Starting 5: Butler owns the SEC, a horrific foul and North Carolina struggles
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.
Sadly, this week of college basketball is going to be a little lighter than most, as players are trying to squeeze in their finals before the end of the semester.
Still, there’s plenty of material for today’s Starting 5, so let’s get going!
1. The Opening Tip
It’s about time we talked about North Carolina’s offense. The Tar Heels have played a challenging schedule, but losing 3 of their past 4 games is unacceptable in any North Carolina season. This is a team that is supposed to be competing for titles, after all.
The Heels have lost to Michigan, beaten Oregon, lost to Ohio State and lost to Virginia in their past 4 games. Obviously, those are all Top 25 squads, but UNC usually beats those kinds of teams. Scoring 47 points in a loss to Virginia and 49 against Ohio State is highly unusual (although the Heels are 1-5 in their past 6 vs. UVA).
North Carolina’s offense is still ranked No. 36 in the country in KenPom.com’s analytics, but even that is lower than where we normally see the Tar Heels.
The Tar Heels still have stud freshman Cole Anthony, but if they don’t start hitting some 3s soon, watch out. It could quickly turn into a long year in Chapel Hill. They’ll face Gonzaga on Dec. 18 in what should be a statement game.
2. Home-court Advantage
Bad news, SEC fans. The conference is off this entire week as the athletes take their finals. Saturday’s slate of games provides some excitement, though, with Tennessee vs. Memphis as the headliner.
Fortunately, there’s still some news to get to from the past few days, so let’s get started:
- Butler should probably just join the SEC at this point. Already this season, the Bulldogs have picked up wins over Mizzou, Ole Miss and, on Saturday, Florida. They won each game convincingly, too. The SEC has struggled against Florida State (0-2) and Butler this season, which is a bit surprising. Butler’s Kamar Baldwin is leading the way. He’s averaging 16.9 points and 4.2 rebounds. He can also dish out some nice assists when needed:
Jordan Tucker steps into a 3 for Butler after the Kamar Baldwin pass.
Tucker has such a smooth stroke, really been impressing so far today. pic.twitter.com/75PXDDbBNw
— Aram Cannuscio (@AC_Unit_) December 7, 2019
- Arkansas lost its first game of the season at Western Kentucky over the weekend, a result made worse by the fact that WKU big man Charles Bassey suffered an injury after only 23 minutes. He will now miss the rest of the season, sadly:
In Saturday's win over Arkansas, Charles Bassey suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg and will require season-ending surgery.
— WKU Hilltopper Basketball (@WKUBasketball) December 9, 2019
- Bassey had 10 points and 6 rebounds in 23 minutes before leaving with an injury, showing just how talented he is.
- South Carolina has not been good this year. Yes, the Gamecocks are 6-4, but Saturday’s 20-point home loss to Houston was an awful look for Frank Martin’s squad. Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes looked like a star for the Cougars, scoring 24 points and dishing out 3 assists.
Now, we’ll have to settle in for a long week without SEC basketball. But while we do that, let’s look at some other stories around the country.
3. Road Game
I mentioned Gonzaga earlier and for good reason. The Bulldogs made the short trip to Seattle to play a ranked Washington team and picked up a huge win.
Killian Tillie continues to improve after coming back from an injury. He had 15 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. If he can hit big shots like this from downtown, the Bulldogs will be one of the most dangerous teams in the country:
This moment in the game was (understandably) overshadowed by Joel Ayayi's three but I thought it was so important.
Killian Tillie's three with three minutes to go and two seconds on the shot clock put Gonzaga up five and totally swung momentum back in their direction. pic.twitter.com/qL8puSwRUu
— Brenna Greene (@BrennaGreene_) December 9, 2019
What Mark Few continues to do at Gonzaga is incredible. Can the Bulldogs get back to the Final Four? This team has the talent to do so.
Now, for a look at some other notable news from around the country:
- From the Division II level comes one of the dirtiest fouls you’ll ever see. This is wild, and it’s even crazier that the refs didn’t call it:
It’s NCAA Div. 2 game in Florida. But I bring it up because it’s surreal & former WPIAL standout Nick Smith is on the end of one of the most horrific cheap shots you’ll ever see. Also surreal official standing right next to it & nothing happens to this Saint Leo’s U. player. pic.twitter.com/Tv1ygleVOO
— Mike White (@mwhiteburgh) December 8, 2019
- After reviewing the footage, the Saint Leo’s player who delivered the vicious elbow was suspended for the season.
- The Dayton Flyers continued to, well, fly. They went to Phoenix and beat a tough Saint Mary’s team convincingly, 78-68. Big man Obi Toppin had 16 points and 6 rebounds and that felt like a bad night for him, based on how he’s played this season.
- Maryland PG Anthony Cowan Jr. is one of the most exciting players in the country. Maryland almost lost to Illinois, but Cowan saved the day, draining this 3 to tie the game:
Anthony Cowan Jr. ties the game with a deep three!
The senior then gets a steal and is fouled to win it to keep No. 3 Maryland undefeated. pic.twitter.com/qsZWNVYv6G
— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) December 8, 2019
- Then, he got a steal, got fouled and hit a free throw to win the game. What a player.
Now, let’s look ahead to the next few days.
4. Outlet Pass
There aren’t many games in the next few days, but there are some quality matchups. Here are the 5 games I’m most excited about between now and Friday:
- No. 18 Butler at No. 11 Baylor (Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2) — Both teams are coming off big wins. Butler beat Florida on Saturday at the same time Baylor was taking care of business against Arizona. Which team will pick up a huge nonconference win?
- No. 5 Michigan at Illinois (Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network) — Admittedly, this game is in this spot because I’m an Illinois native, but Michigan looks like one of the top teams in the country.
- No. 1 Louisville vs. Texas Tech (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN) — Speaking of top teams, Louisville is the top team right now, so always give the Cardinals a view when you can.
- No. 4 Maryland at Penn State (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2) — Penn State has been a tough team to beat this year, but Maryland is playing some incredible basketball. Watch PG Anthony Cowan Jr. any chance you get.
- Iowa at Iowa State (Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2) — Iowa has been a strong team this year and can score in bunches. So can Iowa State. This should be a great rivalry game.
There will be a lot more big-name matchups over the weekend, so stay tuned and let these games whet your appetite!
5. Buzzer Beaters
Here’s the section where I’ll answer some random questions every week. Tweet your questions at me @AdamSpencer4 if you want me to answer them!
Now that we’ve seen a few games from each team, who is your pick to win it all?
It’s so tough to make a choice even at this stage, but I like what I’m seeing from Ohio State. The Buckeyes are 9-0 and have a star big man in Kaleb Wesson, who is averaging 14.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
But guards win in March, and the Buckeyes have some developing guards, too. Duane Washington Jr. is averaging double-digit points and D.J. Carton is flashing star potential. For right now, I’ll take the Buckeyes.
What’s the best mid-major team right now?
Gonzaga is the highest-rated mid-major squad right now, but give me Dayton all day. The Flyers are at No. 14 in the AP Poll and received the Maui Invitational bump at the end of November, but I think they’re still underrated. Big man Obi Toppin is going to be a first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
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.