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College Hoops Barometer: Beware of Dawg

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.

Several teams outside the Top 5 in the latest NCAA Rankings deserve more publicity. Arizona is undefeated, and the Wildcats play host to Florida in a dynamite early season matchup Saturday. Arizona is deep, led by sophomore point guard Nick Johnson but also featuring Xavier transfer Mark Lyons, steady contributor Solomon Hill and beastly center Kaleb Tarczewski.

Meanwhile, Illinois finds itself 11-0 behind impeccable production from senior Brandon Paul. Paul has increased his scoring and rebounding, while also limiting his turnovers. His decision-making, particularly in regard to shot selection, has been the greatest improvement in his game.

Cincinnati is also unblemished and features perhaps the best backcourt duo in the country in Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. Kilpatrick is in the early running for Big East Player of the Year, averaging 20.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per tilt for the Bearcats.

Finally, let's not leave out the 10-0 New Mexico Lobos led by superb junior guard Kendall Williams. Also keep an eye on 7-footer Alex Kirk, who has posted three double-doubles in his last five games. Kirk missed all of last season after undergoing back surgery.


Let's take a look at who else is making noise in this week's College Hoops Barometer.

UPGRADE

Abdul Gaddy, G, Washington -
Gaddy took a backseat in the past to players like Quincy Pondexter, Isaiah Thomas and Terrence Ross. That has not been the case this season, as the senior is averaging 14.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. He's getting to the free-throw line much more than in the past as well. It also doesn't hurt having junior C.J. Wilcox by his side; Wilcox is averaging 19.9 points per game, shooting an impressive 44.0-percent from beyond the arc. The Huskies may have some growing pains this year, but Gaddy will be the veteran presence to guide the team through tough times.

Russ Smith, G, Louisville -
Scoring is what Smith does best. The Cardinals returned virtually the entire squad from their Final Four team, yet Smith has taken his game to new heights. He is hitting 45.4-percent from the field, as well as 38.5-percent from three-point land, en route to a 20.3 points per game average. He's been no slouch in other areas, too, managing 3.0 rebounds and 2.6 dimes per contest. Smith is also currently fifth in the nation with 3.3 thefts per game. Smith can obviously fill it up, but his overall growth as a player is certainly worth noting as well.

Carrick Felix, G-F, Arizona State -
Felix has been hot of late, posting double-doubles in two of his last three games. Felix's stats are up across the board this season; the 6-6 junior swingman is averaging 15.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. His shooting has been off the charts through nine games, as Felix is hitting a blistering 60.4-percent from the floor, including 43.8-percent from downtown. The presence of freshman sensation Jahii Carson has also done wonders for Felix. Carson is averaging 18.6 points and 5.3 assists per game to begin his collegiate career. With big man Jordan Bachynski clogging up the paint as well, the Sun Devils could be a team to watch out for in the Pac-12.

LaDontae Henton, F, Providence -
Henton had a standout freshman campaign for the Friars, but he's being asked to shoulder even more of the load as a sophomore due to injury. First, superstar guard Vincent Council went down with a hamstring injury. Subsequently, his replacement, Bryce Cotton, tweaked his ankle. That's left Henton as the focal point of the Providence offense. He responded with a 21-point, 17-rebound outburst against Rhode Island on December 6. On the year, the sophomore forward has compiled 16.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Henton is playing a staggering 38.2 minutes per game for the Friars, having played all 40 minutes in five of the nine games this season. Henton played big minutes last season too, so it appears he's up for the challenge.

CHECK STATUS

Khem Birch, F-C, UNLV -
Birch will be eligible to play his first game for the Rebels on December 17 at UTEP. His return could not come any sooner for UNLV, as the Rebels lost star forward Mike Moser for at least one month due to a dislocated elbow. Birch was a highly-touted recruit for Pitt last season, but had a rough adjustment period and eventually left the squad. Birch has terrific athleticism and stellar defensive skills, but he's still raw at this stage, and his effort has also been questioned. Birch can be a difference-maker, and the Rebels will need him to contribute immediately in the absence of Moser. He has the potential, but whether he can put it together on the court remains to be seen.

Adonis Thomas, G-F, Memphis -
Thomas has been adequate, if unspectacular for the Tigers thus far in 2012. He's averaging 10.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game; however, these stats do not represent much of an improvement from his freshman campaign. Likewise, his long-range shooting has been dreadful. Thomas has connected on just 4-of-22 three-pointers to begin the year. A slasher who oozes raw athleticism, Thomas hasn't shown enough tenacity on the glass either. Without consistency on the glass and improvement in his shot, Thomas will be unable to develop into a complete player. He's young, but obviously Thomas is still a work in progress.

Aaric Murray, C, West Virginia -
Murray was dominant during his two years at La Salle before transferring to West Virginia. As a sophomore, he averaged 15.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. It's unclear whether he's having difficulty adjusting to his new team, the level of competition, or both, but his stats have not been as good with the Mountaineers thus far. Murray has battled foul trouble, accumulating at least four fouls in five of eight games. As a result, he's not playing as many minutes as he did at La Salle, and his production has suffered. Murray has the post moves and size to be effective at this level, so perhaps he just needs some seasoning.
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Carl Hall, F, Wichita State - The Shockers shouldn't be sneaking up on anyone after last season's wildly successful campaign, but they still are not getting the appropriate recognition. WSU is 9-0, and Hall has played an integral role in the sizzling start. The senior bulldozer is averaging 13.1 points and 7.4 points per game, up from 8.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per tilt from last year. He's formed a formidable one-two punch in the frontcourt with teammate Cleanthony Early. Don't sleep on the Shockers, as Hall and company are poised to do more damage this season.

DOWNGRADE

Daniel Miller, C, Georgia Tech -
This season was supposed to mark Miller's coming out party, as he showed hints of breakout potential as a sophomore. It hasn't come to fruition thus far in 2012, though, as Miller is averaging fewer points and rebounds per game than a season ago. Perhaps most surprising is his low field goal percentage for a post player; Miller is hitting just 44.2-percent of his shots from the floor. At 6-11, 257-lbs, Miller has the size to play the center position, but his offensive progress continues to lag behind his defense.

Mouphtaou Yarou, C, Villanova -
Yarou has experienced a similar downturn in production this season. His offensive game remains raw, and it is doubtful he will ever develop into much of a low-post threat with the ball in his hands. The senior has also suffered from the lack of dominant point guard play, a luxury he had in previous years with Maalik Wayns and Corey Fisher. As a result, Yarou is shooting a career-low 43.5-percent from the field. He can still rebound the ball effectively, but his 11.3 points per game average from his junior season may be the best we'll ever see from Yarou.

Carl Engstrom, C, Alabama -
Engstrom will miss the rest of the season for the Crimson Tide after tearing his ACL and MCL in his left knee. One of the few big men on the roster, the 7-1, 285-lb behemoth had averaged 3.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in seven games before undergoing surgery to repair the tears. The Tide are off to a surprising 6-2 start, though have dropped their last two games against Cincinnati and Dayton.

Dennis Clifford, C, Boston College -
Yet another big man battling injury, Clifford has missed the last two games for the Eagles with a gimpy ankle. As a freshman last season he averaged 8.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. At 7-feet, 250-lbs, Clifford has excellent fundamentals, the ability to impose his will on the interior, and can also step out and hit a jumper. Still, he doesn't possess a ton of explosiveness, and an ankle injury certainly won't help matters. He was averaging 6.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game before being sidelined.

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