Starting 5: Can Baylor go undefeated? Can Alabama finish a perfect SEC season? Can Illinois win the Big Ten?
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
We’re going to start today’s column by discussing the Baylor Bears, but first, let’s acknowledge the bad news. Due to COVID-19, Baylor has had to postpone its next 2 games — Saturday vs. TCU and Wednesday at Oklahoma:
— Baylor Basketball (@BaylorMBB) February 4, 2021
That’s disappointing, yes, but the Bears will still have plenty of momentum when they return to the court, thanks to Tuesday’s big win at No. 6 Texas. It was a hard-fought game, but Baylor pulled away at the end to earn an 83-69 victory.
Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell continue to be an unstoppable backcourt tandem. Butler had 21 points and 4 steals, but Mitchell stole the show with 27 points and 4 assists against the Longhorns. He’s improved his dribbling this year, and it leads to some impressive step-back shots like this:
On top of being a dynamic defender, Davion Mitchell has really improved his handle and shooting- and more impressively: his combination of using both. Quality early/mid 2nd round target pic.twitter.com/m9mknEUghi
— Mavs Draft (@MavsDraft) February 3, 2021
The Bears are now 17-0 and have won every game by at least 8 points. That’s incredible. Only 2 teams have even managed to stay within 8 points of the Bears — then-No. 15 Texas Tech and then-No. 9 Kansas.
It looked like Texas was going to keep things close. Freshman Greg Brown threw down this amazing dunk to cut Baylor’s lead to 55-51 with 13:20 remaining:
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 3, 2021
The problem? He picked up a technical for taunting and that set the Bears off. They immediately went on a 24-11 run to seal the win. Mitchell even admitted after the game that Brown’s dunk set them off:
Baylor's Davion Mitchell on the Greg Brown dunk and the aftermath: "Definitely that was a momentum swing. We responded great."
— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) February 3, 2021
Can the Bears go undefeated? If they return to the court on Feb. 13, as scheduled right now, we’ll find out quickly. Their next 3 scheduled games are vs. No. 13 Texas Tech on Feb. 13, at No. 17 West Virginia on Feb. 15 and vs. No. 17 West Virginia on Feb. 18. That’s a brutal stretch, and it is hard to beat a good team like the Mountaineers twice in a row.
But, if any team can do it, it’s this year’s Bears. They’re going to continue to be fun to watch down the stretch!
Now, let’s move on to some SEC headlines.
2. Home-court advantage
Alabama had a setback at Oklahoma during the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, but a game against rival LSU on Wednesday night was just what the doctor ordered. No, the Crimson Tide weren’t as sharp as they usually are from 3-point range, making only 6 of their 24 attempts. And they only got to the free-throw line 6 times (making all of them).
If I gave you those 2 numbers, you’d think that the Crimson Tide were blown out by LSU. But, that wasn’t the case. Alabama’s defense came through, even with Herb Jones only able to play 16 minutes due to foul trouble.
Alabama out-rebounded LSU 51-35. And, the Tide had several steals that led to easy transition buckets like this one:
The defense was active again in transition tonight.@JoshuaPrimo4 got his hands in the middle of this attempted pass, found @alexxreese18 on the outlet and he slammed it home on the alley oop from @jayunooo 😎 #RollTide pic.twitter.com/T0Bbv9ZyvE
— Crimson Crossover (@CrimsonXover) February 4, 2021
Now, Alabama is 10-0 in SEC play and 15-4 overall. How good are the Tide? Well, ESPN bracketology expert Joe Lunardi has Alabama as 1 of the 4 No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament right now:
— Joe Lunardi (@ESPNLunardi) February 4, 2021
A road trip to Mizzou awaits on Saturday, but we’ll have more on that game in a bit. For now, let’s move on to some other SEC stories:
- Ole Miss beat Tennessee on Tuesday night in one of the ugliest offensive games in the SEC this year. The final score was 52-50, and perhaps the only good offensive play was this steal and dunk by Luis Rodriguez:
Luis Rodriguez with the🔥. pic.twitter.com/LVpJx6VNKw
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) February 3, 2021
- The Vols’ lack of offensive consistency has been their fatal flaw this year. If they can’t start getting more consistent shooting, they’re going to be a prime candidate for an early round exit in the SEC or NCAA Tournaments.
- Mizzou’s offensive efficiency and long-range shooting is trending up at a good time. The Tigers made 9 of their 21 3-pointers against Kentucky in a 75-70 win on Wednesday. But, their defense is trending in the opposite direction, and that’s not a good sign with Alabama coming to town on Saturday. Dru Smith was electric against the Wildcats, scoring 26 points to go with 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. He got to the rim at-will, finishing in the lane with some nice touch:
A tough, hard-nosed two-way player who brings it every single night.
— Mizzou Hoops (@MizzouHoops) February 5, 2021
- He got to the free-throw line 14 times, making 12. It wasn’t a comfortable win, but the Tigers are a veteran squad that knows how to hold on late. Kentucky, simply put, isn’t there yet.
- If there’s a team that’s worse at handling success than Florida, I don’t want to watch that team. The Gators entered Wednesday’s home game against South Carolina with a 4-game winning streak, fresh off a win at West Virginia. And, naturally, the Gators went out and lost 72-66. It’s just inexplicable how this team shoots itself in the foot in games it should win easily.
- Toumani Camara has shown flashes of brilliance for Georgia this year, but he has been inconsistent at times. Well, at Auburn on Tuesday night, he had one of his best games, scoring 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. He made several big plays for the Bulldogs in their 91-86 road win:
🇧🇪 Toumani Camara with his 3rd double double (in just 28 minutes on the floor) in SEC play this year, helping Georgia in a 91-86 win over Auburn
15 PTS – 4/7 2P – 1/2 3P – 4/4 FT – 12 REB – 2 AST – 2 STL – 1 BLK pic.twitter.com/jhOiXWFBvD
— CBB Europe (@CBB_Europe) February 3, 2021
- But, the Georgia win was truly a team effort, as 6 different guys scored in double figures — Tye Fagan (16 points), Camara (15), Sahvir Wheeler (13), PJ Horne (13), KD Johnson (12) and Justin Kier (11). If the Bulldogs are going to make a push for the NCAA Tournament, these next 2 games are absolute must-wins. They’ll host Vanderbilt on Saturday and travel to Texas A&M on Wednesday. No pressure, Dawgs.
Next up, let’s take a look around the rest of the college basketball world.
3. Road trip
We’ve discussed Kentucky’s awful offense, the Vols going cold at Ole Miss and Alabama’s struggle to make shots recently. Well, if you want to know what college basketball can look like when everything is going right offensively, let’s discuss Thursday night’s Ohio State-Iowa game.
The Buckeyes were ranked No. 7 heading into the game and the Hawkeyes were No. 8. Each team made 14 3-pointers. Ohio State was 14-for-32 and Iowa was 14-for-31. There were only 12 turnovers total during the game — 6 by each team.
At one point, the Buckeyes were down 10. But, they kept chipping away, in large part because Justin Ahrens got his shot going. He made all 3 of his 3-pointers late, including this dagger:
THE BUCKS STAY HOT! 🔥
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 5, 2021
This one was also pretty:
Why does a lefty’s shot always look so much more beautiful??
Justin Ahrens perfectly represents that 😍😍 pic.twitter.com/69snR2S3nQ
— Ben Stevens (@BenScottStevens) February 5, 2021
He started out 0-for-3 from 3-point range, but like all great shooters, he just kept shooting. He only finished with 9 points, but they were 9 very clutch points. EJ Liddell, Kyle Young and Duane Washington Jr. all led the way for the Buckeyes with 16 points each. Justice Sueing also had a huge game, recording a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double.
Defensively, the Buckeyes did a good job of limiting National Player of the Year frontrunner Luka Garza. Yes, Garza still scored 16 points, to go with 7 rebounds and 5 assists, and yes, he still got superstar calls like this:
lol what pic.twitter.com/6kSQOg3j9e
— Barstool OSU (@BarstoolOSU) February 5, 2021
But, elbows to the face aside, Ohio State kept coming back for more to earn an 89-85 victory and put itself in the conversation for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Oh, and they have this impressive distinction:
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) February 5, 2021
The Buckeyes still have some work to do if they want to win the Big Ten, but no one is hotter than Chris Holtmann’s squad right now!
Next, let’s take a look around the rest of the country:
- No. 12 Illinois has been inconsistent at times this year, but the Illini are on a 3-game winning streak after a tough battle at rival Indiana on Tuesday night. They needed overtime to pull off a 75-71 win. I love to talk about Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, but Dosunmu had an off night, scoring only 10 points on 2-for-11 shooting and fouling out for the first time in his career. The fifth foul call was an absolutely horrible piece of officiating from the refs, though:
#Illini Ayo Dosunmu forced to leave the game after scoring and drawing the and-1 foul as Big Ten refs called this obvious block call a charge and it fouled Dosunmu out of the game. College refs love calling charges, even many non-charges. pic.twitter.com/oGTlCkcqjh
— Hoop Informatics (@HoopInformatics) February 3, 2021
- That’s just terrible. There’s absolutely no way that’s a charge. If that’s not a blocking foul, I don’t know what is. The Illini bounced back to win, though, which was a good sign for Brad Underwood’s team. Trent Frazier had 19 points to lead the way. Cockburn had 16 points and 10 rebounds. He also scored this dagger in overtime:
#12 Illinois s’impose à Indiana pour la 1ère fois depuis 2010. Trent Frazier (19pts à 4/9 de loin) a donné un coup de fouet dans le money-time…
…avec les 10 derniers points des Illini avant l’OT.
Et Kofi Cockburn (16pts, 10reb) a conclu la victoire. pic.twitter.com/G1tVqX5PmL
— #MidMajors (@MidnightCampus) February 3, 2021
- That’s a great pass from freshman Andre Curbelo, too. Curbelo is dynamic with the ball in his hands and he was excellent against the Hoosiers. He scored 12 points off the bench and also contributed 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. To win on a night when Dosunmu was off his game was a great sign for the Illini moving forward.
- Now, we need to discuss how awful Wednesday was for some top teams around the country. Let’s start with No. 3 Villanova, which lost 70-59 at St. John’s. The Wildcats turned it over 17 times and only went 8-for-30 from 3-point range. They’re a team that will have the occasional inexplicable loss, though. Live by the 3, die by the 3, as they say. Julian Champagnie had 14 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks for the Red Storm. And, this might be my favorite play of the season so far:
— CBB 🔌 (@ncaaplug) February 4, 2021
- Champagnie starts it all with the block. Then he ran the floor and Posh Alexander played hot potato to keep the Villanova defender off-balance before Champagnie scored the easy layup. Love seeing unselfish play like that!
- Even more inexplicable of a loss was No. 5 Houston going to East Carolina and losing to a bad Pirates team 82-73. ECU was 1-6 in AAC play entering that game, but simply outplayed the Cougars. ECU knocked down 11 of its 24 3s and forced 12 Houston turnovers. Jayden Gardner was an absolute monster, scoring 21 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. The Cougars had no answer for him all night and it cost them dearly in their quest to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
- We’ve discussed Julian Champagnie, but his twin brother, Justin, also helped pull off an upset of No. 16 Virginia Tech on Wednesday. Justin matched his brother’s double-double, posting 10 points and 13 rebounds against the Hokies in Pitt’s 83-72 home win. But, the real star of the show was Xavier Johnson, who scored 32 points off the bench. He also had 7 assists and 5 boards:
— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) February 4, 2021
- For Virginia Tech, this was a tough loss, especially since the Hokies had just pulled off a big win over rival Virginia. Those Champagnie twins are brutal on ranked teams, though.
- Finally, let’s talk about No. 15 Creighton losing at home to a Georgetown team that entered the game with a 4-8 record. Yikes. Jahvon Blair had himself a game for the Hoyas, though, scoring 22 points, making 5 3-pointers and dishing out 7 assists. When you’re as hot as he was, even the bank shots are working:
JAHVON BLAIR ARE YOU KIDDING ME pic.twitter.com/l5j39ZN8Hh
— #BIGEASThoops (@BIGEASTMBB) February 4, 2021
- That’s a bad loss for the Blue Jays’ tournament resume. They’ll still make the field of 68 easily, but this will really hurt their seeding.
Now, let’s move on and take a look ahead to the weekend’s top games to see which other ranked teams might be on upset alert.
4. Outlet pass
Now that we’ve hit February, Saturdays are going to be loaded with great games. In fact, all 5 of the games I can’t wait to watch this weekend take place on Saturday:
- No. 19 Wisconsin at No. 12 Illinois (Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX) — The Illini are hot, but things can change in a hurry in the Big Ten. Wisconsin just split a pair of games against Penn State. But, the Badgers are still very dangerous. This should be a fun matchup of 2 of the B1G’s best teams.
- No. 10 Alabama at No. 18 Mizzou (Saturday at noon ET on ESPN) — Alabama can all but lock up the SEC regular-season title with a win in this game. The Tide have a 10-0 SEC record, with the Tigers in second place at 5-3. If Alabama wins, it will be 11-0 and every other team in the league will have at least 4 losses. Mizzou won’t be easy to beat, though.
- No. 6 Texas at Oklahoma State (Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on ABC) — Texas is coming off a home loss to Baylor. Oklahoma State is coming off a tough loss at TCU. The Longhorns need to bounce back to stay in the hunt for a No. 1 seed, but freshman Cade Cunningham and the Cowboys aren’t easy to beat in Stillwater.
- No. 23 Kansas at No. 17 West Virginia (Saturday at 2 p.m. ET on CBS) — If Kansas loses this game, maybe the Jayhawks will finally fall out of the top 25? It’s time to stop making excuses for this team. But, if they go into Morgantown and knock off West Virginia, I’ll reconsider my stance.
- No. 21 UCLA at USC (Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN) — End your Saturday night with a great Pac-12 matchup. UCLA leads the conference with a record of 9-1 in league play. USC is right behind at 8-2. The winner of this game will be in a great position to claim the regular-season crown.
I also want to give a shout out to the South Dakota-South Dakota State game on Friday night (8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3). South Dakota is 10-6 and a perfect 8-0 in Summit League play. South Dakota State is 10-3 overall and 4-0 in Summit League action. Nothing like a rivalry game with a perfect conference record on the line!
5. Buzzer beaters
Now, let’s answer a couple of random questions before we get out of here and enjoy the weekend:
Some analysts have argued that blocking fouls should be eliminated from college basketball. Where do you stand on that?
Well, if officials are going to call that a charge on Ayo Dosunmu (see above), then the system is broken. I know it’s tough to call in real time, but it seems like every night there are some awful block/charge calls. I’d just make it a reviewable call in the last 4 minutes of every half. I know that would add to the already slow ends of halves, but if you want the integrity of the game preserved, you can’t call that a charge on Ayo in a key situation.
Would you rather have tickets to the Super Bowl or the Final Four?
That depends on if my team is in the Super Bowl or not, I suppose. If the Green Bay Packers are in the Super Bowl, I really want those tickets. If not, then I’d rather have the Final Four tickets. That way, I get to go to 3 games (both semifinals and the title game) instead of just 1. And, I get to explore a new city on the day in between games. That sounds like a better trip to me. Again, as long as the Packers aren’t in that year’s Super Bowl.
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.