For the first time in years, the Big East is not absolutely the dominant conference in college basketball. Syracuse is certainly having a sensational season behind Fab, Scoop and KuJo, and Georgetown has proven a top-10 squad. Marquette is heavy with experience, particularly at guard. However, the drop thereafter is fairly steep, with inconsistent Louisville and surprising Notre Dame the only other top-25 schools from the conference.
By comparison, take the Big 12, with three schools in the top 10. Or how about the Big Ten, with five ranked schools. The ACC has seen an uptick with FSU and Virginia in the rankings along with perennial powerhouses Duke and North Carolina. And the nation's No. 1 team, Kentucky, hails from the Southeastern Conference.
Of course, in just a few short years the entire landscape of college basketball will change due to conference expansion and contraction. For now, though, parity has taken hold of college hoops.
Austin Rivers, G, Duke - Rivers earned his "SubZero" moniker with his cold-blooded trey at the buzzer to sink UNC last Wednesday. In that game he shot 9-of-16 from the floor, including 6-for-10 from downtown en route to 29 points in the 85-84 win. Rivers has shown a penchant for hitting the big shot, and the freshman is not afraid of the spotlight. He can also make his impact felt in a variety of ways; he had nine rebounds against Miami on Feb. 5, while collecting at least four dimes in three of his last five contests. Rivers seems to be hitting his peak at the right time for the Blue Devils.
D.J. Byrd, G-F, Purdue - Byrd is surging for the Boilermakers. In his last four games, the 6-foot-5 junior averaged 17.8 points and 3.8 rebounds. The three-point sharpshooter hit 15-of-28 treys over that span, good for a blistering 53.6 percent from long range. Byrd connected on an impressive 7-of-9 three-pointers at Ohio State on Feb. 7. He has also nailed 10-of-11 free-throws over his recent hot streak. Continue to ride Byrd while he's hot.
Gerald Robinson, G, Georgia - The SEC Player of the Week averaged 17.3 points, 5.3 boards and 4.3 dimes over his last four contests, leading Georgia most recently to a 70-68 victory over the ranked Mississippi State Bulldgos. On Feb. 8, Robinson torched Arkansas to the tune of 27 points, six rebounds and five assists. For the season, Robinson averages 14.0 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
John Shurna, F, Northwestern - Often overlooked in the power-packed Big Ten, Shurna is an elite scorer, averaging a career-high 19.9 points for the Wildcats. Shurna is hitting a career-high 43.6 percent from the three-point line despite his 6-9 height. The senior is also an underrated rebounder and passer, averaging 5.7 boards and 2.5 dimes per game. He even blocks 1.5 shots per game and steals 1.2 passes per tilt. Shurna punctuated a stellar stretch with a 30-point barrage against Purdue on Sunday, connecting on 11-of-20 from the floor. All in all, Shurna is one of the best players in the conference with extremely little fanfare.
Matthew Dellavedova, G, Saint Mary's - Dellavedova doesn't get enough pub, but the 6-4 junior guard is the catalyst for an extremely talented Gaels squad. He averages 15.7 points, 3.3 boards and 6.4 dimes per game and has pushed Saint Mary's to a 23-3 record. Then why is Dellavedova not listed in the Upgrade section? He averages 37.1 minutes per game, including playing all 40 minutes in four of the last five contests. With the dog days of February upon us, and teams approaching 30 games played this season, will he hit a wall or power through it? Stay tuned to find out, as the Gaels could make some noise in the tourney if Dellavedova continues to percolate.
Elias Harris, F, Gonzaga - The 6-7 junior forward has loads of talent, but it hasn't translated to outrageous numbers through his first three years with the Zags. Still, Harris averages 13.2 points and 8.1 rebounds this season and has compiled three double-doubles in his last five games, including a 17-point, 15-rebound effort in his last game against Loyola Marymount. Harris continues to struggle shooting the ball, though, hitting a career-low 49.2 percent from the floor, as well as just 64.4 percent from the charity stripe. Harris is an important cog for the Bulldogs, but his offensive game remains raw.
Darius Miller, G, Kentucky - With the arrival of freshman sensation Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Miller has been relegated to the bench for the Wildcats. Last year, the 6-8 guard averaged 10.9 points and 4.6 bounds per game. As a senior in 2011-12, Miller's stats are down, as he averages 9.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per tilt. The biggest drop has come in his long-distance shooting. Miller connected on 44.3 percent of his treys as a junior; this year, he has hit just 37.6 percent of his shot from downtown. Coach Calipari's bench is short, and Miller is one injury away from significant playing time. However, at this juncture, there are better options.
Dion Waiters, G, Syracuse - The most talented player on the Orange squad could be Waiters, the 6-4 guard with NBA skills and athleticism. However, Syracuse is so deep that Waiters isn't consistently a fantasy dynamo. He is averaging 12.2 points, 2.2 boards and 2.7 dimes in 23.5 minutes per game. Waiters has failed to score in double-digits in four of his last six games. The super soph has picked up the slack in other ways, as he is averaging 4.5 assists over his last four contests. Nevertheless, on such a star-studded squad, Waiters may have to wait until next season before he explodes statistically.
JaMychal Green, F, Alabama - Green and teammate Tony Mitchell remain suspended indefinitely due to a violation of team rules. They have missed the last two games, and counting. Green is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Tide with 14.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. The 6-8 senior forward was shooting a blistering 54.9 percent from the field, while also managing 1.8 dimes and 1.5 swats per contest. Not surprisingly, Alabama has lost both games since the suspension. We likely won't be seeing Green and his double-doubles anytime soon.
PeShon Howard, G, Maryland - An injury-prone season will be cut short for Howard, who tore his right ACL in practice last Thursday. Howard missed the first nine games of the season with a broken left foot as well, playing just 14 games during the 2011-12 campaign. The 6-3 sophomore guard averaged 6.5 points, 3.7 boards and 3.7 dimes when he was able to step onto the court. Freshman Nick Faust should see a bump in minutes and production as a result of the injury.
Will Yeguete, F, Florida - A second concussion of the year will sideline Yeguete until he can pass the appropriate tests. The 6-7 sophomore from France is third on the team in rebounding at 6.1 boards per tilt, while also managing 4.5 points per contest. He has shot a stellar 58.5 percent from the field on the year, while also asserting himself on the defensive end with 1.3 thefts per game.
Billy Oliver, F, Penn State - Speaking of concussions, Oliver has decided to end his collegiate career due to continued issues with post-concussion syndrome. Chronic headaches have plagued the 6-8 Oliver since at least 2009. In 2011-12, Oliver averaged 24.0 minutes per game, accumulating 6.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per tilt for the Nittany Lions. He started the first 19 games of the year for Penn State.