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.

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1. Opening tipoff

No. 1 Auburn is unbeaten in SEC play no more! Arkansas needed overtime on Tuesday night in front of a record crowd at Bud Walton Arena, but the Hogs handed Auburn its second loss of the season, 80-76.

It was almost preordained, it seems, as a visiting No. 1-ranked team has never won at Bud Walton:

That’s an incredible stat, and the Hogs worked their tails off to make sure it continued on Tuesday night. JD Notae made a strong case for SEC Player of the Year consideration, doing something that hasn’t been done since a guy named Kevin Durant did it:

KD and JD. Anytime you’re mentioned in a sentence with Durant, you’ve done something special.

But, let’s also acknowledge Notae’s defense, shall we? You could argue this steal was the play of the game:

Jaylin Williams’ free-throw shooting also deserves consideration. He made 5 key free throws in overtime, even after getting smacked in the eye.

He finished with a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double, scoring some grown-man buckets in the paint against Auburn’s elite shot-blockers:

Oh, and he grabbed the game-clinching rebound, naturally.

Then, it was party time in Fayetteville. Of course coach Eric Musselman’s shirt came off. Even though he’s only a couple of weeks removed from shoulder surgery, he wasn’t going to miss this chance to celebrate with Arkansas students and fans:

No one, and I mean no one, wants to play the Hogs right now (especially not in Bud Walton Arena). But, and I can’t stress this enough … Saturday is when we’ll learn the most about Arkansas. Yes, you’ve slain the dragon that was No. 1 Auburn. But, now, the Hogs go to Tuscaloosa to face an Alabama team that just scored 97 points on Wednesday night.

Get a win in that environment to extend the winning streak to 10 games and this Arkansas team is all of a sudden a Final Four contender like last year’s squad was.

2. SEC notes

Now, let’s discuss Auburn coming off Tuesday night’s loss. Is it time to panic on The Plains?

No. Far from it, in fact. This isn’t to discredit Arkansas at all, as everyone is dealing with injuries and guys being banged up this time of year. But, you have to think if Zep Jasper, one of the best on-ball defenders in the entire country, wasn’t sick, he’d have held Notae to fewer than 28 points.

Arkansas still could have won the game, of course, but Auburn can take comfort knowing it wasn’t at full-strength on Tuesday night.

However, something the Tigers can’t take comfort in is their free-throw shooting. I’m sure coach Bruce Pearl has already let his guys know that 8-for-17 from the charity stripe is unacceptable for an unranked team, let alone the No. 1 team in the nation.

But, the Tigers are still No. 3 in the SEC in free-throw percentage at 73.2%, behind Arkansas and Georgia (tied at 74.2%). I’m going to chalk Tuesday night’s struggles up to an off-game (and the insane atmosphere at Bud Walton Arena).

Finally, I’m encouraged by this stretch I saw from Jabari Smith Jr.:

Those are 2 insane 3-pointers. The degree of difficulty on those shots is sky-high, but Smith made them look easy, keeping the Tigers in the game late in overtime. It wasn’t enough for them to come all the way back, but if he continues to be more aggressive in late-game situations, Auburn will be better for it.

I wouldn’t want to be Texas A&M right now. The Aggies head to Auburn Arena on Saturday. ESPN’s College GameDay is in town and the rabid Auburn fan base will be rooting for their team to get back to its winning ways.

  • Alabama followed up a 3-for-30 performance from 3-point range against Kentucky on Saturday in a home loss with a 14-for-22 night from long range on Wednesday night at Ole Miss. Naturally, the Tide won, 97-83. Jaden Shackelford led the charge, scoring a career-high 30 points and making a whopping 8-of-13 3s:

  • When Alabama’s offense is firing like that, the Tide can beat anyone. But, that doesn’t mean this was an elite all-around performance. The Tide allowed Jarkel Joiner to score 33 points. With a very important game coming up against Arkansas on Saturday, JD Notae is going to be a major problem if the Alabama backcourt can’t put forth a better effort defensively.
  • Kennedy Chandler is developing a killer instinct, and that’s scary. He and Josiah-Jordan James led the Vols with 18 points apiece in Wednesday’s hard-fought 72-63 win over Mississippi State. Chandler also had 5 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 assists. But, he’s getting more comfortable getting to the rim and finishing in traffic, which is what makes him elite:

  • That move is almost unstoppable. You’d better have a good rim protector back there once he blows by his defender. But, if you over-help on him, he is also capable of dishing out some impressive dimes. Tennessee has 7 regular-season games left and 4 of them are against Kentucky, Auburn and Arkansas (twice). We’ll see if the Vols can keep picking up big wins.
  • No team outside of Arkansas was happier with the Razorbacks’ win on Tuesday than Kentucky. Now, after the Wildcats took care of business on Tuesday night with an 86-76 win at South Carolina, they’re only a game out of first place in the SEC regular-season standings. And, they’re playing some elite basketball. Sahvir Wheeler has only scored 14 points in the last 4 games, but he’s made sure the offense keeps humming along, dishing out an impressive 35 assists in those 4 contests. His picture-perfect passes have helped Davion Mintz and Kellan Grady light it up from 3-point range. Grady and Mintz combined to go 5-for-11 from beyond the arc on Tuesday night, and Wheeler assisted on nearly all of their makes:

  • That’s the sign of a great leader – impacting a game in a positive way even when your own shot isn’t falling (Wheeler is 0-for-17 from the floor in his last 3 games). If he can get his own offensive game back on track, watch out!

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

3. B1G notes

No. 3 Purdue picked up a big home win over No. 13 Illinois on Tuesday night, cruising to an easy 84-68 victory to sweep the season series over the Illini. Last time, the Boilermakers needed overtime to beat the Illini in Champaign.

What changed on Tuesday night (other than a raucous home crowd at Mackey Arena)? Well, I’ll let Illinois coach Brad Underwood say it for me:

Strong words from the Illini coach, but he’s absolutely not wrong. Jaden Ivey torched Illinois for 26 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds on Tuesday night. He was nearly unstoppable in the pick-and-roll game:

Those weren’t easy shots, but he was knocking them down with consistency. Let’s go back to Underwood for some more analysis on Ivey:

Yeah, based on that above video, Ja Morant is a pretty accurate comparison, and it’s why Ivey’s play has elevated him into the top 5 of the 2022 NBA Draft, according to many analysts. But, lest you think he’s only a scorer, here’s a video of him dropping 4 of his 6 dimes against Illinois:

That last assist is the scariest of the bunch, because it shows just how much Ivey knows the game and where everyone else is on the court. He’s hitting his stride right now, and that’s a concerning thought for the teams remaining on Purdue’s schedule.

A 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament is still very much in play for Purdue, even after Thursday’s loss at Michigan. (And yes, I wrote all this prior to Purdue’s loss at Michigan late on Thursday night. Hey, I like to spend time with my family just like y’all do. But, as we saw with Auburn on Tuesday night, sometimes top teams lose. Ivey still had a good night and continues to look like a top-5 pick. The Boilermakers will learn and grow from this.)

  • Rutgers is very much back in the NCAA Tournament picture after squeaking out a 66-64 win over a ranked Ohio State team on Wednesday night in New Jersey. With 2:30 left in the game and Rutgers on the ropes, Caleb McConnell saved the day, swatting this shot to keep the Buckeyes at 64 points:

  • Let’s look at that LeBron James-esque block one more time, shall we?

  • Then, Geo Baker took over, scoring 4 of Rutgers’ final 6 points as the Scarlet Knights came back to win. He was on fire all night, leading all scorers with 25 points. He was making tough shots like this:

  • Ron Harper Jr. only had 6 points on 1-for-8 shooting, but Rutgers still managed to win. That’s huge for this team’s confidence moving forward.
  • Is there a player in the entire country with more confidence than Johnny Davis of Wisconsin right now? I sure hope not. That would be too much confidence. Davis went into East Lansing and led the Badgers to a big-time road win against Michigan State, 70-62, on Tuesday. He led all scorers with 25 points, and he was 8-for-11 from the floor. Look at these shots. There’s not an easy shot in the bunch:

  • He also had to deal with a torn jersey during the game, switching to No. 51 to finish things off:

  • After the win, he sent a message to the Spartans, something Tom Izzo’s crew is sure to remember:

  • We’ll see if the Spartans and Badgers meet again in the Big Ten Tournament. Sparks should fly if that’s the case!
  • Indiana lost at Northwestern 59-51 on Tuesday night. That’s a bad loss, yes, but the Hoosiers were playing with only 7 scholarship players. Reserves Tamar Bates, Michael Durr and Khristian Lander, as well as starters Xavier Johnson and Parker Stewart did not play due to a curfew issue. Rob Phinisee also didn’t play while dealing with a foot injury. Coach Mike Woodson said all the suspended players will be back on Saturday against Michigan State:

  • Losing to Northwestern definitely hurts the Hoosiers’ tournament resume. But, Woodson clearly wants to send a message to his players. We’ll see if that ends up helping the team in the long run.

Next, let’s take a look at the ACC.

4. ACC notes

Don’t look now, but Notre Dame is sitting atop the ACC standings at 10-3 (along with Duke) in conference action. A big part of that success is due to big man Paul Atkinson Jr. Even Jon Rothstein agrees:

Winning 14 of 17 in a row is something no one expected to see from the Irish this year. But, the Irish continue to get contributions from several players. They have a potential first-round pick in freshman Blake Wesley. They have a big man in Paul Atkinson Jr. who led the team with 17 points and 15 rebounds in this week’s 63-57 home win against Louisville:

Notre Dame is 10-1 at home. Four of the Irish’s last 7 games are in South Bend. Also, they don’t face any teams that are currently ranked.

This is quickly turning into a season that could be special for Mike Brey and the Irish!

  • North Carolina is on the bubble. That seems strange to say, considering the Tar Heels are 17-7 overall and 9-4 in ACC play. But, the ACC isn’t carrying the same cache it normally does. So, the Heels need to keep winning games. And, on Tuesday night, they managed an escape at Clemson. Check out this final play that gave UNC the 79-77 win:

  • Big props to Brady Manek for making the shot, but even bigger kudos go to Caleb Love. A lot of guys would have forced that shot, but Love made the smart basketball play and dished it to the trailing Manek, who was able to win the game for North Carolina. That’s a winning basketball play.
  • This was a really scary play in the Duke-Clemson game on Thursday night. Wendell Moore Jr. was undercut by David Collins of Clemson on a fast-break dunk attempt:

  • It’s Basketball 101 that you can’t undercut a player who is in the air like that. Collins was rightfully ejected from the game, but I was happy to see this moment between Collins and Coach K:

  • Yes, it was an awful play on Collins’ part, but it was a mistake. Mistakes happen, Collins was rightfully kicked out of the game, and thankfully, Moore appears to be OK. I thought this situation was handled very well all around.

Now, let’s take a look at the weekend’s top hoops games.

5. Outlet pass

Saturday’s going to be a late night for diehard college hoops fans on the East Coast! That’s because the top 2 games of the weekend are taking place in the Pacific time zone. Here are the 5 games I can’t wait to watch this weekend:

  1. No. 22 Saint Mary’s at No. 2 Gonzaga (Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN2) – This game used to be the one that decided the West Coast Conference title. Saint Mary’s has been a bit down the past couple of years, but the Gaels are back! Can they pull off a major upset of a team poised to become the No. 1 team in the nation on Monday?
  2. No. 12 UCLA at No. 21 USC (Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN) – Both of these teams are chasing Arizona atop the Pac-12 standings. So, not only is it a big Los Angeles rivalry, it’s absolutely critical for the conference standings. Can UCLA regain its Final Four form from last year down the stretch?
  3. Florida at No. 5 Kentucky (Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN) – Florida has positive momentum. That should be a good thing, right? Well, not for the Gators under Mike White. They have a habit of shooting themselves in the foot. However, losing at Rupp Arena against a team that is a legitimate title contender like Kentucky would be far from a “bad loss.”
  4. No. 20 Texas at No. 10 Baylor (Saturday at noon ET on ESPN2) – Baylor is half a game behind Kansas for the lead in the Big 12 standings. Texas is 1.5 games back, but holds a head-to-head win over the Jayhawks. The loser of this game will have a bigger hole to climb out of. The winner will be right there with Kansas.
  5. No. 24 UConn at No. 25 Xavier (Friday at 7 p.m. ET on FS1) – This is an important game, and not just because the loser will likely drop out of the top 25 on Monday. The loser will also fall into the bottom half of the Big East standings. That’ll make the road for that team much more difficult come conference tournament time. Expect Xavier fans to create quite an atmosphere on Friday night.

It’s crunch time for a number of elite teams. Conference regular-season titles are on the line, as are all-important byes in conference tournaments. Every game is super-important from here on out, so expect some tight games and some incredible atmospheres this weekend!

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.