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

The Tennessee Volunteers were riding high heading into Saturday’s home game against unranked Alabama. They were up to No. 7 in the AP Poll and had just finished a lopsided 73-53 beatdown of a ranked Mizzou team to start SEC play.

But, the Vols suffered their first loss against Nate Oats’ sharpshooting squad, going down 71-63. The Vols were ice cold from the floor all night, making only 21 of their 66 shot attempts (31.8%) and only 4 of their 21 3-point tries (19%). You aren’t going to win many games shooting like that.


ESPN BET is now live in 17 states

Use promo code SATURDAY to get your $250 bonus


Victor Bailey Jr. led the Vols with 16 points, but he was 4-for-14 from the floor and 0-for-5 from beyond the arc. Santiago Vescovi had 13 points, but he was only 5-for-15 shooting. A lot of Tennessee shots were clanging off the rim on Saturday.

On the other side, Alabama is going to be tough to beat moving forward if John Petty Jr. is officially out of his shooting slump. He had a game-high 17 points and was a perfect 4-for-4 from 3-point range. It’s a good sign for the Tide when he’s stepping into shots like these confidently:

He also connected with Herb Jones on this impressive alley-oop:

Yves Pons was his usual self on defense. You’re not going to find a better shot blocker or help-side defender than Pons. Here are his 5 blocks, which all occurred in just over 5 minutes in the second half:

But, offense has been a different story for Pons this year. It looked like he was putting it together against Mizzou, but he struggled again against the Tide. He only made 1 of his 6 shots from the floor and had only 6 points. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — that’s not going to cut it on a team that needs him to be an all-around superstar more often than not.

So, was this just a fluke for the Vols? Or, were they overrated heading into Saturday’s game? We’ll find out a lot about Rick Barnes’ squad when they host Arkansas on Wednesday night. That should be a good game, especially since the Razorbacks are fresh off a tough loss of their own.

Speaking of that Arkansas loss, let’s check out some top SEC storylines, shall we?

2. Home-court advantage

The Missouri Tigers lost last week to Tennessee. They were then facing a tough road trip to Fayetteville to take on an undefeated Arkansas team. Well, it ended up not being so tough, as the Tigers made a statement with an 81-68 victory.

It was a game to remember for Mizzou fans, who always like beating Arkansas. But, this was all about Jeremiah Tilmon, who showed what he’s capable of doing. He scored 25 points and had 11 rebounds, dominating around the rim:

And he made 7 of his 10 free throws. For a sub-50% free-throw shooter, that was a great sign. Now, it’ll be about building this momentum and continuing to play well moving forward, starting at Mississippi State this week.

Remember how we just talked about the Vols’ shooting struggles against Alabama? Well, they looked like a team of Steph Currys (Curries? Stephs Curry? Not sure how to pluralize his name, honestly) compared to Arkansas’s Saturday performance. The Razorbacks took 71 shots, but only made 19 (26.8%) and were 7-for-28 (25%) from 3-point range.

Coach Eric Musselman, who was ejected during the second half, was just as baffled by the Hogs’ shooting struggles as the rest of us:

That’s the look of a guy who just wants things to make sense. Now the Hogs have to try to regroup against Tennessee this week. More on that game in a bit.

Next, let’s take a look around the rest of the SEC:

  • Kentucky is now 1-0 in SEC play, thanks to a double-overtime road win at Mississippi State on Saturday. John Calipari was ejected in the second half, so he missed the comeback, but you can’t convince me he didn’t do this intentionally to send a message to his players:

  • He’s the master of the motivational ejection. However, he’ll understandably face several questions after the play of Dontaie Allen. Allen hadn’t been getting much playing time recently, but he scored 23 points and made 7 3s for the Wildcats on Saturday. Considering how badly the Wildcats have needed a decent shooter this year, it’s baffling that Allen wasn’t playing more. Look at some of these shots he was hitting:

  • I still think Kentucky can challenge for an SEC regular-season or tournament title. Call me crazy, but the team still has plenty of talent. If Allen becomes a bigger part of the offense, it’ll only help Kentucky moving forward.
  • Florida entered the season with the SEC Preseason Player of the Year in Keyontae Johnson. Fortunately, after a scary medical incident at Florida State, Johnson is doing better, but he might not return to the court this season. But, the Gators also had plenty of other talented players, from Scottie Lewis to Tre Mann to Noah Locke to Tyree Appleby and others. But, in 2 SEC games, big man Colin Castleton has led the Gators in scoring both times. He scored 23 points in a win at Vanderbilt and followed that up with a 21-point, 6-rebound effort in a win over LSU. When you’re feeling it, you feel like you can make any shot on the floor. That’s what Castleton was doing here:

  • That’s, by definition, an awful shot attempt. He could have passed the ball to any number of open shooters. But, when you’re playing as well as Castleton has been this past week, you can be a little selfish. Now, we’ll see if he can keep it up against Alabama on Tuesday. More on that game in a bit.
  • Texas A&M bounced back from a blowout loss against LSU to start SEC play by beating Auburn 68-66 on Saturday. Emanuel Miller is one of the most underrated players in the country, in my opinion. He had 16 points and 5 rebounds against Auburn, including this nice steal and score:

  • That’s a tough bucket, but that’s what Miller does for the Aggies. On any given night, the Aggies could beat any SEC team or lose to any SEC team. They’re going to be interesting to watch, at the very least.

Now, let’s move on and discuss some top stories around the rest of the country.

3. Road trip

The Texas Longhorns are up to No. 4 in the nation in the latest AP Poll, staking their claim as the second-best team in the Big 12 behind Baylor after going into Allen Fieldhouse and absolutely crushing then-No. 3 Kansas 84-59.

It’s been a long time since Kansas has lost like that at home, so it’s fair to call this a statement win for Shaka Smart and the Longhorns. They had 5 players score 10 or more points, led by Courtney Ramey with 18. Big man Jericho Sims had an 11-point, 12-rebound double-double.

Here are some of the highlights, which show that the game was never really even close:

The Jayhawks only got 10 points from their bench. That’s a problem moving forward, as this Kansas team doesn’t have as much depth as in years past. Meanwhile, Texas has talent up and down the roster.

Texas is now 8-1 on the season with its only loss coming against a ranked Villanova team. Smart’s crew hosts Iowa State during the week before a weekend showdown at West Virginia. That’ll be another difficult game for the Longhorns.

Speaking of West Virginia …

  • The Mountaineers took on star freshman Cade Cunningham and the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Monday night in Stillwater. Things weren’t going so well, as they trailed the Cowboys by 19 points (68-49) with 11:15 remaining in the second half. But, down the stretch, Miles McBride hit a pair of clutch 3s. He had a 19-point second half, nailing this huge 3 with just over 2 minutes left:

  • But, Monday night was the Derek Culver show. He had 22 points and a whopping 19 rebounds. He has some great awareness in the post. Look at this dunk after a nifty move on the baseline:

  • This is a team that will cause some problems for Baylor, Kansas and Texas in the Big 12. It’s going to be a fun conference to watch!
  • We’ve talked a lot about Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn in this column this year, but today, I want to highlight a player who flies under the radar — senior guard Da’Monte Williams. He had a fantastic game in Illinois’ 66-58 home win over Purdue over the weekend, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Williams leads the nation in 3-point shooting, knocking down an incredible 67% of his long-range shots. Here’s what Brad Underwood had to say about it:

  • Cockburn had a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double, but he went 0-for-6 from the free-throw line. That is something to monitor moving forward, as he could become a liability in late-game situations.
  • Finally, I just want you to look at this pass from Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs. It is absolutely mesmerizing:

  • Suggs doesn’t play like a freshman at all, but that’s why he’s a key player for the No. 1 team in the country. It’s a shame that shot didn’t go in, but a foul was called, so that’s something.

Now, let’s take a look ahead to some intriguing games over the next few days.

4. Outlet pass

There are some high-profile conference games between now and Friday. Here are the 5 games I can’t wait to see this week:

  1. Florida at Alabama (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2) — These are the 2 teams that are currently 2-0 in SEC play. That’s a bit surprising, especially after Alabama went to Knoxville and beat Tennessee on Saturday. Who will win this early battle for first place in the SEC standings?
  2. No. 16 Minnesota at No. 10 Michigan (Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET on BTN) — Michigan is the only undefeated team remaining in the Big Ten (9-0 overall, 4-0 in B1G play). If you say you predicted that before the season, you’re a liar. This game will be a big one for both squads.
  3. Arkansas at No. 9 Tennessee (Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2) — As mentioned above, these are 2 SEC teams that suffered big-time setbacks on Saturday. One will stop the skid on Wednesday night in Knoxville, while the other will have a lot of questions to answer moving forward.
  4. No. 12 Illinois at Northwestern (Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on BTN) — The Wildcats aren’t pushovers this year. This will be a very challenging game for the Illini, but if they want to stay toward the top of the Big Ten standings, this is the sort of road game they need to win.
  5. Wichita State at No. 11 Houston (Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN+) — It’s a shame this game won’t be nationally broadcast, as it features 2 of the best teams in the AAC. Can Houston bounce back after a setback against Tulsa last week? We’ll find out if the Cougars can defend their home court here.

Now that conference play has started across the country, the midweek schedules have a lot of meat on the bone! These games will all have major implications moving forward.

5. Buzzer beaters

Now, let’s answer a couple of random questions before we get out of here for the day:

Which team has the best uniforms in college basketball?

When I started looking into which teams’ uniforms I like best, it seems I subconsciously really like orange jerseys. I really like Texas’s burnt orange look, the Tennessee Volunteers’ orange uniforms and also Illinois’ orange look:

Those 3 schools all have great uniforms. More orange, please! It is the color of the basketball, after all!

What is the best non-major conference team in the country (other than Gonzaga, of course)?

Yeah, Gonzaga is the No. 1 team in the country despite playing in the West Coast Conference. The Bulldogs have earned all the accolades they’ve gotten thus far. So, if you consider the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and Big East the major basketball conferences, there are a couple of options. Houston is ranked No. 11 out of the AAC, but I’m going to go with No. 23 Saint Louis. There are 2 ranked teams in the state of Missouri (with Mizzou at No. 13) and the Billikens are legit. They’ve beaten LSU this year and their only loss was at Minnesota. Look out for Travis Ford’s team in the Atlantic 10 this season.

Enjoy the Starting 5? Have a question? Want to yell at me about something? Follow me on Twitter @AdamSpencer4 or email me at [email protected].