Starting 5: Wendell Moore Jr. appreciation, COVID impacts, Memphis surprises with win
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
Just when Memphis appears to be dead in the water, the Tigers go and pull off a huge upset of Alabama.
This is a Memphis team that has lost to Georgia and Ole Miss out of the SEC already this year. Those are 2 of my bottom 4 SEC teams in my weekly power rankings. Alabama was ranked No. 1 in my rankings, which come out on Tuesday. So, naturally, the Tide lost immediately to Memphis on Tuesday night.
What was the issue?
Well, for one, Memphis actually plays good defense. Most importantly, the Tigers don’t foul down low. The Tide score in 2 ways most efficiently – from 3-point range and by getting to the charity stripe.
Nate Oats’ squad shot fairly well from the floor, but Memphis did a great job making sure the Tide couldn’t make 3-pointers from the wings:
But, the key to the game was the free-throw line. Memphis only committed 12 fouls all game long. That led to only 12 Alabama free throws, of which the Tide only made 8. That’s a fine percentage, but that’s not a high-enough volume for a team like Alabama.
If Memphis follows that exact formula, a win over Tennessee on Saturday isn’t out of the question.
2. SEC notes
LSU continues to rack up wins. The Tigers are 9-0 after Tuesday’s 40-point win over Northwestern State.
But, I want to talk about Tari Eason, who has been the breakout star for the Tigers this year. When Adam Miller, the transfer from Illinois, was injured before the start of this season, I was admittedly worried.
Instead, Eason has become a star. He’s led the Tigers in scoring 6 of the last 7 games. He’s shown he can be a go-to guy on that end of the floor for Will Wade’s squad.
Eason, along with teammate Efton Reid, are among the most-improved players in the country by this metric:
Most improved players since preseason in the https://t.co/cegyfz8ykZ player ratings:
1. Jeremy Sochan, Baylor
2. Kerr Kriisa, Arizona
3. Efton Reid, LSU
4. Dalen Terry, Arizona
5. Jamal Shead, Houston
6. Christian Koloko, Arizona
7. Chandler Jacobs, Colo. St
8. Tari Eason, LSU pic.twitter.com/OqTb0ZMr8a
— Evan Miyakawa (@evanmiya) December 16, 2021
LSU faces several ranked teams in a row when SEC play starts on Dec. 29, but for now, the Tigers are the lone remaining unbeaten squad in the league. We’ll see how long Eason, Reid and others can keep the winning streak going!
- Olivier Nkamhoua is one of the most underrated players in the SEC, along with Tari Eason. He scored 21 points and snagged 8 rebounds in Tennessee’s 96-52 win over SC Upstate this week. But, once again, freshman Kennedy Chandler stole the show. He had 10 assists (along with 15 points). This was the best one:
our fave from KC's *ten* dimes Tuesday night pic.twitter.com/iRpNBxMiyO
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) December 16, 2021
- He’s going to need to have a big game for the Vols on Saturday if they’re going to avoid an upset loss at Memphis. More on that game later.
Now, let’s look at the Big Ten.
3. B1G notes
There were literally 2 Big Ten games between Tuesday and now. So, needless to say, this section is going to be pretty short. Kudos to Minnesota for taking down Texas A&M – Corpus Christie, but we’re going to focus on Wisconsin.
The Badgers, currently sitting at 9-2 on the season, managed to hold off Nicholls 71-68 on Wednesday. That’s a rather non-convincing victory. Yes, the Badgers were without leading scorer Johnny Davis, who missed the game with a non-COVID illness, but Wisconsin should still be good enough to beat Nicholls by more than 3 points even without him.
How long will he be out? That remains to be seen, but we’ll see how the Badgers fare with or without him moving forward. Relying so heavily on 1 player is never a good recipe for success in college basketball.
- Meanwhile, the Ohio State program is dealing with COVID issues and had to cancel Saturday’s game in Las Vegas against Kentucky. That was going to be a big game for both teams, so it’s sad it had to be called off. We’ll see if the Wildcats can find another foe for Saturday night. It doesn’t look promising at the moment.
Now, let’s take a look around the ACC and the other conferences in college hoops.
4. ACC notes/random tidbits
It has also been a slow week in the ACC. Sorry, that’s just the way these past few days have gone. So, this particular section is going to focus on one player.
When you think about Duke, you think about superstar freshman Paolo Banchero. You also think about fellow freshman sensation Trevor Keels.
But, Wendell Moore Jr. is doing some incredible work and has been majorly overlooked nationally. In Thursday night’s 92-67 win over Appalachian State, Moore led the way for the Blue Devils. He had 21 points, went 4-for-4 from 3-point range, dished out 6 assists and grabbed 5 rebounds. What a great all-around effort!
This highlight reel is ridiculous:
First team All-American Wendell Moore pic.twitter.com/te28W22o0t
— Zion. O (@DukeNBA) December 17, 2021
He’s a superstar in the making. Don’t overlook him just because he’s not named Paolo Banchero. He is having a huge impact for this Duke squad and will be crucial for their national title hopes.
Now, let’s look ahead to the best games of the weekend.
5. Outlet pass
I’d hoped that COVID-19 was done canceling college hoops games, but unfortunately, that is not the case, as there have been a few high-profile matchups canceled in recent days. Saturday’s showdown in Las Vegas between Kentucky and Ohio State is one of the biggest games to be called off. But, there are still plenty of good matchups between now and Tuesday. Here are the 5 games I can’t wait to watch:
- No. 5 Gonzaga vs. No. 25 Texas Tech (Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on CBS) – Gonzaga has dropped a couple of tough games, first against Duke, then against Alabama. This is another opportunity for a big victory over a ranked team. We’ll see which Bulldog squad shows up in Phoenix on Saturday afternoon.
- No. 4 UCLA vs. North Carolina (Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on CBS) – Assuming this game is still happening (UCLA is dealing with some COVID issues), this is a great test for both of these squads. The ACC is wide-open for a team like UNC to win. Meanwhile, UCLA is trying to prove it is still a contender for the national title. We’ll see who emerges victorious in Las Vegas.
- No. 18 Tennessee at Memphis (Saturday at noon ET on ESPN2) – Memphis is riding high after a big win over Alabama. Will this be a letdown game for the Tigers? Or, will Penny Hardaway’s crew use the same formula to pull off another big SEC upset? We’ll find out.
- No. 9 Villanova at Creighton (Friday at 8 p.m. ET on FS1) – Villanova is 1-2 in true road games this year. Heading to Creighton is a tough road game to start Big East play. Can the Blue Jays pull off the big upset? It wouldn’t be a surprise, as Creighton has been tough so far this year.
- Providence at No. 20 UConn (Saturday at 5 p.m. ET on FOX) – This is a sneaky tough matchup for the Huskies, as the Friars are a solid team this year. If UConn isn’t at full-strength, this could be a surprising upset that shakes things up in the New England hoops hierarchy.
Not as great of a schedule as we could have had for this weekend, but still plenty of quality games. It should be fun to see which teams can avoid major upsets, especially with some ranked teams heading for neutral-site or true road games.
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.