Starting 5: Virginia takes down Fighting Boeheims, Miami surprises again and Baylor stamps No. 1 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 @SDSBasketball.
1. Opening tipoff
The magical start to Iowa State’s season is over, but there’s nothing to be too upset about when the Cyclones only lost 77-72 to No. 1 Baylor in Ames.
After trailing by 8 at halftime, the Cyclones actually won the second half, which is something they can hang their hats on. First-year Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger is still one of the leading contenders for the National Coach of the Year award.
There’s still a ton to like about this team, but let’s focus on the No. 1 Bears in this section.
First of all, it’s almost unfair how good Baylor still is under coach Scott Drew. After winning the national championship last year, the Bears lost Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell and Mark Vital. No matter.
Adam Flagler, Michael Mayer, Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua return as contributors from last year’s squad, but they weren’t the major scorers on Saturday at Iowa State.
James Akinjo seems to have found a home in Waco after starting his career at Georgetown and playing at Arizona last season. He’s started all 13 games for Baylor so far this year, averaging 13 points and 6.1 assists per game. That’s a career-low in terms of points scored, but a career-high in terms of assists per contest.
He’s settled into his role as a distributor who can also score when needed. He had a team-high 16 points against Iowa State, showing off his ability to score in the lane:
James Akinjo in a 77-72 win @ #8 Iowa State : 16 points on 6-12 shooting, 2-2 from 3, 2-5 from the FT line & 3 assists in 33 minutes pic.twitter.com/JgGRk3xy5I
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) January 2, 2022
Meanwhile, sophomore LJ Cryer has become a sharpshooter off the bench. He had 13 points against the Cyclones, going 3-for-5 from behind the 3-point line. He’s a heat-check kind of guy who can carry the second unit:
CRYER! He makes a three and follows it up with a layup off an ISU turnover!👀
— Baylor Men’s Basketball (@BaylorMBB) January 1, 2022
This is a selfless Baylor team that runs 8 deep and can have any player beat you on any given night. The Bears are just as dangerous this year as they were last year, and that’s a scary thought moving forward.
2. SEC notes
There has literally only been 1 SEC men’s basketball game played since the last Starting 5 column on Friday. Kentucky took down High Point and former coach Tubby Smith 92-48 on New Year’s Eve.
It was a special moment for Smith and Kentucky fans, but the game wasn’t really that great, as the final score indicates. We’ll find out a lot more about the Wildcats on Tuesday night at LSU.
Also, keep an eye on the Alabama-Florida game on Wednesday night. That’s a huge matchup for both schools. Unfortunately, Wednesday night’s game between Mississippi State and Missouri in Columbia has been postponed due to COVID issues in the Tigers’ program.
Hopefully all the other scheduled games take place and we can get into a Tuesday/Wednesday and Saturday groove moving forward.
Now, let’s talk some Big Ten hoops.
3. B1G notes
I was understandably excited to watch Wisconsin’s trip to Purdue on Monday night. I’ve been hyping up Johnny Davis of Wisconsin and Jaden Ivey of Purdue all year long, and oh my goodness, did they ever deliver.
Ivey had a pedestrian (for him) 14 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. But, Davis was electric, scoring a career-high 37 points in Wisconsin’s exciting 74-69 win in West Lafayette. Davis was at his best when his team needed him the most, too.
This was a huge shot inside the final 2 minutes to give the Badgers a 68-63 lead:
What a night for me to start watching Johnny Davis pic.twitter.com/OkWLKRHMdK
— Stone Hansen (@report_court) January 4, 2022
On the next possession, he knocked down another incredibly tough jumper to extend the lead to 70-63:
Johnny Davis again showing his great on-ball offensive screen navigation and pairing it with his footwork to get a beautiful step back jumper pic.twitter.com/vhh0s8pose
— Stone Hansen (@report_court) January 4, 2022
He’s not just a scorer, though. He also had 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. He isn’t above hustling back after a mistake, either. Here was 1 of his blocks:
This is ridiculous! Johnny Davis didn’t give up on the play and timed his block PERFECTLY! Watch how he delayed the jump knowing the defender was expecting him to try to block it. That’s basketball chess. #OnWisconsin pic.twitter.com/xvv9Ae1l4U
— Michael Clouse (@theonlyMC) January 4, 2022
He’s not just a B1G Player of the Year candidate – he’s a National Player of the Year candidate. The B1G gauntlet is always brutal, but Davis is showing he can consistently carry this Badger team to great heights.
- The honeymoon is quickly coming to an end for Mike Woodson at Indiana. The Hoosiers are 10-3 overall, but have gotten off to a 1-2 start in B1G action. That’s not necessarily a bad record in a league as brutal as the Big Ten, but losing at Penn State is unacceptable. The Hoosiers fell to the Nittany Lions 61-58 over the weekend. Jalen Pickett, who paced Penn State with 15 points, couldn’t miss. Everything was falling for the Siena transfer:
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) January 2, 2022
- The problem for the Hoosiers was 3-point shooting. Indiana made only 4 of 17 long shots (23.5%). Penn State hit 11 of its 22 3-pointers. If Mike Woodson’s team can’t hit 3s and can’t defend 3s, it’s going to be a long B1G season. Up next? A Thursday home game against a hot Ohio State squad. Tensions will be high in Bloomington if the Hoosiers start league play 1-3.
Now, let’s look toward ACC country for some top storylines.
4. ACC notes/random tidbits
When Miami lost 96-64 to Alabama earlier this year, I wrote the Hurricanes off. I thought it was going to be another long year for Jim Larranaga and his squad.
Oh, how wrong I was. The Hurricanes are now 11-3 overall and an impressive 3-0 in ACC play after a comfortable 92-84 home win over Wake Forest on New Year’s Day.
One of the most underrated players in the country is Miami’s Isaiah Wong. He scored a game-high 25 points on Saturday, getting those points while showing his offensive versatility:
Huge game for Isaiah Wong against Wake Forest. 25 PTS (11/18 FG), 4 AST. Live-body athlete who gets to the rim at will & has deep bag of counter-moves, he's a natural scorer
If the spot-up shooting ever catches up to his mid-range prowess, he'll be an NBA guy in our book pic.twitter.com/OEc4iHCRfQ
— The Box and One (@TheBoxAndOne_) January 2, 2022
He has to be in the discussion for the ACC Player of the Year award at this point. He’s been that good. After hosting a struggling Syracuse team on Wednesday night, the Hurricanes hit the road to take on No. 2 Duke at Cameron Indoor on Saturday. After those 2 games, they play at Florida State, vs. North Carolina, vs. Florida State and at Virginia Tech.
The gauntlet is here for the Hurricanes. We’ll see if they can keep piling up ACC victories.
- Also in the conversation for ACC Player of the Year is Armando Bacot. He made a good decision to return to North Carolina this year. Over the weekend, he showed just how good he’s become as the Tar Heels smoked Boston College 91-65 in Boston. He had 18 points and 11 rebounds, but he also added 2 assists, including this impressive pass to Brady Manek off a screen:
Looks like a new quick hitter from Hubert Davis. Bacot gets the feed in the Horns set. Lots of pseudo activity to occupy the defense and to open up the hi-lo entry. Manek ends up getting the little to big cross screen from Caleb Love for the feed from the top. @HeelIllustrated pic.twitter.com/gVGiwCE8DV
— David Sisk (@CoachDavidSisk) January 2, 2022
- He also had 3 steals and a block. He can do it all on the court. He won’t have the ball in his hands at the top of the key too often, but it’s scary to know he is comfortable enough to read the action on the floor and dish out a dime when needed.
- I’m just going to every now and then dive back into how crazy it is that Jim Boeheim lets his sons shoot so much this year for Syracuse. The Orange just lost 74-69 at home against a Virginia team that has not been nearly as dangerous as in years past. Buddy Boeheim and Jimmy Boeheim were the only Syracuse players to score more than 10 points, but they also shot a lot more than anyone else. They combined for 45 points on 35 shots. Jimmy only went 2-for-8 from the free-throw line. Those 6 points were critical in a 5-point loss. It’s just not efficient what the Boeheims (Coach Jim included) are doing at Syracuse this year.
- Speaking of struggling teams, this is not a great Florida State team this year. There are still plenty of athletes down in Tallahassee, but the depth and top-end talent both aren’t as good as in years past under Leonard Hamilton. The Seminoles managed to escape Raleigh with an 83-81 victory over a bad NC State team over the weekend. Former Kentucky Wildcat Cam’Ron Fletcher had his best game at FSU, scoring 14 points and grabbing 6 rebounds and 3 steals off the bench. Meanwhile, Malik Osborne continued to be the team leader, scoring 19 points. It was Matthew Cleveland who had the most surprising game, though, earning ACC Freshman of the Week honors after putting up a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double off the bench:
Cleveland had his first career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds Saturday against NC State in the Seminoles’ first ACC road win of the season.
— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) January 3, 2022
- If he and Fletcher can keep playing well off the bench, the Seminoles might round into a team that can challenge for a top-3 finish in the ACC.
Next, let’s take a look at the week ahead in college basketball.
5. Outlet pass
Yes, COVID-19 continues to force the postponements of big games around the country. But, for now, there are plenty of great matchups on the docket over the next 3 days. Here’s a look at the 5 games I can’t wait to watch between now and Friday:
- Oklahoma at No. 1 Baylor (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2) – Oklahoma has sizable wins over Arkansas and Florida this year already. But, hitting the road to play No. 1 Baylor won’t be easy for the Sooners. However, don’t count Porter Moser out of any game this year. He’s a heck of a coach.
- No. 16 Kentucky at No. 21 LSU (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN) – Kentucky looked good in its SEC opener, trouncing a bad Mizzou team. LSU lost at Auburn after struggling to score. The Tigers don’t want to start SEC play 0-2, so this is a huge game in Baton Rouge.
- No. 15 Alabama at Florida (Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2) – Can Alabama snap out of its shooting slump? If not, the reigning SEC regular-season and tournament champions will be in trouble against a Gator team that has had consistency issues, but also has a couple of big-time wins.
- San Francisco at No. 4 Gonzaga (Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on Root Sports) – The Dons are an impressive 13-1 thus far, with a win at Arizona State on their resume. Gonzaga should still take care of business fairly easily, especially in Spokane, but there are some tough teams in the WCC this year. Don’t count out San Francisco!
- No. 6 Kansas at Oklahoma State (Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2) – Stillwater has been a house of horrors for Bill Self during his tenure at Kansas. No matter how highly the Jayhawks are ranked, they always seem to struggle at Oklahoma State. Is another bad loss in store for the Jayhawks?
Now that we have entered the meat of the conference season, we should have plenty of entertaining games each week between now and Selection Sunday. Let’s see which teams get off to good starts in league play between now and 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.