Starting 5: Kentucky struggles, Mike White on the hot seat and Cassius Winston’s courage
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.
What are the biggest stories in college basketball this week? Let’s take a look around the country:
1. Opening tip
Florida entered the 2019 season as the No. 6 team in the preseason AP Poll. After an early loss to Florida State, the Gators fell to No. 15 in the Week 2 poll. Now, after a loss at UConn this weekend, they’re 2-2 and out of the rankings altogether.
The problem? Several Gators, other than sophomore G Andrew Nembhard, look scared to have the ball in their hands in key situations. Look at how that UConn game finished:
— Davey Hudson (@Davey_Hudson) November 17, 2019
No, that’s not sophomore F Keyontae Johnson’s ideal shot, but when you have that look with time about to expire, you have to let it fly. Instead, he tried to pass it and UConn stole it.
Another issue is that Florida’s 5-star freshmen have been inconsistent. Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann combined for only 10 points in the UConn loss, with Lewis scoring 8 of those points in 31 minutes.
The Gators play in the Charleston Classic against Saint Joseph’s on Thursday, but I’m not confident they can win that game. Last week, they barely held on to beat Towson in Gainesville, winning 66-60.
Coach Mike White’s seat is heating up at a rapid pace and he won’t survive the season if this continues. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech graduate transfer F Kerry Blackshear Jr. must be reconsidering his choice of Florida:
Again, I have to make the disclaimer that it’s still early, so Florida can certainly round into form and become a squad that competes for a Final Four spot. However, this team is nowhere near that level right now.
2. Home-court advantage
Speaking of top SEC teams that have struggled thus far, Kentucky needed a late push just to avoid another embarrassing home loss. On Monday night, the Wildcats hosted Utah Valley, and they simply had no answer for G TJ Washington.
Washington scored 22 points and drained 5 3-pointers, while Kentucky only made 1 3 all night long. Fortunately for the Wildcats, G Ashton Hagans had an outstanding game, scoring 26 points and going a clutch 12-for-12 from the free-throw line. Meanwhile, big man Nick Richards had 21 points and 10 rebounds. Check out this nice put-back tip-in basket late in the second half to help seal the victory:
The game breaker. Utah Valley forced to go man in the last minute. UK spreads the floor & Ashton Hagans prods the defense off the high ball screen & rescreen. The UV guard quits on the play & Nick Richards is uncontested for the tip in. @KentuckyRivals @RowlandRIVALS @Trav_Graf pic.twitter.com/veCJw6Z78u
— David Sisk (@CoachDavidSisk) November 19, 2019
Hagans and Richards are Exhibits B and C (with last year’s star PJ Washington as Exhibit A) of why it isn’t the worst thing in the world to come back to Kentucky for a second year. Hagans and Richards are showing maturity and improved skill sets.
Now, if only the Wildcats and coach John Calipari could get more consistency out of freshmen Tyrese Maxey, Keion Brooks Jr., Kahlil Whitney and Johnny Juzang.
Here are some other notes from around the SEC:
- Missouri pulled away from Wofford during the second half of Monday night’s game. A big reason for that was Mizzou’s defense held Wofford without a field goal for the last 14 minutes of the game. That’s Virginia-level defense!
- Auburn continues to shoot the lights out. The Tigers made 10 3-pointers in a lopsided win over Colgate on Monday. Samir Doughty has taken a big step forward and freshman F Isaac Okoro has been a big-time player.
- Tennessee deserves a ton of credit for going to Toronto and beating a ranked Washington team, 75-62. Returning contributors from last year’s team Jordan Bowden, Lamonte Turner, Yves Pons and John Fulkerson all scored at least 14 points in the win. That’s some impressive offensive balance.
Now, let’s see what’s happening elsewhere around the country.
3. Road game
Michigan State G Cassius Winston has been playing with a heavy heart lately, as his younger brother, Zachary, died after being hit by a train in Michigan last week. He hasn’t missed a game, playing in honor of his brother.
After a big home win over Charleston Southern on Monday night, Winston addressed the Michigan State fans in attendance, thanking them for the support through this trying time for him and his family:
Cassius Winston is incredibly strong.
The Michigan State star spoke publicly for the first time since his brother Zachary’s death. pic.twitter.com/MgP0cm38kX
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) November 19, 2019
He had 21 points in a win over a tough Seton Hall team last week, and scored 11 in the blowout win on Monday. It couldn’t have been an easy decision to play in these last couple of games, but it’s clear the support from the fans had an impact on him.
Winston is a special player and one of the greatest Spartans in recent memory. He’s given so much of his heart to Michigan State, and now Spartan fans have the opportunity to give a little bit of their hearts back to him.
Here are a few other notable happenings from around the country:
- Wisconsin put its trademark defense to the test over the weekend against Markus Howard and the Marquette Golden Eagles. Howard still had 18 points in Marquette’s 77-61 loss to the Badgers, but he was only 6-for-21 from the field, including 2-of-7 from 3-point range. Meanwhile, Wisconsin had 6 players score at least 10 points. That’s balance.
- Much like in football, Ohio State looks like one of the top teams in the country. The Buckeyes are up to No. 10 in the AP Poll, and absolutely dominated an overmatched Stetson squad Monday. The final was 86-51, but it wasn’t even that close. The Buckeyes led 42-14 at halftime and rested their starters for much of the second half. Amazingly, though, Ohio State doesn’t actually leave the state of Ohio (or its home court in Columbus, for that matter) until a Dec. 4 showdown at North Carolina. We’ll have to wait until then to see just how real this squad is. The defense has yet to allow an opponent to reach 60 points, though, and if you’re not familiar with basketball, that’s really good.
- Zeke Nnaji of Arizona has been playing outstanding basketball this season. The Wildcats are 4-0 and have scored at least 83 points in every game. Nnaji has been the leading scorer in 3 of those games. The freshman forward is averaging 21 points and 6 rebounds for the Wildcats. Like Ohio State, Arizona doesn’t face its first true road game until December (a game at Baylor on Dec. 7), but the Wildcats should still be undefeated by then. A trip to Anaheim for the Wooden Legacy tourney looks very navigable for a team with Pac-12 title aspirations like the Wildcats.
Now, let’s take a look at the next few days in college basketball.
4. Outlet pass
The season heats up next week when Thanksgiving tournaments start to tip off around the country (and internationally), but there are still some exciting games over the next 3 days. Here are 5 games you should be keeping an eye on:
- Georgia Tech at Georgia (Wednesday at 7 p.m. Eastern) — Any chance to see Georgia’s freshman sensation Anthony Edwards is exciting. This will be his first real test, though.
- Duke vs. Cal (Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern in New York City) — Duke is up to No. 1 in the AP Poll. Cal has to make a cross-country trip to play in this game in the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden. However, crazy things happen in New York City. Plus, there has been a curse on the No. 1 spot lately.
- Texas vs. Georgetown (Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern in New York City) — This is the other 2K Empire Classic semifinal. The winners will square off on Friday in what should be an exciting showdown.
- Furman at Alabama (Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern) — Furman is an impressive 4-0, while Alabama is off to a sluggish 1-2 start with losses to Penn and Rhode Island. Can Nate Oats’ squad get its season back on track?
- Vermont at Virginia (Tuesday at 7 p.m. Eastern) — I’m on the record as being a huge fan of Virginia’s defense. That will be tested in this game, as the undefeated Cavaliers take on an undefeated Vermont team that recently beat St. John’s.
That’s a nice appetizer for what will take place this weekend and into next week. Feast Week is almost here, folks!
5. Buzzer beaters
Eventually, this section will turn into reader questions, but for now, y’all are going to have to settle for me asking myself a couple of random questions in this space. Like these:
If you had to pick who was going to win the national championship this year, who would it be?
It’s still really early, obviously, but I haven’t liked what I’ve seen from a number of top teams. Right now, I’d have to go with either North Carolina to win it all or Virginia to repeat as champion. Both look really good, but there’s still time for other teams to get back in the mix.
What’s the best Thanksgiving food?
My dad makes some incredible deviled eggs, and those are always one of my favorites on any Thanksgiving spread. However, you really can’t go wrong. It’s all good — the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the desserts. I’m getting hungry just thinking about next week.
I just don’t like dressing (or stuffing, whatever you want to call it). Not for me, thanks.
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.