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

This column is a day late because I had to fly home to Illinois to see my grandpa. He’s 92 years old and isn’t doing so well.

My grandpa wasn’t around much. He was the product of a generation where you woke up at the crack of dawn every day, farmed until the sun went down and then did it all again tomorrow.

My memories of spending time at my grandma’s house were just that — spending time at my grandma’s house. It seemed like her house because my grandpa, especially during planting and harvesting seasons, would be out at the farm until sundown and sometimes even later. My sister and I would be lucky to see him for half an hour before we had to go to bed.

This was a man who farmed almost every day of his life until he was 84 years old and he was trampled by a bull. Who knows how long he could have kept going if this bull didn’t bruise his leg so bad he had to go on blood thinners for a couple of years and never regained his full mobility?

Either way, he was always the strong, silent presence in my life. He would come home late and have dinner with us when we stayed at his and grandma’s place. Then, he’d be gone in the morning. That’s the sort of male-to-male relationship you grow up with in the Midwest.

However, there are always sports. Sports are love. Among the men in my family, “I love you” is a phrase said much less than “What’s wrong with the Cardinals?” St. Louis Cardinal baseball is No. 1. It is love.

For my grandpa, Illinois sports were No. 2. Illini football and basketball were important to him when the Cardinals weren’t playing. After flying home this week to see him in his nursing home after a turn for the worse, all I wanted to do was turn on an Illini game. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out and I wasn’t able to visit when a game was on.

However, the Illini are certainly going to make the NCAA Tournament this year, and I’ll be rooting for them. I remember watching games at grandma and grandpa’s house when Corey Bradford was one of the first great 3-point shooters in Illinois history. I also remember being at grandma and grandpa’s house and watching Arizona claim the 1997 national title against Kentucky. Grandma and grandpa had cable. My house out in the country did not.

I don’t know how much time my grandpa has left. It could be a week, it could be 5 years. All I know is I hope Illinois makes a deep NCAA Tournament run for him. In a family where Cardinals baseball and Illinois sports mean love, it would only be fitting for the Illini to ride Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn to the Final Four.

I’ll be rooting for it, and I’ll be video chatting with grandpa on his good days to make sure he’s keeping up with what’s going on. I’ll be covering the first- and second-round games in Sacramento this year, and how crazy would it be if the Illini ended up heading West for those games? That’s something I’ll be rooting for, too.

Even if they don’t end up out West, though, I’ll still be rooting for the Illini to keep their outstanding season going for a few more weeks.

Thanks for indulging me on that. Now, let’s move on to some of the SEC’s top stories.

2. Home-court Advantage

The SEC basketball awards were handed out Tuesday, and I have no issues with the choices made by the voters. Here’s who the voters honored with the major individual awards:

  • SEC Coach of the Year: John Calipari, Kentucky
  • SEC Player of the Year: Immanuel Quickley, Kentucky
  • SEC Defensive Player of the Year: Yves Pons, Tennessee
  • SEC Freshman of the Year: Anthony Edwards, Georgia
  • SEC Sixth Man of the Year: Tyson Carter, Mississippi State

All of those guys had fantastic seasons, and it’s tough to argue with any of the choices. I will, however, argue with the 1st- and 2nd-team All-SEC honors. A total of 17 players (9 on the 1st team, 8 on the 2nd team) were honored. That’s ridiculous.

If you do the math (14 teams x 5 starters each = 70 players. 17 players honored divided by 70 starters = 24.2% of starters honored), nearly a quarter of the SEC’s starters this year received all-conference recognition. That’s too much.

Adopt the NBA model and have 5 players on the 1st team and 5 on the 2nd team. Seems simple. There are 5 players on the court at a time, not 9, last time I checked.

Now, let’s take a look around the rest of the SEC:

  • I’m excited about the 2 SEC Tournament games Wednesday night. Ole Miss and Georgia will square off in the 12-13 matchup and Arkansas will take on a dangerous Vanderbilt team in the 11-14 matchup. There will be some great guard play in those 2 games. In Georgia-Ole Miss, we’ll get to see Anthony Edwards and Breein Tyree square off. In the Vandy-Arkansas game, Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones will go head-to-head with Saben Lee and Scotty Pippen Jr. That’ll be a lot of fun!
  • Everybody interested in unusual stats? Yeah, so am I. Well, here’s a doozy for you, courtesy of @DenverParler on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/denverparler/status/1237482276952268801

  • First of all, that’s an insane percentage of games to have a double-digit comeback. Secondly, Florida had a 21- and a 22-point comeback this season. That’s ridiculous. Poor Georgia went 1-4 in those types of games. Not a good look for Tom Crean and company. Whatever you make of those stats, it seems this week’s SEC Tournament could get wild!

Now, let’s take a look at some stories from around the country.

3. Road Game

The big thing on everyone’s mind these days is COVID-19. The virus has caused all sorts of public events to be altered and canceled, and that extends to the world of college basketball, as well.

In fact, 2 Division I conferences — the Big West and the MAC — announced that their tournaments will be held without spectators:

https://twitter.com/BigWestSports/status/1237508533676945408?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1237508533676945408&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.saturdaydownsouth.com%2Fsec-football%2F2-conferences-announce-their-mens-basketball-tournaments-will-be-held-without-fans%2F

Other conferences have announced additional cleaning procedures and media access restrictions. We’re in for a strange March, folks, so stay safe and let’s see what sort of basketball we get from now until April.

Now, for some other major stories from around the country:

  • Are you tired of me talking about Obi Toppin of Dayton yet? I certainly hope not. Because he continues to do incredible things. Just look at this between-the-legs dunk:

  • No one else in college basketball is doing that. He is truly incredible and I, for one, can’t wait to see what he does in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Utah State is going dancing, and considering that the Aggies just beat a potential No. 1 seed in San Diego State, don’t be surprised if Sam Merrill’s squad makes a run in March. Just look at this shot Merrill hit to sink the Aztecs:

  • That’s a big-time March shot. If he can continue to manage those sort of heroics, this is a team that can make it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament and potentially beyond.
  • Not only did North Carolina win its ACC Tournament opener Tuesday night, the Tar Heels routed Virginia Tech 78-56. Garrison Brooks scored 20 points to lead all scorers. Now, as North Carolina proceeds to the next round of the ACC Tournament, it’s worth asking — could the Tar Heels actually do this? Could they go from the worst seed in the ACC Tournament to champion? It’s obviously highly unlikely, but Syracuse will have to watch out Wednesday night.

Alright, now let’s take a look at the next few days in the college basketball world.

4. Outlet Pass

We’re in the heart of conference tournament season, and that means some intense basketball will be played over the next few days. So, which games are the most exciting on the upcoming schedule? Here’s a look at the 5 games I can’t wait to see.

(Note: I’m only doing matchups that are set. I’m not predicting what might happen between now and Friday.)

  1. Marquette vs. No. 16 Seton Hall (Thursday at 9:30 p.m. ET on FS1) — This is only a quarterfinal matchup in the Big East Tournament. Keep an eye on this tourney, as it might be one of the most fun in the country. Markus Howard vs. Myles Powell? Sign me up.
  2. Texas Tech vs. Texas (Thursday at 12:30 p.m. ET) — This is one of the biggest bubble games of the week. The Red Raiders spent much of the season in the Top 25, but they’ve been sliding lately. The Longhorns are on fire lately, so we’ll see if they can put another big win on their NCAA Tournament résumé.
  3. No. 24 Butler vs. Providence (Thursday at 2:30 p.m. ET on FS1) — Another Big East quarterfinal game, another must-see matchup. The Bulldogs have been up and down this season, while Providence has pulled off some major upsets. Do the Friars have another upset left in the tank?
  4. Washington vs. Arizona (Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Network) — Both teams are loaded with NBA talent, but both have had disappointing seasons. Something’s gotta give in Las Vegas.
  5. Vanderbilt vs. Arkansas (Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on SEC Network) — Yes, Vanderbilt was the worst team in the SEC this year, going 3-15 in conference play. However, The Commodores have won their last 2 games entering the SEC Tournament, which happens to be in their home city of Nashville. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks desperately need this game to pad their NCAA Tournament résumé.

That’s a pretty solid start to championship week. Let’s hope the weekend also lives up to expectations!

5. Hoops Odds by BetOnline

Thanks to our friends at BetOnline, you can bet easily on college hoops each day. If you join today, you can be eligible for a deposit bonus up to $1,000. Click here to join now.

Let’s take a look at the latest odds to win the 2020 SEC Tournament Championship. Head over to BetOnline to see more.

  • Kentucky: +175
  • Auburn: +275
  • Florida: +350
  • LSU: +500
  • Mississippi State: +900
  • Tennessee: +1200
  • Arkansas: +2000
  • Alabama: +2500
  • South Carolina: +3300
  • Texas A&M: +4000
  • Georgia: +8000
  • Mizzou: +8000
  • Ole Miss: +10000
  • Vanderbilt: +15000

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.