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

If you’ve watched the Auburn Tigers at all this year, you’ve probably had this thought (I know I have):

“Wow, they sure do have a lot of guys who can play!”

Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. Auburn’s depth this year has been absolutely unreal. Now that Allen Flanigan is back on the court following his Achilles surgery, the Tigers have 11 guys averaging 10+ minutes per game.

Let me say that again.

The Tigers have 11 guys averaging 10+ minutes per game!

Here are all the Auburn players who are part of Bruce Pearl’s rotation (listed in order of minutes per game):

  • Jabari Smith – 27.1 mpg
  • KD Johnson – 25.8 mpg
  • Wendell Green – 25.7 mpg
  • Allen Flanigan – 23.7 mpg
  • Walker Kessler – 23.6 mpg
  • Zep Jasper – 23.6 mpg
  • Devan Cambridge – 21.3 mpg
  • Jaylin Williams – 16.8 mpg
  • Dylan Cardwell – 12.0 mpg
  • Chris Moore – 10.7 mpg
  • Lior Berman – 10.6 mpg

That’s absurd! Kudos to the Auburn assistant coach in charge of getting in Pearl’s ear to keep these substitutions flowing throughout the game.

How unique is this level of depth for a top team? Let’s take a look at the last 4 national champions and how many players each of those squads had averaging 10+ minutes per game:

  • 2020-21 Baylor – 9
  • 2018-19 Virginia – 7
  • 2017-18 Villanova – 8
  • 2016-17 North Carolina – 9

And we praised those Baylor and North Carolina teams for their ridiculous depth. Auburn is taking it to the next level this year. Bruce Pearl has more than 2 full squads he can trot out there without losing much skill from the first team.

Wendell Green Jr. and LSU’s Tari Eason are in a tight race for the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Dylan Cardwell’s play of late is making it hard to keep him off the court, too:

Now, when you get to the NCAA Tournament, rotations usually shorten. Coaches ride their elite players when it matters the most. Here’s how many players each of the last 4 champions played for 10 or more minutes in the national championship game:

  • 2020-21 Baylor – 8
  • 2018-19 Virginia – 6
  • 2017-18 Villanova – 7
  • 2016-17 North Carolina – 8

Each of those teams cut their rotation by 1 guy when games mattered most. If Auburn were to follow that same pattern, it would stand to reason that Moore and Berman would fall to fewer than 10 minutes.

But, that still leaves Pearl with 9 guys he can rotate through. Also, all of those previous champions had multiple guys averaging more than 30 minutes per game. Auburn’s leader is averaging just a tick over 27 minutes per night.

Auburn’s depth means it will be fresh down the stretch of the regular season, into the SEC Tournament and even when the NCAA Tournament draws near. That’s a huge benefit, especially in the SEC Tournament, when the Tigers will have to play (likely) 3 games in 3 days if they want to win the title.

Berman missed Wednesday night’s blowout win against Georgia with a foot issue. Even if he’s out on Saturday against Kentucky, keep an eye on how many guys Pearl and the Tigers throw at the Wildcats.

Kentucky, for comparison, has only 7 guys averaging 10+ minutes per game. That, along with home-court advantage for Auburn, will be big pluses for the Tigers on Saturday afternoon. More on that game later.

2. SEC notes

Kudos to Alabama for battling its way to a big home win over LSU on Wednesday night. The game was a microcosm of the Crimson Tide’s season, though.

In the first half, Alabama went 7-for-19 from 3-point range. In the second half, everything fell apart, as the Tide went 0-for-15 from beyond the arc. Additionally, they missed 9 free throws after the intermission.

Yes, they still managed to win 70-67, but it wasn’t without some controversy. LSU coach Will Wade was irate, even in his postgame interview. He drew a technical foul during the game after he thought the refs missed a late goaltending call on Alabama:

Meanwhile, the free-throw disparity made many LSU fans as angry as Wade was in the above clip. The Tide shot 32 free throws to LSU’s 15. Even after missing 9 free throws in the second half, the Tide still shot a better percentage (65.6% to 60%) from the charity stripe, and that was a huge factor in the game.

Yes, that was a tough loss for the Tigers, who fell to 3-3 in SEC play, but I’m not ready to push the panic button yet. They were without Xavier Pinson the entire game and Darius Days left early with an injury. Additionally, Brandon Murray took a hard fall during the contest and seemed to be in pain.

At full strength, LSU is still a top-5 team (at least) in the SEC. Alabama, on the other hand, is more mercurial. The Tide showed flashes of the team that beat Gonzaga and Houston during nonconference play during the first half. Then, in the second half, they showed why they lost to teams like Mizzou and Iona.

We’ll see if the Tide can get some revenge for that Mizzou loss on Saturday.

  • Speaking of Mizzou, the Tigers went to Oxford – not an easy place to play – and absolutely crushed Ole Miss on Tuesday night, 78-53. Normally, that would mean Kobe Brown went off, but that wasn’t the case this time. Yes, Brown still had 15 points and 7 boards, but Amari Davis was the star. He went 10-for-10 from the field and 3-for-3 from the free-throw line, scoring a game-high 23 points. That’s the sort of shooting night the SEC hasn’t seen in a decade:

  • If Davis can continue to make shots at a high level, it gives the Tigers another legitimate offensive weapon. This isn’t going to be a top-half SEC team when all is said and done, but the Tigers have the potential to be a dangerous team that pulls off a few upsets (like the Alabama win) down the stretch.
  • If you like offense in basketball, avert your eyes now. Texas A&M shot 1-for-22 (4.5%) from 3-point range on Wednesday night in a 64-58 loss to Kentucky in College Station on Wednesday night. The Aggies entered the game as the SEC’s best 3-point shooting team, then absolutely imploded. They also only made 5 of their 13 free throws. That’s unacceptable. Credit to the fans for being loud and throwing Kentucky off its game (the Wildcats only shot 36.2% from the floor and 22.2% from 3-point range), but the Aggies just couldn’t get the job done in a big spot. Now, Kentucky has some momentum, having picked up a tough road win heading into another brutal road game at Auburn on Saturday. Don’t expect the Tigers to shoot that poorly, though.
  • I was born in 1990. For literally every game the Arkansas Razorbacks had played during my entire life, they’d made at least one 3-point shot. Well, that streak came to an end this week against South Carolina. Let us all appreciate just how long that streak lasted:

  • The good news for the Hogs is that the streak ended in a 75-59 victory. It’s always easier to stomach something like that in a win than in a loss. Such is life, though. Now we’ll see if the Hogs can make a 3-pointer in every game for the next 30+ years of my life.
  • Tennessee struggled at Vanderbilt this week, but I saw a couple of things I liked. Particularly, I liked the aggression freshman Kennedy Chandler showed getting to the rim. I’ve criticized him for being passive in big situations earlier this year, but he took the offense on his shoulders on Tuesday night. These 2 plays illustrate exactly what I want to see more of from him:

  • That’s a guy who can create his own shot and finish at the rim or get to the free-throw line. The Vols are going to need a lot more of that moving forward.

Next, let’s move on to some Big Ten stories.

3. B1G notes

Jaden Ivey’s final shot caught EVERY part of the rim, but this game was in Bloomington, and the basketball gods won’t allow Indiana to lose at home this year:

The Hoosiers improved to 12-0 in Assembly Hall on Thursday night with a thrilling 68-65 win over No. 4 Purdue. Thus, it has officially taken new Indiana coach Mike Woodson exactly 1 try to do what former Hoosier coach Archie Miller never could – take down the rival Boilermakers.

Making Indiana’s win even more impressive was the fact that star Hoosier big man Trayce Jackson-Davis was in foul trouble from the opening whistle. He couldn’t stay on the court at all on Thursday night, but Rob Phinisee said “I got this” and put his team on his back.

Phinisee scored a career-high 20 points, leading his team to a much-needed resume-boosting victory. And, of course, he hit the game-clinching 3-pointer down the stretch:

That’s the sort of game, a heroic performance off the bench, that will be remembered for a long time in Bloomington. What a night for the Hoosiers, who established themselves as a legitimate threat for the Big Ten title.

  • Fans of coherent basketball probably averted their eyes from the Iowa-Rutgers game this week. The Hawkeyes shot an abysmal 27.9% from the floor, 22.2% from 3-point range and 54.5% from the free-throw line. It doesn’t get much worse than that. The Scarlet Knights, however, weren’t much better, shooting 31% from the floor and 15.4% from 3. Yikes. Then, the refs called this iffy foul in the game’s closing seconds:

  • Yeah, that’s brutal for Iowa, as the Hawkeyes went on to lose 48-46. It’s probably best if everyone who saw that game forgets it ever happened.
  • You’d prefer that Wisconsin not need a Herculean effort from Johnny Davis to beat Northwestern in Evanston, but considering the Wildcats just knocked off Michigan State, you’ll take a win where you can get it. Davis scored 27 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in the victory:

  • He remains in the mix for the National Player of the Year award. We’ll see if he keeps it going against Michigan State on Friday night. More on that game in a bit.

Now, let’s take a look at some ACC and Big 12 headlines.

4. ACC/Big 12 notes

If you look at Paolo Banchero’s stat line from Duke’s overtime loss to Florida State on Tuesday night, you might think the freshman sensation was up to his usual superstar act. After all, he finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists – all team highs.

But, well … I’ll just let ESPN’s Chris Spatola say it for me. He said it best:

Banchero scored 9 points in the first half as the Blue Devils took a 38-33 lead into the intermission. Then he just disappeared, not scoring again until there were less than 5 minutes left in the second half. He went 0-for-1 on free throws in that span, grabbed a couple of rebounds, didn’t have any assists and turned it over a couple of times.

As Spatola said, that’s hardly No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick material. That’s why I currently have Banchero No. 4 overall on my big board, behind Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Purdue’s Jaden Ivey.

Banchero is talented, no question about it. But, he’s dealt with cramps during a couple of big games earlier this season and now, he just disappeared for 15 minutes of a tight ACC game. I need to see more consistency.

And, hey, again – he has the talent. He’s an elite player. I’m being hard on him because he can be even better. There’s still time for him to grow into that guy. If he does, watch out.

Also, kudos to FSU for continuing to fight in that game in Tallahassee. The Seminoles head to Miami on Saturday to try to extend their winning streak over the Hurricanes to 9 in a row. That would be impressive, especially considering what the Hurricanes just did to North Carolina:

  • North Carolina is a mercurial team, and that’s probably me being polite. The Tar Heels went to Miami on Tuesday and got absolutely crushed by the Hurricanes, 85-57. Miami is 6-1 in ACC play and will welcome 5-2 Florida State, the second-place team, to Coral Gables on Saturday. If Isaiah Wong shoots like he did against UNC, watch out! Wong had 25 points, utilizing his devastating step-back jumper early and often:

  • This Miami team is playing with a ton of confidence and swagger this year. If the Hurricanes win on Saturday, they already have a win over Duke and UNC, so there’s no reason to think they couldn’t win the ACC regular-season title.
  • I love to rip on Syracuse (the Fighting Boeheims) when the Orange struggle, so it’s only fair I give them some credit when they do well. Clemson is not a good ACC team this year (there’s my criticism ahead of this begrudging compliment), but Syracuse clawed its way back to .500 (9-9 overall) and 3-4 in ACC play with a 91-78 win on Tuesday night. Buddy and Jimmy Boeheim combined to score 38 points (on 15-for-30 shooting) in 75 minutes of court time. They also grabbed 15 rebounds. That’s a productive night. Unfortunately, there have been way too many awful shooting nights for the Boeheim Brothers this year, and it has hurt the Orange. We’ll see if they can keep the efficient scoring going at Duke on Saturday. My guess is no.
  • The Big 12 is insanely tough this year. So, it’s no surprise that every week, there are at least a couple of ranked matchups between squads. Kansas managed to remain a top-10 team in the country this week, but it wasn’t easy. In fact, in a tough environment in Oklahoma, Christian Braun had to come to the rescue, hitting this clutch 3 in the game’s closing seconds to give the Jayhawks a win:

  • That’s the sort of win a championship contender adds to its resume. Watching Kansas and Baylor try to keep up with each other down the stretch of the Big 12 season is going to be fun.

Now, let’s take a look ahead to the biggest games on the hoops schedule this weekend.

5. Outlet pass

I seriously cannot wait for the games this weekend. Instead of all being loaded into Saturday’s schedule, this weekend’s slate features some big games every single day between now and the next Starting 5 column on Tuesday. Here are the 5 games over the weekend I can’t wait to watch:

  1. No. 12 Kentucky at No. 2 Auburn (Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on CBS) – We discussed Auburn’s depth earlier. Kentucky is fresh off a road win against a tough Texas A&M team. This should be an intense battle between the 2 best teams in the SEC at this point in the season.
  2. No. 14 Michigan State at No. 8 Wisconsin (Friday at 9 p.m. ET on FS1) – The Spartans will be eager to get back on the court after losing at home to Northwestern in their last game. Unfortunately, there aren’t many places tougher to play than Wisconsin. But, first place in the Big Ten is on the line on Friday night, so expect both teams to play a typical, hard-nosed B1G game.
  3. No. 13 LSU at No. 24 Tennessee (Saturday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN) – LSU beat Tennessee in Baton Rouge a couple of weeks ago. But, the Tigers were beaten up against Alabama on Wednesday night. If the Vols can’t take down a short-handed LSU team in Knoxville, that’s a concerning sign for Rick Barnes’ squad.
  4. No. 18 Texas Tech at No. 7 Kansas (Monday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN) – The Big 12 has 10 teams. Currently, in ESPN expert Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology projections, 8 of them are expected to make the NCAA Tournament. That’s incredible. There are no easy games in the Big 12, so expect this to be another rock fight.
  5. No. 5 Baylor at Oklahoma (Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on Big 12 Network) – Baylor got back to its winning ways at West Virginia this week after a 2-game skid. Oklahoma has been a tough place to play, though. Kansas needed the aforementioned clutch 3 from Christian Braun to win there earlier this week. We’ll see if the Bears can remain a top 5 team with a nice road win, or if the Sooners score another upset.

All of those games should be intense. There are rankings, NCAA Tournament resumes and conference standings all on the line. We’ll see which teams pick up big wins and which teams struggle 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 ASpencer@SaturdayDownSouth.com.