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

First of all, a huge welcome back to Dick Vitale, who called Tuesday night’s game between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA. It was his first broadcast since being diagnosed with cancer and going through chemo.

Love him or hate him (I fall in the former category), you can’t deny the man’s passion for the game of basketball. This was an incredible moment before the game tipped off:

Games just feel more important with Dickie V on the call.

As for this game, though, it was soon obvious that Gonzaga was the better team. The Zags might not be as deep as they were last year, but this team is still insanely talented. Drew Timme is perhaps the frontrunner for the National Player of the Year award at this point. Freshman big man Chet Holmgren looks like a top-2 pick in the NBA Draft. Meanwhile, former Florida PG Andrew Nembhard has become a superstar for the Bulldogs.

Nembhard finished with a game-high 24 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Oh, and he also broke 2 ankles:

Holmgren is what makes this team so dangerous, though. He can do anything on the court. He can shoot 3s, he can dribble, he has post moves and he plays solid defense:

This sequence shows just how special he is. He blocks a shot on one end of the floor, dribbles up the court, goes behind his back, gets into the lane and finishes with a slam:

It’s simply not fair that a big man can do all those things so well. He still has plenty of room to improve, too, which is a scary thought.

Gonzaga came up short against Baylor in the title game last year, but if we learned anything in this 83-63 win over No. 2 UCLA on Tuesday night, it’s that the Zags are, by far, the best team in the country this year.

There’s no Baylor to challenge the Bulldogs this year. We’ll see if Gonzaga can pull off another top-5 win on Friday (against Duke, more on that later), but there’s a good chance this team makes it through this regular season undefeated, too.

2. SEC notes

It’s still early in the season. Let’s get that out of the way now. Still plenty of time for things to change, but …

I love this Florida Gators team. They’re fun to watch. They have great personalities. And, unlike some of Mike White’s other teams, they win. Consistently.

The Gators are now the champions of the Fort Myers Tip-Off, and the 71-68 win over Ohio State on Wednesday night came in dramatic fashion. As you can see below, point guard Tyree Appleby drained a long 3 at the buzzer to give the Gators the win:

Appleby’s teammates shoved him pretty hard into a courtside table during the celebration. I’d recommend avoiding that in the future, but Appleby probably didn’t feel anything at all in that moment with all the adrenaline running through his system.

Speaking of adrenaline, there was plenty of that on the Gators’ radio broadcast. You have to listen to this great call of the game-winner:

Appleby also had a clutch assist to CJ Felder late in the second half to keep the Gators in the game:

Speaking of Felder, Florida analyst Eric Fawcett points out that the big man has some solid +/- numbers:

You’d better believe Mike White and his staff will notice those numbers and get Felder some more minutes moving forward.

Finally, let’s give Colin Castleton some more credit. He’s a great scorer and rebounder, but his passing doesn’t get enough love. This is incredible court vision:

This team is rolling right now. We’ll see how long the Gators can keep the good times going as nonconference season continues.

  • Another SEC team that won a tourney title this week was Arkansas. The Hogs took down Kansas State and Cincinnati en route to winning the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. The 73-67 win over the Bearcats in the title game was an absolute slugfest. The reason the Hogs won is simple — physicality on the glass. The Hogs out-rebounded Cincinnati 46-32. But, even more impressive was Arkansas’s work on the offensive boards. The Hogs held an 18-6 advantage in offensive rebounds. Heck, Au’Diese Toney had 6 offensive boards himself. Look at how tough he was playing even among taller players:

  • Toney also finished with a team-high 19 points. That’s thanks in large part to him simply knowing where to be on the court:

  • Toney stepped up when his team needed him the most. And, now, the Hogs have a trophy to put in their trophy case. What a game for the Hogs, who remain unbeaten.
  • Auburn lost a 115-109 double-overtime thriller to No. 22 UConn to start the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Wednesday, but it was an impressive game nonetheless. Everyone is buzzing about freshman sensation Jabari Smith Jr., and it’s easy to see why when he can do things like this:

  • But, I want to make sure KD Johnson gets his due. He led the Tigers on Wednesday with 27 points. And, he wasn’t shy with the ball in his hands in clutch situations. This sent the game to the first overtime:

  • Then, in double overtime, he did this:

  • The wheels fell off for Auburn a bit after that big shot, but it was still an impressive showing. Then, to watch them bounce back 24 hours later and beat a tough Loyola Chicago squad made me an even bigger believer in the Tigers. Smith had a team-high 14 points, and it seems he’s found his go-to move:

  • Also, I’d be crazy not to mention Walker Kessler, who posted double-doubles in both games. The Tigers will finish their time in the Bahamas on Friday. When they get back to the States, they’ll continue to be a very dangerous team to face.
  • There’s reason to be concerned about Alabama now. The Tide lost their opener in Orlando to Iona. Yes, Iona is a good team. Yes, Rick Pitino is a great coach. But, there’s no excuse for the Tide simply being outplayed. The Gaels didn’t do anything spectacular. They just grinded out the win. Alabama’s defense was fine, allowing Iona to shoot only 4-for-21 from 3-point range. It was just a weird game from Nate Oats’ team. But, with games against Gonzaga, Memphis, Baylor, Houston and others remaining on the nonconference schedule, it’ll be interesting to see how the Tide respond.
  • Finally in this section, I want to give a shout out to the Texas A&M Aggies. What a performance from Buzz Williams’ team in the Maui Invitational in Las Vegas this week! After losing to eventual champion Wisconsin in the first round, the Aggies bounced back to beat both Butler and Notre Dame, claiming 5th place. That’s not a bad finish for a squad I didn’t expect to do much this year. Williams is doing a heck of a job with this team so far. We’ll see if that continues as nonconference play goes on.

Now, let’s move on to the B1G and see what’s happening this week.

3. B1G notes

Every year, we talk about a team that gets the “Maui Bump” from winning the Maui Invitational. Well, this year, that team is the Wisconsin Badgers.

The bracket for this year’s tournament, which was played in Las Vegas, not Maui, absolutely did not go as people expected, as Oregon imploded in horrific fashion. Houston, the other favorite to reach the title game, also lost.

That set up a title game matchup of Wisconsin vs. Saint Mary’s. The Gaels and Badgers both play a slow, physical style of basketball, and that made for a low-scoring championship game.

Wisconsin only had 4 assists in the title game. Four assists. That’s not a typo. That’s just silly. The Badgers shot 37.5% from the floor, went 3-for-12 from 3-point range and still managed to beat the Gaels 61-55.

How did the Badgers pull that off? Well, budding superstar Johnny Davis wouldn’t let his team lose. All the shots he makes in this clip are with his team behind:

And, to put an exclamation point on the win, he grabbed the game-winning rebound. He finished with a team-high 20 points and 7 rebounds (and 1 of the Badgers’ 4 assists). That’s a gritty player.

  • Game-winning alley-oop? Game-winning alley-oop!

  • That was how Michigan State won a hard-fought game against a tough Loyola Chicago squad. That’s Tyson Walker lobbing to Marcus Bingham Jr. That’s a gutsy pass and a heck of a play. This is looking like one of those classic Michigan State teams that simply finds ways to win. The Spartans’ only loss so far this year was to Kansas, and the Jayhawks look like title contenders. Their reward? A date with the reigning champs, Baylor, in the Battle 4 Atlantis title game. That’s going to be a lot of fun!

Now, let’s move on to the ACC and the rest of the country.

4. ACC notes/random tidbits

We’ve discussed how this is looking like it could be a down year for the ACC. Virginia is down. North Carolina is good, not great. Every team besides Duke (the league’s legitimate national title contender) and Wake Forest has at least 1 loss.

Syracuse was supposed to be 1 of the ACC’s top teams, but now the Orange are struggling mightily, too. Yes, they beat Arizona State on Thanksgiving night, but the Sun Devils are also a struggling squad.

What’s the issue with Jim Boeheim’s crew this year? It’s simple, really. In a loss to VCU in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Orange got exactly 0 points in 36 minutes from their bench players. Buddy Boeheim (20 points) and Jimmy Boeheim (17) combined for 37 points, but it took them 30 shots to get there.

Is this the Boeheim Basketball Showcase, or is this a team with real NCAA Tournament hopes? Because, right now, it’s looking like the former. Boeheim’s sons are solid basketball players, but are they going to win a lot if those 2 combine for 30 shots a game? My guess is no.

In a 92-84 win over Arizona State on Thursday, the Boeheims combined for 34 points on 27 shots. Slightly better, I guess. But the bench scored exactly 2 points in only 17 minutes. This team is going to be worn out by the time ACC play starts.

Will the Fighting Boeheims be able to make a run this year? I have my doubts.

  • Pitt and coach Jeff Capel are an abysmal 2-3 on the season. And, in their most recent game, the Panthers were blown out in Pittsburgh by … Vanderbilt. You don’t want to lose at home to the Commodores, but that’s what the Panthers did, falling 68-52. The difference? Pitt made only 2 of its 15 3-point tries. Vanderbilt shot 10-for-25 from beyond the arc. It might be time to wonder if Capel’s seat is heating up a bit at Pitt.
  • Florida State was a team I was high on, even after a road loss to the rival Florida Gators. But, after Wednesday night’s escape against Boston (Boston, not Boston College), I’m cooling off on the Seminoles. You don’t want to go to overtime at home against a mid-major team like the Terriers. You certainly don’t want to be trailing them in overtime with time winding down. Fortunately for the Noles, freshman Matthew Cleveland was in the right spot for this put-back layup to give FSU a win:

  • It’s always better to learn from an ugly win rather than an ugly loss, but that’s not a good look for FSU, which was coming off an absolute beatdown of Mizzou in its previous game. We’ll see if this was a blip or a sign of troubles to come.
  • We discussed Michigan State earlier, but I want to give a special shoutout to UConn player Tyrese Martin. He injured his left wrist against Auburn, but didn’t miss this game less than 24 hours later. All he did was play a team-high 36 minutes and finish with 16 points and 12 rebounds. What a warrior. Look at this insane athleticism. He blocks a shot, snags the ball in traffic and finishes with a powerful jam in transition:

  • Here’s another incredible transition dunk:

  • And, when you’re dealing with a wrist injury, why not just use your good hand on ridiculous put-back slams?

  • Tyrese Martin has himself a new fan. UConn, even with this loss, looks like it could be an Elite 8 squad this season.

Now, let’s take a look at the busy weekend of college hoops action.

5. Outlet pass

Here are the 5 games I’m most excited to watch over the holiday weekend. Once again, I’ll note that I’m not including tournament matchups that haven’t been finalized yet, but I’m sure there will be plenty of intriguing games there, too! Keep an eye on these games:

  1. No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 5 Duke (Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) — Gonzaga mowed down No. 5 Texas earlier this year. It blew out No. 2 UCLA on Tuesday night. Do the Bulldogs have another top-5 victory in them in Las Vegas on Friday night? Or, will Paolo Banchero and company prove to be too much for Mark Few’s crew to handle?
  2. No. 6 Baylor vs. Michigan State (Friday at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN) — Credit to Baylor. The Bears haven’t shown signs of slowing down at all despite losing Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague and Mark Vital from last year’s national championship-winning squad. But the Spartans are gaining confidence with each game they play. This should be a fun title game in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
  3. No. 18 BYU at Utah (Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Network) — No matter what sport is being played, these 2 schools are going to be intense. They’re both undefeated entering this game, too, which ups the stakes even more. BYU looks like the biggest challenger to No. 1 Gonzaga in the WCC. Can the Cougars pick up this resume-bolstering victory over a heated rival?
  4. No. 25 Xavier vs. Virginia Tech (Friday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU) — Xavier is ranked off the strength of a win over Ohio State. But, the Musketeers lost their first game in the NIT Tip-Off Tournament in Brooklyn. It was a bad loss to Iowa State. Now, we’ll see if they can bounce back against a feisty Virginia Tech squad.
  5. Iowa at Virginia (Monday at 7p.m. ET on ESPN2) — This is the first game of this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Hawkeyes are undefeated, while the Cavaliers have struggled so far this year. However, this game is in Charlottesville, so you never know if the Hoos are going to be able to pull off some magic. It should, at the very least, be a competitive opener to the always-exciting cross-conference challenge.

Those are some high-quality games, but they have a lot to live up to if they’re going to match this past week’s slate of games! We’ll see if they live up to the billing over the next few days.

Enjoy the Starting 5? Have a question? Want to yell at me about something? Follow me on Twitter @AdamSpencer4 or email me at [email protected]