Starting 5: LSU’s defense holds firm, Coach K is at it again and what’s wrong with Tennessee?
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
Kentucky entered Tuesday night’s game at LSU with the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense, averaging 83.9 points per game. LSU entered the game with the No. 1 defense in college basketball, according to KenPom.com’s rankings.
Something had to give in Baton Rouge. The team that imposed its style of play on the other team was going to have the advantage.
Well, advantage LSU.
The Tigers managed to make things hard for Kentucky’s offense, which had racked up those impressive scoring numbers on the backs of a lot of lackluster nonconference opponents. Kentucky led for a majority of the game, but the Tigers kept chipping away and playing that elite defense.
Eventually, holding a 61-60 lead in the game’s final minute, the Tigers put an emphatic stamp on the 65-60 victory. In this clip below, you can hear the crowd go wild as Darius Days comes up with a loose 50-50 ball and dishes to Tari Eason for a big-time slam. Then, Xavier Pinson punches the ball away from Kentucky and throws down a reverse jam to send LSU fans into a frenzy:
Great defense all around from LSU capped off with the Xavier Pinson reverse dunk to secure the win! pic.twitter.com/cQwgfIwSrW
— Aram Cannuscio (@AC__Hoops) January 5, 2022
That late collapse perhaps could have been avoided if Sahvir Wheeler hadn’t been injured running into a screen in the first half. Or, perhaps it could have been avoided if TyTy Washington hadn’t been dealing with cramps in the second half.
But, those are the breaks basketball gives you. LSU is playing without Illinois transfer Adam Miller this year after he suffered a preseason injury. There are no excuses in SEC play – just wins and losses.
Kentucky lost on Tuesday night, but the sky isn’t falling in Lexington. However, the Wildcats will need to be more efficient offensively on Saturday night when they host Georgia.
Meanwhile, it still seems strange to say it, but Will Wade’s team will always be in games based on this defense. Wade’s Tiger teams have usually been offense-heavy, with defense as an afterthought. That’s not the case this year, and it’s making the Tigers one of the best teams in the SEC.
2. SEC notes
What is wrong with Tennessee? You might be tempted to say “nothing” after the Vols managed to beat Ole Miss in overtime in Knoxville, 66-60, on Wednesday night.
But then, you might read that sentence again. They needed overtime. To beat Ole Miss. 66-60. In Knoxville.
Yeah, I have a few issues with that. First and foremost, Tennessee should blow out Ole Miss at home. Second of all, 66 points isn’t enough for an elite team to score in 45 minutes of basketball.
Thirdly, the Vols only made 10 of 34 3-point attempts and only got to the free-throw line 8 times (making 6).
Big man John Fulkerson scored 5 points in 18 minutes, going 2-for-7 from the floor. He went 1-for-2 from the free-throw line and didn’t grab a single rebound. I’m sorry, what? That’s an unacceptable performance for a senior leader.
Freshman sensation Kennedy Chandler also struggled, going 3-for-8 from the floor (0-for-4 from 3-point range) and scoring 6 points. He shot 0 free throws.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Chandler needs to find his killer instinct. If shots aren’t falling, he needs to get to the rim and draw contact. He didn’t seem to want any part of that on Wednesday night, and it hurt the team.
Meanwhile, Auburn transfer Justin Powell continues to struggle. He only scored 3 points in 22 minutes, going 1-for-4 from 3-point range.
If I were Rick Barnes, and my team had shot 17-for-63 from 3-point range in 2 SEC games (26.9%), I’d simply tell them to stop shooting so many 3s. If the Vols can’t improve Saturday at LSU (the team with the No. 1 defensive rating, according to KenPom.com), they’ll be lucky to crack 50 points.
Fortunately for the Vols, Santiago Vescovi has been one of a very few bright spots. He scored 17 points against the Rebels and had this clutch 4-point play to help the Vols narrow a 7-point deficit late in the second half:
— Caleb (@VolsAndDraft) January 6, 2022
But, if the Vols continue to be maddeningly inconsistent with the talent they have, I’m going to start talking about whether or not Barnes should be on the hot seat. We’ll see what Saturday brings. More on that game in a bit.
- The SEC Sixth Man of the Year race is over. Just give it to Wendell Green Jr. now and save us all some time later in the year. Green plays starter minutes for Auburn, yes, but he’s technically a bench player for Bruce Pearl’s squad. On Tuesday night at South Carolina, he had a team-high 22 points to go with 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals:
- Green is one of the best instant-energy guys in the entire country, and the Tigers rally around him. South Carolina isn’t an easy place to play, but the Tigers cruised to an easy 81-66 win even while freshman star Jabari Smith Jr. didn’t have his best game. This Auburn team is so deep. Watch out for the Tigers moving forward.
- Texas A&M has been one of the best turnaround stories of the year. The Aggies are currently 1-0 in SEC play and 12-2 overall after an 81-79 win at Georgia on Tuesday night. But, I’m not exactly buying a ton of stock in the Aggies right now. Kudos to Marcus Williams for hitting this thrilling buzzer-beating 3 for the win:
— Texas A&M Basketball (@aggiembk) January 5, 2022
- But good teams aren’t going to need a buzzer beater to win in Athens this year. The Bulldogs are not a good team. Let’s just say I have some concerns about A&M’s ability to win in SEC play moving forward. They’ll have a chance to prove me wrong on Saturday in College Station against Arkansas. Speaking of the Razorbacks…
- Woof. The Hogs lost at home against Vanderbilt 75-74 on Tuesday night to fall to 0-2 in SEC play. The crazy part is that they had a chance to tie it late. Down 75-73, Chris Lykes stole an inbounds pass and got fouled. He made his first free throw, improving to 32-for-32 this season inside the final 3 minutes of a game. Of course, the announcers pointed that out and he promptly missed the free throw that would have tied the game. He rebounded the miss and dished it out to Jaxson Robinson for a game-winning 3-point attempt, but it was no good. The Hogs have some major issues on defense they need to address. Though they forced Pippen into 7 turnovers and caused him to foul out of the game, Pippen still managed a team-high 22 points and was doing things like this:
— Vanderbilt Men's Basketball (@VandyMBB) January 5, 2022
- The problem with the Hogs seems to be a lack of cohesion, particularly on defense. Yes, that’s a fixable problem, but you’d have hoped Eric Musselman and his staff could have figured it out by now. That’s what nonconference play is for.
- Speaking of figuring things out, Alabama is not playing its best basketball by any stretch of the imagination. But, unlike the Hogs, the Tide are 2-0 in SEC play, finding ways to win. Yes, they took advantage of a short-handed Tennessee team playing without Kennedy Chandler and John Fulkerson in the SEC opener, but Wednesday night’s 83-70 win at Florida was more convincing. The Tide are dangerous because they have so many players who can carry the offense on any given night. Even though they shot only 9-for-32 (28.1%) from long range, Jahvon Quinerly and Juwan Gary both scored 19 points. Quinerly was especially impressive, dishing out 5 assists, too. He made it easy for Gary to shine:
Jahvon Quinerly as a downhill passer and Juwan Gary as a cutter >> pic.twitter.com/iV8VezJTrx
— Hunter Cruse (@HunterCruse14) January 6, 2022
- Freshman JD Davison scored only 2 points and didn’t make a shot from the floor. Like Chandler at Tennessee, he has some work to do to become more consistent on a nightly basis. But, it didn’t matter on Wednesday night, as the Tide continued to roll. It was a good sign that they managed 83 points on a night they didn’t shoot above 30% from 3-point range.
Now, let’s take a look at some B1G storylines.
3. B1G notes
Indiana is 11-3 overall. Indiana is 2-2 in Big Ten play. Indiana is undefeated at home.
All 3 of those statements are true in Mike Woodson’s first year at the helm of the program. After a back-and-forth battle with No. 13 Ohio State on Thursday night in Bloomington, the Hoosiers put their foot on the gas pedal, pulling away late for a big 67-51 victory.
Losing at Penn State earlier this week kind of put a damper on things, but the way the Hoosiers bounced back on Thursday night has me buying back into the Woodson era at Indiana.
Trayce Jackson-Davis absolutely owned Ohio State big man EJ Liddell in this game, going for 27 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocks. He threw down this grown-man dunk:
— SLAM University (@slam_university) January 7, 2022
And he showed he can pass the ball when the double-team comes:
This sequence is an absolute dagger 🏹.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 7, 2022
Trey Galloway also provided some late energy off the bench, including this awesome steal and score:
P I C K – 6 🎯
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 7, 2022
Indiana is home against Iowa on Sunday, then travels to Iowa and to Nebraska. If this is a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations, that has to be a 3-0 stretch. We’ll see if Galloway, Jackson-Davis and Woodson can pull it off.
- Rutgers ended an 87-year streak on Tuesday night at home against Michigan. The Scarlet Knights hadn’t beaten the Wolverines since Dec. 20, 1933. For reference, the U.S. was in the middle of the Great Depression in 1933. Babe Ruth was playing his second-to-last year in a New York Yankees’ uniform, finishing with 34 home runs and 104 RBI. Well, that streak is over, as Rutgers won 75-67 over the reeling Wolverines. Geo Baker simply wouldn’t let the Scarlet Knights lose, scoring 27 points in a variety of ways:
— Rutgers Basketball 🏀 (@RutgersMBB) January 5, 2022
- Rutgers is now 2-1 in Big Ten play with wins over Michigan and then-No. 1 Purdue. Not too shabby! The Scarlet Knights will be tough to beat this year with Baker and Ron Harper Jr. as their top duo.
- Expect the Illinois Fighting Illini to be back in the top 25 by Monday. The Illini routed Minnesota 76-53 on the road on Tuesday, then followed it up with a 76-64 home win against Maryland on Thursday night. Andre Curbelo still isn’t back, but as long as the Illini have big man Kofi Cockburn, they’ll be tough to beat. Look at how overmatched Minnesota’s bigs were in Tuesday’s game as Cockburn racked up 29 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks:
Kofi Cockburn DOMINATED against Minnesota
– 29 points
– 10 rebounds
– 4 blocks pic.twitter.com/r4raf6JTcd
— B/R Hoops (@brhoops) January 5, 2022
- How did Cockburn follow up that dominant performance? Oh, you know, just a casual 23-point, 18-rebound effort against the Terrapins:
Kofi Cockburn stats tonight 🔥:
— Jon Metler (@JonMetler) January 7, 2022
- That’s after he missed a sizable chunk of the first half with foul trouble. He and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis are doing their best to make the Big Ten Player of the Year award a 2-man race. The Illini are 11-3 overall and 4-0 in B1G action. Sounds like a top-25 team to me.
Now, let’s take a look at the ACC.
4. ACC notes
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – Mike Krzyzewski is mired in another controversy for in-game comments to an opposing player.
Yes, Coach K is at it again. He seemingly can’t let it go when opposing players say anything at all to him or do anything he doesn’t like on the court. The latest perpetrator was Georgia Tech’s Michael Devoe.
As you can see in the clip below, Devoe says something to Coach K after Duke called a timeout. Instead of letting it go and taking the high road, the all-time winningest Division I head coach and 5-time national champion followed Devoe onto the court to scold him:
Another teachable moment for someone else's players. Thank goodness for Coach K
— Fundamentally Sound (@FundamentallySD) January 5, 2022
I don’t care if what Devoe said was disrespectful. Handle that after the game with a private discussion and a conversation with Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner.
Absolutely do not cause a scene like Coach K did. But, he can’t help himself. This is just another incident that has marred Coach K’s legacy in recent years, along with his weird interaction with a student reporter, chiding his own student section, lecturing Oregon’s Dillon Brooks after a game, etc.
I guess it’s just too much to expect one of the greatest coaches of all-time to let a simple comment slide from an opposing player in a game Duke was winning.
Personally, I’m tired of these incidents involving Krzyzewski. He needs to retire before they sully his legacy even more.
- Armando Bacot had 21 points and 17 rebounds against Notre Dame and it still wasn’t enough for the Tar Heels to win in South Bend. The problem? The Tar Heels had horrible defensive communication in the 78-73 loss to the Irish. Nate Laszewski led Notre Dame with 20 points, going 6-for-7 from 3-point range, and he barely had to work to do it. Look at how much space he had on his 3s:
- Heck, you give me that much space and even I could have knocked down a couple of those shots (probably). This was UNC’s first ACC loss of the year, so it’s far from a disaster for Hubert Davis’s squad. But, that defense needs to get on the same page in a hurry. With Virginia coming to Chapel Hill on Saturday, the Heels need to be firing on all cylinders to avoid falling to 2-2 in ACC play.
- Speaking of those pesky Cavaliers, no matter how eager I am to write them off this year, they keep picking up wins. They’re only 9-5 on the season, but they are 3-1 in ACC play after a 75-65 win at Clemson on Tuesday night. This was just an absolutely dominant performance from big man Jayden Gardner, who scored a game-high 23 points and snagged 5 rebounds. He’s a force inside, and when he plays well, so do the Hoos. It’ll be exciting to see him square off against Bacot on Saturday.
- Miami nearly lost its first ACC game of the year, but managed to improve to a perfect 4-0 in league play with an 88-87 win over Syracuse. The Hurricanes were down 44-30 at halftime before coming all the way back in the second half. Miami is so dangerous because so many different guys are stepping up. Wednesday night, it was Charlie Moore’s turn. He had 25 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and went 6-for-10 from 3-point range:
Charlie Moore went crazy last night 🥵
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) January 6, 2022
- The Hurricanes have developed into a deep, dangerous team. Meanwhile, the Fighting Boeheims fall to 7-7 on the year and 1-2 in ACC play. Up next for the Hurricanes? A trip to Duke. More on that in a second.
Now, let’s take a look ahead to a busy weekend of hoops action.
5. Outlet pass
Normally, we’d have a couple of good games on in primetime on Monday night, but with the College Football Playoff title game being played that night, this weekend’s top games are heavily concentrated on Saturday. So, here are the 5 games I can’t wait to watch over the weekend:
- No. 16 Tennessee at No. 21 LSU (Saturday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2) – LSU’s defense is legit. Tennessee’s offense is a mess. If the Vols don’t manage to shoot better (as I discussed above), it could be a long night. However, LSU also needs to start scoring more points offensively if it wants to stay in the hunt for the SEC regular-season title.
- Miami at No. 2 Duke (Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on ACC Network) – Miami is a surprise team in the ACC, starting league play 4-0 and sporting a 12-3 overall record. But a trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium is a step up from the games the Hurricanes have been winning. Can they keep the undefeated ACC start going?
- No. 6 Kansas at No. 25 Texas Tech (Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN2) – Texas Tech opened Big 12 play with a tough loss at Iowa State, scoring only 47 points. The Red Raiders will be eager to knock off a top-10 team in Kansas. But, can the Jayhawks notch another big-time Big 12 road victory?
- No. 11 Iowa State at Oklahoma (Saturday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPNU) – The Cyclones started Big 12 play off with a nice home win over a ranked Texas Tech team. But, now they face their first league road trip of the year, and the Sooners aren’t an easy out. Iowa State is for real this year, though. This is a win that would prove that.
- No. 10 Michigan State at Michigan (Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX) – Michigan was a top-10 team heading into the season. Now, the Wolverines are 7-6 overall and 1-2 in Big Ten play, with losses to Minnesota and Rutgers. But, this season from hell could start to turn around with a big win over a heated rival in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon.
With no college football on Saturday, there’s wall-to-wall college hoops action. It’s going to be a great day of conference play. We’re going to find out which teams are contenders and which teams are, for now, pretenders. I can’t wait to watch all that intense hoops 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.