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 @BlueChipGrit.

1. Opening tip

Tennessee hosted Colorado in an early season test on Sunday afternoon. Let’s just say the test was failed by Rick Barnes’ squad.

And the reason why is painfully obvious. Through 2 games, the Vols have let 81 3-pointers fly, connecting on only 24 of them. For those of us who aren’t math majors, that’s a success rate of just under 30%.

So, the question must be asked – is this sustainable for Tennessee? That’s a question that isn’t easy to answer.

Last year, the Vols snapped a long streak of not winning the SEC Tournament. How did they do that? Well, it had a lot to do with the development of freshman Kennedy Chandler. This year’s Tennessee squad doesn’t have the threat at the rim that Chandler became late in the year. Chandler would drive the lane and either draw a foul, make a layup or find an open teammate for a good look at a 3-pointer.

This year, Zakai Zeigler has been playing a bit out of control. In fact, Barnes is moving him back to the bench for the time being. He’ll be an asset on the second unit, but he’s not what Chandler was for the Vols last season.

Santiago Vescovi also isn’t playing his best ball. He’s become purely an outside shooter with little interior presence to speak of. In the 78-66 loss to Colorado, 11 of his 13 shot attempts were from 3-point range and he only made 2 of them. He did get to the free-throw line 5 times, making all of them, but he needs to do more of that.

It’s not too late for this team, though. Tyreke Key, the transfer from Indiana State, has the potential to develop into the Chandler-esque threat in the paint. He scored 15 points in the loss to Colorado, going 2-for-5 from 3-point range:

He went 0-for-4 from inside the arc, but he did get to the free-throw line 11 times, making 9 from the charity stripe. The Vols as a team made 24 of their 30 free throws. That’s a total that can play well against anyone.

But until this team starts passing up a few more 3s per game to get better looks, there are going to be nights when shots aren’t falling and Tennessee suffers some disappointing losses.

Next, let’s take a look around the rest of the SEC.

2. Home-court advantage

Auburn’s Allen Flanigan suffered an Achilles injury prior to the 2021-22 season. You can’t blame a guy for fighting his way back to try to help his team, but in hindsight, he probably should have sat out the whole year.

As the 2022-23 season gets underway, though, the star we saw in 2020-21 appears to be back. He scored 18 points in the Tigers’ recent 67-59 win over South Florida. He made 3 of his 6 3-pointers and also grabbed 4 rebounds. His highlight reel shows a guy who looks like he’s back to full strength:

Auburn is already a deep team, with 10 different players accumulating at least 10 minutes of action against the Bulls. But Flanigan has the skills to be a crunch-time guy for the Tigers moving forward. It’s awesome to see him back to doing things he was doing 2 years ago.

Now, let’s move on to some other SEC headlines:

  • Keep an eye on Brandon Miller at Alabama this year. Even in a year where the SEC is loaded with freshman talent, Miller has the potential to be the best of the bunch. He’s certainly off to the hottest start. In a big win over Liberty, Miller had 20 points and 8 rebounds. He was absolutely electric with the ball in his hands:

  • Alabama has tougher challenges ahead of it on the schedule, of course, but Miller is looking like a seasoned veteran already. That’s a great sign for the Crimson Tide.
  • Like Allen Flanigan above, LSU has a talented player returning from injury. Unlike Flanigan, Adam Miller actually missed all of last season while rehabbing his own injury. But he’s hitting the ground running this year. He’s led LSU in scoring in both of its games thus far, and is creating shots for himself at an impressive level:

  • He truly has the potential to be one of the best scorers in the SEC this year. We’ll see if the Tigers can develop more offense around him, but for now, it’s good to see him back on the court.
  • The worst loss of the young SEC season came from Florida on Monday night in an awful 76-74 home defeat at the hands of Florida Atlantic. You can’t blame Colin Castleton for the loss, as he scored 30 points, had 12 rebounds and put up 5 blocks. I’m not going to overreact too much to this loss just yet, as the Gators need time to adjust to Todd Golden’s system. But this was definitely a wake-up call in the first week of the season. We’ll see how Florida responds.

Next up, let’s see what’s going on around the rest of the college hoops world.

3. Road trip

Playing on an aircraft carrier isn’t easy. It’s not an ideal place for a basketball game, to be honest. But, that didn’t stop Gonzaga from picking up an impressive 1-point win over Michigan State on Friday night.

The outside court led to situations that you don’t have to handle in indoor arenas. So what did Gonzaga do? Well, the Bulldogs went to their big man, Drew Timme.

Timme finished the game with 22 points and 13 rebounds in Gonzaga’s 64-63 win over the Spartans. It was a simple formula used by Mark Few – give the ball to Timme and get out of the way:

The Bulldogs and Spartans combined to shoot only 7-for-34 from 3-point range, so getting the ball inside was crucial. No one does that better than Gonzaga with Timme.

Let’s maybe stop with the games on aircraft carriers, though. It’s brutal for guys who shoot outside the paint.

Now for some other big stories from around the country:

  • Kerr Kriisa was injured down the stretch for Arizona last year, and it hampered the Wildcats’ offense. But he’s back at full strength this year, and that’s a great thing for Tommy Lloyd’s club. Beating Southern isn’t going to bring many accolades to the Wildcats, but Kriisa was incredible in the game. He scored a triple-double, notching 14 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds to become the only active Division I player with multiple career triple-doubles:

  • This Arizona team isn’t as talented as it was last year with Bennedict Mathurin and Dalen Terry, but with Kriisa back in the mix, this is still a major contender to win the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles.
  • Terrence Shannon Jr. transferred from Texas Tech to Illinois this offseason, and it’s clear he’s exactly the star the Illini were looking for. He was electric in the team’s big win over Monmouth on Monday, scoring 30 points to go with 8 rebounds and 4 assists before taking an early seat on the bench. He’s an elite scorer from anywhere on the court, but he’s also making his teammates better:

  • Shannon has the skills to lead the Illini to another Big Ten title this year. We’ll see if Brad Underwood can develop some of the other guys on the Illinois squad to handle the rigors of a B1G campaign.

Next, let’s take a look at the next few days on the college hoops schedule.

4. Outlet pass

After a bit of a lull to start the season, things pick up this week. We have the Champions Classic, which is always fun. We have Gonzaga heading to Austin to take on a tough Texas team. We have some intriguing nonconference games. Here are the 5 matchups I can’t wait to watch between now and Friday:

  1. No. 4 Kentucky vs. Michigan State (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN) – This could be Oscar Tshiebwe’s first game of the season. He hasn’t been cleared to play just yet, but if he’s on the court, he’ll give the Spartans fits. This game could serve as a coming out party for the Wildcats if they blow out Tom Izzo’s squad.
  2. No. 7 Duke vs. No. 6 Kansas (Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) – This will be the first real test for Jon Scheyer as Duke’s head coach and the Blue Devils’ impressive freshmen. The reigning champion Jayhawks will be without coach Bill Self due to a suspension, so we’ll see if the Blue Devils can pull off a major early season victory to give the young players some confidence moving forward.
  3. No. 2 Gonzaga at No. 11 Texas (Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2) – Gonzaga certainly isn’t scared to play anyone, anywhere on any given night. The Bulldogs have already taken down Michigan State on an aircraft carrier this year. Now, they’ll head to Austin to try to pick up another impressive nonconference victory.
  4. No. 20 Michigan vs. Pitt (Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPNU) – This game will take place in Brooklyn. While Pitt is by no means an elite team, it will be a good test for Juwan Howard and the Wolverines. Michigan needs to figure out which guys are going to be key contributors alongside Hunter Dickinson. This game should help determine that rotation.
  5. Winthrop at No. 13 Auburn (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on SEC Network) – This won’t be an easy game for Bruce Pearl and the Tigers. Winthrop is a tough team from the Big South Conference. Yes, the Tigers should win, as they are one of the deepest teams in the country, but don’t be surprised if the Eagles keep things close for a while.

There are some very intriguing games mentioned above. But for now, we’re building toward Feast Week in a couple of weeks. With rivalry games in college football, NFL action, NBA and NHL games, the World Cup and a full slate of college hoops tournaments, Thanksgiving Week is going to be one of the best sports weeks in recent memory!

5. Buzzer beaters

In this section, I’ll answer a couple of random questions every column. Let’s see what’s on tap for today’s buzzer beaters:

Who is the best mid-major team?

This is a tricky question. Obviously, Gonzaga is a “mid-major” team in the West Coast Conference, but no one is considering the Bulldogs anything less than a powerhouse. The AAC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Big East, Pac-12 and SEC all like to consider themselves major conferences, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Thus, this answer comes down to either San Diego State in the Mountain West or Dayton in the Atlantic 10. I’ll go with San Diego State. The Aztecs are playing some elite defense this year, ranking No. 9 in KenPom.com’s defensive efficiency rankings. They play at Stanford on Tuesday night and vs. Ohio State in a neutral-site game on Monday, so we’ll learn a lot about the Aztecs over the next few days.

What major conference is the deepest this season?

I know I’ll get called a homer for this, but the answer is the SEC. Kentucky is a legitimate title contender. Arkansas, Auburn and Alabama (the 3 A’s) are also in the Final Four mix. Tennessee has time to bounce back from a bad early season loss. Several new coaches are working to get their teams on track. By the time conference play comes around, I believe there are 13 SEC squads with the talent on their rosters to compete for NCAA Tournament spots. Of course, not all 13 of those teams will make the field of 68, but don’t be shocked if the league gets 8 teams into March Madness this year!

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.