Dust off the cliches, March and its madness are upon us. March might be the only time of year when you will hear grown men happily discussing bubbles bursting, big dances and Cinderella stories. In fact, if you closed your eyes and listened to the banter sometimes, the vocabulary might seem more appropriate for your niece's birthday party rather than a basketball forum.
Yet at its core, the NCAA Tournament is all emotion, all passion. All grit, all determination. It's a nearly month-long drama with plot twists and turns, narrow defeats, dazzling escapes and prize-winning individual efforts. Players like Dwyane Wade and Stephen Curry cemented their NBA futures with epic, show-stopping performances in March, while others like Bryce Drew, Miles Simon and Mateen Cleaves will live in NCAA lore forever. We're only a short time away from seeing how another Big Dance unfolds.
Anyway, enough gushing about events of the past, and those still to come. Let's look at the first College Hoops Barometer of March.
1. Tim Abromaitis, F, Notre Dame - He hasn't quite been as good as former teammate Luke Harangody, but Abromaitis has really turned it on over his last three games. Over that span, the 6-foot-8 senior forward is averaging 26.7 points per game, including a season-high 30 points in Monday's 93-72 thrashing of the struggling Villanova Wildcats. Often deadly from the outside, Abromaitis hit an insane nine three-pointers in that game. With Ben Hansbrough playing at an extremely high level, coach Mike Brey is hoping he can trust the Abromaitis touch as well, as the two could form an incredibly potent duo at the most crucial juncture of the season.
2. Lance Jeter, G, Nebraska - Jeter has had two superior games in a row for the Cornhuskers. On Feb. 26, Jeter poured in a career-high 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting, while also snatching 10 boards and dishing out five assists. Curiously, Nebraska lost that contest to lowly Iowa State, but bounced back behind 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists from the 6-3 Jeter in a win over Mizzou on Tuesday. Jeter is a bull with the basketball and has the ability to affect the game in multiple ways. His 1.8 steals per game speaks to his defensive prowess as well. The Huskers likely need to make a big splash in the Big Ten tournament to make a case to be included in the NCAA Tourney. If they do, Jeter likely will be the catalyst.
3. Rodney McGrudger, G, Kansas State - One of the main reasons for K-State's five-game winning streak has been the play of McGruder, a 6-5 guard who leads the Wildcats in rebounding. During this streak, the sophomore is managing 14.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per tilt. He's scored double-digits in each of those contests, hitting 53.0 percent of his shots from the floor. He even outscored stud shooting guard Jacob Pullen in Monday's stunning 75-70 triumph over Texas. After a season largely in disarray, the Wildcats look like they are headed to the dance after all, with McGruder playing a vital role in their late-season push.
4. D.J. Kennedy, F, St. John's - Dwight Hardy has been all-world for the Johnnies of late, making a case for Big East Player of the Year with SJU's recent six-game win streak. However, Kennedy has been one of Hardy's most able sidekicks, with double-doubles in three of his last six games. Kennedy gets into the box score in a variety of ways, including managing 1.8 steals per contest with 2.2 assists per contest. His versatile game allows him to make his presence felt even when not putting the ball through the hoop. An important cog in the St. John's unit, Kennedy's experience and leadership makes him one of the key ingredients in the Red Storm's recipe for success this season
5. Corey Raji, F, Boston College - Often overshadowed by Reggie Jackson and Joe Trapani, the brother of Packers' defensive tackle B.J. Raji finally seems to have found his groove, and just in time for the ACC Tournmaent too. The 6-6 senior forward posted his second double-double of the season Tuesday with 19 points and 12 rebounds against Virginia Tech, as the Hokies were quickly put back in their place after Saturday's draining victory over then No. 1 Duke. With 36 points and 20 rebounds over his past two games, Raji's contributions down the stretch could make or break B.C.'s potential NCAA bid. Should he falter, the NIT will likely be in B.C.'s future instead.
6. Kenny Boynton, G, Florida - The Gators are surging heading in the SEC Tournament, having won seven of their last eight games in conference play. Boynton has scored in double figures in all eight of those games, averaging 15.1 points over that span. His increased scoring included a 21-point effort in Florida's only loss over that stretch, which came at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats. He tallied six assists in UF's most recent contest, a 78-51 drubbing of SEC West leader Alabama. With Erving Walker and Chandler Parsons, the lightning-quick Boynton has Florida primed for an extended March run.
1. Festus Ezeli, C, Vanderbilt
2. Ralston Turner, G, LSU
3. Kevin Anderson, G, Richmond
4. Marshon Brooks, G, Providence
5. Joe Mazzulla, G, West Virginia
1. Brandon Davies, F, BYU - Davies was dismissed from the Cougars squad after an undisclosed violation of BYU's stringent honor code. The 6-9 sophomore forward had started 26 of 29 games, averaging 11.1 points and 6.2 rebounds. Fellow sophomore Stephen Rogers will look to benefit from Davies' absence, though the Cougars will clearly miss Davies' presence down low on both ends of the court.
2. Jordan Hamilton, F, Texas - Just when it looked like Texas was the nation's most complete team, the Longhorns stumbled to the tune of three losses in their last four contests. In those three losses, Hamilton has shot an abysmal 25.9 percent from the field, while averaging three turnovers per game. With limited veteran experience outside of Gary Johnson, Hamilton will have to lead by example and attempt to right the Texas ship.
3. Jeremy Lamb, G, Connecticut - The Huskies hope the old nursery rhyme holds in true and that March goes out like a lamb, because the freshman has certainly not played up to his potential over his last six games. The 6-5 swingman has scored in double figures just once in that span, as UConn fell to 9-8 in the ultra-competitive Big East with Wednesday's loss to West Virginia. He showed his promise earlier this season with three straight 20-plus point outputs near the end of January but has not been able to find the range since. With Kemba Walker cooling off considerably from the beginning of the season, the Huskies look to be a quick out from both the Big East and NCAA tourneys if they can't get some assistance from their younger players.
4. Faisel Aden, G, Washington State - Aden started off the season with a bang, including three straight 20-plus point outputs to spur the Cougars to 5-0. However, he has not scored 20 points since Jan. 15 against Stanford and has seen his shooting percentage dip to 41.9 percent from the field. His long-range game has also been off, as the 6-4 junior guard is hitting just 32.3 percent from beyond the arc. If his shot is not falling, Aden doesn't accumulate enough stats otherwise to make himself anything close to a fantasy star.
5. Perry Jones, G-F, Baylor - Jones hasn't shot particularly well during Baylor's most recent contests; not surprisingly then, the Bears are 1-3 over their last four contests, including losses to bottom-feeders Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. With an NCAA tourney berth possibly hanging in the balance, Jones has a 42.0 percent field-goal percentage over that span, as compared to hitting 55.4 percent of his shots on the year as a whole. At 7-8 in the Big 12, Baylor will need a big effort from Jones on Saturday against Texas, and perhaps a deep run into the Big 12 post-season tournament to secure an NCAA berth.
6. Trent Lockett, G, Arizona State - It's been a trying season for Lockett and the Sun Devils, who are 2-14 in Pac-10 conference play and losers of 12 of their past 13 contests. The 6-4 sophomore from Golden Valley, Minn., has been held to less than 10 points in two of his last four games after scoring in double figures in 18 of his first 22 games this year. Lockett has plenty of room to grow and is still managing a respectable 13.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 dimes per tilt. However, he has to cut his turnovers, and Locket's outside shooting is still raw, as he is hitting a mere 32.0 percent from three-point land. The sky could be the limit for Lockett, but not this season in the desert.