Starting 5: A historically bad weekend for the top 4, Auburn’s crazy comeback and Penn State’s awful week
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
Saturday was a brutal day for 3 of the top 4 teams in last week’s AP Poll. The day started with a matchup between No. 1 Baylor and No. 3 Kansas in Waco, and Baylor’s historic 23-game winning streak came crashing down.
Then, in some late-night action, BYU beat No. 2 Gonzaga and No. 4 San Diego State lost for the first time all season to a mediocre UNLV team. Baylor, Gonzaga and San Diego State all had long winning streaks, and it was the first time in the last 50 seasons that something so crazy happened in one day:
Entering yesterday, the longest active win streaks in D-I belonged to San Diego St (26), Baylor (23), and Gonzaga (19).
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 23, 2020
In the aftermath of days like Saturday, it’s easy to overreact. People will say the Bears, Bulldogs and Aztecs all suck (and they have said that) and that all 3 teams are overrated. That’s not accurate at all, though.
Step back and look at what these teams have done all year. Baylor is still absolutely a No. 1 seed. Yes, Kansas deserved to move to No. 1 in this week’s poll, but I like that Baylor is still No. 2, Gonzaga is No. 3 and SDSU is now No. 5. Dayton moved into the No. 4 spot (also well-deserved).
The point is this — there is still plenty of basketball to be played before the NCAA Tournament. Why we have such strong arguments against teams at this point in the season is beyond me. Here are the teams I think are still in the mix to potentially land No. 1 seeds:
- San Diego State
- Florida State
Let’s just let things play out a bit more. The regular season is almost over, then it’s time for conference tournaments. There will be plenty more upsets and surprising results, but all of the teams listed above are really good and will be big players come March Madness.
With all that carnage over the weekend, Kansas managed to keep its hot play going on Monday. It wasn’t easy, but the Jayhawks followed up the win over No. 1 Baylor with a win at home against Oklahoma State. Now, we’ll see how long the Jayhawks can hold onto the top spot in the AP Poll.
Next, let’s move onto some SEC headlines.
2. Home-Court Advantage
Just when it looked like Auburn was going to lose its third-straight game without star freshman Isaac Okoro, the Tigers rattled off an incredible 18-0 run to take a 1-point lead and get back in the game.
Here was the last shot in that run to give Auburn a 55-54 advantage:
Just wait for the noise…
18 UNANSWERED BY AUBURN. pic.twitter.com/huCD1QKWRd
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 22, 2020
Yes, that was impressive from the Tigers, but at no point in that run did the Tennessee Volunteers call a timeout to try to stop Auburn’s momentum. And, coach Rick Barnes’ explanation for why he didn’t use a timeout left me scratching my head.
I’ve ripped North Carolina coach Roy Williams for consistently saying in the media that this Tar Heels team is the least-talented he’s ever coached. I have a problem with that because it is basically Williams throwing a bunch of kids under the bus. Hey Roy, you’re in charge of recruiting those players! Do your job better!
So, with that said, I now must also criticize Barnes for some comments he made after Auburn used an 18-0 second-half run to beat the Vols on Saturday:
#Vols coach Rick Barnes on why he didn’t call a timeout sooner during Auburn’s 18-0 game-changing run: The guys haven’t been running the right plays we draw up during timeouts, anyway.
— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) February 22, 2020
If the players aren’t running what you tell them to run, either your plays are too complicated, you haven’t put your players in a position to succeed or you’re not a very good coach. Which is it, Rick? I know what Barnes’ resume looks like, so I know he’s a good coach. Still, comments like this rub me the wrong way. It puts the blame on the players when the coach is actually at fault.
Anyway, here are some more stories from around the SEC:
- I’m all in on Buzz Williams for the SEC Coach of the Year award. What he’s done at Texas A&M this season is nothing short of spectacular. The Aggies have gotten consistently better, and this past week, they beat NCAA Tournament hopefuls like Mississippi State and Alabama. His players have bought into his system, and that’s led to some big-time wins. Their reward? Well, they host Kentucky on Tuesday and play at LSU on Saturday. Brutal.
- I’m on board the Nick Richards hype train and think he’s the SEC Player of the Year. However, if there were an SEC Most “Valuable” Player award, with “valuable” being the key term, I’d have to go with Isaiah Joe. He hit a pair of big-time threes late to clinch a win over Mizzou on Saturday:
No ordinary Joe, part 4 … we take a look at what Hoop Hogs have been missing, what they got back, & what fans can look forward to at both ends w/return of Arkansas SG Isaiah Joe @Isaiah_joe10 … Zai hits TWO dagger 3's and proves that late-gm O doesn't have to be pound-&-grind pic.twitter.com/Jm84c6Axkk
— Kevin McPherson (@ARHoopScoop) February 24, 2020
- Considering the Hogs didn’t win any games while Joe was out, I’d say he is incredibly valuable to what they do.
- Speaking of valuable, Immanuel Quickley’s emergence in recent weeks has been a huge part of Kentucky’s 6-game winning streak. He scored 22 points in the second half against Florida on Saturday to finish with 26 points in a Kentucky win:
22 points in the second half!
That escalated … Quickley 😼 pic.twitter.com/xYXzlmBgw3
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) February 23, 2020
- Kentucky’s biggest weakness this season has been three-point shooting. Quickley has hit 13 of 31 long-range shots in Kentucky’s 6-game winning streak. That’s 41.9% from downtown. If he can keep shooting like that, the Wildcats can make some serious noise in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.
- And, finally, poor Vanderbilt. This is just a brutal way to lose, but that’s what the Commodores have done the past 2 years:
TYREE CRUMP WINS IT AT THE BUZZER 🚨 pic.twitter.com/sdM5aHWF8v
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) February 23, 2020
- Kudos to Georgia’s Tyree Crump for making that clutch shot, though. Especially on the road. That’s a big-time play.
And now, for a look around the rest of the college basketball world.
3. Road Game
Exactly 1 week ago today, I wrote in the Starting 5 (and even included it in the headline) that it was time to put some respect on Penn State’s name.
Well … uh … let’s just say it was a rough week for coach Pat Chambers and the Nittany Lions. That very night, they lost at home to Illinois. Then, on Sunday, they went to Indiana and lost 68-60. It’s not like Indiana had a spectacular shooting afternoon or anything, either, which was confusing.
Still, when Penn State only makes 2 of 14 three-point attempts, it’s going to hurt. The Nittany Lions also didn’t have much of an answer for Trayce Jackson-Davis, as he posted a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double:
— Indiana On BTN (@IndianaOnBTN) February 23, 2020
Those are games good teams win on the road, and Penn State really missed an opportunity to pick up a game on Maryland in the Big Ten race. We’ll talk about the Terrapins’ loss at Ohio State in a second.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Penn State, either. On Wednesday, the Nittany Lions host Rutgers, then play Iowa and Michigan State in their next 2 games. They’re still in the hunt for the B1G title, but is it possible there’s a Starting 5 curse?
Well, I’m about to endorse another hot team, so let’s find out in a couple of days!
- *Clears throat* OK, let’s put some respect on Creighton’s name! The Blue Jays are red-hot lately and are riding a 5-game winning streak. In that time, they’ve beaten 3 ranked teams (Seton Hall, Marquette and Butler). They trail Seton Hall by only 1 game in the Big East standings with 3 games remaining. Oh, and that final game of the regular season is at home against Seton Hall. If the Blue Jays can take care of business against Saint John’s and Georgetown, that last game of the year will be absolutely huge! Of course, now that I’ve endorsed Creighton, don’t be surprised to see the Blue Jays lose all 3.
- I have to give some credit to Mick Cronin and the UCLA Bruins. A team that looked lost at times in the early part of the season is now right in the thick of things in the Pac-12 race. UCLA picked up a huge 70-63 win at Colorado on Saturday, making it 5-straight victories for Cronin and the Bruins. UCLA had 4 players score at least 12 points, but I’ll highlight freshman PG Tyger Campbell. In addition to having a cool name, he can do anything you want on the court:
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) February 24, 2020
- No wonder he won the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week award. Now, UCLA will go for the regular-season title, and the Bruins actually have a relatively manageable schedule, playing Arizona and Arizona State in Los Angeles before going to USC’s place (also in Los Angeles) for the final game. This team went from nearly unwatchable to a serious contender for a spot in the NCAA Tournament in a hurry!
- When you’re filling out your brackets in a few weeks, don’t sleep on the Florida State Seminoles. FSU picked up a huge win on Monday night at home against Louisville, moving half a game ahead of the Cardinals for the lead in the SEC regular-season standings. Trent Forrest also had one of the most-aggressive dunks I’ve ever seen, posterizing Louisville’s Jordan Nwora:
Trent Forrest with a monster jam. Wow. pic.twitter.com/0Ocqq1f6ow
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) February 25, 2020
- After Louisville took a 40-32 lead into halftime, the Seminoles exploded for 50 second-half points to earn an 82-67 blowout win. That’s a 50-27 advantage over the Cardinals in the second half. What a scary team to see in March!
- After a rough start to the Big Ten season, Ohio State has bounced back nicely. And, on Sunday, the Buckeyes picked up a signature victory, beating then-No. 7 Maryland 79-72. Luther Muhammad scored 22 points to lead all scorers and shows up all over this highlight reel:
— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) February 23, 2020
- There was a weird moment when Anthony Cowan Jr. was assessed a technical foul for doing this:
Maryland's Anthony Cowan Jr was given a technical foul for…..bad intentions🤷♂️ pic.twitter.com/eJHqZOuslM
— Due# (@JDue51) February 23, 2020
- He didn’t make contact with Kaleb Wesson and wasn’t even looking at him, so I’m not sure what the problem was, but it was whistled nonetheless.
Now, let’s take a look at the next few days of hoops action.
4. Outlet Pass
As we prepare for the penultimate weekend of the regular season, these midweek games are sort of the calm before the storm. However, there are still some big-time matchups that deserve your attention. Here are the 5 games I can’t wait to watch:
- No. 18 Iowa at No. 24 Michigan State (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2) — The Hawkeyes and Spartans are both 10-6 in Big Ten play, which puts them 2 games behind Maryland atop the conference standings. Plus, this game will be huge for seeding in the B1G Tournament.
- No. 8 Kentucky at Texas A&M (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN) — The Aggies have come on strong as of late, but the Wildcats are battling for a potential No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This should be a tight game in College Station.
- Arizona at USC (Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN) — Arizona is 9-5 in Pac-12 play, which puts the Wildcats a game behind Arizona State for the Pac-12 lead. The Trojans are a tough team, though, so Arizona will have to bring its “A” game in this matchup.
- LSU at Florida (Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2) — LSU is trying to hold onto a top-3 seed in the SEC Tournament. Florida is the team right on the Tigers’ heels. Will the good Gators show up, or will they lay another egg? We’ll find out on Wednesday night!
- Akron at Bowling Green (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+) — I know this seems like an odd game to have on my top 5 list, but it’s almost tournament time, and that means some mid-major squads could make some noise. Akron and Bowling Green are tied for first in the MAC, both sporting 11-3 records. This game is a huge one for seeding purposes in that conference tournament.
Enjoy these midweek appetizers before things take off again this weekend!
5. Buzzer Beaters
Now, for a couple of questions to end today’s column. The first one brings us back to the Pac-12:
There are still five teams within one game of first place in the Pac-12 standings — Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon, Colorado and Arizona. Who emerges from that mess to win the regular-season title?
UCLA has won 5 games in a row, including at Colorado on Saturday. Arizona State has a 7-game winning streak going. Those teams square off on Thursday in Los Angeles. Colorado finishes with 3 road games, so I think the Buffaloes will fall short. Still, give me the Ducks in this race. They have a National Player of the Year candidate in Payton Pritchard and have all 3 of their remaining games at home (against Cal, Stanford and Oregon State). I think they’ll get the job done.
If you’re attending a basketball game, would you rather watch someone make a half-court shot or hit a long putt to win money or a car or something?
I’ll do you one better. How about a full-court shot to win $11,111? That’s what happened at a Montana State game over the weekend:
AND THE CROWD GOES WILD! Shoutout to @montanastate student Joe Thompson for sinking a FULLLLLLLLL court shot at halftime of today's Montana State vs UM rivalry game for $11,111! #GoCatsGo #SCTop10 @MTRibandChop pic.twitter.com/QW39QEJEXH
— Montana State Bobcats (@MSUBobcats) February 23, 2020
That’s simply incredible. We also had an 80-something Ole Miss fan do this:
94 Feet? No problem.
— Ole Miss Athletics (@OleMissSports) February 23, 2020
Still, when I go to a basketball game, I’d rather see someone do a basketball thing to win a prize. Plus, if you were sitting higher up in the arena, you probably couldn’t see the Ole Miss fan sink the putt. I’ll take a half-court (or full-court) shot all day.
Hoops Odds by BetOnline
Let’s take a look at the latest odds to win the 2020 NCAA Championship. Head over to BetOnline to see the full list.
- Kansas: +650
- Baylor: +800
- Duke: +800
- Gonzaga: +800
- Dayton: +1200
- Louisville: +1400
- Kentucky: +1600
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.