Starting 5: Alabama lights up LSU, Tennessee’s offense implodes and Purdue deserves more respect
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 and @SDSBasketball.
1. The Opening Tip
Alabama at LSU was supposed to be a battle between 2 of the best teams in the SEC. Instead, it was a showcase for the Crimson Tide, who showed beyond a doubt that they are the best team in the league and it isn’t particularly close.
LSU is still a good team, in my opinion, but the Tigers were thoroughly embarrassed by Alabama’s relentless onslaught of 3-pointers that started from the opening tip (hey, that’s the name of this section!) and never let up.
When all was said and done, the Tide had made 23 of their 43 3-point attempts. That’s an SEC record for made 3s. Interestingly enough, it broke a record set by Alabama against Auburn last season.
First, let’s point out a stat. John Petty Jr., Jahvon Quinerly and Josh Primo shot 25 times from beyond the arc. They made 20 of them. That’s incredible. Almost unbelievable.
Petty continues to add to his school record for 3-pointers made, but I want to shout out a few other guys. First, Herb Jones continues to thrive in his point-forward role. Look at how he breaks this trap and hits Petty for an open shot:
Herb stepping through the half court trap and finding Petty for the open three. pic.twitter.com/y5wo0VJ9QP
— Bama Basketball Film Room (@BamaFilmRoom) January 21, 2021
Herb got in on the 3-point fun, too:
18 three’s from deep so far! pic.twitter.com/4ArTd6BQMr
— Crimson Crossover (@CrimsonXover) January 20, 2021
The second player I want to highlight is freshman Josh Primo. He’s heating up in a big way. He finished with 22 points and went 6-for-8 from 3-point range. He was getting plenty of open looks, but he was actually knocking them down:
I love how natural and in rhythm Primo looks on this catch and shoot.
He's wide open after Days and Watford turn their backs and ball watch as Shackelford drives. pic.twitter.com/jfangZXEAZ
— Bama Basketball Film Room (@BamaFilmRoom) January 22, 2021
On the prior play, Alabama ran ghost action for Petty and the pass was deflected out of bounds. They go right back to it, with ram action (Rojas screens down so Petty can arrive alone) initiating it. JQ refuses it (maybe by design), draws the help & finds Primo for a corner 3. pic.twitter.com/T8zTVXA4UN
— Bama Basketball Film Room (@BamaFilmRoom) January 20, 2021
The third person I want to highlight is James Rojas. He only played 13 minutes. And he didn’t attempt a single shot. But, he grabbed 7 rebounds and had 3 blocks. He did the dirty work so the shooters didn’t have to. I love that kind of performance.
Alabama is now 7-0 in SEC play. If the Crimson Tide continue to share the ball like they did on Tuesday and continue to play unselfishly, there’s no reason Nate Oats’ squad can’t continue to rack up SEC victories.
Now, let’s take a look at some other SEC-related headlines.
2. Home-court advantage
The Georgia Bulldogs are showing signs of life in SEC play. After starting 0-4, they’ve bounced back with wins at Ole Miss and vs. Kentucky. Wednesday’s win against the Wildcats was a fun one. Here’s the game-winning shot from PJ Horne:
The Dawgs beat the buzzer and Kentucky 🚨 pic.twitter.com/NhDaWEOvAf
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 21, 2021
Andrew Garcia continues to be an underrated player, leading the way with 16 points and 6 rebounds in the game. Sahvir Wheeler had 10 points and 7 assists. It wasn’t a pretty game, but a win is a win, and coach Tom Crean will certainly take it.
After the game, Kentucky coach John Calipari made some comments that really made me question what his priorities are.
“I’m telling guys, ‘If you don’t shoot it, I’m taking you out.’ And, again, we had guys in roles that they were comfortable with. Now you put them in other roles, you see, they’re not as comfortable,” Calipari said. “This is why I always say, ‘I know my team.’ I’m with them everyday. I know who they are. I know when they’re going to play their best, when they’re in certain roles. And you start putting guys and doing stuff — I tell ya, it woke up BJ. But then one of the other guards was so bad, I had to start him in the second half.”
Cal’s insistence that he knows his team in that quote seems really odd. Basically, he seems to be saying that he is making all the right moves and 4-9 is the best this team could possibly be right now.
What a weird flex to basically say “I know my team sucks.” This is probably the worst coaching job of Cal’s career, and yet, he consistently seems to blame the players. Until he can own up to his shortcomings, the Wildcats aren’t going to get any better.
Bringing Brandon Boston Jr. off the bench, which Calipari hadn’t been doing, really seemed to work. But, don’t be surprised to see him back in the starting lineup tomorrow, based on Cal’s comments. This is a truly bizarre situation and I worry about Cal’s ability to lead this team effectively moving forward. Things might get a lot worse in Lexington before this season is over.
Now, let’s take a look at some other SEC stories:
- I want to highlight a key play from the Kentucky-Georgia game before we move on to other games. It’s this block from Kentucky big man Isaiah Jackson late in the second half:
If you don’t smack this ball directly out of bounds, the game is over. pic.twitter.com/PqNTGj4GK4
— Adam Spencer (@AdamSpencer4) January 21, 2021
- As I mentioned in my tweet, if Jackson hadn’t emphatically smacked the ball out of bounds, there’s a good chance the game would have been over and Kentucky would have won. It’s likely that a Kentucky player would have either grabbed the rebound and gotten fouled or dribbled out the clock. It was a horrendously bad shot attempt from Sahvir Wheeler, who tried to play hero ball and nearly cost his team dearly. And, yes, it would have been difficult for Jackson to adjust his shot blocking strategy while he was already in the air, but maybe we need to teach players to think more about blocking shots toward teammates rather than smacking it as hard as they can to try to get on SportsCenter. My dad likes to talk about the great Boston Celtics centers of his childhood — Bill Russell, Dave Cowens, Bill Walton. He mentions how they’d create offense by blocking shots to teammates and letting them get out in transition. Perhaps more coaches should teach guys to do that instead of swatting the ball to the third row of the bleachers and shouting “Let’s go!!!”
- Want to know how important Jeremiah Tilmon is to Mizzou’s success? The Tigers are 3-2 in SEC play thus far. They’re 3-0 when Tilmon has a double-double and 0-2 when he doesn’t. That’s simply incredible. In an 81-70 home win over South Carolina on Tuesday, he was at his best, scoring 19 points and snagging 10 rebounds. Look at him blocking a shot, running the court and cleaning up either a bad shot or a nice pass from Xavier Pinson:
Outstanding Defense ✅
All-Out Hustle ✅
— Mizzou Hoops (@MizzouHoops) January 20, 2021
- He’s been fun to watch this year, and the Tigers need him to be at his best against Tennessee tomorrow. More on that game later.
- Speaking of Tennessee, the Vols were smoked by Florida in Gainesville on Tuesday night, losing 75-49. How bad was Tennessee’s offense, you ask? Well, any time you have players elbowing their teammates in the face, it’s, uh… it’s not good:
I’m still dying at this botched dribble handoff where John Fulkerson elbowed Santiago Vescovi firmly in the face pic.twitter.com/DIqJd1O10v
— Eric Fawcett (@Efawcett7) January 21, 2021
- Ouch. Meanwhile, Florida coach Mike White (temporarily) coached his way off the hot seat. The Gators didn’t even have Colin Castleton for the game. The rising star had to miss the game with an ankle injury. Noah Locke led the way with 14 points, which is a great sign for Florida moving forward.
- Arkansas and Auburn have made a habit out of playing some exciting games. After the Tigers took a big lead in Wednesday’s game, the Hogs came roaring back. After trailing 43-31 at halftime, they retook the lead with 8:57 left and never looked back in the 75-73 victory. With freshman sensation Moses Moody struggling, it was Desi Sills’ time to shine. He finished with a team-high 22 points. He didn’t make any 3s, but he managed to get into the lane and wreak some havoc:
JHS alum Desi Sills has two 20+ point games this season for Arkansas. Both are against Auburn. Here's some buckets of his 22 point performance.
Video from SEC Network.
— Chris Hudgison (@ChrisHudgison) January 21, 2021
- It’s a great sign for the Hogs that they were able to win when Moody struggled. They’ll need to keep being a balanced offensive squad moving forward if they want to keep climbing in the SEC standings.
Next, let’s take a look around the rest of the college basketball landscape.
3. Road trip
The Purdue Boilermakers deserve more respect. They’re 6-3 in B1G play, which is no easy feat this year. And, their only losses have been at No. 4 Iowa, at No. 14 Rutgers and at No. 15 Illinois (all rankings at the time of the game).
They have wins at No. 23 Michigan State and at No. 15 Ohio State, too. (Man, that’s a lot of road games already.) That Ohio State win came on Tuesday night, and it came in dramatic fashion. Ohio State held a 64-61 lead with under a minute left. Then, Sasha Stefanovic happened. He tied it up with this clutch 3:
🔋 @Sash_Stefanovic is CLUTCH
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) January 20, 2021
How was he left so wide-open? Your guess is as good as mine. He finished with 15 points, though. And Purdue picked up another big win.
Purdue is 6-3 in Big Ten play (currently tied for fourth with Illinois). With the B1G being as tough as it is this season, it’s time to rank the Boilermakers. Their 3 conference losses are to ranked teams. What else do they need to do to prove themselves?
Now, let’s move on to some other headlines from around the country:
- Clemson’s backslide continues. It has become clear that the devastating 85-50 home loss to Virginia last weekend had a major effect on this team. This week, the Tigers lost at Georgia Tech 83-65. The Tigers allowed 3 Georgia Tech players to score more than 20 points — Moses Wright (21), Jordan Usher (21) and Michael Devoe (22). Devoe was a perfect 6-for-6 from 3-point range, and I love his “sure, why not?” attitude when it comes to launching deep shots:
Michael Devoe in his last five games:
Points: 20 per game
Rebounds: 3.8 per game
Assists: 4.8 per game
He was on fire before the hiatus and was once again last night.
— Yellow Jacked Up (@YellowJackedUp) January 21, 2021
- This Georgia Tech team is sneaky good. The Yellow Jackets are 3-1 in ACC play. WE’ll see if they can keep it going.
- Duke lost. At Pitt. 79-73. The Blue Devils are now 5-4 overall and 3-2 in ACC play. As much as I’d love to leave it at that, I have to mention a few things. First, I don’t understand what Coach K is doing with his starting lineup. Freshman Jaemyn Brakefield started, but only played 3 minutes. Senior Jordan Goldwire started, but only played 9 minutes. Yes, they both had first-half foul trouble, but I don’t understand pulling them and then just never putting them back in the game. Coach K might be losing it. I should probably mention Pitt since it won the game, right? Well, how about Justin Champagnie? He scored 31 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and had 5 blocks. Look at this impressive game from the big man:
As good as Duke's Johnson was, Pittsburgh's Justin Champagnie went for 31 points on 12-15 with 14 boards, 5 blocks and a win.
Tough, 6-6 combo now averaging 20 and 13. Big development if last night's shooting (4-7 3PT) is sign of more to come. pic.twitter.com/jYmRowbA9o
— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) January 20, 2021
- Pitt is going to be dangerous this season, and not just against Duke, North Carolina and other traditional powers that have fallen on hard times.
- Illinois got back on track by knocking off Penn State on Tuesday. Big man Kofi Cockburn was incredible, scoring 21 points to go with 12 rebounds and 4 blocks. My only beef with Cockburn in this game? Just like I criticized Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson for his ill-advised super-swat of a blocked shot, look at this block from Cockburn:
Kofi Cockburn sent this shot to the moon. 😱
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 20, 2021
- If he would have just grabbed the ball out of the air, Illinois would have had another free possession. Instead, Penn State kept the ball. No, this wasn’t as important as Jackson’s block, but if we can get players to realize they don’t need to swat the ball into the stands, it’ll improve the game. That highlight made its way around the internet, though, so we’re all responsible. We all need to stop hyping up blocks that cost teams a chance at getting possession back. Look at this block from Cockburn:
Nice defense by #Illini
Penn State runs the dribble hand off action. Ayo Dosunmu does a great job of staying on his man and forcing him into the Rim Protector Kofi Cockburn who easily blocks this attempt. Kofi does a good job of sticking near the roll man before the block. pic.twitter.com/QXAAjR3z8w
— Hoop Informatics (@HoopInformatics) January 20, 2021
- That one should be celebrated more than the other, because he tapped it to a teammate to create a transition opportunity.
- The Pac-12 is on the search for a new commissioner after parting ways with Larry Scott. Naturally, many wondered if UCLA alum and ESPN college basketball broadcaster Bill Walton would be interested in the job. Sadly, he is not:
Breaking: Bill Walton not interested in becoming the commissioner of the conference of champions.
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) January 22, 2021
- His broadcast partner, Dave Pasch, will likely keep trying, though. We can only hope Walton steps up to the plate to save the embattled conference!
Now, let’s look ahead to the best games of the weekend.
4. Outlet pass
There are several intriguing games on the schedule this weekend. Here are the 5 games I can’t wait to watch over the next few days:
- No. 15 Ohio State at No. 10 Wisconsin (Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on CBS) — Ohio State is coming off a loss to Purdue. Wisconsin has gotten back on track after getting utterly embarrassed by Michigan. If the Buckeyes lose this game, they probably won’t be ranked come Monday. It’ll be interesting to see how this latest Big Ten battle goes.
- No. 19 Mizzou at No. 6 Tennessee (Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET on SECN) — When the Vols went to Columbia earlier this season, it wasn’t pretty for Mizzou, as Tennessee slaughtered the Tigers 73-53. This time around, the Tigers are coming off a win and the Vols were blown out by Florida in their last game. Will the results be different?
- No. 2 Baylor at Oklahoma State (Saturday at 2 p.m. ET on CBS) — Baylor is undefeated and the No. 2 team in the country, but the Cowboys have the likely No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft in Cade Cunningham. If he gets hot, it could spell trouble for the Bears. This won’t be an easy matchup for Scott Drew’s squad.
- No. 7 Michigan at Purdue (Friday at 7 p.m. ET on FS1) — Purdue just went into Ohio State and won earlier this week. Now, the Boilermakers will host a Michigan team with only 1 loss on the season (at Minnesota). Can Purdue continue to be a thorn in the side of ranked Big Ten teams?
- No. 12 Texas Tech at No. 14 West Virginia (Monday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN) — Baylor, Texas and Kansas are still the class of the Big 12. But, don’t sleep on these 2 teams. Texas Tech is a tough out, and it is hard to win at West Virginia. I expect this to be a really close game.
How many big upsets will we see over the next few days? We’ll find out soon enough, starting with that Michigan-Purdue game tonight!
5. Buzzer beaters
Now, let’s answer a couple of random questions before we get out of here for the day:
Is there a case to be made for Baylor as the No. 1 team in the country based on what the Bears are doing in Big 12 play?
This is the time of year when people start to forget about Gonzaga since the Bulldogs play a weak West Coast Conference schedule. Saint Mary’s and BYU are typically Gonzaga’s toughest WCC competition, but the Bulldogs have beaten them by a combined score of 159-128 this season (2 games). It’s tough to knock them out of the No. 1 spot, but it’s not crazy to at least discuss Baylor. The Bears just won at Texas Tech and at home against Kansas this past week. That’s incredible. If they win at Oklahoma State on Saturday, then those are 3 more impressive wins than Gonzaga will ever have in the WCC. I think they’re fine at No. 2 for now, but if they stay unbeaten in Big 12 play, I have no problem moving the Bears to No. 1. They’ll both be No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
How long should the “coach” moniker last after your career is over? Lee Corso is still called “coach” on College GameDay. He hasn’t coached since 1985. Dan Dakich was called “coach” on the Wichita State-Memphis broadcast on Thursday night. He hasn’t coached since 2008. Bill Raftery hasn’t coached since 1981. Seems like there should be limits on these things.
I agree. I think 20 years is a fair amount of time being out of the business to not be considered a “coach” anymore. That means Dakich still has a few years left, but he seems to be pretty happy in his media role, so I doubt he heads back to the bench any time soon. But, yeah, Corso and Raftery should not be referred to as “coach” anymore. They’re great analysts, but the time has come to recognize them as media members and not coaches.
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.