Starting 5: Illinois trounces Duke, Kansas proves itself and Mizzou fends off tough Liberty squad
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
Illinois got trounced by No. 2 Baylor last week. I didn’t know what to make of that result at the time, but now I’m starting to get a clearer picture. I wanted to see how the No. 6 Illini handled a road game at No. 10 Duke on Tuesday night.
I was not disappointed, as the Illini used a balanced attack to earn an 83-68 victory. That was the second time this season a Big Ten team has gone into Cameron Indoor Stadium and won. Michigan State was the other team.
Why no NBA teams were projecting Ayo Dosunmu to be a Round 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft is beyond me. The guy can get a basket from anywhere on the court, can rebound really well for a guard and is an excellent passer. Here are a few highlights from his 18-point, 12-rebound, 5-assist game against the Blue Devils:
Ayo Dosunmu 18 PTS, 12 REB, 5 AST in a win over Duke! pic.twitter.com/niCQEPzEDz
— Courtside Films (@CourtsideFilms) December 9, 2020
The Illini aren’t just a 1-man show, though. Dosunmu was 1 of 6 Illinois players to score in double figures. And, they would have had 7 players in double figures if freshman sensation Adam (great first name, right?) Miller hadn’t hurt his shoulder late in the game. He finished with 9 points.
After the game, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski questioned why college basketball was even being played during a pandemic. Yes, the same Coach K who, prior to the season, said the NCAA couldn’t afford to lose another NCAA Tournament. This tweet says all you need to know about Coach K’s priorities:
A Coach K saga in three epic chapters pic.twitter.com/icgsiSYjNT
— Tate Frazier (@tatefrazier) December 9, 2020
Look, I’ll never be one to criticize someone for acting in the name of player safety, but Coach K’s move here is so obvious. On Thursday, Duke announced it was canceling its remaining nonconference games.
If this move had come out before the Illinois loss, it would have been understandable. It perhaps would have even been lauded. But, it’s not like the COVID-19 spike has sprung up since Tuesday. The virus has been on an upward trend since before the basketball season started.
If Coach K wanted to protect his players, he would have followed the Ivy League’s lead and postponed the season before it even started. He also wouldn’t be OK with playing ACC games while avoiding nonconference games.
This is a clear taking-your-ball-and-going-home maneuver kids pull when they’re losing. But, what should we expect from a coach who lectures players after they have the audacity to continue playing basketball against his team until the buzzer sounds?
Coach K appears to let Dillon Brooks know he wasn’t a fan of his late 3-pointer https://t.co/ALwaVyjset
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 25, 2016
If Coach K wants to prove this is about player safety and not just an empty measure to avoid an even more embarrassing loss, he should get Duke to cancel (or forfeit) their first 2 weeks of ACC games. For some reason, I doubt he’ll do that.
Now, let’s head over to the SEC and see what’s happened over the last few days.
2. Home-court advantage
The Tennessee Volunteers are the only SEC team currently ranked in the AP Poll, but they had yet to play a game entering Tuesday night. Fortunately, the Vols were able to finally get on the court against a tough, experienced Colorado squad.
It was anything but pretty, but the Vols pulled out a 56-47 victory thanks to some stifling defense. The Vols only allowed the Buffaloes to shoot 33.3% from the floor and 22.7% from 3-point range.
It was a rough offensive night for everyone who took the court, but especially so for Tennessee star Yves Pons, who only had 2 points. He did manage to finish with 10 rebounds, though. And it was a lackluster start for Tennessee’s pair of 5-star freshmen — Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer. Coming off the bench, they combined for 10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 7 turnovers. That, obviously, isn’t going to cut it. But, coming off a long COVID-19 related layoff, there’s time for them to get their games back on track.
All in all, a win is a win and the Vols have plenty of reason for optimism moving forward. Now, let’s discuss some other top SEC stories:
- Mizzou continues to impress this season. The Tigers have 3 of the best victories in the entire SEC thus far — vs. No. 21 Oregon on a neutral court, at Wichita State and vs. Liberty. The Liberty game on Wednesday was perhaps the toughest of the bunch, as the Flames are a great team that plays a very specific style. The Flames hold the ball forever and are lethal from 3-point range. The Tigers trailed 32-28 at halftime and were turning the ball over at an alarming rate. But, in the second half, Mark Smith took over. He made 4 of the Tigers’ 5 long-range shots of the night and had 17 total points:
Mark Smith had yet another big night in Mizzou's 69-60 win over Liberty..team high 17 points tonight pic.twitter.com/IJM2DfEc6S
— Nathalie Jones (@NathalieABC17) December 10, 2020
- Smith was the SEC Player of the Week last week, and he’ll have more of those awards in his future if he keeps up this level of play. We’ll see what happens against No. 6 Illinois on Saturday. More on that game in a bit!
- The Georgia Bulldogs have been a big surprise this season. No, they haven’t played a notable opponent yet, but Sahvir Wheeler has been a star. And, this week, when Wheeler wasn’t up to his normal antics, Toumani Camara stepped up. The sophomore forward had 15 points and a whopping 17 rebounds against Montana. He and Wheeler are going to be a nice tandem for the Dawgs this season.
- OK, so it hasn’t been the busiest week in the SEC, but that makes it the perfect time to break out some bold predictions! I put together this video of 1 bold prediction for each SEC team this year. Enjoy!
Now, let’s move on to some stories from around the rest of the country.
3. Road trip
OK, so I … gulp … might need to issue an apology to the … to the Kansas Jayhawks. I wrote on Tuesday that they were overrated. While, as a Mizzou alum, I still very much want to believe that, the evidence states otherwise.
As a reluctantly objective journalist, I must now admit that the Jayhawks are a top-10 team in the country. Yes, Creighton star Marcus Zegarowski had to miss his third of 3 free throws with 1 second left in the game for the Jayhawks to escape with a win, but that’s exactly what he did (after draining the first 2 shots from the line):
What an ending 😳
The battle between No. 8 Creighton and No. 5 Kansas came down to the wire. Creighton’s Marcus Zegarowski missed the FT to tie up the game. pic.twitter.com/N9TgKRnipW
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 9, 2020
Zegarowski is a 75.3% career free-throw shooter, so making 2 out of 3 is about what you can expect from him. Yes, this was a brutal loss for the Blue Jays, but I thought Creighton would win this game by 5-10 points.
Instead, some freshman I’d never heard of named Jalen Wilson had 23 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Jayhawks. Guess I’m going to have to treat Kansas with a bit more respect. This is a team that will be in the mix for a No. 1 seed come tournament time depending on how it fares against Baylor this season.
Now, let’s look at some other stories from around the country:
- Luka Garza. Do I need to say anything more? *Checks with editor* OK, so I guess I do need to say something more. I honestly thought he played his best game of the year against a tough North Carolina squad on Tuesday. Yes, he “only” had 16 points and 14 rebounds, but he was double- and triple-teamed all night long. He often made the right decision with the ball, and as you can see below, that led to easy buckets for his teammates:
Even with Luka Garza shooting 6-for-20, Iowa still scored 1.18 ppp against UNC last night. Video on UNC's shaky off-ball defense and the offensive set used by Iowa down the stretch
(sound on 🔊) pic.twitter.com/AXdMmirSTU
— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) December 9, 2020
- He also had every North Carolina big man tasked with guarding him in foul trouble early. That’s the sign of an elite player. He’s the frontrunner for national player of the year at this point, and it’s not particularly close.
- Maryland is really struggling to replace Jalen Smith, who went No. 10 overall to the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Draft. The Terrapins scored 15 points in the first half against Clemson during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday. It was an ugly performance all-around. But, on Clemson’s side, Aamir Simms scored a team-high 16 points, including this and-1:
- The Tigers are for real. They might not be a top-tier ACC team, but they can beat anyone on any given night. They’ll be a nightmare for opposing coaches all year.
- As good as Trayce Jackson-Davis was for Indiana on Wednesday night (25 points, 17 rebounds), the Florida State Seminoles were even better. Yes, they lost Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft, but they are still a talented squad. And, they replaced those guys with a stud freshman in Scottie Barnes. MJ Walker has also stepped up. He had 19 key points against the Hoosiers, and can score from anywhere on the court:
- We’ll see how he fares against the Florida Gators on Saturday, but we’ll have more on that game later.
- San Diego State has now won 13 straight road games. That’s the longest streak in the NCAA. No, they don’t have Malachi Flynn or a team that would likely be a 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament this year, but the Aztecs are still a strong squad. With an 80-68 victory at Arizona State on Thursday night, they improved to 5-0. Big man Nathan Mensah had 17 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks. That’s a big-time game. Jordan Schakel had 25 points and 6 boards. Just because they don’t have the same guys as last year doesn’t mean you should sleep on the Aztecs this season.
There’s your look around the college basketball world. Now, let’s look ahead to the best games between now and Tuesday.
4. Outlet pass
There’s no ACC/Big Ten Challenge this weekend, but there are still a few interesting contests on the schedule. Here are the 5 games I can’t wait to see.
- No. 6 Illinois at Mizzou (Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on SECN+) — I can’t wait for this huge, primetime matchup between 2 talented teams on … wait, that can’t be right … SEC Network+? Seriously? I guess that’s what you get for scheduling a primetime game on a Saturday during football season. Oh well, I’ll still be watching and it should be a heck of a game!
- No. 13 Texas at No. 2 Baylor (Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN) — This is going to be a heck of a Big 12 opener for both teams. The Longhorns are a top-tier Big 12 team, but the Bears are a title contender. Can Baylor make a statement, or will the Longhorns keep their strong start to the season going?
- No. 19 Richmond at No. 11 West Virginia (Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN) — The Spiders have a win over the Kentucky Wildcats on their resume. They can go anywhere and win, which is scary for the Mountaineers. Bob Huggins’ crew will have its hands full to avoid an upset.
- Marquette at No. 8 Creighton (Monday at 9 p.m. ET on FS1) — Creighton will be eager to get back on track after a tough loss at Kansas. Meanwhile, Marquette is riding high after a tip-in, last-second victory over Wisconsin. This is going to be a fun Big East battle!
- Florida at No. 20 Florida State (Saturday at 11 a.m. ET on ESPNU) — The Gators lost 63-51 at home to Florida State last season. That was the first sign of major problems to come. Can the 3-0 Gators avoid a similar fate in Tallahassee this year? This will tell us if Florida is for real or not.
These games will teach us a lot about the top teams in the country. Nonconference play is winding down, so we’ll see which of these teams can make statements over the weekend.
5. Buzzer beaters
Now, let’s answer a couple of random questions before we get out of here for the day:
Which SEC player from the past 2 years do you think could most help a current SEC team?
That includes Tyler Herro at Kentucky, right? Yeah, I’m going with Tyler Herro. He played at a high level for the Miami Heat this past season, and he’s a self-proclaimed bucket. The Wildcats could use a guy who is confident from 3-point range. Herro would be the perfect fix for this year’s Kentucky squad. They could also use a point guard, but I think they could overcome their turnover issues if they had a guy like Herro who could knock down 3s.
Favorite hot alcoholic drink — hot toddy or mulled wine?
Honestly, those are both great options. Particularly at Christmas parties (during normal years), I’d have both on hand. But, if I had to choose one, I’d go with a hot toddy. Bourbon is my favorite spirit, and the hot water, honey, cinnamon and lemon only makes it better. Hot drink season is great, so enjoy both of those drinks if you are into that sort of thing!
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.