Starting 5: North Carolina wins big, Miami wins in OT, Virginia Tech worthy of NCAA Tournament spot?
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 @BlueChipGrit.
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Also, we’re going to try something different today. I’m just going to provide some notes on every Power 5 conference tournament in today’s column, starting with the SEC. Here we go:
1. SEC Tournament notes
Everyone describes Alabama’s season as a roller coaster. At this point, it’s feeling more like a tower drop ride. The Tide aren’t having many ups these days, and Thursday night’s collapse against Vanderbilt was definitely a low point to the season.
The Tide led by 15 at one point against Scotty Pippen Jr. and company, but once again, went cold at an inopportune time and let a lesser foe back into the game.
Can I just say I’m absolutely here for the Scotty Pippen vs. Alabama beef? It all started with this quote:
Scotty Pippen, Jr. on Alabama: “they’re a beatable team. We’ll see tomorrow.”
Dores lost 74-72 to Bama in Nashville last month.
— Chris Harris (@ChrisHarrisWSMV) March 10, 2022
Then, it continued before the game on Thursday in Tampa:
Scotty Pippen Jr.: “Before the game one of the Bama coaches said that ‘You asked for it, so you’re gonna get it,’ or something like that. So it was kind of good to get back at him and get the win.” pic.twitter.com/Lin9Nj2uLt
— Bennett Durando (@BennettDurando) March 11, 2022
Pippen scored 26 points, but only went 5-for-19 from the floor. As has become normal for him, he did most of his damage from the free-throw line, knocking down 15 of his 21 attempts from the charity stripe.
Naturally, Vanderbilt took its first lead on a Pippen free throw, erasing the 15-point deficit:
Volume up. Our first lead of the game. pic.twitter.com/U13ltqEbdH
— Vanderbilt Men's Basketball (@VandyMBB) March 11, 2022
We’ll see if Kentucky can avoid giving Pippen any extra motivation for Friday’s quarterfinal matchup.
- Texas A&M belongs in the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies have 21 wins after an overtime victory over Florida on Thursday afternoon. If you’re a major conference team and you hit 21 wins, that’s an impressive season. You can’t sit back and tell me that Buzz Williams’ squad isn’t one of the best 37 teams after all the automatic bids are handed out. I won’t buy it. Hassan Diarra provided the heroics on Thursday, knocking down this 3 at the buzzer in overtime to give the Aggies an 83-80 victory:
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) March 10, 2022
- Buzz Williams has done a heck of a job with this team. Hopefully, even if the Aggies lose to Auburn on Friday, they’ll get to keep their season going in the Big Dance.
- Mizzou made 23 baskets against LSU on Thursday. Mizzou turned the ball over 24 times against LSU on Thursday. Mizzou lost to LSU 76-68 on Thursday, mostly due to the things mentioned in the previous 2 sentences. Frankly, there can’t have been many times in the history of the great sport of basketball where a team has had more turnovers than made baskets and won a game. We’ll see if that ends up being the final game of the Cuonzo Martin era in Columbia.
- When Tolu Smith plays well, Mississippi State plays well. So, when he put up 20 points and 12 rebounds on Thursday against South Carolina, it was no surprise the Bulldogs cruised to an easy 73-51 victory. You know you’re feeling it when you hit shots like this:
— Mississippi State MBK (@HailStateMBK) March 11, 2022
- Tennessee’s bigs will have their hands full trying to slow Smith down on Friday. If he puts up 20 and 12 again, the Bulldogs will have a chance to pull off the upset.
Next, let’s discuss the Big Ten Tournament.
2. Big Ten Tournament notes
The Big Ten Tournament was absolutely wild on Thursday. In the first game of the day, Michigan blew a 17-point lead against Indiana to keep the Hoosiers’ slim NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
After a slow start, Trayce Jackson-Davis silenced the critics on social media who joked he should give back his All-Big Ten award, scoring 24 points, grabbing 8 rebounds and blocking 4 shots. Of those 24 points, 19 came in the second half as Indiana was making its comeback:
6-9 + 22-year-old Trayce Jackson-Davis scored 19 of his game-high 24 points in the 2nd half, blocked 4 shots, grabbed 8 boards and led the Indiana Hoosiers to a much-needed 74-69 Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals win over Michigan in front of @Mike_Schmitz this afternoon pic.twitter.com/rX36Mgo2zA
— DraftExpressContent (@DXContent) March 10, 2022
Does Indiana have more left in the tank? Jackson-Davis is probably going to have to be even better on Friday if the Hoosiers are going to beat Illinois, the No. 1 seed in the tournament. But, if they do score the upset win, they’ll have removed all doubt that they’re NCAA Tournament-worthy.
- Keegan Murray. That’s all you need to know about Iowa entering March Madness. He’s one of the best scorers in the entire country, and he was at it again on Thursday against Northwestern, lighting up the Wildcats for 26 points in a 112-76 victory:
Keegan Murray's mid-season shooting improvement has got me looking…. respectfully 👀👀
Up to 39.3 3PT% on 4.5 3PA, 42.6% from the mid-range, 70% at the rim. pic.twitter.com/ekEGcmNuTU
— DGC (@Itamar_17_10) March 11, 2022
- He’s a superstar in the making, and his primetime ability should play well in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes are going to be an interesting team to watch. A potential Elite Eight run isn’t out of the question.
- I’m going to have to agree with my colleague Dustin Schutte about John Harrar of Penn State:
This is my PSA that every team needs a John Harrar
— Dustin Schutte (@SchutteCFB) March 10, 2022
- Harrar doesn’t get many highlights, but he does the dirty work for the Nittany Lions. And, on Thursday, he had 12 points and 9 rebounds to help Penn State upset Ohio State. That’s 2 wins in 2 days for the Big Ten’s No. 11 seed. Can they make it 3 in a row against Purdue on Friday? This is a team playing with a ton of confidence right now.
- I’ve been saying for a while that Michigan State will only succeed in March if Max Christie shows out. Well, he’s off to a good start, scoring a team-high 16 points in the Spartans’ 76-72 win over Maryland on Thursday:
Maryland @TerrapinHoops puso las cosas realmente difíciles a Michigan State @MSU_Basketball, que terminó venciendo por 7⃣6⃣-7⃣2⃣. Buen partido de Max Christie realizó un buen partido, anotando 16 puntos y capturando 6 rebotes para los Spartans. pic.twitter.com/wL9AqYMqf5
— Planeta NCAA (@PlanetaNCAA) March 11, 2022
- He’s going to have to be even better against Johnny Davis and the Wisconsin Badgers on Friday to keep the Spartans alive in the B1G Tournament, but players breaking out in a big way always seems to happen in March!
Now, let’s take a look at the ACC Tournament.
3. ACC Tournament notes
North Carolina is peaking at the right time, it seems, routing Virginia 63-43 in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday. Brady Manek led the charge, scoring 21 points and grabbing 7 boards.
He was getting to the rim at will, it seemed at times, doing a lot of his work from close range (though he did hit 3 3-pointers, too):
Brady Manek: 21 points vs Virginia Clips: pic.twitter.com/QXqf26O1JZ
— Jarrod (@jhardy575) March 11, 2022
Manek has now scored at least 20 points in 3-straight games. If I were Virginia Tech, I’d make sure to play some tight defense on Manek. Otherwise, their stay in Brooklyn will come to an end.
- I put Texas A&M in the NCAA Tournament earlier in this column, so it would be disingenuous of me to not argue for Virginia Tech’s place in the field of 68 teams. The Hokies picked up win No. 21 on Thursday, and it was a quality victory, as they took down No. 2-seed Notre Dame 87-80. They’ve won 11 of their last 13 games. That’s worthy of a spot in March Madness, if you ask me.
- Boston College’s run in the ACC Tournament came to an end in dramatic fashion. That’s thanks to Jordan Miller, who hit this incredible layup at the buzzer in overtime to down the Eagles 71-69:
JORDAN MILLER. GUTS. GO CANES. pic.twitter.com/1fyRDegNVJ
— Canes Access (@CanesAccess) March 10, 2022
- Miami had 4 players (including Miller) score at least 13 points. The Hurricanes are so tough to beat because any number of guys can carry the offense on any given night. We’ll see if they can score their second win over Duke this season on Friday.
- Buddy Boeheim picked a bad time to throw a punch. He was suspended for Syracuse’s (likely season-ending) loss to Duke. Jim Boeheim said Buddy should have been ejected from Wednesday’s game and allowed to play against Duke. Obviously, it didn’t work out that way, and Jim had some thoughts:
— SyracuseOn247 (@SyracuseOn247) March 10, 2022
- Without Buddy, Syracuse lost to Duke, 88-79. Would Buddy have helped the Orange get over the hump against the Blue Devils? Perhaps not, but now we’ll never know.
Next, let’s head out west to the Pac-12.
4. Pac-12 Tournament notes
I’m actually on-site here in Las Vegas covering the Pac-12 Tournament for Saturday Out West, our new Pac-12 website. My guy Derek Peterson is doing some great work over there, so head to the site and check it out.
My quarterfinal takeaways will be published on Saturday Out West on Friday morning at some point. Let’s just say there’s a team that looks like a Final Four contender from the Pac-12, and it wasn’t No. 1-seed Arizona.
Now, let’s dive into the Big 12 Tournament.
5. Big 12 Tournament notes
Hopefully none of y’all remember a few short days ago when I predicted that Baylor would win the Big 12 Tournament.
The Bears got off to a slow start in Kansas City against Oklahoma on Thursday. Eventually, they made a game of it, but couldn’t finish off the Sooners, falling 72-67. Meanwhile, Kansas, the team I swore I wouldn’t pick, cruised to an easy 87-63 win over West Virginia.
Looks like things are setting up for the Jayhawks to cut down the nets once again. Also, it’s worth wondering if Baylor is too banged up this year to make another run at the Final Four. The Bears are one of the best teams in the nation when they’re healthy, but they haven’t been fully healthy in a long time.
- The team standing in Kansas’s way on Friday? How about the TCU Horned Frogs? They might have played their way off the bubble with a 65-60 win over Texas that was a tale of 2 halves. Trailing 40-22 at the intermission, the Horned Frogs came storming back, outscoring the Longhorns 43-20 over the final 20 minutes to earn the victory. Their reward? A date with the Jayhawks in Kansas City. Not much of a prize.
- What is the deal with Iowa State? Texas Tech likely boosted itself to a 3-seed on Thursday with a win, but the story was more about the Cyclones’ abysmal offense in a 72-41 loss to the Red Raiders. The Cyclones should make the NCAA Tournament, but goodness, that offense needs some work. They’ve scored 41, 36, 41 and 44 points in 4 of their losses this year. That’s not a fluke – that’s a problem.
At this point, Texas Tech might be the best bet to keep Kansas off the 1-seed line. But, the Jayhawks are cruising right now.
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.