Welcome back to the Starting 5. The Starting 5 is written multiple times per week by Adam Spencer to keep you up-to-date on all the news and events in the world of college hoops. You can follow Adam on Twitter at @AdamSpencer4.

1. The Opening Tip

If you’ve watched an SEC game this year (I’ve watched a few), you’ve probably noticed how choppy the games are. It’s hard to get into a flow when the action is constantly being stopped by foul calls.

If it seems like SEC refs are calling more fouls than other conferences’ officials this year, well, they are. Blake Lovell crunched the numbers, and they are startling. As you can see, 10 SEC teams are being whistled for 18 or more fouls per game. By contrast, 0 Big Ten teams average that many fouls:

Another startling number is the free-throw attempts. Every single SEC team is getting to the line approximately 20 times per game. That’s 6 more teams shooting that many free throws per game than the next closest conference.

It should be noted that these statistics include nonconference games, but just look at this week’s SEC action for proof of how many fouls are being called. Every game had at least 30 fouls called, with 3 games featuring at least 40 calls:

  • Arkansas at Florida — 40 fouls
  • South Carolina at Mississippi State — 42 fouls
  • Ole Miss at Mizzou — 43 fouls

In Auburn’s loss at Mizzou last weekend, there were 56 fouls called in a game that didn’t even go to overtime. Yikes.

I’m not pointing this out as a way of saying the SEC’s refs are worse than other conferences’ officials — they’re simply different. Clearly, the refs are consistently calling a ton of fouls in SEC games, and consistency is a good trait for officials to have.

It would be one thing if a certain SEC crew was only whistling 20 fouls per game while others were calling 40 per game. That would be a bigger problem. However, perhaps it’s time for the SEC office to direct refs to swallow the whistle a little more often. That would make the SEC Tournament a bit more entertaining, in my opinion.

Now, let’s look at some more storylines to come out of this week’s SEC action.

2. Home-Court Advantage

How important is Isaac Okoro to what Auburn does? Apparently, very. The Tigers were 22-2 with him in the starting lineup. Now, with him sitting out against Mizzou and Georgia while dealing with a hamstring injury, the Tigers are 0-2.

The Tigers certainly miss Okoro’s defense, as he is their best perimeter defender, but Auburn’s struggles go beyond that. Without Okoro spacing the floor, creating plays in the mid-range game and getting to the rim, the Tigers have been awful from behind the three-point arc.

Against Mizzou, Auburn made only 1 of 17 three-point attempts. Against Georgia, the Tigers sank only 4 of their 26 long-range shots. Could it have something to do with being away from Auburn Arena? Sure, but Okoro’s absence also means fewer clean looks for Auburn shooters.

We’ll see if he’s able to return for Saturday’s game against Tennessee. If not, it could be another long day for Auburn shooters.

Now, for some more SEC storylines:

  • The Kentucky Wildcats now have a 2-game lead in the regular-season standings. Nick Richards didn’t have the best game at LSU on Tuesday, but he still posted 13 points, 6 rebounds and 6 blocks. The difference between Richards the past 2 seasons and this season is that even when he’s not scoring 20 points or grabbing 10 rebounds, he’s affecting games in a positive way. He limited Emmitt Williams and Trendon Watford’s impact on the game, and he also showed off his insane jumping ability:

  • Look, I’m all for gamesmanship. I find it kinda funny that Florida was assessed a technical for this blatant flop by Adrio Bailey:

  • Bailey shouldn’t be punished for fooling the refs. The refs should be punished for falling for such an obvious fake. As of this year, refs can assess penalties to players for flopping. That’s what should have happened to Bailey. Instead, he took a risk, and his Oscar-worthy performance apparently convinced the refs to whistle Florida for a technical foul. Kudos to him, and shame on the SEC officials. Thank goodness Bailey is OK.
  • I think Alabama’s NCAA Tournament hopes are done now. Unless the Crimson Tide make a run to the final of the SEC Tournament, this week’s loss to Texas A&M puts a fork in Nate Oats’ squad. Kira Lewis Jr. will likely be off to the NBA, but if all the other key players eligible to return do indeed come back, the Tide could be a force in 2020-21.
  • Speaking of burst bubbles, South Carolina really needed a win on Wednesday against Mississippi State. Instead, the Bulldogs pulled off a big 79-76 home victory. I think that puts Mississippi State in the tournament. South Carolina now probably needs to win out in the regular season to remain in contention. Fortunately for the Gamecocks, big man Maik Kotsar has been dominant lately.

Now, let’s move on to some national storylines for this week.

3. Road Game

I’m sorry (OK, I’m not actually sorry), but Coach K’s act is starting to wear thin. I mean, has there been a worse loser in recent history? He recently freaked out on his own student section when the Duke students were yelling nice things at Pitt coach Jeff Capel.

Then, on Wednesday, when Duke got blown out by NC State on Wednesday night, Coach K couldn’t be bothered to say a word while shaking Kevin Keatts’ hand:

Grow the hell up, Mike. You want your players to respect you? Don’t act like an insolent baby when you lose.

After he’d had a moment to gather himself, he did offer some praise to an NC State player:

But, that’s beside the point. Coach K demands that his players be perfect for 40 minutes per night. He was far from perfect in Wednesday’s 88-66 loss, and his postgame iciness with Keatts was not a good example.

You lost, Mike. You weren’t the better team on Wednesday. No, Kevin Keatts isn’t Jim Boeheim or Roy Williams or some of the legends you find it respectable to lose to. But he’s building a nice program at NC State and you need to acknowledge that. Anything less than a public apology to Keatts is a terrible example to Duke’s players.

I’ll point out here that this was Duke’s worst loss to an unranked opponent in Coach K’s tenure. Grow up, Mike. You’re 73 years old.

Now, for some news about some actual adults:

  • How about Illinois? The Illini desperately needed to snap a losing streak, but they had to go to State College to take on No. 9 Penn State. And, in the second half, they committed a whopping 4 shot-clock violations. That’s insane. Apparently, at no point did coach Brad Underwood remind his team that college shot clocks are only 30 seconds. Still, the Illini managed to pick up a road win against the Nittany Lions. That was incredible, and Ayo Dosunmu was spectacular in his return from a knee injury. This was an ill-advised shot, but it worked out and clinched the game:

  • The Illini didn’t end up going to overtime. You know who did go to overtime? Cincinnati. Shocker, right? Well, the Bearcats have now gone to overtime in 4 straight games. On Wednesday, they lost in double-overtime to UCF. That’s 7 overtime games for Cincy this year. They host Wichita State on Sunday. Will we see another overtime period? The Bearcats seem to love playing extra basketball.
  • The Texas Longhorns are a disaster in basketball right now. Yes, they just beat TCU this week, but does it even count if no one saw it? Here was the crowd just before tipoff on Tuesday:

  • The win snapped a 4-game losing streak. The announced crowd was north of 8,000, but c’mon. That’s an embarrassing turnout for the Longhorns. If Shaka Smart can’t inspire more passion in the Texas fan base, he might be out of a job by this time next year.
  • Seton Hall currently holds a one-game lead over Creighton in the Big East regular-season race. The Pirates needed a near-miracle to hold onto that lead, though. Just look at this crazy game-winner against Butler on Wednesday:

  • That’s a finish worthy of March Madness. If that’s what ends up winning the Big East title for Seton Hall, it’ll go down in history.
  • Moving to the Atlantic 10, shout out to Saint Joseph’s for winning its first conference game of the season. The Hawks took down Davidson on Tuesday to improve to 1-13 in conference play. Things are looking up!

Now, let’s take a look at the weekend ahead in college basketball.

4. Outlet Pass

The first 4 games on this list of 5 games I can’t wait to see over the next few days will all be played west of the Mississippi River. It is certainly an interesting time for basketball out west! Here are the top games of the weekend:

  1. No. 3 Kansas at No. 1 Baylor (Saturday at noon ET on ESPN) — This should be one of the best games of the year. With both of these teams currently in line to get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, there’s a lot to play for. Plus, the winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat for the Big 12 regular-season title. Don’t miss this game!
  2. No. 14 Oregon at No. 24 Arizona (Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN) — Make sure to stay up late to catch this Pac-12 showdown! The Pac-12 still has 6 teams within 2 games of the top spot in the conference, so the regular-season title race will likely come down to the final week. These 2 teams should be right in the thick of it.
  3. No. 2 Gonzaga at No. 23 BYU (Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN2) — While you’re staying up late to watch Oregon-Arizona, make sure to keep an eye on this West Coast Conference game, too. It’ll be perhaps the toughest test Gonzaga has faced thus far in conference play. The Bulldogs should win, but playing in Provo is never easy.
  4. No. 21 Butler at No. 15 Creighton (Sunday at 4 p.m. ET on FS1) — These teams are going in very different directions in Big East play. Butler has lost 2 in a row, while Creighton has won 4 straight and is only a game behind Seton Hall for first place in the Big East standings. This will be a hard-fought battle between 2 teams who need to win.
  5. No. 11 Louisville at No. 8 Florida State (Monday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN) — Florida State plays at NC State on Saturday while Louisville hosts a struggling North Carolina team. If both squads win, they’ll remain in a virtual tie with Duke for the ACC regular-season title, making this showdown even more important. Florida State is 14-0 at home this year, so the Cardinals will have to bring their “A” game on Monday night.

That’s 5 solid matchups of ranked teams. The regular season is really heating up!

5. Buzzer Beaters

Now, let’s answer a couple of random questions before we get out of here and start preparing for a big weekend of college basketball:

How many SEC teams will make the NCAA Tournament?

There are 3 locks to make the tourney from the SEC, in my opinion — Kentucky, Auburn and LSU. Beyond that, there are 4 others that I still think have a chance to make the March Madness bracket — Mississippi State, Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina. I don’t think all 4 will make it, but I’ll say Mississippi State and Florida end up on the right side of the bubble. So, that makes 5 SEC squads in the field of 68.

Which character from “The Office” would be the best college basketball coach?

The obvious answer would be Jim, based on playing ability. However, Jim isn’t always the hardest-working guy. Dwight would certainly work hard, but I don’t think he’d be great at connecting with players. I’ll go with David Wallace. He seems like a good leader and he plays basketball with Jim in that episode with the party at the Wallace residence. I’d play for him.

Enjoy the Starting 5? Have a question? Want to yell at me about something? Follow me on Twitter @AdamSpencer4 or email me at ASpencer@SaturdayDownSouth.com.