Starting 5: Kentucky off to awful start, Marquette upsets Wisconsin and Mizzou continues to impress
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
OK, so, I’m getting a bit concerned about picking Kentucky to make it to the Final Four this year. I’m still feeling pretty good about Gonzaga, Baylor and Illinois, but the Wildcats are looking awful so far. Through 4 games, they’re an abysmal 1-3, with losses to Kansas (acceptable), Richmond (acceptable) and Georgia Tech (horrible). That’s their worst start since 2000.
Prior to the Yellow Jackets earning a blowout 79-62 win over the young Wildcats, they were 0-2 with losses to Mercer and Georgia Southern on their resume. Yikes.
I’ve talked about the Wildcats’ problems at length already this year, but what warrants more discussion is that nothing has changed. The Wildcats are still turning the ball over at an alarming rate and still looking like a team that just met 5 minutes before tipoff.
Now, to be fair, Kentucky is a completely new team from last season, with Keion Brooks Jr. the only player returning from last year who contributed even a single point. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on some of the younger teams, benefiting veteran squads (like Richmond, for example) that have worked together before this season.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats are trying to integrate a team of high school all-stars with some key transfers, and it isn’t going well.
As high as I am on freshman PG Devin Askew’s potential, it might be time to turn the starting point guard position over to Creighton transfer Davion Mintz. This stat alone makes that change worthwhile:
Among Kentucky's top six players, Davion Mintz is the ONLY dude with more assists (11) than turnovers (7) this season.
Devin Askew has played 113 minutes, third-most on the team, with 8 assists, 13 turnovers.
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) December 7, 2020
Plays like this are happening way too often this year:
Kentucky with 21 turnovers today. The zone kept them off balance. Devin Askew not sure, thinks he might get trapped, picks up his dribble while unguarded. Two pass possession. Moses Wright too strong for Olivier Sarr throughout. @KentuckyRivals pic.twitter.com/zh4DoICIXO
— David Sisk (@CoachDavidSisk) December 7, 2020
Why did Askew pick up his dribble? And where did Olivier Sarr think his teammates were when he was trying to pass out of the double team? There didn’t seem to be any communication at all. It wasn’t exactly hard to hear in the arena, as there were very limited fans.
Terrence Clarke had a good game offensively, scoring a game-high 22 points, but he also led the Wildcats with 4 turnovers, thanks in large part to decisions like this:
Another turnover that leads to a bunny. Georgia Tech trapped the corner the whole game. Should not be caught off guard. Clarke immediately puts ball over his head. Can’t put anything on the ball. A dying quail thrown across the floor. Easy steal & finish. @KentuckyRivals pic.twitter.com/dMIVjI6BVl
— David Sisk (@CoachDavidSisk) December 7, 2020
Under no circumstances should you heave a cross-court pass when you are double-teamed in the corner. That’s just a freshman mistake, but it is happening way too often. Even passes that should be simple, from Askew to a teammate, is a disaster:
This is a bad bounce pass from Devin Askew. Not a catchable ball. Hits his man in the shin from short range. It creates a transition opportunity for Georgia Tech. Even though it is a miss, it’s still a wide open three. @KentuckyRivals pic.twitter.com/myEvyXBDWU
— David Sisk (@CoachDavidSisk) December 7, 2020
Kentucky had 21 turnovers to only 6 for Georgia Tech. If you’re looking for why Kentucky lost, you have to start there.
The other criticism I’ve had for the Wildcats this year is their awful shooting. Well, that showed signs of life on Sunday night. Kentucky actually made 8 of its 19 3-point attempts (42.1%). John Calipari will take that every single game. And, the Wildcats made 10 of their 11 free throws. No, the volume of free throws isn’t where it needs to be, but the percentage certainly is.
Kentucky is set to play Notre Dame on Dec. 12 and Detroit Mercy on Dec. 15. How can the Wildcats turn things around in those games?
I’d make 2 big changes. First, make Mintz the primary ball-handler for a bit. He led the team with 6 assists on Sunday. Second, get Sarr a heck of a lot more than 4 shots. He should be averaging more than 4 shots per half, no matter the defense. He’s an impact player and needs to be used as such.
Can Cal get his guys back on track and right the ship before SEC play starts? We shall certainly see.
Now, let’s take a look at some more storylines from around the SEC.
2. Home-court advantage
In Monday’s AP Poll, only 1 SEC team was ranked. Tennessee checked in at No. 12, but the Vols have yet to play a game due to COVID-19 concerns. However, there are some SEC squads that deserve consideration for the rankings next week if they keep winning.
The first among those squads is Missouri. The Tigers are 3-0 with impressive wins over No. 21 Oregon in Omaha and a tough Wichita State team in Wichita.
They return a ton of talent, whether it’s Dru Smith, Mark Smith, Xavier Pinson, Mitchell Smith, Kobe Brown, Javon Pickett or Jeremiah Tilmon. Tilmon is the guy I want to talk about in this section, as he’s finally putting together the potential Mizzou has seen in him the past few years.
He’s dealt with foul problems during his Mizzou career, but this year, he’s managing to stay in games longer. He finished with 11 points and 9 rebounds in the win over Oregon. Then, against Wichita State, he finished with 7 points and 5 rebounds. He wasn’t as effective, but he still managed to make an impact:
— Mizzou Hoops (@MizzouHoops) December 6, 2020
Pinson only had 3 points against Wichita State, but the thing about this Mizzou team is that guys can have off nights because others will step up. Mark Smith was just named the SEC’s Player of the Week!
This is a deep, dangerous squad, and as long as Tilmon can give the Tigers a steady post presence and simply stay on the court, Mizzou will be a force to be reckoned with.
Now, let’s look at some more SEC stories:
- Georgia’s Sahvir Wheeler continues to impress. In 3 games, he has put up a double-double in all of them. His latest effort was a 21-point, 10-assist game against Jacksonville. He also threw this beautiful lob for a monstrous alley-oop:
Sahvir Wheeler is going to go down as the guy who resurrected this program. He’ll be 4 year guy and he will lead the Dawgs back to be IGA consistent tournament team pic.twitter.com/SnX0faYWCt
— Graham Coffey (@DawgOutWest) December 5, 2020
- Per the Georgia media folks, Wheeler is the first SEC player since at least 2000 with 3-straight points-assists double-doubles. Georgia might be better this year, even without Anthony Edwards.
- I wrote about Connor Vanover recently, but freshman Moses Moody might be the Razorbacks’ best player. He can score from anywhere on the court and is a solid rebounder:
In 4 games with #Arkansas Moses Moody is averaging 17.5 PPG on 37.5% 3PT% + 7.3 FTA per contest (86.2%) to go with 4.6 RPG, 1.9 SPG + 1.8 APG. The 6-6 + 18 y/o wing has been very aggressive in the early season. @DraftExpress will see if he can keep it up vs. better competition pic.twitter.com/3S0oJbLFQQ
— DraftExpressContent (@DXContent) December 7, 2020
- Arkansas is 4-0, and while the Hogs haven’t beaten any big-name opponents, this is an encouraging start for them after losing Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe, among others. Is Moody the next big thing? We’ll find out as Arkansas continues to play better opponents.
- Auburn might have its next great sharpshooter. That would be freshman Justin Powell, who scored 26 points in a 90-81 victory over South Alabama over the weekend. He shot 9 times, all from 3-point range, and made 7 of them. He also knocked down 5 of his 6 free throws. Here’s how quick he can release the ball:
Justin Powell was on fire last night. What I really liked was his feel for zone rotations. He set up most of his own looks by anticipating when the man covering his area of the perimeter would sink too hard and wait for the swing back in quick trigger position with clean footwork pic.twitter.com/bBYV3hJ1Wx
— Drew (@orangeanddrew) December 6, 2020
- Oh, and he also had 9 assists in that game. He is going to be fun to watch as he becomes more aggressive with his shot selection.
- Florida is 3-0, which I didn’t think I’d be writing after that season-opener against Army. But, here we are, and it’s thanks in large part to the faster style of play. It is working, and it is fun. And, transfer PG Tyree Appleby might be the best lob thrower in the SEC. Check out this one off the backboard to Scottie Lewis:
— Florida Gators Men’s Basketball (@GatorsMBK) December 7, 2020
- And this one to Omar Payne in traffic:
Watch ya head 😤😤😤
— Florida Gators Men’s Basketball (@GatorsMBK) December 6, 2020
- Those were 2 of Appleby’s 4 assists in the game. Talk about exciting. The Gators actually have a chance to beat No. 20 Florida State on Saturday. That will be a big game.
Now, let’s take a look at what’s happening around the rest of the college basketball landscape.
3. Road trip
The Wisconsin Badgers entered the Friday night’s game at Marquette as the No. 4 team in the country and a favorite of many to win the Big Ten. They returned almost all of their key contributors from last year.
Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles lost star guard Markus Howard and others from last year’s squad. Still, that didn’t stop the Golden Eagles from keeping things close against their in-state rivals.
Trailing 65-64 late, Ohio State transfer D.J. Carton stepped to the line with the chance to win. He hit the first shot, tying it up at 65-65. But, he missed the second one. Fortunately for Marquette, Justin Lewis was there to tip it in at the buzzer in epic fashion:
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) December 5, 2020
Lewis was incredible all game. The freshman scored 18 points and had 8 rebounds and 2 blocks off the bench. He also made that unbelievable game-winning play.
What did we learn? Wisconsin might have been overrated at No. 4. And, Marquette is a dangerous team even without Markus Howard. Watch out for the Golden Eagles!
Now, let’s take a look around the rest of the country:
- Villanova picked up one of the most impressive wins of the year, going into Texas and beating the Longhorns, who were fresh off a Maui Invitational championship. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is a special player. He finished the game with 19 points and 9 rebounds and was giving the Longhorns problems inside all game long. On the perimeter, Justin Moore was also busy scoring 19 points:
— Timeout (@Timeoxt) December 6, 2020
- But, the key to Villanova’s success will be Collin Gillespie. The point guard made some clutch free throws down the stretch. He’s the guy who will have the ball in his hands late, so as he goes, the Wildcats will go.
- Virginia lost to San Francisco earlier this year, and over the weekend, the Cavaliers needed overtime to take down Kent State. At first look the 71-64 final score makes it seem like the Hoos won comfortably enough, but it was actually 62-62 after Kent State knocked down this incredible 3 at the buzzer to send it to overtime:
Este triple sobre la bocina de Danny Pippen forzaba la prórroga de Kent State frente a Virginia. pic.twitter.com/p2F4oVt7He
— Planeta NCAA (@PlanetaNCAA) December 5, 2020
- The problem? Virginia’s offense just isn’t scaring anyone. The Cavaliers have to work so hard for each basket. Yes, that worked in 2019, when coach Tony Bennett led his team to the national title, but Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy and others aren’t walking through that door any time soon. When Kihei Clark, the point guard, is the player of the game with 14 points and only 3 assists, that’s a problem:
— Virginia Cavaliers (@VirginiaSports) December 5, 2020
- Unless things change and this offense becomes more dynamic, I don’t think this is a team that will finish in the top 3 in the ACC. We’ll see.
- I know I’m a Mizzou graduate, but how the heck is Kansas ranked No. 5 in this week’s AP Poll? Yes, I understand the Jayhawks are 3-1 with only a loss to No. 1 Gonzaga, but still. They barely beat a Kentucky team that is now unranked and struggled to take down North Dakota State over the weekend. And yet, they rose 2 spots in the poll! Are the voters even watching these games? Or, is every other team just awful? I have no idea what is happening with Kansas, but we’ll find out just how real the Jayhawks are this year when they host No. 8 Creighton on Tuesday night.
- On Saturday afternoon, I was excited to see No. 1 Gonzaga take on No. 2 Baylor in a potential title-game preview. Both the Bulldogs and the Bears look like Final Four squads. But, alas, the game was postponed on Saturday morning due to a COVID-19 issue with the Bulldogs. They’re going to try to make the game up, but it was a real bummer not to see it on Saturday.
- Finally, I just want to draw your attention to perhaps the craziest thing to take place in college basketball so far this year. With 44.8 seconds left in the first half, Ohio held a 46-25 lead over Cleveland State. By the 8:54 mark in the second half, the score was 86-25 in favor of Ohio. Yes, you read that right. A 40-0 run for the Bobcats spanning nearly 12 minutes of game time. Here’s every basket from that run:
— Ohio Men's Basketball (@OhioMBasketball) December 6, 2020
- I’ve never seen anything like that, and we might not see it again for a very long time. Simply incredible basketball from Ohio.
So, that’s the weekend that was across college basketball. Now, let’s look ahead to the next 3 days.
4. Outlet pass
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge and Big East-Big 12 Battle are taking place this week, so that’s where a lot of the top games will come from. It should be a ton of fun. Here are the 5 games I can’t wait to watch between today and Friday:
- No. 6 Illinois at No. 10 Duke (Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) — Michigan State went into Cameron Indoor Stadium last week and won. Can the Illini do the same thing to get back on track after a tough loss to Baylor?
- No. 16 North Carolina at No. 3 Iowa (Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) — No one has had an answer for Iowa’s Luka Garza yet. North Carolina has some size to throw at him, though, so we’ll see if the Tar Heels can at least make this game interesting in the final 5 minutes.
- No. 8 Creighton at No. 5 Kansas (Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN) — I still maintain that Kansas is overrated at No. 5. As mentioned earlier, the Jayhawks barely beat North Dakota State! I think this has upset written all over it, as the Blue Jays might be the superior bird this year.
- No. 4 Michigan State at No. 18 Virginia (Wednesday at 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN) — The Spartans have another chance to go on the road and beat a ranked ACC squad. Considering the Cavaliers needed overtime to beat Kent State over the weekend, Michigan State certainly has a good chance to pull off the upset.
- Colorado at No. 12 Tennessee (Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET on SECN+) — Finally, we’re expected to get our first look at this year’s Tennessee squad! The Vols are currently the only SEC team ranked in the AP Poll.
It’s awesome to still have these inter-conference showcases on the schedule in 2020. When the calendar flips to January 2021, we still have the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, too. For now, though, these games will keep us entertained!
5. Buzzer beaters
Now, let’s answer a couple of random questions before we get out of here for the day.
What is the best conference in college basketball this year?
Well, as mentioned above, it’s not the SEC, with only 1 ranked team. Most years, the ACC and Big 12 are among the deepest leagues in the nation, but this year could be a down year for both conferences. Yes, Baylor is a Final Four contender and Kansas is solid, but the rest of the Big 12 doesn’t have the depth it used to. Meanwhile, the ACC has 6 ranked teams, but none of them seem elite at this point. Thus, the answer is the Big Ten. Iowa has 1 of the best players in the country in Luka Garza. Illinois is a strong team. Wisconsin lost to Marquette, but is still a contender. And Michigan State has the best win of the bunch, taking down Duke on the road. It’s going to be an exciting year in the B1G!
What is the best Pringles flavor?
On the official Pringles website, jalapeño is the top-rated flavor. I do like jalapeño, but it’s not my favorite. There are a bunch listed that I’ve never had, including rotisserie chicken. I mean, seriously? I’m now intrigued by those, but I doubt they’d be my favorites. Give me sour cream & onion, all day. That’s the answer.
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.