Starting 5: Kansas-Kansas State brawl fallout, Illinois’ ugly stomp and LSU’s escape act
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.
1. The Opening Tip
The game was over.
That’s what all the analysts said about Kansas State freshman guard DaJuan Gordon’s last-second shot attempt in the Sunflower State rivalry game against Kansas. Kansas held an 81-59 lead at that point.
Silvio De Sousa blocked the shot emphatically and then stood over Gordon, prompting an intense brawl:
HUUUUUUUUGE brawl at the end of K-State-Kansas pic.twitter.com/vtdpBlKqnt
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) January 22, 2020
The brawl spilled over into the stands, where De Sousa at one point grabbed a stool and appeared ready to swing it before it was knocked out of his hands. He was suspended for 12 games after the ugly incident, and 3 other players (1 from Kansas, 2 from Kansas State) also received suspensions.
Yes, it was an ugly incident, but let’s sort a few things out. First of all, a lot of people blamed Gordon for trying to score in the final seconds of a game that was a lost cause. If you believe that, you need to settle down. It’s a rivalry game. All is fair until the final buzzer in a rivalry game.
Secondly, I don’t even have that much of a problem with De Sousa standing over Gordon after the block. Again, rivalry game. The problem is that the brawl spilled over into the stands. You can’t be putting cheerleaders, media members and paying fans at risk of injury. That’s unacceptable.
And, also, no one should ever grab a stool to use as a weapon. De Sousa deserved every bit of the suspension he got. He acknowledged as much in a tweet apologizing for his actions:
I’m sorry for my actions last night, please read this: pic.twitter.com/cmkEO0I5Ax
— Silvio De Sousa ™ (@SilvioDeSousa5) January 23, 2020
Now, for some fun stuff, because, since we know that this brawl was stopped before anything seriously harmful could happen, it was kind of funny. Here’s a breakdown of everything that happened in the fight:
Kansas and Kansas State brawl to end the game, a breakdown pic.twitter.com/6BXLkevfPU
— Jomboy (@Jomboy_) January 22, 2020
And, here’s Wes Blankenship calling the fight in his popular “Coffeetown” personality on Twitter:
— Wes Blankenship (@Wes_nship) January 22, 2020
As a Mizzou graduate, I obviously loved seeing Kansas involved in another incident. Here were a couple of my favorite Mizzou-related tweets about the brawl:
The fight at the kansas vs Kansas State game was unacceptable. All kansas players involved should be suspended without pay.
— The Mizzodcast (@mizzodcast) January 22, 2020
Mizzou's gonna be in so much trouble https://t.co/mERL0dTIEW
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) January 22, 2020
What an adventure this Kansas season has been. First, there was the cloud of the FBI investigation. Then, Kansas was supposedly shocked (shocked, I tell you!) that the Snoop Dogg concert to kick off the season involved strippers. Whatever you say, fellas.
Now, one of the worst fights in recent college basketball history was sparked by a Kansas player. Has Bill Self lost control of the program?
2. Home-Court Advantage
LSU remains undefeated in SEC play after a big win over Florida on Tuesday night. Once again, the Tigers escaped by the skin of their teeth and now have won their last 5 SEC games by 4 points or less.
How does LSU continue to win these close games? Let’s take a look at what Will Wade’s squad does well.
First and foremost, the Tigers are the third-best team in the SEC when it comes to shooting free throws, behind only Mizzou and Kentucky. They make 76.4% of their shots from the charity stripe.
Second, they’re impossible to defend. With teams like Arkansas, you know if you limit what Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe are able to do, you can win. With Kentucky, if you force the Wildcats to settle for a bunch of threes, you can win.
With LSU, if you take away Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays can beat you. If you take away freshman sensation Trendon Watford, well, Marlon Taylor and Emmitt Williams can take over. Against Florida, 6 different LSU players scored at least 10 points. That’s some impressive balance at the college level.
Finally, they get to the basket, both to score points and to draw fouls. On Tuesday, the Tigers shot 31 free throws (making 24). Florida, meanwhile, only attempted 11 free throws (making 9).
The weakness of this team is easy to spot — LSU doesn’t shoot the three ball well. The Tigers went 2-for-14 from beyond the arc against Florida. If they don’t have anyone step up and knock a few long-range shots down against Alabama on Wednesday night, that could end up being the Tigers’ first SEC loss.
However, it’s not smart to count this LSU team out at this point, especially if things are tight late.
Now, let’s take a look around the rest of the SEC:
- Mizzou’s 91-point outburst against Florida continues to look like an inexplicable fluke for both teams. That is the Tigers’ only SEC win thus far, as they are now 1-5 after falling to Texas A&M on Tuesday. Torrence Watson had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but this three was off:
Mizzou nearly pulled off the comeback as Mark Smith's full-court pass found itself eventually over to Torrence Watson. The three clanged off the back rim, and Mizzou drops a home game to Texas A&M 66-64. The Tigers are 9-9 (1-5 SEC) and have lost three straight games. pic.twitter.com/dhIzsAobAO
— Tyler Murry (@TylerMurryABC17) January 22, 2020
- Still, when you’re hosting A&M, you shouldn’t be in a spot where you need a desperate three-pointer to fall in order to win. Cuonzo Martin’s squad is going the wrong way in a hurry.
- Mississippi State’s impressive turnaround can be explained in 2 words — Reggie Perry. The sophomore big man has been incredible after the Bulldogs started 0-3 in conference action. In wins over Missouri, Georgia and Arkansas, Perry has looked like an SEC Player of the Year candidate. In those 3 games, he’s had 3 double-doubles, scoring at least 22 points and grabbing at least 10 rebounds in each contest. We’ll see if he can keep that streak going when SEC play resumes at Florida on Tuesday.
- Devan Cambridge is only a freshman, but he’s shown a maturity beyond his years. He helped Auburn get back on track by scoring 26 points in a big win over South Carolina, but he wasn’t satisfied after going 0-for-2 from the free-throw line. So, what did he do? Naturally, he stayed at the arena after the crowd filed out and worked on his free throws:
Devan Cambridge stays after to work on shooting because he obviously didn’t do well enough in the game. pic.twitter.com/ndLH3yYkVG
— Giana Han (@giana_jade) January 23, 2020
- I love seeing that sort of work ethic, especially from a freshman. Auburn fans should be excited to see this kid progress.
- Ole Miss has been awful since the start of SEC play, going 0-5 thus far. The lack of effective post play has really hurt the Rebels, who have had to rely too heavily on Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler. Things aren’t going to get any better this week, either, as they travel to Georgia on Saturday and host Auburn on Tuesday. Things could spiral out of control quickly.
What’s going on around the rest of the country? Let’s take a look at those stories now.
3. Road Game
If not for the brawl in Lawrence, there would have been another unsportsmanlike incident dominating headlines around the country. Basically, no one benefited more from the brawl than Illinois guard Alan Griffin.
As you can see in the video below, he pretty blatantly stepped on Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic:
"That's just absolutely ridiculous, uncalled for and he should be gone."
Illinois' Alan Griffin was ejected after stepping on a Purdue player. pic.twitter.com/LzG9GWqkap
— ESPN (@espn) January 22, 2020
Griffin was (rightfully) ejected from the game. He has since issued an apology, though, saying he was allowed to apologize to Stefanovic in person after the game:
— Alan Griffin (@alangriffin_) January 22, 2020
Again, to me, this was a heat-of-the-moment thing and it’s nice to see cooler heads prevail after the game. It’s just unfortunate timing, as the incident overshadows how well the Illini have been playing lately.
Illinois is up to No. 21 in the AP Poll and has won 5 Big Ten games in a row since losing at Michigan State earlier this year. The Illini are in second place in the Big Ten standings at 6-2, one game behind the Spartans. They’ll get to host Michigan State on Feb. 11.
Let’s hope this team starts getting the respect it deserves moving forward.
Now, let’s take a look at some other non-SEC stories:
- Staying with the Big Ten, Rutgers botched a golden opportunity. After climbing into the top 25 for the first time in 40 years, the Scarlet Knights promptly went on the road and lost at Iowa. Granted, Iowa is a great team (ranked No. 19 currently), but Rutgers held a 43-38 halftime lead before the Hawkeyes outscored the Knights by 10 in the second half. That wasted a huge effort from Ron Harper Jr., who scored 29 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in the loss. This is the sort of athleticism Harper brings to the table on a nightly basis:
- Oh well, what a missed opportunity. Maybe Rutgers can climb its way back into the rankings before 2060.
- Ohio State continues to spiral in the wrong direction. After looking like a potential Final Four team during nonconference play, the Buckeyes don’t even look like they will compete for a spot in the top half of the Big Ten standings. On Thursday night, Minnesota’s Marcus Carr was the one who provided the dagger to Ohio State fans’ hearts:
Marcus Carr with the rebound then the crossover and dagger on the other end for the Gophers pic.twitter.com/db1WFWai5T
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 24, 2020
- That was Minnesota’s first true road win of the season, adding even more insult to the Buckeyes’ loss. Ohio State is now 2-6 in Big Ten play, tied with Nebraska for second-to-last place. Yikes.
- Finally, I’m just going to leave this Memphis final score here without comment. OK, I’ll make one comment — no one should be losing by 40 to Tulsa:
Now, let’s take a look at the weekend’s slate of games, which includes some important matchups.
4. Outlet Pass
With the Big 12/SEC Challenge taking place, as well as some other conference games, there’s plenty of action to watch this weekend. Here are the 5 best games on the schedule:
- No. 1 Baylor at Florida (Saturday at 8 p.m. Eastern on ESPN) — The Bears have been challenged by Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in the last few days. Meanwhile, the Gators just narrowly lost at LSU. Baylor will need to look like the No. 1 team in the country if it wants to leave Gainesville with another win.
- Marquette at No. 13 Butler (Friday at 9 p.m. Eastern on FS1) — Butler desperately needs a win, having lost 3 straight games. However, anything can happen when Markus Howard is on the floor for Marquette. The Golden Eagles are on a 3-game winning streak.
- No. 15 Kentucky at No. 18 Texas Tech (Saturday at 6 p.m. Eastern on ESPN) — This game has lost a little bit of luster, as Texas Tech probably doesn’t deserve to be ranked following an 11-point loss at TCU earlier this week. Still, it could turn into a battle.
- No. 7 Dayton at Richmond (Saturday at 6 p.m. Eastern on ESPN+) — Obi Toppin continues to be a joy to watch. He’s scored at least 15 points in every game since the calendar turned to 2020. This will be a tough test for the Flyers against the Spiders.
- No. 21 Illinois at Michigan (Saturday at noon Eastern on FS1) — I love watching this Illinois team play (minus that unfortunate stomping incident we talked about above). The Illini are talented enough that they could legitimately challenge Michigan State for the Big Ten regular-season title. However, they’ll need to prove they can go on the road and win in the state of Michigan. They’ll get their chance Saturday afternoon.
That slate of games should get you through your weekend. Chaos will certainly ensue, if the last few weeks are any indication.
5. Buzzer Beaters
Now, let’s answer a couple of random questions before we get out of here to enjoy some of this weekend’s college basketball action:
If the season ended today, who would you vote for as the Player of the Year?
Some guys I’d consider would be Cassius Winston (Michigan State), Payton Pritchard (Oregon), Myles Powell (Seton Hall) and Markus Howard (Marquette), but to me, at this stage of the season, the award goes to Dayton’s Obi Toppin. He’s averaging 19.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. That’s impressive. Oh, and Dayton is the No. 7 team in the country, sporting an awesome 17-2 record.
Which is better — the Big Ten/ACC Challenge or the Big 12/SEC Challenge?
Well, that depends on the year. Most years, I’d say the Big Ten and ACC have the better teams, but this year, I’m going with the Big 12/SEC Challenge. There are more intriguing matchups there, and I like that it happens at the end of January instead of in early December, like the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. That gives us more time to see what teams are really like and truly anticipate matchups like Baylor-Florida and LSU-Texas.
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.