The New Year is upon us, meaning the college football season is nearly complete and college hoops will soon take center stage. The best conference in college basketball thus far? The Big Ten, without question. The conference has six of the top 18 teams in the country, and five of the top 11 squads according to the rankings. Michigan remains undefeated, while Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota each have one loss. Ohio State has two blemishes on its resume, though losses to Duke and Kansas won't have many people scratching their heads. Meanwhile, the always dangerous Michigan State Spartans and Coach Tom Izzo lurk inside the top-20 with two losses as well.
The Duke Blue Devils remains atop the rankings, though, and a weak ACC should only aid their quest to return to the Final Four. Still, watch out for Arizona out west; the Wildcats added lethal scorer Mark Lyons and freshman big man Kaleb Tarczewksi to an already potent lineup. Sophomore point guard Nick Johnson is wise beyond his years, possessing a standout basketball IQ and the skills to match. Arizona is a scary team that nobody is talking about now.
Let's look at the rest of the college basketball landscape in this week's College Hoops Barometer.
Jaye Crockett, F, Texas Tech - Crockett already has five doubles-doubles this season for the Red Raiders; by contrast, he had just four all last season. The forward is averaging 15.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game as a junior. Credit his newfound aggressiveness and assertiveness for the upswing in stats, as Crockett played similar minutes as a sophomore but managed just 8.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Shot selection also has improved drastically for Crockett, as he is hitting an impressive 59.4 percent of his shots from the floor. Crockett doesn't start for the Red Raiders, but that has made him no less valuable this season.
Mason Plumlee, F, Duke - An obvious upgrade for Mason, as he has taken his offensive game to new heights this season for the Blue Devils. Plumlee was always a standout rebounder, defender and shot-blocker but has shown off some quasi-polished post moves this year en route to dominating the interior. He is shooting 63.8 percent from the floor, as the majority of his looks come from the painted area. He is also among the nation's leaders in free-thrown attempts, getting to the line almost nine times per game and hitting a career-high 69.2-percent. All in all, Mason's elevated game is one of the main reasons why the Blue Devils are the No. 1 team in the country.
Vincent Council, G, Providence - Don't forget about Council, the dynamic guard who played just five minutes this season before injuring his hamstring. He returned to action Dec. 28 and looked a bit rusty, compiling just six points on 1-of-8 shooting from the floor. However, he managed nine assists for the game. Council was among the most productive guards in the land last season, averaging 15.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game for the Friars. It shouldn't take him too long to get back up to speed, particularly with fellow guard Bryce Cotton continuing to be plagued by a knee injury.
Andre Hollins, G, Minnesota - One of the biggest reasons for the Gophers' success early this season has been the emergence of Hollins. The sophomore guard averages 13.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.7 dimes per game. Along with Austin Hollins (no relation) and senior leader Rodney Williams, the Gophers have been able to out-quick most of their opponents in a small, guard-oriented lineup. Hollins is hitting 40.7-percent of his treys, while also managing 1.3 thefts per game. Hollins has certainly shown the ability to fill it up; on Nov. 21 he poured in 41 points against Memphis. Hollins shot 5-for-5 from three-point land and 12-for-13 from the charity stripe during that contest. The leading scorer for the Gophers, Hollins has the 13-1 squad primed to do some damage in the Big Ten and beyond.
LaShay Page, G, South Carolina - Page has missed the last two games for the Gamecocks due to an undisclosed academic issue. The senior guard is second on the team in scoring at 11.7 points per game, while also averaging 3.3 boards per tilt. Fortunately for the Gamecocks, they will get back Outback Bowl hero Bruce Ellington soon. The team's starting point guard, Ellington doubles as a wide receiver for the South Carolina football team and scored the game-winning touchdown Tuesday against Michigan. Ellington's scoring will be needed should Page be forced to miss more time.
Johnny O'Bryant III, F, LSU - O'Bryant missed the Tigers' last game due to an undisclosed injury, and previously a contest in November due to a calf strain. He also missed five games last season due to a broken hand. When on the court, O'Bryant has been a pleasant surprise this season for the 8-2 Tigers, averaging 13.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. O'Bryant has three double-doubles in eight games played. The sophomore big man has proven his worth when healthy, but a variety of injuries during his brief career makes him a risky player to trust.
Tim Hardaway, Jr., G, Michigan - Hardaway is nursing a sore ankle for the Wolverines, which forced him to miss Saturday's game against Central Michigan. Along with point guard Trey Burke, the two form one of the most potent backcourts in the nation. Hardaway averages 15.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Although the injury is not serious, Hardaway may be slightly hampered by the injury heading into conference play. The Wolverines need Hardaway at full strength if they are to make a serious run in the stacked Big Ten in 2013.
Derrick Williams, F, Richmond - An ankle injury will also sideline the Spiders' leading rebounder, as Williams will miss at least one game due to the injury. The 6-6 junior forward from Harlem averaged 6.8 boards per game before being sidelined, while also putting in 13.6 points per game. Williams has seen a modest boost in production across the board during his junior season, including a 56.1 field goal percentage. Senior guard Darien Brothers will be forced to shoulder even more of the scoring load for Richmond.
Luke Martinez, G, Wyoming - Martinez suffered a broken bone in his right hand in an off-court incident. Martinez was second on the Cowboys in scoring at 14.5 points per game. A dangerous three-point shooter, the senior guard was hitting 42.2-percent of his shots from downtown. The injury couldn't come at a worse time for the Cowboys, who are a surprising 12-0 and heading down the Mountain West conference gauntlet with matchups looming against New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV. Martinez is out indefinitely. Senior Derrious Gilmore and freshman Josh Adams will be asked to pick up the slack in Martinez's absence.
Reggie Johnson, C, Miami - It always seems to be something with Johnson, a burly, uber-talented big man who has been unable to stay on the court for the Hurricanes. This time, Johnson broke his left thumb and will be out 6-8 weeks. Johnson tore up his knee in a pickup game during summer 2011 and missed the first nine games of last season. He was declared ineligible for another game last February and already missed four contests this year before the announcement of the broken thumb. Johnson is averaging a double-double as a senior with 12.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
Jordan Price, G, Auburn - The freshman guard will miss about a month due to a stress fracture in his foot. A three-point marksman, Price tied an SEC record earlier this season by hitting 11 consecutive treys and was awarded SEC Freshman of the Week Honors. Price had been shooting 52.8 percent from three-point land, scoring in double figures in his previous three games before the injury. Auburn has limped to a 5-7 start and will need even more production from Frankie Sullivan and Chris Denson in Price's absence.
Anthony Collins, G, South Florida - Collins suffered a scary head/neck injury Saturday against George Mason after he was inadvertently kneed in the head chasing after a loose ball. Collins was immobilized on the court and taken off in a stretcher. On the plus side, he was reportedly moving his extremities following the injury. A 6-1 sophomore guard, Collins averages 9.6 points and 7.6 assists per game. He was sixth in the nation in dimes before the injury. No timetable has been set for his return, though obviously all hope for a speedy recovery.
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