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College Hoops Barometer: Blue Devil Rising

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.

It was a bad week to be near the top of the polls, as Kansas, Ohio State, Texas and Pitt all lost their chance to capture No. 1 in the rankings. Ohio State fell to Purdue due to an epic 38-point effort from E'Twaun Moore, while Pitt lost to the Goliath-slayers of St. John's, who are now 5-1 against Top 25 squads this season. Meanwhile, Texas couldn't hold off Nebraska, as the Huskers downed the Longhorns, 70-67 in Lincoln.

With all of the unrest, the Duke Blue Devils have ascended to the No. 1 spot once again. Not surprisingly then, the first name on this week's list plays his home games amongst the Cameron Crazies. On to a pristine edition of the College Hoops Barometer.

UPGRADES

1. Nolan Smith, G, Duke -
Smith has thrown his hat into the National Player of the Year ring. The 6-2 senior guard is averaging career-highs of 21.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists, while shooting a career-best 48.2 percent from the floor. With the ability to shoot from the outside and also take the ball to the rim, Smith is a threat to score from anywhere on the court. The Blue Devils are on a six-game winning streak, including two 30-plus scoring outputs over that span. Even if he gets overshadowed on the national stage by Jared Sullinger and Jimmer Fredette, Smith should win ACC Player of the Year in a walk.

2. Jorge Gutierrez, G, California -
Gutierrez capped off a recent eight-game tear with an outstanding 34-point performance in Cal's 76-72 OT win over UCLA. Over those last eight games, the 6-3 junior guard is managing 20.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists. The leading assist man for the Bears, Gutierrez is also second on the team in scoring. He's also an above-average rebounder for Cal at 3.7 boards per tilt. Gutierrez needs to improve his shot selection a bit, but it's hard to argue with his production over the past month or so.

3. Dwight Hardy, G, St. John's -
Coach Steve Lavin gets all the credit in the world for the return of the Johnnies to glory, and one of his biggest moves was the insertion of Hardy into the starting lineup. The backup point guard last season, Hardy has emerged as the focal point of the Red Storm offense. He is averaging 17.2 points per game, sank the game-winner against Pitt on Saturday, and poured in 33 points against UConn and 26 points against Duke, both wins for the Johnnies. The Red Storm is 5-1 against ranked opponents this year, and finally snuck into the Top 25 themselves. Hardy is undoubtedly the catalyst of the revitalized Red Storm.

4. Malcolm Thomas, F, San Diego State -
he Aztecs are far from a one-trick pony, even though Kawhi Leonard has been a star for SDSU this season, and D.J. Gay has hit some clutch shots. Enter Thomas to the fray, a 6-9 senior forward who has seven double-doubles, including a 20-point, 13-rebound outburst in the Aztecs' school record 27th victory of the season on February 19 against Air Force. On February 16, Thomas recorded a season-high 22 points against New Mexico. SDSU has won seven-straight contests since their only loss of the season, and get a chance to avenge that loss with a matchup at home against BYU on February 26. With Thomas playing an increasingly vital complementary role, the Aztecs look poised for a big run in March.

5. Ramone Moore, G, Temple -
The Owls are riding an eight-game winning streak, with Moore leading the charge. He's scored at least 22 points in three of his last four contests, shooting 50.8 percent from the floor during that streak. The 6-4 junior guard has acted as a facilitator as well, including dishing out a season-high eight dimes against St. Joseph's on January 29. Moore has taken over for the poor-shooting Juan Fernandez as the heart and soul of the Owls' squad.

6. C.J. Leslie, F, NC State -
The 6-8 freshman forward has finally gotten his act together, scoring at least 14 points and grabbing at least six rebounds in each of his last five games. Leslie leads the Wolfpack in rebounding overall, and is second on the squad in scoring. His shot selection has also improved over his past five contests, as Leslie is hitting 54.0 percent of his shots over that span. Leslie should finish the season on a nice run, with an eye towards the ACC tournament and beyond.

Honorable Mention

1. Chris Wright, G, Georgetown
2. Derrick Williams, F, Arizona
3. Tai Wesley, F, Utah State
4. John Roberson, G, Texas Tech
5. Drew Gordon, F, New Mexico

DOWNGRADES

1. Tyshawn Taylor, G, Kansas -
The hits just keep on coming in regard to suspensions, with KU's Taylor being suspended indefinitely for violating unspecified team rules. Taylor had started 26 games this season for the Jayhawks, averaging 8.8 points, 2.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per contest. The 6-3 junior from Jersey City, New Jersey is shooting 45.6 percent from the field, 36.1 percent from three-point land, and 72.0 percent from the free-throw line. Brady Morningstar should pick up the slack in Taylor's absence.

2. Chris Wright, F, Dayton -
Once thought of as a possible lottery pick, Wright's game has not progressed as the Flyers had hoped during his final year as a Flyer. The senior is shooting a career-low 46.4 percent from the floor, and averaging just 12.8 points per contest, his worst per-game average since his freshman campaign. Though athletically gifted, Wright's skill set has not caught up to his physical talents, as his ball handling and mid-range shooting remains suspect at best. Though he is still averaging 8.5 rebounds per tilt, Wright has not been a truly dominant force, and the Flyers' 7-6 record in the A-10 is evidence of that.

3. Diante Garrett, G, Iowa State -
When you're 1-12 in conference play, it's hard to imagine much has gone right for you or your squad. A talented 6-4 senior guard, Garrett has been forced to hoist up shots with reckless abandon for the shorthanded Cyclones, leading to an abysmal 41.2 field goal percentage this season, including just 31.8 percent from three-point land. He shot 6-for-19 against Texas on Tuesday, 5-for-14 against Texas A&M on February 16, and a horrific 3-of-16 against Mizzou on January 22. Though Garrett's per-game numbers are certainly respectable (17.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists), he has simply too much responsibility on a team lacking in the talent department.

4. Blake Hoffarber, G, Minnesota -
Perhaps the added pressure of running the point has gotten to Hoffarber. The leading scorer in Minnesota history has shot a putrid 27.6 percent over his past three games, two of which have been losses for the Golden Gophers. In fact, Minnesota has lost six of its last seven games since senior leader and point guard Al Nolen went down with a season-ending injury. Hoffarber has been playing out of position since that time, and not surprisingly the Gophers have struggled since that time. Minnesota needs to find the right answer at point guard, and quick, before their tournament hopes come crashing down.

5. Herb Pope, F, Seton Hall -
After a string of 10 games in which he recorded five double-doubles, Pope has failed to notch a single double-double over his past five contests for the Pirates. He has only scored in double figures once over that span, and has not snatched more than seven boards in any one game since January 30 against Providence. Not surprisingly, Seton Hall is 1-4 in those games. Pope's task will not get any easier either, as the Pirates face St. John's, Notre Dame and Marquette in their final three games of the regular season.

6. Desmond Holloway, G, Coastal Carolina -
The Chanticleers recently lost their 22-game winning streak as well as starting point guard Kiered Greenwood to an ACL tear, and have now lost Holloway, their leading scorer, to boot. Holloway was suspended for unspecified eligibility issues, leaving Coastal Carolina shorthanded in their attempt to make the NCAA tourney for the first time since 1993. Though they will be the top seed in the Big South tournament, the loss of Holloway might be a hill too steep to climb. Holloway had been averaging 18.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game this season, hitting 50.2 percent of his shots from the floor.

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