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.

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1. Opening tipoff

Jabari Smith Jr. is the next Kevin Durant.

I’m not saying he’s on that level yet, but if you look at where they were during their 1 year in college, it’s not crazy to make that comparison. Here are Smith’s numbers compared to Durant’s Texas numbers:

  • Smith: 15.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks per game
  • Durant: 25.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.9 blocks per game

Yes, Durant’s numbers are better, but consider this – Durant averaged 35.9 minutes per game. Smith is averaging only 27.2 minutes per night.

Here are their numbers extrapolated over 40 minutes per game:

  • Smith: 23.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.5 blocks
  • Durant: 28.8 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 2.1 steals, 2.1 blocks

Those numbers look significantly more comparable, right? Smith is also a slightly better 3-point shooter than Durant was at this stage.

It’s not just the box score that makes the Smith-Durant comparisons legit, though. It’s the smoothness to their offensive games. The jab-step jumper Smith likes to utilize is already an elite NBA-caliber shot. Then there’s this, which simply can’t be coached:

How many times have we seen Durant hit that same shot in clutch situations in his NBA career? Like Durant, Smith’s length causes his high-release jumper to be nearly unblockable:

Smith’s not just a scorer, though. Look at this physical defensive stand:

He’s stronger than his wiry frame suggests. If you’re an NBA front office executive and Jabari Smith Jr. isn’t No. 1 on your draft boards, throw the board out and try again.

He’s a special player, and when he’s surrounded by guys that can do this, there’s a reason Auburn is the No. 1 team in the country:

Something special is building in Auburn this year, folks!

2. SEC notes

I want to hit one more thing about the Auburn Tigers while we’re here. Can we talk about how many easy buckets Walker Kessler gets?

He led the Tigers in scoring against Kentucky, putting up 19 points in the victory. He went 8-for-10 from the floor, and it’s easy to see why.

Here’s a play just before halftime, where Sahvir Wheeler gambles for a steal against Wendell Green Jr., putting Oscar Tshiebwe in a bad position. Tshiebwe had to stop Green, leading to an easy alley-oop to Kessler:

Here’s another play in the first half, where Allen Flanigan throws an easy lob to Kessler after 2 Wildcats trap him:

Here’s another play where the Kentucky defense is so worried about Green it forgets all about Kessler, who throws down another easy slam:

It’s safe to say Green loves lobbing the ball to Kessler. Of his 5 assists, most of them were easy plays like this to Kessler:

This isn’t an alley-oop, but Jabari Smith also got in on the action, feeding Kessler with this wraparound pass as the Kentucky defense double-teams him:

I just showed you 10 of Kessler’s 19 points there. It’s too easy for him sometimes. Want to stop Auburn? Take away a good percentage of those easy buckets.

  • Don’t look now, but Tennessee freshman Kennedy Chandler is starting to figure out this whole college basketball thing! I’ve criticized him for not having a killer instinct when the Vols have been struggling in recent weeks, but he’s starting to show signs of life. This is the kind of play elite players need to make:

  • Meanwhile, this is the kind of shot you have to make or else your coach will be mad at you:

  • But, Chandler showing the confidence to pull up from that range is a good sign. He finished the win over a beaten-up LSU team with 9 points, going 0-for-1 from the free-throw line. I want to see him get to the line more and score more often, but those 2 shots are good signs moving forward. He also was able to set up teammates for some open looks:

  • All of that is helping him develop into an all-around player. He’s getting better at exactly the right time for the Vols.
  • Arkansas is on a 4-game winning streak, skyrocketing up the SEC standings. The Hogs just took down Texas A&M 76-73 in overtime over the weekend, which is huge for momentum moving forward. What’s changed? I’ve said for a while now that the Hogs need Jaylin Williams and Devo Davis to step up. Williams did just that on Saturday, scoring 14 points to go with 11 rebounds, 6 steals, 3 assists and 3 blocks. He had some clutch buckets down the stretch, too:

  • Davis only scored 4 points, but all of them came in overtime, so he played well when his team needed him most. And he had this assist to Stanley Umude to seal the win:

  • This is a team no one wants to play right now. Watch out for the Hogs. They seem to have figured some things out.
  • When Jaden Shackelford is making shots, Alabama is tough to beat. He had 28 points in the Tide’s win over Gonzaga earlier this year and had 18 in the victory over Houston. So, with a game against Baylor looming large on Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, it’s a good sign for Nate Oats’ squad that Shackelford poured in 21 points in a win over Mizzou over the weekend. When he’s making shots like this, watch out:

  • He’s a streaky shooter and Alabama is a streaky team, so we’ll see how long this hot streak lasts for Shackelford and the Tide.

Now, let’s move on to some Big Ten action from the weekend.

3. B1G notes

The big game in the Big Ten took place in Madison on Friday night. Michigan State, a team that had recently lost to Northwestern, entered a tough atmosphere in Madison. Wisconsin was playing for the B1G regular-season lead, but it was the Spartans’ night.

While the Badgers got huge games from Johnny Davis (25 points) and Brad Davison (22 points), 5 Michigan State players scored in double figures as the Spartans won 86-74.

Malik Hall led the Spartans with 14 points off the bench. His shot chart is impressive. He clearly loves the baseline:

Michigan State won by 12 points. Want to see where this discrepancy was? Look no further than the free-throw line. The Spartans made 22 of 28 free throws. The Badgers made 10 of 11. That’s your 12-point difference right there.

The Spartans were aggressive, taking it to the Badgers and not getting intimidated at all. That’s the sign of a team that is hungry for a Big Ten title. This next team … not so much:

  • Yes, Illinois was without big man Kofi Cockburn on Friday at Maryland. But, to go in there and lose 81-65 is unacceptable for a team with this much talent. Donta Scott was unstoppable, scoring 25 points off the bench in the win. He had this dagger for the Terrapins, drawing the and-1:

  • The Illini defender simply can’t open his hips to the lane there. That gave Scott an alley to attack, and he made the most of it. Illinois has now lost 2 Big Ten games in a row. They host Michigan State on Tuesday night in a huge game for both teams (more on that in a minute).
  • Indiana hasn’t been a top-tier program in recent years, so it might be unfamiliar with the concept of a “letdown game.” Not anymore, however, as the Hoosiers, fresh off a hugely emotional win over rival Purdue, suffered a letdown on Sunday against Michigan. Hunter Dickinson decisively won the battle of the big men against Trayce Jackson-Davis, scoring 25 points, grabbing 9 rebounds and dishing out 4 assists. He even showed off his 3-point prowess, going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc:


  • That’s a guy who is going to be a hot commodity in the NBA Draft whenever he declares, whether it be this year or next. Keep an eye on the Wolverines. Yes, they’re only 9-7 overall (3-3 in B1G play) right now, but this is a talented group. After handing Indiana its first home loss of the year, Michigan could make a real move toward an NCAA Tournament berth in the coming weeks. Saturday’s game at rival Michigan State is a massive one on the schedule now.

Next, let’s take a look around the ACC and the rest of the college basketball world.

4. ACC notes/random tidbits

What makes Duke so dangerous? The Blue Devils have one of the top players in the country in Paolo Banchero, but they are far from a 1-man squad. They proved that in a 20-point win over Syracuse on Saturday.

Four different Duke players – Banchero, Wendell Moore Jr., AJ Griffin and Mark Williams – led the way with 15 points apiece. That’s versatility! Joey Baker came off the bench and had 11 points, too.

What’s the best way to beat Syracuse’s zone defense? Get the ball into the middle of the floor and have a guy there who can score or distribute. Watch Banchero play that role perfectly, finding Jeremy Roach for the open 3:

Duke went 14-for-37 (37.8%) from 3-point range on Saturday. Not elite, but good enough to trounce Syracuse’s zone. Especially when the Orange went 5-for-29 from beyond the arc.

Who were the culprits for the Orange? Look no further than the Boeheim family. I have no idea why the Syracuse administration continues to allow Jim Boeheim to play his sons an insane amount of minutes for the level of production they provide:

At least one Duke fan got in a good troll of Buddy Boeheim after the win over Syracuse:

Yes, Christmas might be over, but that’s still a good troll job.

  • Buy your Alondes Williams stock now! The Wake Forest star has been incredible this year, and the Demon Deacons are hot right now, too. They’ve won 4 ACC games in a row, taking down Boston College in a 30-point blowout on Monday night. That came after a 22-point win over North Carolina over the weekend. Williams is the only player in Division I averaging 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game:

  • No one is hotter than the Demon Deacons right now. But, Wake Forest isn’t on top of the ACC standings. That would be…
  • Florida State. The Seminoles absolutely own Miami, it seems. They’ve now won 9-straight games over the Hurricanes, and are on a 6-game overall winning streak. On Saturday at Miami, FSU guard Caleb Mills scored 16 points to lead the victory effort. He was money in the mid-range game:

  • But, it was a tale of two halves on Saturday. FSU led 43-19 at halftime. Then, it was a completely different story in the second half, as Miami outscored the Seminoles 41-18. It wasn’t enough to overcome that first-half deficit, though. Still, these 2 squads look like the class of the ACC, along with Duke, so far this season.
  • Sometimes, things are more important than basketball. But, sometimes, basketball is a great distraction when you’re dealing with pain in your personal life. Kansas’s Bill Self was coaching with a heavy heart over the weekend after the death of his father, Bill Self Sr. After the Jayhawks picked up the 78-75 win over rival Kansas State on the road on Saturday, Self was emotional in the locker room:

  • That’s a special moment for a great coach. The Jayhawks rallied around him and picked up a big win to honor Bill Self Sr.’s memory.

Now, let’s move on to the next few days on the college basketball schedule.

5. Outlet pass

We’ve seen some great games in recent days, but there are surely going to be some even more intense matchups on the way. The midweek schedule is loaded this week. Here are the 5 games I can’t wait to watch between now and Friday:

  1. No. 10 Michigan State at No. 24 Illinois (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN) – Michigan State is 6-1 in Big Ten play and coming off a big win at Wisconsin. Illinois is 6-2 in Big Ten action, but the Illini just suffered a terrible loss at Maryland. Will those trends reverse or continue on Tuesday night in Champaign?
  2. No. 3 Arizona at No. 7 UCLA (Tuesday at 11 p.m. ET on ESPN) – Arizona is the only unbeaten team left in Pac-12 play, at 6-0. UCLA is a game behind at 5-1 in conference. The Wildcats could take a huge step toward a regular-season title with a win in Los Angeles late on Tuesday night.
  3. Mississippi State at No. 12 Kentucky (Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN) – Mississippi State is a tough, deep team. Kentucky just lost a hard-fought game at Auburn. If TyTy Washington can’t play on Tuesday night, this game will be even tougher for the Wildcats. We’ll see if Kentucky can get back on track.
  4. No. 17 Providence at No. 21 Xavier (Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. ET on CBSSN) – Providence, at 6-1 in Big East play, sits atop the conference standings, ahead of 7-2 Villanova. Xavier is 4-3 in Big East action, and if the Musketeers win this home game, they’ll be within one game of the conference lead. This will be an intense matchup in Cincinnati.
  5. Florida at No. 18 Tennessee (Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2) – The Gators and Vols are both coming off strong weeks (though the Gators fell at Ole Miss on Monday night). Both are trending up in SEC play and could end up in the top 4 in the SEC standings if they keep their momentum going. This game will be super important for both squads.

I’m predicting we see some big-time upsets over the next few days. Will any of these ranked teams fall victim to an untimely loss? We’ll see what happens between now and the next Starting 5 column on Friday!

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.