Starting 5: Top teams earn narrow wins, Duke goes down, Indiana has balanced victory
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. Opening tipoff
Alabama made a huge mistake at the beginning of Saturday afternoon’s game at Mizzou.
Wanting to spark his defense to play better, coach Nate Oats had the Tide come out in a zone defense. That didn’t go well. Before you could blink, Mizzou had a 9-0 lead.
The Tigers simply stuck Kobe Brown in the middle of the zone and let him go to work. He had 6 of the Tigers’ first 9 points, as you can see below:
Alabama made a HUGE mistake coming out in a zone look on Saturday vs. Mizzou.
Credit to the Tigers for putting Kobe Brown in the middle and letting him go to work.
He had 6 of the first 9 Mizzou points by terrorizing the middle of the zone: pic.twitter.com/V4pW2JhCQt
— Adam Spencer (@AdamSpencer4) January 10, 2022
The zone wasn’t the only problem, of course. When you lose the opponent’s best player on a simple screen like this, defense is a huge issue:
This possession is a worrying sign for Alabama’s defense.
You absolutely can’t lose Kobe Brown on a screen. Too easy: pic.twitter.com/bvuyxsGGdG
— Adam Spencer (@AdamSpencer4) January 10, 2022
Even with those defensive struggles, the Tide made a game of it in the second half, but this steal (started by who else but Kobe Brown?) helped Mizzou seal the win:
GORDON WITH THE STEAL pic.twitter.com/OJ52nThrvH
— Mizzou Hoops (@MizzouHoops) January 8, 2022
That’s obviously a bad loss for Alabama, but the Tide still have wins over 2 of last year’s Final 4 teams in Gonzaga and Houston. They’ll play No. 4 Auburn on Tuesday night. Can they pull off another big win? We’ll find out soon enough! More on that game at the end of the column.
2. SEC notes
Auburn is the standout best team in the SEC so far this year, and the polls reflect that. In Monday’s AP Poll, the Tigers jumped all the way up to the No. 4 spot after an impressive 85-73 win over Florida on Saturday night.
Auburn blocked 9 shots in that game. Yes, the Tigers are an elite offensive team, but the defense, particularly in the post, deserves plenty of credit, too.
The Tigers have blocked 122 shots this year, which is by far the most in the country:
It’s not even close. Lead the country in blocks by a good margin. Walker is 70th on this list by himself btw. Just absurd 😂 pic.twitter.com/wFDjfvpOZ9
— Crootin’ Finger Fan Club Auburn Barstool (@WarDamnStool) January 9, 2022
Walker Kessler is the catalyst there. He’s a massive presence in the lane, blocking 62 shots on his own already this season. That’s a ridiculous number.
Then, of course, there’s the offense. The Tigers have so many guys who can beat you on any given night. Wendell Green Jr. consistently does things like this:
— Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) January 9, 2022
And KD Johnson is one of the best heat-check scorers in all of college hoops. He had 23 points vs. the Gators:
— Auburn 🏀 Clips (@AU_BBALL_CLIPS) January 9, 2022
This team is absolutely deserving of the No. 4 spot in the AP Poll, and with a game at rival Alabama coming up Tuesday night, the Tigers have another chance to add a big win to their resume. More on that game in a bit.
- The problems at Arkansas continue. The Hogs are now 0-3 in SEC play after losing at Texas A&M on Saturday. The Aggies continue to be a surprise team, and Quenton Jackson has a lot to do with that. He’s the one who hit this dagger against Arkansas to seal the Aggies’ win:
now THIS is tough 😤
— Texas A&M Basketball (@aggiembk) January 8, 2022
- He’s comfortable with the ball in his hands in tough situations. That’s a good trait to have. We’ll see if he can keep being clutch as the year goes on.
- South Carolina escaped with a 72-70 win on Saturday afternoon in Nashville. The Gamecocks did that by limiting Scotty Pippen Jr. for most of the game and forcing him into 7 turnovers. This last possession of the game was an absolute disaster, as Pippen couldn’t even get a shot off:
— No Context College Basketball (@ContextFreeCBB) January 8, 2022
- Credit Frank Martin for great game planning for this game. Keep Pippen working hard and make the rest of the team beat you. That led to a Gamecocks’ victory, and it makes South Carolina a tough team to take down in SEC play.
- Tennessee became the latest team to fall to LSU and the Tigers’ elite defense. LSU is now 2-1 in SEC play with wins over Kentucky and Tennessee and only a loss to Auburn on its resume. That’s not bad at all! Meanwhile, Rick Barnes is calling out senior John Fulkerson in the media:
Rick Barnes on John Fulkerson's play after the LSU game 🔊 #Vols
"We need John Fulkerson to help us. If not, he needs to step aside. We need him." pic.twitter.com/qSG7DnAfMK
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) January 9, 2022
- To me, that’s a bad look for Barnes. Handle that stuff in house, not in the media. We’ll see how Fulkerson responds moving forward, but that’s not a very classy thing for Barnes to say about a guy who has given as much to Tennessee as Fulkerson has.
Now, let’s move on to some Big Ten stories.
3. B1G notes
Winning on the road in the Big Ten is never easy. The league is so deep that even teams toward the bottom of the league standings are dangerous on their home courts.
Purdue and Wisconsin, a pair of the Big Ten’s top teams, found that out this weekend. Purdue trailed in the first half before coming back to beat Penn State 74-67. Wisconsin, meanwhile, nearly blew a 21-point lead at Maryland before holding on for a 70-69 win.
The Nittany Lions held Purdue star Jaden Ivey to only 12 points, but big man Trevion Williams saved the day off the bench. He had 21 points and 9 rebounds and was hitting tough shots all day:
Trevion Williams 💪 💪
— Barstool Bench Mob (@stoolbenchmob) January 8, 2022
He’s also an able and willing passer, putting up 2 assists, including this beautiful one:
— The Scouting Rapport (@ScoutingRapport) January 8, 2022
Purdue was much better on Saturday when Williams was on the floor.
Meanwhile, Tyler Wahl made sure Wisconsin wouldn’t lose, scoring a career-high 21 points and showcasing some nice post moves:
Ajustada victoria de Wisconsin @BadgerMBB frente a Maryland @TerrapinHoops (7⃣0⃣-6⃣9⃣). En esta ocasión, el máximo anotador de los Badgers fue Tyler Wahl, quien anotó 21 puntos, récord de su carrera universitaria. pic.twitter.com/DUXzsx6vpe
— Planeta NCAA (@PlanetaNCAA) January 10, 2022
Big Ten Player of the Year contender Johnny Davis also stayed hot, racking up 19 points and 7 rebounds for the Badgers. Now, Wisconsin hosts Ohio State later this week. More on that game in a bit.
- Indiana remained unbeaten at home this weekend with a 73-60 win over Minnesota. I’ve been impressed with the balance the Hoosiers have shown in their wins this year. Yes, Trayce Jackson-Davis is the team leader, putting up 13 points and 12 boards in the win. But he was 1 of 5 Hoosiers in double figures against the Gophers. Xavier Johnson led the way with 14 points, Rob Phinisee had 13, Parker Stewart had 12 and Race Thompson added 10. A B1G win is good, no matter who it is against. The Hoosiers are at Iowa and at Nebraska for their next 2 games. Those are going to be important for their NCAA Tournament resume. If they can stay balanced on offense, they should win both.
- Ron Harper Jr. and Rutgers continue to be a lot of fun to watch. In a 93-65 win over Nebraska over the weekend, Harper had 29 points to lead the Scarlet Knights. He went 3-for-6 from 3-point range and knocked down all 10 of his free throws, in addition to plenty of nice shots in the paint:
29 PTS for one of our favorite 2nd round sleepers in Ron Harper Jr. Strong-bodied, good shooter, effective off the bounce, finishes w/ both hands — he's so damn versatile
Caught fire from 3 in the second half to break the game open. Shooting 43.7% from deep this year pic.twitter.com/MfLEiazZ5k
— The Box and One (@TheBoxAndOne_) January 9, 2022
- Rutgers is 3-1 in B1G play with games at Penn State and at Maryland next. Win both of those, and all of a sudden the Knights are in NCAA Tournament contention. We’ll see what happens!
Next, let’s move on to the ACC.
4. ACC notes
The Miami Hurricanes were a feel-good story, starting ACC play 4-0. But, surely, a Saturday trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on then-No. 2 Duke would bring them back down to earth, right? … Right?
The Hurricanes pulled off one of the most surprising wins of the year, taking down the Blue Devils 76-74. This basket from Kameron McGusty clinched the win for Miami:
🚨 UPSET ALERT 🚨
Miami knocks off No. 2 Duke 76-74 with this late bucket from Kameron McGusty 😱🔥
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) January 9, 2022
At first glance, it would look like Duke won the game, as the Blue Devils out shot and out rebounded the Hurricanes. Duke shot 45.8% from the floor to Miami’s 45.7%. Duke had the edge in 3-point shooting (28.6% to 25%) and free throw shooting (82.4% to 72.7%). The Blue Devils had 44 rebounds and 19 assists to the Hurricanes’ 30 and 8.
But, this was a game decided by turnovers. Duke coughed the ball up 17 times, compared to only 5 for Miami. That ball security led to more Miami possessions ending in shots, which is imperative in a tough road game.
Now, shockingly, it’s Miami atop the ACC standings at 5-0 (13-3 overall). The Hurricanes play at Florida State on Tuesday night before hosting North Carolina this weekend. Speaking of UNC:
- The Tar Heels got back on track after a loss to Notre Dame last week. Armando Bacot is my current choice for ACC Player of the Year, and he added to his resume in a 74-58 rout of Virginia on Saturday, putting up 29 points and a whopping 21 rebounds. Those are Oscar Tshiebwe-type numbers! It’s easy to see why Bacot is successful. He does so much work in the post before he even gets the ball:
Armando Bacot was dominant today 😤
74-58 W over Virginia
— SLAM University (@slam_university) January 8, 2022
- And he runs the floor in transition, leading to more easy slams:
The Brady Manek To Armando Bacot SHOWTIME Connection pic.twitter.com/kDUzdn71KQ
— Jarrod (@jhardy575) January 8, 2022
- The Cavaliers simply didn’t have the size to slow Bacot down. That’s going to be the case for a lot of teams during ACC play.
- Blake Wesley is a much-hyped freshman at Notre Dame, and he had perhaps his best game yet in the Irish’s 72-68 overtime win at Georgia Tech on Saturday. He scored 22 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, dished out 3 assists and added 3 steals in a great all-around performance. He showed why his draft stock is on the rise:
With three-level scoring potential, easy to see why Blake Wesley is one of the fastest risers on draft boards
Tremendous first step, long & cagey athleticism without sacrificing his feel, Wesley is cementing himself as a true first-round pick. 22 PTS, 7 REB, 3 AST in a road win pic.twitter.com/aBLhGYV4hS
— The Box and One (@TheBoxAndOne_) January 9, 2022
- Yes, Georgia Tech is bad this year, but the Irish continue to be a team no one wants to face in ACC play. They’re now 3-1 in league action and have a number of guys who can carry the offense. The Irish’s next to games are vs. Clemson and at Virginia Tech, both of which are winnable.
Now, let’s look ahead to the next few days of college hoops action.
5. Outlet pass
We’re in the heart of conference play now, and that means a loaded midweek schedule of games. From the SEC to the Big Ten to the Big 12 to the WCC, there are plenty of great games on the docket this week. Here are the 5 games I can’t wait to watch between now and Friday:
- No. 4 Auburn at No. 24 Alabama (Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN) – This will be the toughest test of the year so far for Auburn. Yes, Alabama has struggled in recent weeks, but this is a huge rivalry game and it is in Tuscaloosa. I expect both the Tide and Tigers to come out strong in this one.
- No. 16 Ohio State at No. 13 Wisconsin (Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2) – Ohio State owned Wisconsin in Columbus last month, winning 73-55. But, now the red-hot Badgers get a chance for some payback in Madison. Both of these teams have 4-1 records in B1G play, so the atmosphere should be electric.
- No. 19 Texas Tech at No. 1 Baylor (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2) – Texas Tech just beat Kansas in Lubbock, but hitting the road to take on undefeated No. 1 Baylor in Waco is an even more difficult task. Can the Bears avoid an upset and stay perfect? The Big 12 won’t be easy this year.
- No. 15 Iowa State at No. 9 Kansas (Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on Big 12 Network) – The Cyclones are only 1-2 in Big 12 play, but they had a tough start – vs. No. 1 Baylor, vs. a ranked Texas Tech team and at Oklahoma. Now, they travel to Kansas, which is another tough outing. We’ll see if they can get back on track against the Jayhawks.
- BYU at No. 2 Gonzaga (Thursday at 11 p.m. ET on ESPN2) – Gonzaga is an elite team, but the WCC actually has some teams that could challenge the Bulldogs this year. BYU is one of those teams. Can the Cougars pull off a stunning upset in Spokane? We’ll see what happens late Thursday night.
Now that the College Football Playoff is over, we can expect more big college hoops games showcased on more nights. It’s an exciting time to be a college basketball fan, and this week is just the start of a great stretch of conference action!
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.