Starting 5: Illinois and Gonzaga make statements, Arkansas’s outburst, a bad beat and Cade Cunningham
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. The Opening Tip
The big game in the opening couple of days of college basketball was No. 1 Gonzaga against No. 6 Kansas. The Jayhawks and Bulldogs both lost their fair share of talent to the NBA this offseason, but it’s clear which team was better on Thursday afternoon.
It was fairly close at times, but Gonzaga ended up with an impressive 102-90 win in regulation. Yes, Kansas lost 2 of its best players in Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson, but it is still incredibly impressive that Mark Few’s Bulldogs scored more than 100 points. To find the last team to score in triple digits against a Bill Self-coached team, you have to go back to Nov. 11, 2016, when No. 11 Indiana beat Kansas 103-99 in overtime. To be fair, that game was doomed for the Jayhawks from the start. Playing the No. 11 team in the country on Nov. 11 (11/11)? Seems like it was destiny for Indiana to win.
As for Gonzaga, we knew they were going to be a balanced squad, and the Bulldogs lived up to that expectation. Drew Timme led all scorers with 25 points and Corey Kispert had 23 points. Joel Ayayi contributed 15 points and 9 rebounds and Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard had 11 points and 3 dimes off the bench.
But, the guy who really stole the show was Jalen Suggs, the 5-star freshman guard. The Minneapolis native showed signs of becoming a budding superstar, scoring 24 points and dishing out 8 assists. I mean, first collegiate baskets don’t come much better than this:
JALEN SUGGS 1ST COLLEGE BUCKET!pic.twitter.com/5xKob2yzvp
— Courtside Films (@CourtsideFilms) November 26, 2020
Lest you think he’s all hops and no jump shot, let me show you this 3-pointer from Damian Lillard range:
Jalen Suggs from Lillard range 🎯
— Bleacher Report CBB (@br_CBB) November 26, 2020
That’s simply not fair. He’s going to be a stud for Few and the Bulldogs. Makes me glad I picked Gonzaga as a Final Four team.
As for Kansas, the opportunity to pick up big wins still remains. The Jayhawks will play Kentucky on Dec. 1. We’ll see if Self can get his guys ready for that game.
Speaking of Kentucky, let’s take a trip to the SEC, shall we?
2. Home-court advantage
The Kentucky Wildcats brought in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, led by 5-star wings BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke. They didn’t disappoint, but the rest of the freshman class looked strong on Wednesday night against Morehead State. The freshmen combined for 57 of Kentucky’s 81 points.
I was most impressed with Clarke, who is going to be one of the most-exciting players in the SEC this season. Just look at how exciting he is around the rim:
Freshman Terrence Clarke from Kentucky has game 🔥 pic.twitter.com/hHjCa5zKWH
— Swish Cultures (@swishcultures_) November 26, 2020
We’ll discuss the Wildcats a lot more as we move forward, I’m sure, but for now, I just want to say that any time Clarke is on TV, I’ll be watching.
Now, let’s take a look around the rest of the SEC:
- The Alabama Crimson Tide got off to a slow start against Jacksonville State in their Wednesday night opener, but eventually, Nate Oats’ run-and-gun offense got going. The Tide won 81-57 and the usual suspects were doing their thing. After a slow start, John Petty Jr. finished with 14 points. Herb Jones (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Jaden Shackelford (18 points, 11 rebounds) both finished with double-doubles. Shackelford was only 1-for-4 from 3-point range, but he was able to get to the rim a lot:
— The Crimson White Sports (@CWsports) November 26, 2020
- But, the star of the show was Jahvon Quinerly, the transfer point guard from Villanova. Quinerly scored a career-high 18 points and was doing it all on the court:
— NJ Basketball (@NJHoopRecruit) November 26, 2020
- If he can play like that more often than not this year, Alabama is a team that can challenge for an SEC title and will definitely make the NCAA Tournament field. He looked a little like Kira Lewis Jr. on Wednesday night.
- Now then, can we talk about the Arkansas Razorbacks? I wasn’t sure what to make of the Hogs coming into this season, but the first impression was a great one, as Eric Musselman’s crew put up a whopping 142 points in a 142-62 win over Mississippi Valley State. Eight Arkansas players scored in double figures, led by Connor Vanover off the bench with 23. The 7-3 big man made 4 of his 5 3-point attempts and also snagged 8 rebounds while blocking 3 shots. Keep an eye on him (and the Hogs) this year. Where did that 142-point outburst rank in the SEC history books, you ask? Well, here you go:
Arkansas’s 142 points is the fourth-most in SEC history:
1. LSU vs. Northern Arizona in 1992 (159 points)
2. LSU vs. Loyola Marymount in 1990 (148 points)
3. Kentucky vs. Georgia in 1956 (143 points)
— SDSBasketball (@SDSBasketball) November 26, 2020
- Next up, let’s just get this out of the way — it’s going to be a long year in Starkville. Mississippi State lost perhaps more talent than anyone this side of Kentucky — Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard II, etc. And, the Bulldogs didn’t bring in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class like Kentucky did. Still, it was a rough start to the year for Ben Howland’s squad in a 53-42 loss to Clemson, especially since, as I mentioned above, Arkansas put up 142 points in its game:
Arkansas scored 142 points tonight.
Mississippi State scored 42.
Quite the disparity in the SEC.
(Yes, we realize one school played an ACC foe and one played a SWAC squad.)
— SDSBasketball (@SDSBasketball) November 26, 2020
- Heading into Wednesday night’s Morehead State game, Kentucky’s over/under point total was 81.5 in most places. Those folks in Vegas know what they’re doing, as Kentucky finished with exactly 81 points in the 81-45 victory. The Wildcats had the ball late and dribbled out the clock (a classy move). I have a feeling gamblers who had the over weren’t so thrilled with that display of sportsmanship. Our first #BadBeat of the season!
- Here’s an interesting note from the Kentucky broadcast. The Wildcats have had more Round 1 NBA Draft picks since John Calipari took over the program than the entire Big Ten conference. That’s insane. The Cats just sent Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey to the NBA in Round 1 this month. More could be on the way in 2021. Keep up, Big Ten!
Now, let’s take a look around the rest of the country.
3. Road trip
Before games tipped off on Wednesday, I made my Final Four and national champion predictions. Illinois is the team I’m riding to win the title.
My Final Four picks for this year:
— Adam Spencer (@AdamSpencer4) November 25, 2020
Let’s just say I’m feeling good about that pick at the moment after the way the Illini looked against North Carolina A&T on Wednesday afternoon. The Illini scored 122 points in a 122-60 victory. I picked Illinois to win the title because of guys like Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn and Trent Frazier, but Adam Miller — the 2020 Illinois Mr. Basketball and 4-star signee — stole the show on Wednesday.
He matched the entire North Carolina A&T team with 19 first-half points. He finished with 28 points, doing things like this all game long:
Adam Miller (@AceWolf44) matched the opponent's scoring (19 points) in the first half.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 25, 2020
Those 28 points shattered Brandon Paul’s record of 22 points in an Illini debut. Paul took to Twitter to congratulate the freshman sensation:
The Illini were back in action on Thursday, routing Chicago State 97-38. Dosunmu had 22 points, Miller poured in 15 and Cockburn had a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double. But, another freshman was the story of Thursday’s game. 4-star point guard Andre Curbelo finished with 18 points and 7 rebounds.
He even threw down a dunk late in the second half:
It’s still early, but the Illini are certainly looking like a team that can contend for a title.
Now, let’s move on to discuss another impressive freshman and then take a trip around the rest of the country:
- Cade Cunningham, the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit in the 2020 class, made his debut for Oklahoma State on Wednesday. The Cowboys struggled against UT-Arlington, but ultimately pulled off a 75-68 win. That wouldn’t have happened without Cunningham, who showed why he’s a popular choice to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft:
- He finished with a 21-point, 10-rebound double-double. Yes, he still has a lot to work on. His lackadaisical ball-handling led to 5 turnovers and he was a bit sloppy on defense at times, but this is a star in the making. Keep an eye on him the rest of the season.
- Things weren’t going so great for Memphis early in Wednesday’s game against Saint Mary’s. The Tigers were down 8-0, had a player try to check into the game with his mask on and then this happened:
How are things going for Memphis so far, you ask? pic.twitter.com/00AXhR2jJu
— SDSBasketball (@SDSBasketball) November 25, 2020
- Penny Hardaway’s crew got it together in the second half, though, picking up a 73-56 victory. Thursday’s game didn’t go so well, as the Tigers lost to Western Kentucky. It looks like it is going to be that kind of season for Memphis. Buckle up, because it’s going to be a roller coaster.
- This is going to be a short bullet point, because there’s not much to say about this score Samford put up against Division III Greenville (IL):
— Samford Men's Basketball (@SamfordMBB) November 26, 2020
- Yes, scoring 174 points is cool, but when you give up nearly 100 points to a Division III squad, the defense is going to be a problem.
- Finally, let’s talk about UCLA’s season-opening disaster. The Bruins were picked to win the Pac-12 title, but they don’t look like a title team after their first game. No, they didn’t have Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang or Jalen Hill, but losing 73-58 to San Diego State, a team that lost star Malachi Flynn to the NBA, isn’t a good look. Coach Mick Cronin is going to have to dig the Bruins out of an early hole.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the best matchups of the weekend.
4. Outlet Pass
There aren’t a ton of great matchups on over the next few days, but there are still some games I’m excited about. Here are the top 5 games between now and when the next edition of this column comes out on Tuesday morning:
- No. 10 Kentucky vs. Richmond (Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN) — The Spiders will provide Kentucky a much tougher test than Morehead State did. We’ll see if the young Wildcats can be even better than they were on Wednesday.
- No. 14 Texas Tech vs. No. 17 Houston (Sunday at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2) — A ranked matchup! Up-and-coming star coach Chris Beard vs. long-time great Kelvin Sampson! This Lone Star State showdown will be a good test for both teams early in the season.
- No. 1 Gonzaga vs. Auburn (Friday at 11 a.m. ET on FOX) — No, this isn’t the same Auburn team as last year. And the Bulldogs looked great against No. 6 Kansas, as we discussed above. This could be a blowout, but any time you can see the No. 1 team in action is exciting.
- Alabama vs. Stanford (Monday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2) — Alabama got off to a slow start against Jacksonville State. The Crimson Tide won’t be able to get away with that against Stanford.
- LSU vs. SLU (Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN+) — The battle of schools with the same letters in their name will be interesting. It’ll also be our first look at the Tigers, who return a number of key players from last year’s team. I’m personally looking forward to seeing Trendon Watford return for his sophomore campaign.
Yes, many games have been canceled or postponed, but there’s still plenty of basketball on. I plan to enjoy every minute of it!
5. Buzzer beaters
Now, let’s answer a couple of random questions before we get out of here for the day.
Which SEC basketball player would be best at football?
There are a number of interesting candidates, and I’m sure some of y’all will be sure to point out the high school football careers of some of these guys, but I’m going with Florida F Keyontae Johnson. He’s too short to be a forward at only 6-5, but he makes it work with his combination of speed and strength. I think he’d make a heck of a tight end. He’s no Kyle Pitts, but I’m sure Dan Mullen could find a way to use him.
Question: Which Christmas episode of “The Office” is best?
Fact: The answer to the question is “A Benihana Christmas,” which aired during Season 3. The scene where Dwight explains how to properly butcher a goose to Jim (much to the dismay of a couple trying to enjoy their dinner) is one of my favorite scenes. Then there’s Michael cropping himself into a photo of his girlfriend, Carol, and her kids. Classic Michael. That’s the best Christmas episode of the show and it isn’t really close.
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.