Welcome to the College Hoops Barometer, a survey of the college basketball landscape on a weekly basis. We'll take a look at which phenoms are surging, which ballers are struggling and which players just can't seem to stay on the court. Looking for that diamond in the rough? A mid-major superstar yearning to break out? Or a former big-time recruit working his way back into the rotation? Then you've come to the right place. Let's take a peek at what the NCAA has in store for us just in time for the Holidays.
Reggie Johnson, C, Miami - Johnson enjoyed a breakout campaign last season, averaging 11.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game for the Canes. Johnson was poised to be the centerpiece of the Miami frontcourt this year before tearing the meniscus in his right knee, which sidelined him for the first nine games of the season. He's back earlier than expected, though, and with a vengeance. The 6-foot-10, 300, center tallied 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and five blocks against Florida Atlantic on Saturday. With true centers few and far between, Johnson's return to health makes him a hot commodity.
Herb Pope, F, Seton Hall - Pope has been a beast for the Pirates, averaging 22.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game during his final campaign at Seton Hall. With sharpshooter Jeremy Hazell gone, Pope has shouldered the scoring load in addition to his usual stellar rebounding figures. Pope's previous high for points per game was 11.5 in 2009-2010. Pope has also compiled a double-double in eight of 10 games thus far in 2011, punctuated by a 17-rebound performance against Mercer on Sunday. The Pirates are off to a 9-1 start behind the 6-8 forward's monstrous statistical outputs.
Will Barton, G, Memphis - Barton has taken his game to the next level as a sophomore, averaging 20.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per tilt for the Tigers. The 6-6 swingman is hitting an impressive 54.9-percent of his shots from the floor, while also averaging 2.5 dimes and 1.6 steals per game. Despite stellar increases in scoring and rebounding, Barton is also managing fewer turnovers per game in more minutes played. All in all, Barton has emerged as an elite option for Memphis.
J'Covan Brown, G, Texas - Brown has always been instant offense for the Longhorns, but mostly as a complementary player. This year he's become the focal point of the Texas attack, leading the squad in scoring at 19.3 points per game. He is also second on the team in assists at 4.3 dimes per tilt, while also grabbing 3.5 boards per game. Paired with freshman Myck Kabongo, they form one of the nation's most potent backcourts.
Festus Ezeli, C, Vanderbilt - Ezeli had two sprained ligaments in his right knee that caused him to miss the first eight games of the season for the Commodores. In his season debut Dec. 7, Ezeli tallied 15 points and six boards, but fouled out of the game. The next game, he managed just four points and four rebounds as Vandy lost to Indiana State. Then on Monday, Ezeli was held out of an easy victory over Longwood. It is clear that the talented center has to work his way back into game shape, as well as make sure his knee is 100-percent, before becoming an impact player.
Terrence Jones, F, Kentucky - Jones missed Tuesday's game against Samford due to an injured left pinkie finger, though mostly a precautionary measure. The Preseason All-American has seen a dip in his stats thus far this season. Jones is down from 15.7 to 12.4 points per game, while also grabbing almost three fewer rebounds per contest. Hopefully, Jones is just taking it easy until conference play begins. He has failed to notch a double-double this season.
Aziz N'Diaye, C, Washington - Although raw on the offensive end, N'Diaye is a force on the glass for the Huskies, accumulating 8.8 rebounds per game. However, on Dec. 10 against Duke he suffered a knee injury that forced him to leave the game. An MRI revealed only a sprain, but the 7-0 center from Senegal has not sniffed the court since. N'Diaye should be back soon, but make sure he's deemed fit to play before deploying him.
Shabazz Napier, G, Connecticut - Napier twisted an ankle in practice and is questionable for Thursday's game against Fairfield. Napier has been the catalyst for the Huskies with Kemba Walker off to the NBA. With Jeremy Lamb at his disposal, Napier averages 6.9 dimes per game. His shooting numbers have also picked up across the board, as the sophomore point guard hits 46.6-percent of his shots from the field, as well as 41.5-percent of his treys. With 14.6 points and 4.3 boards per game, Napier is a force to be reckoned with - when healthy.
Reeves Nelson, F, UCLA - An All-Pac 12 preseason nominee, Nelson fell swiftly from grace this season. He was already in the doghouse with coach Ben Howland after his first suspension due to conduct detrimental to the team. The 6-8 forward's second suspension got him kicked off the squad. Nelson had so much potential too; he managed 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per tilt as a sophomore. Nelson is reportedly off to Lithuania to play professional basketball before entering the 2012 NBA draft; with eligibility extinguished, his college days are over.
Yancy Gates, F, Cincinnati - By now you've seen the footage of Gates decking Xavier's Kenny Frease in the jaw, then flexing his muscles as the fracas ensued with the rest of the Musketeers. For his part in the rumble, Gates was suspended for six games. It remains to be seen what role he'll play for the Bearcats when he returns to action. Although Gates is arguably the most talented baller on the team, coach Mick Cronin wasn't sure some of the players involved will even be allowed to return. Gates likely will have to work his way back into the rotation at the very least.
Augustus Gilchrist, F-C, South Florida - Gilchrist has shot poorly from the floor to begin the 2011-2012 campaign, hitting just 38.3-percent of his shots. He's also not getting to the foul line as frequently. This has led to an 11.1 points per game average, down from the last two seasons in which the 6-10 big man averaged 13.4 points per tilt. His rebounds have stayed consistent, but Gilchrist needs to improve his shot selection and shot making to help the 7-5 Bulls.
Richard Solomon, F, California - Solomon has had a rough start to his sophomore season. He was suspended for two games earlier this year, then was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. As a result, he'll miss about 3-4 weeks. Solomon was leading the Bears in rebounding at 6.9 rebounds per game. Solomon's offensive game still needs work, but he will certainly be missed on the glass during his absence.