teams remain unbeaten in NCAA Division I women’s college basketball this season.

No. 1 South Carolina, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Indiana, No. 10 LSU, No. 12 Utah and No. 25 St. John’s are all perfect thus far — but as conference play heats up, those perfect records will become harder to maintain.

Which undefeated team will be the last one standing?

No. 1 South Carolina (12-0)

In 2021-22, the Gamecocks seemed to have a high probability of making it through the regular season without a loss after they topped No. 2 Stanford on Dec. 21. But they were upset just one game later, in a surprising 70-69 loss to Missouri.

South Carolina ended up losing one more game, to Kentucky in the SEC tournament, before going on to win the NCAA title.

Last season’s loss to Missouri was shocking because of the opponent, but also because South Carolina looked essentially unbeatable up to that point. This season is different. I don’t expect the Gamecocks to make it to the tournament with a perfect record because we already have seen the formula to beat them.

While South Carolina scored a 73-64 win against UCLA on Nov. 29, the Bruins’ game plan was nearly perfect. They opted to put a defender on Aliyah Boston in the paint while running a four-man zone around her. While Boston still recorded 18 points, packing the paint disrupted South Carolina’s flow. The Gamecocks weren’t able to play inside out, and they went 1-of-14 from the 3-point line.

A fourth-quarter collapse kept UCLA from an upset win, but another team could put the same plan into practice for a chance to topple South Carolina. Of course, even if the plan is executed well, South Carolina still has enough talent to pull out a win – they have perhaps the deepest team in the country. But UCLA proved it is possible to upset the Gamecocks.

Still, of all the teams on this list, the Gamecocks have the best shot at a perfect record.

No. 3 Ohio State (13-0)

The Buckeyes had a scare against USF, as they trailed by as many as 18 in Tuesday’s contest. Even after making a comeback and forcing overtime, they trailed by 6 with 1:10 remaining.

But Ohio State scored eight straight to grab an improbable victory. Then the team followed that up with a convincing 84-67 win over No. 16 Oregon to preserve its unbeaten record.

The win over Oregon also stands out as impressive, as the Buckeyes did it with a depleted squad.

Point guard Jacy Sheldon has been out with a leg injury since Nov. 30 and remains week-to-week. Sheldon is not just the team’s second-leading scorer but also its best defender, with six steals per game. Without Sheldon, the point guard duties fell to Madison Greene, but she was hurt in the win over USF. So the Buckeyes head into Big Ten play without two of their key players.

The Big Ten is full of talented opponents, and getting through it without a loss would be a tall order. The challenges start on Dec. 31 with No. 19 Michigan. Then, two weeks later Ohio State plays a Nebraska team that just topped previously undefeated Kansas.

No. 4 Indiana (12-0)

The Hoosiers started the season with a win over Tennessee. Then they topped No. 6 North Carolina in dominant fashion, and they did so without injured star Grace Berger.

But Big Ten play will make their perfect record hard to keep. The Hoosiers have to play Michigan, Maryland, Ohio State and Iowa twice each. There’s pretty much no way they make it through the conference slate without a loss.

That being said, Indiana has been able to maintain its perfect record thus far because of a balanced attack and a plethora of talent. Since Berger’s injury, everyone else has stepped up. Mackenzie Holmes leads the way with 19.8 points per game, followed by Sydney Parrish with 12.5, Sara Scalia and Yarden Garzon with 11.9 each. Chloe Moore-McNeil has slid nicely into the point guard spot, averaging 9.9 points and 5.2 assists per game.

No. 10 LSU (12-0)

Angel Reese is crazy talented, and LSU scores a lot of points. But the Tigers’ perfect record is largely because of the their opponents.

So far, the best team LSU has played is a 7-4 Oregon State squad. Other than the Beavers, their opponents have included: Bellarmine, Mississippi Valley State, Western Carolina, Houston Christian, Northwestern State, George Mason, UAB, Southeastern Louisiana, Tulane, Lamar and Montana State.

Because of that weak schedule, it’s hard to gauge just how good LSU is, and even harder to predict how long the Tigers can stay undefeated.

The Tigers could lose as soon as Dec. 29, when they take on a ranked team in No. 17 Arkansas — or, they could prove their doubters wrong and pass their first true test of the season. From there, the SEC will certainly provide better competition, including fellow undefeated team No. 1 South Carolina on Feb. 12.

No. 12 Utah (12-0)

The Utes have played just one ranked opponent up to this point, but they made the most of it, topping Oklahoma 124-78.

The going will get tougher for Utah in Pac-12 play, especially in back-to-back games in January against No. 18 Arizona and No. 2 Stanford. Followed by No. 11 UCLA and No. 16 Oregon.

The Utes likely will not get through that gauntlet without a loss, but they have a chance to stay unbeaten until then. Before then, they face Southern Utah, Washington State, Washington, Colorado and Arizona State, and if one of those teams knocks them off, it certainly would be considered an upset.

The Utes have stayed unbeaten so far because of their high-powered offense. They average 93 points per game, with five-double digit scorers. Alissa Pili leads with 20.7 points per contest.

No. 25 St. John’s (12-0)

After playing a relatively light schedule, St. John’s worked its way into the AP Top 25 with a win over No. 21 Creighton on Dec. 4.

The Red Storm went up 9 points at the end of the first quarter and weathered runs from Creighton to secure a narrow 66-62 victory. The game was an impressive showing of maturity from an experienced St. John’s team. All five starters are fifth-year seniors or graduate students, and so are the first two players off the bench.

Because of this, I don’t expect St. John’s to drop a game to a team they should beat. Discipline is important in an undefeated season, and the Red Storm certainly have that. Their toughest test is yet to come, though, when they take on UConn on Jan. 11. There is a chance that Azzi Fudd is back for that game, so a loss is likely.

If St. John’s manages to get through the Huskies unscathed, they have to play Villanova, Marquette and DePaul twice, then they have rematches against Creighton and UConn. I imagine the Red Storm will have at least one loss on their record by the middle of January.