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

OK, it’s starting to look like I was a bit too low on the Florida Gators entering the season. Florida, fresh off an emotional win over then-No. 20 Florida State, faced Milwaukee at home on Thursday night.

Milwaukee, not a tough foe, right? Well, no, but this is exactly the kind of game past Mike White teams have struggled in or outright lost to kill any momentum after a big win. Oh, and the Panthers do have a likely 2022 NBA Draft lottery pick in big man Patrick Baldwin Jr.

But, the No. 24 Gators, freshly in the AP Poll, dominated from the opening tipoff (hey, that’s the name of this section). Colin Castleton looked like an SEC Player of the Year candidate, putting up 19 points and 10 rebounds. He also played a big part in holding Baldwin to only 13 points and 3 rebounds.

Let’s give some credit to the guy who really makes this Gator team go, though — PG Tyree Appleby. Last year, I praised Appleby as the SEC’s best alley-oop passer (up until Sharife Cooper took the court for Auburn midway through the season).

Well, Appleby is at it again. It’s easy to put up 19 points if you’re Castleton, or 12 points if you’re Anthony Duruji, when you’re getting passes like this from Appleby:

Let’s also give credit here to Castleton for the beautiful outlet pass to Appleby on the play that ended in the Duruji slam.

Oh, and Appleby is also a capable scorer on his own. He had 14 points on Thursday night, making 4 of his 6 3-point attempts:

In addition to those 14 points, Appleby had 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and a block. That’s a heck of an all-around game and we need to start appreciating Appleby for being the engine that drives this talented Florida team.

We’ll see if the Gators can keep the good times going on Monday night against Cal in the Fort Myers Tip-Off event.

Now, let’s take a look at some other SEC storylines.

2. SEC notes

I’m probably not going to start the SEC section off with Texas A&M very often, so might as well make the most of it! No, the Aggies’ 73-39 home win over Houston Baptist on Wednesday isn’t going to move the needle much come NCAA Tournament time.

But, it was a fun basketball game, and the Aggies showed off their athleticism. Coming out of halftime, Texas A&M went on an impressive 22-0 run to start the second half. That run featured some incredible dunks, too.

How about this Harlem Globetrotters-esque alley-oop from Wade Taylor IV to Quenton Jackson?

There was also this transition slam from Manny Obaseki, a freshman to keep an eye on:

And then there was this effort from Marcus Williams in the paint:

Of course, the Aggies also missed a dunk during that stretch, so coach Buzz Williams had to be a spoilsport in his postgame press conference:

C’mon, Buzz! Let the kids have fun! Don’t be a party pooper!

  • Speaking of party poopers … Vanderbilt. Woof. The Commodores lost at home to VCU 48-37 on Wednesday night. No, that wasn’t the halftime score. That was the score in a full, regulation-length college basketball game. Vanderbilt shot 2-for-25 from 3-point range (8%) as part of a night where the Commodores only made 12 of 53 field-goal attempts (22.6%). I’m starting to think I might have been too high on Vandy when I put it at No. 11 in my preseason SEC power rankings.
  • It looks lyke Chris Lykes is going to come off the bench for Arkansas moving forward. That’s the role current starter JD Notae filled for the Razorbacks last season. Lykes is off to a good start, providing a lot of firepower off the bench. The Hogs have struggled with some lesser foes more than I’d like to see early in the season, but Lykes was great in a 93-80 win over Northern Iowa on Wednesday night. Here’s a look at the shot chart from his 26-point effort off the bench:

  • My biggest concern there is that he only went 2-for-7 in the paint. He’s only listed at 5-7, so getting to the rim is going to be difficult for him in half-court offensive sets.
  • I absolutely love that Kentucky fans are celebrating Oscar Tshiebwe’s rebounds now:

  • After the big man snagged 20 in each of Kentucky’s first 2 games, he “only” had 16 on Tuesday night against Mount St. Mary’s. That brings his average down to 18.7 boards per game. He’ll just have to grab 24 against Ohio on Friday night, I suppose. He’s absolutely capable of doing it, too!

Now, let’s move on to some Big Ten news.

3. B1G notes

The Big East absolutely embarrassed the Big Ten in this year’s Gavitt Tip-Off Games. The Big East and Big Ten played 8 games, with the Big East earning a convincing 6-2 victory.

Winners for the B1G? Michigan State and Indiana. That’s right. The B1G went 2-0 on Wednesday night and 0-6 on the other nights of the Gavitt Games.

The Spartans took down Butler in blowout fashion. Meanwhile, Indiana took down St. John’s by 2 points in Bloomington. But, outside of those 2 victories on Wednesday, it was a terrible event for the league.

No. 4 Michigan lost at home, yes, at home, to unranked Seton Hall. Yes, Seton Hall is going to be good this year (more on that in section 5 of this column), but that’s inexcusable for Juwan Howard’s squad. I broke down Illinois losing to Marquette (without big man Kofi Cockburn) on Tuesday.

The one I’m going to dive into today, though, is Ohio State at Xavier.

We’ve seen the Buckeyes struggle with an in-state school already this year, barely beating Akron in the season opener. Now, Ohio State has lost to Xavier, 71-65, in Cincinnati.

I think the Buckeyes, even with EJ Liddell back, were overrated. This clearly is not a top-25 team as currently constituted. When you allow a guy who comes off the bench, like Xavier’s Jack Nunge, to score 14 points, grab 14 boards, pick up 3 steals and block 2 shots, it’s not a good sign. It’s like Ohio State had no clue who Nunge was or how to guard him. Look at how little attention they paid to him:

Ohio State made a late run, but Xavier managed to hold off the Buckeyes for a 71-65 victory.

Again, not a good sign for the Big Ten. It might be time to look elsewhere when we discuss the “deepest” conferences in college basketball.

After all, the Big East just won 6 of 8 games against the Big Ten. Perhaps the Big East is the best conference this year? We’ll find out as the season goes on.

Now let’s take a look at the ACC and some other conferences around the country.

4. ACC notes/random tidbits

Duke is cruising along this year and looks like a legitimate title contender in Mike Krzyzewski’s final season with the Blue Devils. Freshman Paolo Banchero looks like he could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft and Duke has plenty of depth and talent behind him.

So, let’s poke some holes in the Blue Devils’ armor, shall we?

If y’all want to be smart about basketball, you need to give Eric Fawcett (@Efawcett7) a follow on Twitter. His video breakdowns are great, as he catches some stuff others might miss.

Like this from Duke’s win over Campbell on Saturday. First, the score was 67-56 in favor of the Blue Devils. But, let’s focus on how Campbell attacked Duke’s defense.

The Blue Devils, especially with their athleticism this year, like to play tight defense on the perimeter, preventing 3-pointers. So, how do you attack that? As Fawcett shows here, you get all 5 guys around the 3-point arc and then send cutters to the basket:

That hole in the Blue Devils’ defense is certainly something teams with more talent than Campbell will try to exploit. But, Duke has great coaches, too, so we’ll see if they can come up with a solution to this problem.

Of course, when you have a guy like Banchero who can do things like this, it covers up a lot of weaknesses elsewhere:

Just something to keep an eye on with the defense on moving forward.

  • I want to give some attention to this story of perseverance. Penn’s Jelani Williams has had about the worst luck a college hoops player has ever had. He suffered ACL tears in 3 consecutive seasons and then had the Ivy League cancel its basketball season in 2020-21. But, after all that, he stayed with it and finally played in his first home game for the Quakers this week:

  • What an incredible story. Hopefully he can stay healthy this year and finish his Penn career strong!
  • Look, I’m not ready to say BYU can challenge Gonzaga for the WCC title, but wow, did the Cougars ever impress against Oregon in the Phil Knight Invitational. The Cougars jumped out to a 37-18 lead over the No. 12 Ducks at halftime and never looked back. Alex Barcello, a former Arizona Wildcat, couldn’t miss. He proved he’s a guard to keep an eye on, shooting 9-for-11 from the floor (4-for-6 from 3-point range) to finish with 25 points in the lopsided 81-49 win over the Ducks:

  • The defense was putting the offense in easy positions to score buckets in transition, too:

  • This Oregon team should be fine moving forward, but watch out for Barcello and the Cougars!
  • Speaking of Cougars, the Houston variety took it to Virginia. The Cavaliers might not be a team that finishes in the top half of the ACC this year. The offense has always been kind of ugly, but when the Hoos shoot 4-for-19 from long range (21.1%) in a 67-47 loss and allow their opponent to make 11 of 20 3-pointers (55%), that’s very un-Tony Bennett-like. The Cavs simply had no answer for Marcus Sasser, who scored a game-high 19 points and was electric:

  • Again, the offense has always been slow and methodical under Bennett, but when the defense can’t shut down opposing stars, it’s ugly basketball and it’s going to lead to several lopsided losses this year.
  • North Carolina struggled at Charleston this week. If you read my column on Tuesday, you’ll note I predicted that. (Insert pat on the back here.) One guy who didn’t struggle? UNC big man Armando Bacot. He’s been making everything so far this year:

  • An 82% field-goal percentage is what we in the business call “pretty darn good.” His key to success? It should come as no surprise, but … easy shots. The most important thing for a post player is to always be ready for the ball. Look at these soft hands from Bacot, leading to easy buckets:

  • If Bacot keeps playing like this (he had 24 points, 12 rebounds and 6 blocks vs. Charleston), he has a chance to be the ACC Player of the Year.
  • Finally, some good news. ESPN’s Dick Vitale has started cancer treatment and will be back to broadcast the showdown between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA on Tuesday night in Las Vegas. What a game that will be! And no better person to be on hand for it than Dickie V!

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

5. Outlet pass

There are plenty of interesting matchups that could happen as this weekend’s tournaments wear on. But, for this section, I’m only going to focus on games that are already set in stone on the schedule between now and Monday. Fortunately, there’s still plenty of elite action on the court! Here are the 5 games I can’t wait to watch between now and the next Starting 5 column on Tuesday:

  1. No. 18 North Carolina vs. No. 6 Purdue (Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN News) — Yeah, this game, part of the Cheez-It Hall of Fame Tip-Off event at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut has been relegated to ESPN News due to college football. My opinion? Put some of the cupcake games on ESPN News and bump this huge game up to at least ESPN2!
  2. No. 17 Tennessee vs. No. 5 Villanova (Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN News) — Another Cheez-It game at Mohegan Sun relegated to ESPN News. Oh well, goes with the time of year, I suppose. Still, this game is huge for both teams. This would be a statement win for the Vols, showing that they can compete for an SEC title. Villanova won’t go down without a fight, though.
  3. Cincinnati vs. No. 10 Illinois (Monday at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN News) — A game on Monday on ESPN News? OK, this is getting ridiculous! The good news for the Illini is big man Kofi Cockburn will be back for this game. He’s must-see television when he’s playing this season. This game is part of the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City.
  4. Seton Hall vs. No. 19 Ohio State (Monday at 6 p.m. ET on FS1) — Finally, a game not on ESPN News! The Buckeyes have looked suspect at times already this year. This would be a great chance for a statement victory, especially after Seton Hall beat Buckeye-rival Michigan this week. This game is part of the Fort Myers Tip-Off.
  5. Butler vs. No. 15 Houston (Monday at 4:30 ET on ESPN2) — The Maui Jim Maui Invitational, which is being held in Las Vegas this year, is going to have plenty of great games next week. This is perhaps the best opening-round game, though. Butler has a loss to Michigan State on its resume already, but this Bulldogs team can be a tough out if Houston doesn’t take it seriously.

We’re just getting started with the Feast Week tournaments, folks! Enjoy all the top-tier college basketball action you can in between football games, food and family.

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.