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College Hoops Barometer: Who will Dethrone Duke?

Jesse Siegel

Jesse Siegel

Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Who can dethrone the Dukies?  It may sound like a broken record, but the Blue Devils are surging to begin the season once again, starting 9-0, including victories over Michigan State and Butler.  Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are cagey veterans, with the Plumlee brothers providing inside muscle.  Can the Blue Devils be stopped? Well, opponents have an opportunity now that Kyrie Irving is out indefinitely with a toe injury.

The Big East would like its shot at Duke, with six undefeated teams, including UConn with Kemba Walker and Cincinnati with no player averaging more than 12 points per game.  Not to mention perennial powerhouses in Pitt, Syracuse and Georgetown.
 
Bill Self and the Jayhawks may also have a say when it's all said and done, with the Morris twins pushing Kansas to an 8-0 start despite losing Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins to the NBA. 

Meanwhile, the Volunteers will lose Coach Bruce Pearl to suspension once SEC play begins, though it hasn't seemed to impact 6-0 Tennessee on the court thus far.  Losing Evan Turner to the NBA hasn't hurt Ohio State either, as the Buckeyes have rather quietly posted six straight wins to start the season behind stellar guard play from David Lighty, William Buford and Jon Diebler, with immediate contributions from freshman phenom Jared Sullinger. 

Not ready yet to discuss contenders?  Then let's take a look at this week's College Hoops Barometer. 

UPGRADES 

1.  Mike Scott, F, Virginia -
Scott has posted five consecutive double-doubles against decent opponents, including Virginia Tech and Minnesota.  He's also averaged 16.3 points for the season thus far, hitting 48.5 percent of his shots from the floor and 88.5 percent from the charity stripe.  It will be interesting to see if Scott can keep this up once ACC play begins for good, but Scott has been the leader of a surprising Virginia squad so far. 

2.  Diante Garrett, G, Iowa State -
With Craig Brackins gone, Garrett has taken more of the scoring load for the Cyclones this season, increasing his points per game average from 9.2 last year to 16.6 through ISU's first eight games.  His assists haven't suffered either, though, as he's dishing out 6.0 dimes per tilt while continuing to post a better than 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.  His shooting can still be erratic at times, but the more Garrett asserts himself, the better he seems to play. 

3.  Vincent Council, G, Providence -
True, Providence is 9-1 having rolled through mostly cupcakes, but Council has still brought his game to the next level as a sophomore.  He is managing 17.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game for the Friars.  His shooting percentages are up across the board, which can most likely be attributed to growth, maturity and confidence.  The presence of fellow guard and senior Marshon Brooks also takes some of the pressure off Council.  Council had a 16 assist game against Brown on Monday.  All in all, Brooks and Council form one of the most potent backcourt tandems in the country and are largely flying under the radar outside of Rhode Island. 

4.  Tyler Honeycutt, F, UCLA -
The Bruins have limped to a 3-4 record out of the gate, but Honeycutt has been one of the lone bright spots for UCLA.  The 6-foot-8 sophomore averages 16.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest.  He is shooting 44.1 percent from three-point land, while also averaging 2.4 assists and 1.3 blocks per game.  His turnovers have been troublesome, but that will happen when you're the go-to man on a struggling squad.  Honeycutt should continue to thrive, particularly if fellow youthful teammates Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith can pick up some of the slack. 

5.   Rick Jackson, F, Syracuse -
Jackson has imposed his will on opposing big men this season, as witnessed in Tuesday's 17-point, 16-rebound outburst against Michigan State. Not surprisingly, Jackson is averaging a double-double this season while shooting 56.5 percent from the floor. He's proven to a be an excellent anchor for the 'Cuse 2-3 zone as well, posting 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals per contest. With 2.1 assists per game also on his resume, Jackson has been the along the biggest reasons why Syracuse continues to shine at 9-0.

Honorable Mention

1.  Tyler Zeller, F-C, North Carolina
2.  Glen Rice, Jr., G, Georgia Tech
3.  Jimmy Butler, G-F, Marquette
4.  Marcus Denmon, G, Missouri
5.   Tyrone Nash, F, Notre Dame

DOWNGRADES 

1.  Travis Leslie, G, Georgia -
Leslie has seen a precipitous decline in his production since the return of big man Trey Thompkins from a high ankle sprain.  He hasn't scored more than 14 points in each of his last four games, including an abysmal 2-for-9, four-point output against UAB on Dec. 3.  His long-range shooting hasn't developed as many would have hoped, as the 6-4 guard shot just 11 threes all of last season and is just 2-for-12 so far this year.  He is a superior rebounder for his size and can slash to the hoop with the best of them, but he's going to have to develop his outside shot to succeed, particularly with Thompkins back and clogging up the middle. 

2.  Alex Tyus, F, Florida -
Maybe Tyus should have turned pro when he had some buzz last season.  He's looked a bit lost in the Gators' guard-oriented attack this season, as his scoring and rebounding numbers are down by at least two apiece.  He's shooting just 46.5 percent through Florida's first seven games, when heretofore he's never shot less than 50 percent in any season.

3.   Kalin Lucas, G, Michigan State -
Despite making a quicker-than-expected recovery from an ACL tear in March, Lucas is visibly not 100 percent. He took himself out of the Bowling Green game after 15 minutes and totaled just eight points while turning the ball over six times against Syracuse. Coach Tom Izzo has blamed himself for scheduling too many games and too much travel to begin the season, but the fact remains that eight months to recover from a torn Achilles is simply not enough time to expect Lucas to be full strength. When healthy he's one of the best PGs in the game, but for now the Spartans might be careful with how they deploy their star.

4.   Kevin Jones, F, West Virginia -
This season hasn't quite lived up to expectations yet for Jones, who was expected to pick up the slack for departed stars Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks. However, Jones appears to have lost his shooting touch, hitting just 41.8 percent of his shots, including just 22.2 percent from three-point land. He's shooting just 50.0 percent from the free-throw line, and his rebounds have also taken a hit. All in all, Jones must find a way to get his shot to fall, after which the rest of his stats will likely catch up as well.

5.   Matt Gatens, G, Iowa -
The leading returning scorer for the Hawkeyes, Gatens tore a tendon in his left (non-shooting) hand in practice in late October, which required surgery. Although he missed just two games as a result of the injury, Gatens has not looked comfortable since his return, averaging just 8.7 points while shooting an anemic 30.6 percent from the field. He's just 6-for-35 on threes and is clearly hampered by the device he is forced to wear on the left hand. He's also been hesitant to mix it up down low or penetrate into the paint, resulting in a dip in his rebounding and assist totals. Gatens should get better as the season progresses, but he has failed to show the ability to adapt yet in 2010-2011.

6. Larry Drew II, G, North Carolina -
Drew's supposed superstardom has never materialized, as the junior guard is averaging just 4.0 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists despite playing more than 25 minutes per contest. His shooting has been horrific; the 6-2 guard is hitting a meager 23.5 percent of his looks, including 14.3 percent from downtown. As a result, he's averaging half as many points as he did just a season ago, despite playing nearly the same minutes. Drew's confidence was certainly shaken in 2009-2010 during UNC's first down season in years. It remains to be seen whether he'll ever live up to expectations.
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