Starting 5: Duke stuns Gonzaga, Jabari Smith breaks out, Alabama slips up
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
There’s a new No. 1 team in the country this week after Duke took down Gonzaga 84-81 in Las Vegas on Friday night. The Coach K farewell tour is off to a rollicking start, as the Blue Devils have looked unbeatable.
Gonzaga’s 36-game regular-season win streak has come to an end and now the Blue Devils sit atop the polls. I think Purdue, the No. 2 team in the country now, should have stayed ahead of Duke, but it’s hard to find too much fault with the rankings after the Blue Devils took down the nation’s No. 1 team.
Paolo Banchero was once again a superstar, scoring a game-high 21 points to go with 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. Here’s a sequence that shows just how much of a game-changer he can be:
This entire Paolo Banchero sequence was ? pic.twitter.com/aaW6ezkPF5
— Kyle Boone (@Kyle__Boone) November 27, 2021
But, he dealt with cramping issues again. That’s something that needs to be addressed. He missed part of the game with Kentucky to start the season with cramps, and he missed more time in the second half against Gonzaga.
For all of his skill, the best ability is availability. Duke needs to be able to count on him in these close games against elite teams. Imagine how good he could be if he could stay on the court more consistently and without cramps.
Duke plays at Ohio State on Tuesday night as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Can Banchero avoid cramping issues in that game?
Friday night’s contest felt like a Final Four or national championship matchup. Even with the cramping problems, Banchero looked like a top-3 NBA Draft pick. Gonzaga will be just fine, don’t you worry.
What a great showcase of college basketball we got to witness on Friday night!
2. SEC notes
Jabari Smith is everything advertised and more. The freshman sensation at Auburn is hitting his stride after getting a few games under his belt. He had a heck of a 3 games in the Bahamas, including in Auburn’s final game against Syracuse.
He’s got a ton of confidence. He steps into this shot and drains it, then picks up a technical foul for taunting the Syracuse bench:
— The Scouting Rapport (@ScoutingRapport) November 28, 2021
That’s an NBA-ready shooting stroke. He also plays instinctive defense:
Mobility and timing on recoveries when guarding PnR are separators for the good vs great defensive prospects
Jabari Smith Jr spots the early screening action, Syracuse counters his hard hedge with a slip but JBJ recovers in time to converge from behind and not foul pic.twitter.com/QaNpSnhBk9
— Will Locklin (@locklin_will) November 29, 2021
Now, let’s all enjoy this highlight video of Smith doing things that no 6-10 person should be able to do:
6’10 freshman Jabari Smith is going to be a problem in the league! pic.twitter.com/iYal0siB77
— Courtside Films (@CourtsideFilms) November 29, 2021
He’s the key to Auburn’s success this year, plain and simple. Yes, the Tigers have some solid players, and will be even better when Allen Flanigan comes back. But, when it comes to competing for an SEC title, Smith is the guy who can take the team to the next level.
- JD Notae is a walking bucket. The Arkansas guard has always been a spark offensively, but the Razorbacks are relying on him a lot more this year. In a 76-60 win over Penn over the weekend, Notae was on fire, scoring 28 points on 24 shots. Making it even more impressive is that he was 0-for-6 from behind the 3-point arc. But, being a great scorer means putting up points even when one aspect of your game isn’t working. So, Notae got to the rim over and over again instead:
JD Notae in a 76-60 win vs. Penn : 28 points (13-24 shooting), 9 rebounds & 5 assists in 36 minutes pic.twitter.com/nEl8PCbEPW
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) November 29, 2021
- He also had 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 1 block. Arkansas as a team went an abysmal 3-for-17 from beyond the arc, but the Hogs keep finding ways to win.
- Alabama bounced back from a Thanksgiving Day loss to Iona, winning its next 2 games of the ESPN Events Invitational. Sunday’s 96-64 blowout win over Miami got the Tide back on track. The Tide made 16 of their 30 3-point attempts, which is a great sign with a trip to Seattle to face Gonzaga on the docket for Saturday. Keon Ellis scored a team-high 22 points against the Hurricanes, going 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. Alabama has a freshman sensation of its own, too — JD Davison. He had a 13-point, 10-assist double-double vs. Miami. It’s easy for Ellis to pour in points when he’s getting passes like this:
Really love the subtle manipulation from JD here. Hangs in the air and gives a just enough of a look to Keon Ellis in the corner to make the help defender commit and then hits the open wing
It’s the little things that make a huge difference for passers, and Davison gets it pic.twitter.com/gaMKw8BTP1
— CJ Marchesani (@cjmarchesani) November 29, 2021
- Davison is figuring things out at the right time, as Alabama’s schedule intensifies in a hurry. Can the Tide keep their hot shooting going?
- Finally, a quick shout out to Mizzou forward Kobe Brown. In the Tigers’ blowout win over Paul Quinn, an NAIA school from Dallas, Brown had 20 points and 23 rebounds. It was the first time a Mizzou player had 23 rebounds since 1966:
Kobe Brown finishes with 23 rebounds, the most for a Mizzou player since Booker Brown had 24 against Detroit in 1966.
— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 30, 2021
- Yes, it was against an NAIA team, but it was still an impressive all-around performance from Brown. Now, his confidence will be higher as the Tigers face tougher foes.
Now, let’s move on to the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
3. Big Ten/ACC Challenge notes
The Big Ten is off to a rocking start in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge this year, winning both games on Monday night. First up, it was Iowa handing Virginia its third loss of the year, going into Charlottesville and escaping with a 75-74 victory.
I still think this is a team that is going to miss Luka Garza a lot. This was the Hawkeyes’ first real test of the season, and while it was a nice win, this is a down year for Virginia.
Still, we should appreciate Keegan Murray and Jordan Bohannon while they are still in Hawkey uniforms. Look at Murray snapping this poor defender’s ankles:
— Barstool Bench Mob (@stoolbenchmob) November 30, 2021
Bohannon and Murray also connected on this great alley-oop:
BOHANNON TO KEEGAN MURRAY FOR THE SLAM HUGE ANSWER BY IOWA pic.twitter.com/vowY4VQIPy
— Iowa Nostalgia (@RetroHawkeyes) November 30, 2021
They combined for 38 of Iowa’s 75 points. That’s something they’re going to have to do consistently to win. But, for now, the Hawkeyes are 6-0 with a trip to tip off Big Ten play at No. 2 Purdue on Dec. 3. Yikes. That’s a tough conference opener.
- Illinois was down 3 starters for its game against Notre Dame in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Monday nightcap. It didn’t matter, because one of the starters who was on the court was Kofi Cockburn. The Preseason B1G Player of the Year showed why he earned that award, scoring 28 points and grabbing 8 rebounds in the 82-72 win over the Fighting Irish. He was a bruiser in the post, as usual:
Kofi Cockburn PUNISHING rims pic.twitter.com/8Cjvust34c
— Fundamentally Sound (@FundamentallySD) November 30, 2021
- When he gets the ball this low in the post, the only way you can stop him is to foul him:
Illinois has gone to the Kofi Cockburn DHO to a ball handler coming off a pin down to set up the Kofi post up many times in the second half. Really like what I’m seeing out of the Illinois offense. Kofi draws another foul here. pic.twitter.com/LCgT2ttpws
— Hoop Informatics ??? (@HoopInformatics) November 30, 2021
- He went 6-for-9 from the free-throw line against Notre Dame. That’s good for him. Free throws are not his strong suit, so if he’s making more than 60% of them, you’ll take that if you’re Illinois. Now, we’ll just have to see how long the other starters, including Andre Curbelo, are out.
Next, let’s take a look around the rest of the college basketball landscape.
4. Random tidbits
Yes, I’m a Jayhawks hater as a Mizzou graduate, but we still need to discuss what happened with Kansas in the ESPN Events Invitational in Orlando this week. In a field that included Alabama, Miami, Iona and Kansas, the Dayton Flyers ended up winning the title.
That happened after Dayton shocked the Jayhawks 74-73 on Friday in the semifinals of the tournament. Mustapha Amzil played the hero against the Jayhawks. After Malachi Smith got his shot rejected, Amzil picked it up and fired up a prayer:
— Dayton Basketball (@DaytonMBB) November 27, 2021
To make the story even better, that was Amzil’s first shot attempt from the floor in the game. He had gone 2-for-4 from the free-throw line and snagged 5 rebounds in his 15 minutes of action off the bench. But, now, that shot will be remembered for a long time in Dayton.
Kansas has only itself to blame for the loss, too. When you only make 9 of 20 free-throw attempts, you deserve to lose. Big man David McCormack also got into foul trouble and couldn’t stay on the court. That’s a recipe for disaster for the Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks will be fine moving forward, but this game against the Flyers showed that perhaps they’re not the national title contender some thought they were prior to this tournament.
- Another Feast Week tournament with a surprising result was the NIT Season Tip-Off. Iowa State took down ranked Xavier and Memphis squads to claim the title. The games weren’t even close, either. The Cyclones knocked off the Musketeers 82-70 and took down the Tigers 78-59. It’s easy to see why Iowa State won each game, as it had a 30-point scorer in both contests. First up, it was Izaiah Brockington dropping 30 on Xavier. Then, it was Gabe Kalscheur’s turn to light up Memphis. Even when the Tigers were playing tough defense, it didn’t matter:
Kalscheur current status >> ??? pic.twitter.com/n1RydKVL2u
— Iowa State Men’s Basketball (@CycloneMBB) November 27, 2021
- Hiring T.J. Otzelberger away from UNLV this offseason seems like it was a great move for Iowa State. He’s an early contender for National Coach of the Year based on the turnaround in Ames right now.
Next, let’s take a look ahead at the next few days of college basketball action.
5. Outlet pass
With the Big Ten/ACC Challenge happening this week, there are plenty of great games to watch. But, I can only pick 5 of them for this section, so here are the 5 games I can’t wait to watch between now and Friday:
- Florida State at No. 2 Purdue (Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) — As I mentioned above, I think Purdue should be the No. 1 team in the country right now. This will be a great chance for the Boilermakers to prove to the AP voters that they were wrong. Statement game potential for Matt Painter’s crew.
- No. 1 Duke at Ohio State (Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) — Ohio State has struggled at times this year, but the Buckeyes are still a good team. This is a potential letdown game for Duke after beating then-No. 1 Gonzaga on Friday night. We’ll see if Paolo Banchero can stay on the court for this one.
- No. 14 Florida at Oklahoma (Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on Bally Sports) — It seems this will be a tough game to watch if you aren’t local, but it should be a solid battle. Can Florida keep the good times going? Or will Porter Moser’s Sooners pick up a big win for him in Year 1?
- No. 24 Michigan at North Carolina (Wednesday at 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN) — The Wolverines have dropped precipitously after being a top-10 team in the preseason. The Tar Heels have also struggled this year against tougher competition. This will be a great chance for either team to get its season back on track.
- Louisville at No. 22 Michigan State (Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. ET on ESPN) — Michigan State is playing some good basketball these days. Their only losses are to a pair of title contenders in Baylor and Kansas. We’ll see if they can pick up a win for the Big Ten in this home game against a middling Louisville squad.
Will the Big Ten or ACC win the challenge this year? These games will be pivotal for each league. Oh, and Florida-Oklahoma should be fun, too. Plenty of great basketball to watch this week, even though there aren’t as many tournaments as there were last week.
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.