Starting 5: Auburn survives the Tide, Arkansas embarrasses Mizzou, Florida’s struggles continue
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
With No. 1 Baylor losing at home against Texas Tech on Tuesday night (more on that game later), there will be a new No. 1 team in the AP Poll come Monday. Why shouldn’t that team be Auburn?
The Tigers are 15-1 on the season and 4-0 in SEC play after an 81-77 win at No. 24 Alabama on Tuesday night. Here’s my case for the Tigers to be No. 1:
The case for Auburn to be ranked No. 1:
– No. 1 Baylor lost last night
– No. 2 Gonzaga lost to Alabama in Seattle. Auburn beat Tide in Tuscaloosa
– No. 3 UCLA has played 4 fewer games due to COVID
Bottom line: Tigers should be 1 with win Saturday.
— Adam Spencer (@AdamSpencer4) January 12, 2022
So, what makes the Tigers so good? The most important thing is depth. Auburn big man Walker Kessler was in foul trouble all night against the Tide, playing only 12 minutes and amassing only 2 points and 2 rebounds before fouling out of the game.
But, the Tigers have so much depth it doesn’t matter. Dylan Cardwell stepped up and had 6 points, 6 boards and 4 blocks. Meanwhile, freshman sensation Jabari Smith Jr. had one of his best games yet, scoring a game-high 25 points, to go with 7 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 steals and an assist.
Smith’s jab step to create enough space to launch a jumper is a thing of beauty. He is so comfortable on both ends of the court, he makes the game look a lot easier than it is:
Hell of a two-way performance from potential No. 1 pick Jabari Smith vs Bama. Incredible switching onto guards. More engaged as a rim protector (4 BLK). NBA-caliber mid-post buckets. Spaced the floor from the corners. Handled in transition. Rare high floor + high ceiling combo. pic.twitter.com/r8JImIY4wr
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) January 12, 2022
Then there’s Wendell Green Jr., who was his usual electric self. He hits 30-foot shots with alarming regularity:
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 12, 2022
And then there’s this fancy dribbling leading to a great finish at the rim:
— Drew 🦚 (@orangeanddrew) January 12, 2022
He had 19 points in Auburn’s big win. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least include this insane dunk from JD Davison in my recap:
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 12, 2022
Alabama’s defense wasn’t terrible on Tuesday night. The Tide held the Tigers to 26.9% (7-for-26) from 3-point range. But, Alabama couldn’t take advantage. The Tide shot only 22.6% (7-for-31) from long distance.
These 2 rivals meet again in Auburn on Feb. 1. That should be another great matchup! Will Auburn be ranked No. 1 for that game?
2. SEC notes
Arkansas picked up its first SEC win of the season on Wednesday night against Mizzou. The final score was 87-43, and frankly, it wasn’t even that close.
The Hogs held a 49-15 lead at halftime. That is not a typo. That’s how embarrassing this game was for the Tigers, who are somehow the same team that upset Alabama over the weekend.
But, Arkansas’s defense played with energy from the opening tipoff. Mizzou, the worst 3-point shooting team in the SEC, made only 2 of 16 long-range shots. Arkansas, the second-worst 3-point team in the league, didn’t fare much better, going 4-for-19 (21.1%) from 3, but it didn’t matter.
After a 30-point game against Alabama, Mizzou star Kobe Brown was held to only 6 points against Arkansas. How did the Hogs accomplish that? This picture tells the story:
Arkansas's defensive strategy. Not a bad one pic.twitter.com/NnPGMB3FfK
— Mizzou Basketball Analysis (@DataMizzou) January 13, 2022
The Razorbacks simply weren’t scared of anyone else on Mizzou’s roster, and that was proven to be a good strategy. Meanwhile, JD Notae went off, scoring a game-high 19 points:
Some ENERGY at BWA pic.twitter.com/Sq7VT29W4H
— Arkansas Razorback Men's Basketball 🐗 (@RazorbackMBB) January 13, 2022
Arkansas forced 23 Mizzou turnovers, turning many of them into easy buckets like this:
— Arkansas Razorback Men's Basketball 🐗 (@RazorbackMBB) January 13, 2022
Arkansas heads to LSU on Saturday. Buckets won’t be so easy to come by against the stingy LSU defense, but the Hogs have a lot of momentum after this huge victory.
- Speaking of that LSU defense, the Tigers picked up another big road win on Wednesday night, taking down Florida in Gainesville, 64-58. The Tigers’ defense is allowing 56.5 points per game, good for fifth nationally and No. 1 in the SEC. The No. 2 SEC team, Tennessee, allows 60.7 points per game. What makes LSU’s defense so great this year? As my go-to stats guy Eric Fawcett explains, look to the NBA:
A huge reason LSU is the number one defense in the country—triple switching pick and rolls (switching the screen defender to the ball and bringing a third defender to switch to the roller). It blows up most opposing actions and is tough to prepare for. pic.twitter.com/RXy35Wa3UW
— Eric Fawcett (@Efawcett7) January 9, 2022
- LSU’s offense is far from elite, but several different guys have the talent to make key shots. On Wednesday night, it was Darius Days’ turn to be the guy. He scored the first 2 of his 20 points right after the opening tip and never looked back:
an ideal way to start a game
a story by Darius Days pic.twitter.com/6bja7o5fqJ
— LSU Basketball (@LSUBasketball) January 13, 2022
- Even though Days was only 1-for-3 from long range, his mid-range game was working all night:
— Planeta NCAA (@PlanetaNCAA) January 13, 2022
- That was a big win for the Tigers without starting PG Xavier Pinson, who might also miss this weekend’s game against Arkansas after suffering a knee sprain. The Tigers only had 8 assists on Wednesday, but still managed to win. That’s what good teams do.
- Speaking of good teams, Kentucky picked up a 12-point road win at Vanderbilt on Tuesday. There are no easy road wins in the SEC this year (just ask Alabama), so it was a good performance from the Wildcats. Big man Oscar Tshiebwe saw Mizzou F Kobe Brown’s 30-point, 13-rebound performance against Alabama on Saturday and said “let me try that,” matching Brown’s stat line against the Commodores. I’ve said all year one of the best things Tshiebwe does is run the floor in transition. This is simply too easy for him:
Calipari said one of the most important things Oscar Tshiebwe does is run the floor. Seven seconds after the defensive rebound, Oscar dunks. First player down the floor, establishes early seal high up the lane for the lob before the defense can set up. @KentuckyRivals pic.twitter.com/fn7SCKlYcQ
— David Sisk (@CoachDavidSisk) January 13, 2022
- Filling in for injured PG Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington had an incredible 17 assists on Saturday against Georgia. He only had 4 against Vanderbilt, but he did the smart thing and kept feeding big Oscar:
Coach Cal said TyTy Washington “Was a bear in pick & rolls.” He does it here vs pressure. He rejects the screen, then pivots back to use it, gets the re-screen, then freezes the big and drops the dime. @KentuckyRivals pic.twitter.com/egAiP6InkJ
— David Sisk (@CoachDavidSisk) January 13, 2022
- Having Washington get that experience running the point is only going to help the Wildcats moving forward. They face a big home game against Tennessee on Saturday.
- Speaking of the Vols (how about the transitions in this section?), they’re riding high after an incredible 66-46 win over South Carolina this week. LSU has the best defense in the SEC, yes, but the Vols are close behind. Now, if only the offense was a bit more consistent. Santiago Vescovi led the Vols with 14 points against the Gamecocks, but he was only 2-for-9 from 3-point range. Tennessee heads to Lexington on Saturday in a huge game for both teams. Neither SEC title contender can afford to lose that one.
Now, let’s move on to some of the Big Ten headlines.
3. B1G notes
Brad Davison has been around Wisconsin since 2000, it seems. But, he keeps coming up big in important moments for the Badgers. Wisconsin has some strong players this year, including B1G Player of the Year candidate Johnny Davis, but Davison is the team’s heart and soul.
He had 25 points on Thursday night against Ohio State in a huge B1G victory, tied for the second-most points he’s scored this year. And, of course, he was busy taking charges all night long:
Brad Davison taking charges.
— Barstool Bench Mob (@stoolbenchmob) January 14, 2022
Wisconsin is now 5-1 in B1G play. That’s half a game behind 5-0 Michigan State and 5-0 Illinois. We’ll discuss both of those teams in a second.
For now, let’s appreciate what these Badgers are doing. They head to Northwestern on Tuesday before facing No. 10 Michigan State in Madison on Friday, Jan. 21. That’s a massive game in the B1G standings. But, since it’s on Wisconsin’s home court, it’s tough to bet against the Badgers in that one.
- Michigan State doesn’t deserve to be the No. 10 team in the country. Illinois does, but we’ll get to the Illini in the next bullet point. The Spartans are 14-2 overall and 5-0 in Big Ten play. The Illini are 12-3 and 5-0 in B1G play. But, the Spartans needed this shot from Joey Hauser to beat Minnesota:
MICHIGAN STATE SURVIVES THE SCARE!!!
— Barstool Bench Mob (@stoolbenchmob) January 13, 2022
- That’s not a great look. The Spartans were at home. The Spartans should have way more talent than the Gophers. They shouldn’t need a last-second shot to win that game. Michigan State hosts Northwestern on Saturday before traveling to Wisconsin and Illinois. That is a much harder stretch of road games. We’ll see if Tom Izzo’s crew can stay in the top 10.
- Trent Frazier doesn’t get enough love. He’s been a key piece of Illinois’ success for what feels like 12 years now, but he just keeps making big shots. Look at this dagger he delivered in Illinois’ 81-71 win over Nebraska this week:
The epitome of a dagger pic.twitter.com/KpipUbzaFo
— Barstool Illini (@BarstoolILL) January 12, 2022
- And, just seconds before that, look at this utterly ridiculous pass he made:
Trent Frazier wasn’t letting Illinois lose today
29 PTS, 5 AST, 4 STLS
ILLINI LEGEND 🗣🗣🗣
— Illini Fan Nation (@TheIlliniFN) January 12, 2022
- He finished with 29 points and 5 assists. He doesn’t get the appreciation he deserves. Let’s hope that changes in the near future.
Now, let’s look at the ACC and Big 12.
4. ACC/Big 12 notes
Baylor entered Tuesday night as the No. 1 team in the country with a perfect 15-0 record. The Bears welcomed No. 19 Texas Tech to Waco and, by the end of the night, they were no longer undefeated.
The Red Raiders, who use a positionless basketball style of play, rotating 1-5, held the Bears to their second-fewest points this season. Baylor players not named “Adam Flagler” only made 3 of 16 3-points (Flagler was 5-for-8 from the arc). You can see how much Texas Tech’s length and athleticism flustered the Bears on the final possession of the game:
— Texas Tech Red Raiders (@TechAthletics) January 12, 2022
Look, I’m not pressing the panic button on Baylor by any means. I think they’ll lose the No. 1 spot in Monday’s AP Poll, but I’d be shocked if the Bears fell any lower than No. 4. Baylor doesn’t play another team currently ranked until the end of the month when it heads to Tuscaloosa to face No. 24 Alabama. The Tide have already taken down 2 of last year’s Final Four teams (Gonzaga and Houston). Can they do it again?
- Duke didn’t have coach Mike Krzyzewski for Wednesday night’s game at Wake Forest due to a non-COVID illness. But, that didn’t slow the Blue Devils down, as they bounced back from a loss against Miami to pick up a 76-64 win over the Demon Deacons. Paolo Banchero has heard all this talk about Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. being the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft and said “now, wait a minute.” He had 24 points to lead Duke and showcased his unstoppable spin move:
— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) January 13, 2022
- That was far from the only time he used the spin to create space:
a look back at paolo banchero's impressive 5-5 start on drives against wake forest: pic.twitter.com/XJ29En2Bot
— damon allred (@iamdamonallred) January 13, 2022
- When Banchero plays like that, Duke is going to be tough to beat. We’ll see if he can keep going toe-to-toe with Smith, not just for the No. 1 pick in the draft, but also for the Freshman of the Year in college hoops.
- Miami suffered its first ACC loss, but it’s clear the universe was working against the Hurricanes. As you can see below, RayQuan Evans of Florida State hit the game-winning free throws with less than a second left, capping a special night for him:
On a night when @FSUHoops was honoring Native Americans with their turquoise jerseys, RayQuan Evans, a Native American, buried the clutch free throws to beat Miami. Sports are incredible. #FSU
— Ariya Massoudi (@AriyaMassoudi) January 12, 2022
- I’m not super worried about the Hurricanes. They’re now 5-1 in ACC play, but clearly the Seminoles just have their number. That’s 8-straight wins for FSU over Miami. The Hurricanes host North Carolina this weekend then get another shot at the Seminoles midweek next week. We’ll see if they can prevent FSU from extending that streak to 9 games.
- No. 9 Kansas bounced back from a road loss at Texas Tech to beat a tough Iowa State team at home this week. The game’s closing seconds showed why the Jayhawks are a title contender and why the Cyclones are now 1-3 in Big 12 play (against 4 really tough opponents, to be fair). First of all, as much as it pains me to give credit to Bill Self and the Jayhawks, I like that he didn’t call a timeout on this final possession. As you can see, the Jayhawks were in control and not panicking as Dajuan Harris made this game-winning layup:
Dajuan “Clutch” Harris, ladies and gents 🙌 pic.twitter.com/eQv4RHXopW
— Kansas Men’s Basketball (@KUHoops) January 12, 2022
- Do I think Harris should have dished the ball to a wide-open Jalen Wilson for an easy dunk? Absolutely. But, you can’t fault him for getting to the rim. At least it was still a high-percentage shot. The difference between the Jayhawks and Cyclones is what happened on Iowa State’s final possession. The Cyclones didn’t get to the rim. They were down 1 point and instead launched a contested 3 with 2 seconds left. That’s a bad shot. Get to the rim and either attempt a layup or try to draw a foul. That’s the difference between a potential win and a loss there.
Now, let’s take a look ahead to this weekend’s biggest games.
5. Outlet pass
Another weekend, another loaded schedule of conference games. Whether it’s in the Big Ten, the Pac-12, the Big 12 or the SEC, there are plenty of impactful games coming our way between now and Tuesday. Here are the 5 matchups I can’t wait to watch over the long weekend:
- No. 21 Texas at No. 15 Iowa State (Saturday at 2 p.m. ET on Big 12 Network) – Iowa State started Big 12 play vs. No. 1 Baylor, vs. No. 25 Texas Tech, at Oklahoma and at No. 9 Kansas. That’s a brutal start for any team, and the Cyclones only managed to go 1-3 during it. Now, another ranked matchup awaits. The Cyclones have to win this one, or the undefeated nonconference record will start to feel like a mirage.
- No. 7 Purdue at No. 25 Illinois (Monday at noon ET on FOX) – Illinois probably deserves to be ranked a bit higher than No. 25 after starting Big Ten play 5-0 (with a 12-3 overall record). This is a dangerous game for the Boilermakers, who are only 2-2 in B1G action thus far in 2021-22.
- No. 22 Tennessee at No. 18 Kentucky (Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN) – Tennessee has to stop shooting so many 3s. That’s just the reality at this point. But, the Vols did manage to blow out South Carolina earlier this week. We’ll see if they can capitalize on that by going into Lexington and pulling off an upset.
- Arkansas at No. 12 LSU (Saturday at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN2) – Arkansas just flat-out embarrassed Mizzou (as we discussed above). But, LSU is riding plenty of momentum, too, coming off a win over Florida. We’ll see if the Tigers can send Arkansas to a fourth SEC loss or if the Hogs have an upset in store in Baton Rouge.
- Oregon at No. 5 USC (Saturday at 11 p.m. ET on FS1) – USC just suffered its first loss of the season, losing at Stanford. Oregon has struggled all year long. This game will be a good test for the Trojans to see if the loss to the Cardinal was just a blip or if it was cause for concern.
Conference play is heating up as we enter the back half of January. There are some important games, as teams can’t afford to fall too far behind in their league standings if they want to compete for the regular-season title. We’ll see who comes out victorious in these 5 big-time matchups over the long 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.