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

Every now and then, a team from the First Four will make a Sweet 16 run. This year, I thought the Michigan State Spartans had that ability. I thought they could beat BYU in Round 2 and potentially Texas in Round 3.

The Spartans, however, had other plans. See, they couldn’t even get past fellow 11-seed UCLA in the First Four on Thursday night. The Bruins, a team that has had a Kentucky-like streak of second-half collapses this year, battled back to tie the game at the end of regulation. Then, in overtime, it was all Bruins.

Speaking of Kentucky, Wildcat transfer Johnny Juzang had a big night, scoring 21 points before exiting with an ankle injury in overtime:

He was showing a knack for finishing in traffic before his injury, so hopefully he can play again on Saturday:

Jaime Jaquez Jr. was the real star on Thursday night, though. He had 27 points, including this clutch 3-point play after a missed free throw:

Could UCLA be the First Four team to make a Sweet 16 run? I’m not buying stock in the Bruins just yet, but if Juzang can play on Saturday, BYU will have its hands full.

Now, let’s move on to discuss a couple of SEC notes heading into Friday’s slate of games.

2. Home-court advantage

The SEC didn’t have much going on over the past couple of days, as all of the league’s 6 qualifying teams were 9-seeds or better. But, all of them will be in action over the next couple of days. So, for this section, I’m just going to rank how excited I am for each of the 6 matchups:

  1. 8-seed LSU vs. 9-seed St. Bonaventure — Saturday at 1:45 p.m. ET on TNT
  2. 8-seed Oklahoma vs. 9-seed Mizzou — Saturday at 7:25 p.m. ET on TNT
  3. 3-seed Arkansas vs. 14-seed Colgate — Friday at 12:45 p.m. ET on TruTV
  4. 2-seed Alabama vs. 15-seed Iona — Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on TBS
  5. 5-seed Tennessee vs. 12-seed Oregon State — Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET on TNT
  6. 7-seed Florida vs. 10-seed Virginia Tech — Friday at 12:15 p.m. ET on CBS

I think the Florida-Virginia Tech game should be close, but watching this year’s Florida team just does not interest me. The Gators rely so heavily on Tre Mann. If he’s not a superstar, the Gators are so unreliable. I think this has the potential to be a slow, ugly game, which makes me less interested.

LSU and St. Bonaventure are the most interesting, because I want to see if an A10 team can slow down Javonte Smart, Cam Thomas, Darius Days, Trendon Watford and company. Saint Louis did it in nonconference play, but this LSU team has grown a lot since then.

Mizzou and Oklahoma is interesting in the way games between bad teams can be entertaining. Oklahoma has lost 5 of 6 games and might be the only team entering the tournament that’s actually colder than the Tigers. And the Sooners are without second-leading-scorer De’Vion Harmon. Winner gets to lose to Gonzaga in Round 2!

Arkansas and Tennessee are both going to roll their first-round opponents. I don’t want to hear all this upset talk about the Vols and Hogs. They advance easily, though I do think Arkansas-Colgate will be a great offensive game.

Alabama-Iona is only interesting because it’s Nate Oats vs. Rick Pitino. I think Pitino has a good game plan and keeps things close early, but no one is better at the halftime adjustment than Nate Oats. The Tide roll to a big win with a dominant second half.

  • Speaking of the Crimson Tide, I heard former Alabama coach Avery Johnson on the call for the matchups between 16-seeds on Thursday night. It’ll be interesting to see if CBS gives him the assignment on any Alabama games:

  • He’s the guy who recruited guys like Herb Jones, John Petty Jr., Alex Reese and others to Tuscaloosa. It’d be interesting to see if he is bitter about not coaching these guys as a 2-seed right now or full of praise for his guys and what Oats has done with them.

Now, let’s move on to some other reaction to the First Four matchups.

3. Road trip

I honestly didn’t expect Drake-Wichita State to be the most-exciting game of the First Four, but here we are! The Bulldogs and Shockers are old Missouri Valley Conference rivals, so there’s some bad blood there. The Shockers had won 11-straight games against Drake during their MVC days, spanning from 2012 to 2017.

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The Shockers led 37-25 with 11:22 left in the second half. Drake couldn’t get anything going. Then, Joseph Yesufu and Darnell Brodie took over for the Bulldogs. Yesufu threw down the dunk of the tournament so far:

And Brodie made a couple of fantastic shots late to help the Bulldogs take a lead:

Wichita State didn’t go away, though. Credit to Dexter Dennis for forcing an ill-advised Drake turnover and then calmly draining this 3:

Then, we got our first typical March Madness moment. This time of year, it’s win or go home. The reactions at the end of a close game like Drake-Wichita State show the juxtaposition of pain and joy.

I mean, just look at this range of emotions after Alterique Gilbert missed what would have been a game-winning 3:

We’re going to get a lot of that this month. These guys all want to win so badly. But, you have to celebrate 6 times (or 7 in the case of the First Four teams) to win a title. We’ll see which team accomplishes that incredible feat.

Oh, and keep an eye on Yesufu and Brodie in Round 1 against 6-seed USC. They’re going to be a tough out if they can build a little more offensive momentum.

Now, let’s take a look at the headlines from the 16 vs. 16 matchups:

  • I don’t have much to say about the Texas Southern win over Mount St. Mary’s. If I’m being 100% honest with you, I didn’t watch a single second of either team this season before Thursday’s First Four matchup. But, if LSU guard Javonte Smart was watching, he probably noticed Texas Southern guard Michael Weathers’ shorts:

  • SEC fans have known Smart to wear some pretty short shorts during his time at LSU:

  • We’ll see if Smart tries to regain his short shorts title from Weathers on Saturday afternoon. Oh, and Texas Southern now advances to play Michigan in Round 1 on Saturday. Good luck!
  • Appalachian State went 0-for-18 from 3-point range in the first half against Norfolk State. Yes, that’s right — 0-for-18. They finished 6-for-36 (16.7%) from 3-point land. And yet, somehow, the Mountaineers still had a couple of chances to win at the buzzer:

  • So, now we’re 4 games into the NCAA Tournament, and 2 of them have been 1-possession games. One of the games that wasn’t a 1-possession game went to overtime. It’s already shaping up to be an exciting tournament! Enjoy it while you can!

Now, let’s move on to take a look at the games I’m most excited to watch during Round 1 of the tournament.

4. Outlet pass

There are 32 games on the schedule for Friday and Saturday. That’s a ton of exciting basketball. Here are the 5 games I can’t wait to watch:

  • 8-seed LSU vs. 9-seed St. Bonaventure (Saturday at 1:45 p.m. ET on TNT) — St. Bonaventure wants to keep the pace slow and play defense. LSU wants to do the exact opposite of that. We’ll see which team can impose its will. Winner gets to play Michigan, which I think is the most-vulnerable 1-seed in the tourney.
  • 4-seed Oklahoma State vs. 13-seed Liberty (Friday at 6:25 p.m. ET on TBS) — I wish Liberty would have been pitted against any of the other 4-seeds. But, I do think the Flames can keep it close. The problem? Cade Cunningham and the Cowboys are no stranger to winning close games. That experience pays off here.
  • 8-seed Loyola-Chicago vs. 9-seed Georgia Tech (Friday at 4 p.m. ET on CBS) — This game lost a bit of luster when it was revealed that Georgia Tech star Moses Wright wouldn’t be able to play. But, this should still be a good game. Take a look at Cameron Krutwig, the Ramblers’ big man. His mustache will be a fan favorite this tournament.
  • 8-seed Oklahoma vs. 9-seed Mizzou (Saturday at 7:25 p.m. ET on TNT) — Like a fool, I’m excited for another Mizzou game. I wish De’Vion Harmon, Oklahoma’s second-leading scorer, wasn’t out, though. You always want both teams at full strength in the NCAA Tournament. It’s more fun that way. Mizzou has no excuse to lose this game now, though, which means it’ll probably find a way to pull defeat from the jaws of victory.
  • 1-seed Illinois vs. 16-seed Drexel (Friday at 1:15 p.m. ET on TBS) — I hope this won’t be too close on the scoreboard, but it makes the list because I picked Illinois to win it all. You always want to keep an eye on your champion to make sure they not only make it through Round 1, but look good doing it. We’ll see how the Illini fare against the Dragons.

This is the most exciting weekend of the tournament, in my opinion. There are games on all day, and this is when the upsets happen. Enjoy as many games as you possibly can! I know I will.

5. Buzzer beaters

Now, let’s answer a couple of random questions before we get out of here to enjoy a weekend full of college basketball:

Who is your favorite player in this year’s NCAA tournament?

It’s probably an Illinois guy. Up until recently, I would have said Ayo Dosunmu. But, in recent weeks, his own teammate, Andre Curbelo, might have usurped his throne. Curbelo is instant energy off the Illinois bench. He makes some silly turnovers sometimes, but he can create his own shot, make plays in the clutch, toss some dazzling passes and hit free throws. I’d also say to keep an eye on USC big man Evan Mobley and Baylor’s Jared Butler. I’m a big fan of those guys as well.

Do you prefer the CBS college basketball theme song or “Roundball Rock,” which FOX is using now?

That’s a tough one. Obviously, the CBS song has always reminded me of March Madness, and that’s a big plus. But, “Roundball Rock” has been a nice addition to FOX’s coverage, and it used to be the “NBA on NBC” theme song, so I have a lot of great memories of watching Michael Jordan play games aired on NBC to that theme song. But, it’s March right now, so give the edge to the CBS song! March Madness, all the way!

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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.