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.

Hey, y’all! The 2021-22 season has officially tipped off, and that means the Starting 5 is back! We’ve got a lot planned for you this year.

The Starting 5 sections will look a bit different this year. We have 3 sites now — Saturday Down South, Saturday Tradition and Saturday Road. So, 3 of the sections will be dedicated to notes for the SEC, Big Ten and ACC.

You’ll still get plenty of content and will still be caught up on every major storyline in college hoops, so don’t worry!

Without further ado, let’s get started with today’s column:

1. Opening tipoff

If you look at any early 2022 NBA Mock Draft, chances are you’ll see the same 2 guys in the top 2 positions — Duke freshman Paolo Banchero and Gonzaga freshman Chet Holmgren. Those guys were both in action on Tuesday night and wow, did they ever deliver.

Let’s start with Banchero. Fellow Duke freshman Trevor Keels may have led the team with 25 points, but Banchero stole the show. He had 22 points despite battling cramps in the second half.

The shots Banchero makes in these highlights are all NBA-level shots:

I know it’s only 1 game, and I know he’s a true freshman, but there are shades of Kevin Durant in that performance. If he can stay healthy and continue to improve as the season goes on, Duke will be a legitimate title contender.

Banchero went 0-for-3 from 3-point range on Tuesday night against Kentucky, so he still has room to improve, too, which is a scary thought.

Holmgren, on the other hand, had a more all-around performance. The lanky freshman put up 14 points, 13 rebounds, 7 blocks and 6 assists in only 28 minutes. Gonzaga played Dixie State, so it wasn’t exactly Kentucky that the Bulldogs were playing.

But, still, it’s easy to see Holmgren is going to be an impact player this year, especially playing alongside fellow Gonzaga big man Drew Timme:

There are shades of Kristaps Porzingis in Holmgren’s game, only Holmgren might be a more instinctive defender and shot blocker. The one concern there is whether more physical big men will be able to impact his game or not. That remains to be seen.

However, one thing is for sure — these 2 elite freshmen are going to be a ton of fun to watch this season!

2. SEC notes

Oscar Tshiebwe pulled down another rebound on Thursday, 2 full days after Kentucky lost 79-71 in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. That made it an even 20 rebounds for the Kentucky big man in the game.

That set some Champions Classic and Kentucky records:

He was everywhere on Tuesday night. He led the Wildcats with 17 points, too, thanks in large part to a beautiful 2-man game with Georgia transfer point guard Sahvir Wheeler.

These were the first 2 Kentucky possessions in the second half, both lobs from Wheeler to Tshiebwe:

Wheeler also finished with a double-double, scoring 16 points and dishing out 10 assists. Here’s another of his assists, showing off how well he sees the floor:

So, yes, Kentucky lost, but I’m already much higher on this year’s team than last year’s. The Wildcats at least have a plan offensively. Freshman TyTy Washington isn’t going to go 3-for-14 from the floor too often, either.

My biggest concern is actually Wheeler. He had a number of shots blocked in the paint on Tuesday night. He is elite when it comes to getting into the lane and making a pass for an easy bucket or open 3. But, if you take away his passing lanes, he’s only 5-9 and struggles to finish amid the bigger guys in the paint.

We’ll see how defenses play him moving forward, but I’d do my best to force him to hold the ball and try to make the shot himself.

Now for some other SEC notes:

  • Alabama rolled right along on Tuesday night against a Louisiana Tech team that is going to be an NCAA Tournament contender this year. No Josh Primo, no Herb Jones, no John Petty Jr.? No problem. Keon Ellis was more than up to the task, leading the Tide with 18 points. Check out this sequence to end the first half:

  • And he was active on defense, starting this fast-break that ended in an and-1 for Jaden Shackelford:

  • Ellis is the guy who has to step up in a big way for the Tide this year. If he continues to play like he did on Tuesday night, Alabama will once again be in the mix for the SEC regular-season title.
  • I put Arkansas at No. 5 in my preseason SEC power rankings, and a lot of y’all let me hear it. Well, it’s safe to say there are some concerns with this Razorback squad after it trailed Mercer by 8 at halftime in the season opener. Big first-half deficits seemed to be a trend at the end of last season for the Hogs, and it carried over on Tuesday night. JD Notae scored 30 of Arkansas’s 74 points, but he needed 26 shots to get there. That’s not going to cut it against better teams. I’m not going to push the panic button yet, because Devo Davis didn’t score any points. Also, it takes teams loaded with transfers like this a while to jell, but it’s safe to say there were some concerning signs in the season opener.

Next, let’s take a trip to the Big Ten.

3. B1G notes

We nearly had our first major upset of the season early on Tuesday evening, as the Akron Zips gave Ohio State all it could handle. Ali Ali gave Akron a 1-point lead with only a few seconds left with this incredible 4-point play:

But, the upset wasn’t meant to be. Akron lost Zed Key on this inbounds play and Key made the easy layup to give the Buckeyes the victory:

The impressive part of that play came from Malachi Branham, who caught the ball from the inbounder and didn’t immediately try to play hero ball. He saw Key in the paint and got the ball to him for the much higher percentage shot.

That’s a great assist in a situation where most guys would have tried to play hero ball. Keep that in mind for the next section when hero ball comes up again.

  • Big Ten? They should call the conference “Big Men” this year. The B1G is absolutely loaded with experienced post players this year. From B1G Preseason Player of the Year Kofi Cockburn at Illinois to Hunter Dickinson at Michigan, Trayce Jackson-Davis at Indiana, Trevion Williams at Purdue and EJ Liddell at Ohio State, among others, it’s hard to remember a more loaded big-man class in a single conference. Buckle up and enjoy the old-school basketball these guys are going to play this year.
  • Hunter Dickinson is already off to a great start for Michigan. Buffalo gave the No. 6 Wolverines all they could handle, but Dickinson was too much down the stretch. He finished with 27 points and 6 rebounds, proving to be too much for the Buffalo bigs to handle:

  • There’s a play at 22:11 in this video that I tried to make a GIF of but failed miserably. In it, Dickinson puts on a master class of positioning. By the time he gets the ball in the low post, the only way to stop him is to foul him:
  • You know he’s going to be motivated after Cockburn took home the Preseason Player of the Year award. That’s good news for the Wolverines this year, even if Wednesday night’s game left a lot to be desired.

Now, let’s move on to the ACC and the rest of the country.

4. ACC notes/random tidbits

When Virginia is playing well, it is a fun team to watch. When shots aren’t falling for the Hoos, no team is more painful to watch. The plodding pace at which Tony Bennett’s team plays has led to a national championship, so it doesn’t need any validation from me.

However, when the Cavaliers are behind on the scoreboard, it is darn near impossible for them to claw their way back into a game. That was the case in the season opener against Navy on Tuesday night.

Trailing 42-35 at halftime (with 42 points being a ton of points allowed by a Bennett-coached team in a single half, let alone a single game), Virginia never got it going in the second half.

This is not a deep team, and the box score was brutal. Only 6 points scored by the bench. Only 2 players in double figures.

ECU transfer Jayden Gardner was as-advertised, scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Beyond him, though, this team was rough to watch. Point guard Kihei Clark scored 12 points, but he only had 2 assists and was 2-for-7 from 3-point range.

The good news? Like I mentioned earlier, Gardner is a beast:

However, if this team doesn’t develop some more offense in a hurry, it’s going to be a long year in Charlottesville.

  • OK, remember earlier when I told you to keep “hero ball” in mind? Well, now’s the time to discuss it further. Wichita State managed to avoid a bad home loss against Jacksonville State on Tuesday night. How? Well, Tyson Etienne nailed the game-winning shot from the halfcourt logo:

  • Impressive, right? Yeah, absolutely. That’s an incredible shot that he could only make, at most, 20% of the time (and that might even be generous). That play is fine when there are only a couple of seconds left and you catch it there off an inbounds pass. But it absolutely isn’t OK when you cross halfcourt with 12 seconds on the clock. He let that thing fly with 4 seconds left on the clock. The result was great, but that’s bad basketball and you can’t convince me otherwise. I’m not even saying he should have passed the ball or anything. Just get closer and get a better look! You had plenty of time!
  • Football season is still in full swing and there’s actually an interesting connection to basketball season. Right now, in the FBS ranks, there are 4 undefeated teams — Georgia, Cincinnati, Oklahoma and UTSA. Well, as luck would have it, those 4 teams actually play each other on the basketball court this weekend:

  • Maybe we should base our College Football Playoff rankings on what happens in those 2 matchups? (Insert Georgia football fans screaming “NOOOOOOOOOO” here.)

Now, let’s take a look ahead to the next few days of college hoops action.

5. Outlet pass

It’s early in the season, and we haven’t reached the holiday tournament portion of the schedule just yet (which is always an exciting time), so the schedule is a little thin. However, there are still plenty of games worth your attention between now and Tuesday:

  1. No. 5 Texas at No. 1 Gonzaga (Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2) — You’re going to have to stay up a little late for this one, East Coasters, but it’ll be worth it. This is a legitimate Final Four preview and Chris Beard’s first real test as Texas’s head coach. Can Texas’s depth match up with Gonzaga’s star power? We’ll see if the Longhorns can handle Bulldog big men Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme.
  2. No. 4 Villanova at No. 2 UCLA (Friday at 11:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2) — Another late game for those not located west of the Rocky Mountains. But, like the game above, it’s going to be worth your while. Plus, it’s a Friday! Stay up late! Who cares? UCLA is my pick to win the title this year, so of course I’m going to be watching to see if the Bruins can handle an early test from a very experienced Villanova squad.
  3. No. 20 Florida State at Florida (Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN) — This is a big rivalry game and, obviously, the game where Keyontae Johnson went down with a scary medical incident last season. He hasn’t been cleared to play yet, but he’ll be on the Florida bench rooting his guys on as they try to pull off the upset. If Florida wins this game, it sets the tone for the rest of the season.
  4. Army at No. 9 Duke (Friday at 7 p.m. ET on ACC Network) — This game only makes the cut because of the Coach K farewell tour. Mike Krzyzewski has been at Duke since 1980, which is wild. But, even before that, he was the coach at Army from 1975-80. Good on Army for agreeing to play this game as Coach K hits the ol’ dusty trail.
  5. No. 11 Illinois at Marquette (Monday at 7 p.m. ET on FS1) — The Illini will be without star big man Kofi Cockburn as he serves the third of his 3-game suspension. That makes this an even bigger test for Brad Underwood’s team. The Illini should be able to take down Shaka Smart’s squad even without Cockburn, but this will be a dangerous game for them.

See? There’s some meat on this schedule! And, all these games work around the college football slate. You can binge football on Saturday and still take in all these big-time matchups. What a great time of year!

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]