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. Opening tipoff

By far the best game of the week was undefeated No. 6 Arizona’s trip to Rocky Top to take on No. 19 Tennessee.

First, kudos to Arizona for being willing to take these tough road games. We need to see that more often. The Wildcats went to Illinois earlier this month and visited Tennessee this week. Most top teams are too scared to play a road schedule that tough.

Not Arizona.

However, this game didn’t work out for the Wildcats. They’re now 11-1 after losing 77-73 to the Vols on Wednesday night.

John Fulkerson had his best game of the year, recording a 24-point, 10-rebound double-double for his squad. He also had this important and-one late in a close game:

The reason this game was competitive, though, was Tennessee’s hot start. The Vols jumped out to a 16-2 lead. This Josiah-Jordan James dunk was a punctuation mark of that hot start:

There were some questions about the officiating late in the game, as the refs seemed to whistle every little bit of contact as a foul. But, that probably works out well for the Vols, as SEC refs tend to be pretty whistle-happy.

With wins over North Carolina and now Arizona in nonconference play, the Vols seemed poised to have a strong start to SEC action. After last year’s inconsistency at the end of the SEC schedule, the Vols need to hit the ground running in league play this year.

We’ll see if Fulkerson and his teammates can pick up a big win against Alabama on Wednesday night.

2. SEC notes

Oscar Tshiebwe is one of the most exciting players to watch in the SEC this year. He’s also one of the best rebounders the league has seen in some time. On Wednesday night in a win over Western Kentucky, Tshiebwe was at it again.

In the 95-60 victory over the Hilltoppers, Tshiebwe scored 14 points. An impressive showing, no doubt. But it was his performance on the glass that raised eyebrows, as he grabbed an eye-popping 28 rebounds.

This is an insane stat:

Just don’t call Tshiebwe a “machine.” He won’t allow that until he grabs 30 boards in 1 game. For now, we’ll have to settle for calling him a “beast”:

How can you not love that guy? His energy and passion for the game is obvious and he is beloved by teammates and coaches alike.

Kellan Grady also deserves some love for Wednesday night’s win. He scored a Kentucky career-high 23 points, going 6-for-9 from the 3-point arc. He was doing a lot of his work by moving without the ball, too.

Here are a couple of plays I’ll highlight. First, a play in which Tshiebwe draws the defenders by running hard to the rim in transition. Normally, you want to reward the big man for running the court like that, but Tshiebwe is such a good teammate you know he’s even happier that Grady knocked down this 3:

Then, there’s this look, where Tshiebwe frees him up with a hard screen:

Finally, there’s this great shot-fake that frees Grady up for a clean look at the bucket:

Great film breakdown work by David Sisk, as always. Go give him a follow if you want to be an expert on Kentucky (or North Carolina, as he provides in-depth analysis of the Tar Heels, too).

Grady is the X factor for the Wildcats this year. If he can continue to get open looks like that and Kentucky can continue to push the 80-point barrier in each game, it’s going to be really tough to take down the Wildcats in SEC play.

  • I’m going to talk again about how much I love watching Wendell Green Jr. play for Auburn. Apparently, though, if I don’t mention every Auburn player by name when I talk about the Tigers, I get in trouble in the comments section. So, shoutout to the entire team for an impressive 71-58 win over a tough Murray State team on Wednesday night. But, Green was the player who caught my eye the most. And it wasn’t just for this incredible half-court 3-pointer as the shot clock was expiring:

  • He finished the game with 13 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. One of his assists came on this no-look pass:

  • He knew that pass was money as soon as it left his fingertips. He’s my early pick for 6th man of the year. Adding Allen Flanigan back to the mix only makes this team better and more dangerous heading into SEC play.
  • LSU is the last remaining unbeaten SEC team, sporting a perfect 12-0 record as conference play approaches. But, after the Tigers’ 95-60 rout of Lipscomb on Wednesday night, coach Will Wade still isn’t satisfied. With an SEC opener at 11-1 Auburn looming large on Wednesday night, Wade wants his team to keep improving. I absolutely love this answer he gave in his postgame press conference when asked what kind of performance would make him happy:

  • That’s the kind of answer a coach who isn’t willing to settle for mediocrity gives. Wade doesn’t want the Tigers to get too full of themselves after going 12-0 against a lackluster nonconference schedule. That passion is sure to motivate his team going into Wednesday night’s showdown.
  • It really seems like it’s time for Georgia to move on from Tom Crean. The Bulldogs collapsed late in the second half on Wednesday night, falling at home to ETSU 86-84. That was despite ETSU going an embarrassing 5-for-18 (27.8%) from the free-throw line. Georgia fell to 5-7 with the loss. That’s inexcusable. We’ll see if Crean survives the season, but SEC play is going to get ugly for the Dawgs if ETSU is too much for them to handle.

Now, let’s move on to some of the top Big Ten stories.

3. B1G notes

Illinois is not currently ranked. Illinois might be the best team in the Big Ten.

Both of those are true.

When the Illini are firing on all cylinders, not many teams can hang with them. Even though Andre Curbelo is out while dealing with concussion symptoms, the Illini absolutely crushed rival Mizzou 88-63.

Alfonso Plummer continues to be a great addition to this squad, but the Illini go as Kofi Cockburn goes. The big man scored 25 points and grabbed 14 boards to secure Braggin’ Rights for the Illini.

He was getting to the rim early and often:

The Tigers simply had no answer for him in the paint:

That’s the reason he was named the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year. He’s an incredible player and there aren’t many teams that have the bodies to match up with him. Watch out for the Illini in B1G play.

Now, let’s take a look at the ACC and other conferences.

4. ACC notes/random tidbits

Keve Aluma is a guy you should watch this year in the ACC. The Virginia Tech star is incredible and is one of the best pure scorers in the league.

He finished this week’s game against No. 2 Duke with a game-high 25 points. The problem? Duke won, 76-65.

Why did Duke win? Well, freshman sensation Paolo Banchero was on his game all night, scoring 23 points while also grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out 3 assists. His court vision is very impressive:

He’s as pure of a scorer as there is in college basketball this year. But, he’s also a playmaker. It’s his passing ability that is going to make Duke a title threat this year. Mark my words.

  • Armando Bacot remains a fun player to watch. He had 16 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks in a wonderful performance in North Carolina’s 70-50 win over Appalachian State on Tuesday night. He does so much of his work before he ever gets the ball that scoring the bucket is essentially an afterthought:

  • That’s the sort of effort you love to see from a big man. Bacot is a serious contender for the ACC Player of the Year award.
  • Would it shock you if I told you Virginia lost again? For the first time in 12 tries, Clemson took down the Cavaliers. The final score was a 67-50 Clemson beatdown on the road in Charlottesville. That’s horrible for Tony Bennett’s crew. This was a battle for the top half of the ACC. Clemson looks like a top-7 team. Virginia doesn’t. The Tigers have Duke next, so we’ll learn a lot about this year’s Clemson team in the next couple of weeks.
  • And, finally, let’s close out this section with some Christmas cheer. Kudos to Ms. Fitz, a third-grade teacher at Holy Trinity School. She promised her students hot chocolate if she hit this shot, and boy, did she ever deliver. She absolutely drained it:

  • That’s Wendell Green Jr. range! And, to make matters even better, the school is receiving a flood of donations due to the shot:

  • What a wonderful story as we head into the Christmas weekend!

Now, let’s take a look ahead at the next few days in the hoops world.

5. Outlet pass

Normally in this section, I preview the next few days of college hoops and name my 5 favorite matchups. Well, on Christmas Eve, there are 0 games. Ditto for Dec. 26. There are 4 Diamond Head Classic games on the slate for Christmas Day, so enjoy those games from Hawai’i. Then, on Monday, there are 2 games scheduled – Brown at Syracuse and Dallas Christian at Texas A&M.

So … yeah. This section will make its glorious return on Tuesday when there are some actual big-time matchups to preview. Enjoy your holiday weekend, y’all!

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.