Starting 5: Appreciating San Diego State, a Butler escape and prepping for conference play
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.
Welcome to the year 2020! Now, everyone is getting ready to really dive into conference play. And, since there are only a couple of college football games left, fans are about to tune in to basketball more often.
Don’t worry, though. I’ll continue to crank out the Starting 5 columns as the games get more intense.
Here are the topics for today’s Starting 5:
1. The Opening Tip
There are 2 undefeated teams remaining at the Division I level — No. 8 Auburn and No. 13 San Diego State. Both the Tigers and Aztecs have had great seasons thus far, but San Diego State isn’t getting much national attention.
San Diego State’s biggest wins haven’t been overly impressive, but the Aztecs did trounce Utah a couple of weeks ago and also beat a tough Iowa team.
So, can they go undefeated? Well, they don’t have any games against ranked teams left now that they’re entering Mountain West Conference action, but Saturday will be a tough test.
That’s because they’ll head to Logan to take on a talented Utah State squad. The Aggies already have wins over LSU and Florida and will be looking to pad their NCAA Tournament résumé. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives Utah State a 55.3% chance to win at home.
KenPom.com’s rankings still aren’t very high on the Aztecs. SDSU is No. 13 in the AP Poll, but only No. 19 in KenPom’s rankings. In that system, the Aztecs have the No. 10 overall defense in the country, but only the No. 54 offense.
Win at Utah State on Saturday and maybe the Aztecs and the job coach Brian Dutcher is doing will start to get more national attention.
2. Home-court Advantage
Hey, did you see the … Oh wait, how about that, uh … And don’t even get me started on the …
OK, you got me. There were exactly 0 SEC games between our last Starting 5 column on Tuesday and today. Everyone is resting up for Saturday, when 13 of the 14 SEC teams will be in action (everyone but South Carolina).
Ten SEC teams will begin conference play Saturday, and then Georgia will play Memphis, Ole Miss will play Wichita State and Vanderbilt takes on SMU. Those will be the final nonconference games until the Big 12-SEC Challenge later this month.
Anyway, this has all been a long way of saying that I’ve got nothin’ for this section today. Check back with me Tuesday.
Now, let’s just skip right ahead to what’s going on around the rest of the country.
3. Road Game
After taking a huge 37-16 lead into halftime against St. John’s, No. 11 Butler had to hold on for dear life as the Red Storm came, well, storming back in the second half. In fact, the Bulldogs were trailing 58-57 in the final minute before Christian David buried this 3-pointer to give Butler a narrow 60-58 victory:
Butler se dejó remontar 23 puntos de ventaja ante St. John's, pero finalmente salvaron el partido con este triple de Christian David:pic.twitter.com/qxUKff80Nm
— Bryan García (@esperandomarzo) January 1, 2020
You won’t see many games that change so dramatically at halftime. St. John’s outscored Butler 42-23 in the second half. That’s a testament to the job Mike Anderson is doing with the Red Storm. But, it’s also a testament to the winning mentality LaVall Jordan has continued to foster at Butler.
The Bulldogs host a tough Creighton squad Saturday. No easy wins in the Big East!
Here’s a look around the rest of the country:
- Stetson just went into South Carolina and took down the Gamecocks 63-56 on Monday. So, what do the Hatters do as an encore? Naturally, they lost their Atlantic Sun opener at home against a 5-8 Lipscomb squad. Not exactly making the Gamecocks look any better with that loss.
- Michigan State is already the only undefeated team left in Big Ten play, and boy, did the Spartans ever make a statement Thursday night, trouncing Illinois 76-56. Star PG Cassius Winston had 21 points and 6 assists, but I’d rather talk about sophomore big man Marcus Bingham Jr.’s stat line. He played 21 minutes and went 0-for-2 from the field (both were 3-point attempts) and missed both of his free throws, finishing with 0 points. But he snagged 12 rebounds and blocked 5 shots. That’s a Dennis Rodman-esque stat line.
- Colorado has now taken down 2 ranked teams in its past 3 games after beating No. 4 Oregon in the Pac-12 opener Thursday night. Yes, this Oregon team lost to North Carolina and Gonzaga and was probably ranked a bit too high, but this was still a great win for the Buffaloes, who won 74-65. McKinley Wright IV continues to be hot, scoring 21 points in the victory. No one is going to enjoy going to Boulder this season.
- Duquesne entered Thursday’s Atlantic 10 opener on a cold streak. After ending up as 1 of the final 4 undefeated teams at the Division I level, the Dukes lost back-to-back games against UAB and Marshall. However, they rebounded in a big way, trouncing a talented Saint Louis team 73-59 in their first A10 game of the year. Keep an eye on Duquesne’s Marcus Weathers, who scored 26 points and only needed 10 shots from the field to do it (8-of-10 from the floor, 9-of-12 from the free-throw line). That’s an efficient night!
Don’t be surprised to see some chaos in conference play this year. The top teams are mostly vulnerable and parity is plentiful in many of the notable conferences. It should be a fun couple of months of basketball.
4. Outlet Pass
Now that conference play is going to be in full-swing, there are a number of intriguing matchups on the schedule. Here are the top games taking place over the weekend:
- No. 12 Michigan at No. 14 Michigan State (Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET on CBS) — The Spartans and Wolverines will kick off the new year with a huge rivalry game. Michigan State won all 3 games against Michigan last season. Can the Spartans repeat that level of success this season?
- Creighton at No. 11 Butler (Saturday at noon ET on FS1) — Creighton is fresh off a huge win over Marquette to start Big East play. But a home win over Marquette is a lot different than hitting the road to play Butler. This should be a big game. Don’t discount what the Blue Jays are doing this year, though.
- No. 16 West Virginia at No. 3 Kansas (Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN+) — The Jayhawks lost at West Virginia last year but still managed to go 2-1 against the Mountaineers, beating them in Lawrence and in the Big 12 Tournament. However, last year’s West Virginia squad finished 15-21. This is a much better team.
- Wisconsin at No. 5 Ohio State (Friday at 7 p.m. ET on FS1) — Wisconsin thoroughly trounced Tennessee last weekend, but the Vols were in their first game without Lamonte Turner. Still, the Badgers play stifling defense (don’t they always?) and Ohio State is coming off a disappointing loss against West Virginia.
- No. 10 Villanova at Marquette (Saturday at 2 p.m. ET on FOX) — Marquette and Markus Howard had plans to be a Top 25 team this year, but the Golden Eagles have already lost 3 games this season. With a ranked Villanova team coming to town, they have a golden (pun intended) opportunity to pick up a huge win.
There are going to be a ton of great games on the schedule in the coming weeks as conference play continues to heat up. I, for one, can’t wait!
5. Buzzer Beaters
In this section, I’ll answer a couple of random questions that don’t necessarily have to be about basketball. Today’s questions are:
Which team is going to win the Big Ten this year?
I still think Ohio State has time to get it together. The loss to West Virginia over the weekend was disappointing, but Kaleb Wesson is one of the best big men in the country. If Duane Washington Jr. can stay healthy, this team can go on a run in Big Ten play, I think.
Where’s one place you want to travel in 2020?
I really want to go to Ireland this year. Since I turn 30 in March, my wife and I are looking into a trip then. I want to experience the Irish countryside and go to extremely old pubs in Dublin. Should be a fun trip!
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.