What do we make of the recent flux at the top of the standings? There is no true dominant squad in college basketball. Preseason No. 1 Indiana has now fallen twice, while the rest of the undefeated seasons have gone by the wayside as well. Duke is reeling for the first time all year (see below), and the Big Ten will almost certainly beat up on each other the next month or two.
Although even a superior team like last year's national champion Kentucky had some blips on the radar, you get the feeling that this season is different. Could a team like Creighton and Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott make some noise? How about a Mountain West squad like San Diego State, or a return to glory for the Butler Bulldogs? Or are there simply too many talented, big-name schools vying for supremacy? We'll certainly find out during conference play as the cream rises to the top.
Without further ado, let's dive into this week's College Hoops Barometer.
Kelly Olynyk, F, Gonzaga - The West Coast Conference player of the month, Olynyk has gone berserk his last two games. At Santa Clara on Jan. 5 he poured in 33 points on 12-of-15 shooting, while also notching 10 rebounds. He followed up that performance with 31 points on 11-of-19 shooting against St. Mary's on Jan. 10. Olynyk went to the free-throw line 21 total times in those two contests, using his 7-foot frame to his advantage. He is an 80.3 percent free-throw shooter and is hitting a blistering 66.2-percent of his shots from the field. Olynyk averages 18.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game after redshirting last season. His maturation is one of the chief reasons the Zags sit at 16-1.
Cleveland Melvin, F, DePaul - After a two-game cold stretch, Melvin is back to his hoop-filling ways. The junior forward averaged 24.3 points over his last three tilts, including a 32-point barrage on 14-of-20 shooting against Cincinnati on Tuesday. Melvin has also tallied 22 rebounds over those last three contests, near his 7.6 rebounding average. He even swatted five shots at UConn on Jan. 8. The Blue Demons won't receive much attention this season in the Big East, but Melvin remains a shining star with his 17.7 points per game.
Dylan Talley, G, Nebraska - The Cornhuskers might have a rough time staying afloat in the power-packed Big Ten this season, but Talley has been a bright spot for Nebraska. The Binghamton transfer has stepped his game up with 13.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. He leads the squad in scoring and is second in assists. If he could improve his shooting percentages, including his free-throw percentage, Talley could really emerge as a dangerous scorer. Even still, he's been a consistent performer on an undermanned team.
Jakarr Sampson, F, St. John's - A highly-touted recruit for the Red Storm and coach Steve Lavin, Sampson appears to have finally hit his stride. The freshman forward paced the Red Storm with 17 points in Tuesday's upset victory over Notre Dame. In fact, Sampson has scored in double figures in all but three games this season. Likewise, he has compiled three double-doubles, including a 17-rebound effort against NJIT on Dec. 1. On the season, Sampson averages 13.8 points and 6.6 boards per game. The freshman has emerged as a nice second scoring option to sophomore D'Angelo Harrison, while asserting himself on the boards to lead the squad in rebounds. Sampson should only improve as the season progresses and he becomes more comfortable with the college game.
Laurence Bowers, F, Missouri - Knee problems have dogged Bowers the last two seasons. Last year, he tore the ACL in his left knee and missed the entire season. After a successful rehab and start to the 2012-13 season, he collided with teammate Phil Pressey on Jan. 8 and injured his right knee. Although he has been diagnosed with a sprained MCL and nothing more, the Tigers have to be concerned with the durability of their leading scorer. Bowers averaged 16.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game prior to the injury. He was sorely missed Saturday in an ugly, 64-49, loss to Ole Miss. Bowers will miss the next game too and then hopefully return to the floor, but it remains to be seen if he'll be limited when he comes back.
Greg Whittington, F, Georgetown - Whittington was suspended for Saturday's game at St. John's due to an undisclosed violation of team rules. The 6-8 sophomore forward has proven an excellent complement to classmate Otto Porter. Whittington is averaging 12.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game for the Hoyas. He should be back for Georgetown's next tilt against Providence, but Whittington's status should be monitored closely, as he is the second-leading scorer and rebounder for the Hoyas.
Derrick Nix, C, Michigan State - Is Nix finally coming into his own? It took him nearly four years, but Nix has finally committed to rebounding. Using his burly 6-9 frame, the senior center is averaging a career-high 7.2 boards per game. His shot has also improved, as he is hitting 71.4 percent from the free-throw line. He's scored in double figures in five of the last seven games for the Spartans, after doing it just once in the first 10 games of the year. Nix appears to be hitting his stride just in time for Big Ten conference play.
Cashmere Wright, G, Cincinnati - Wright suffered a sprained knee against DePaul on Tuesday and may miss the Bearcats' next game. This happens to be good news for Cincy, as the injury looked much worse when it happened. Wright is listed as day-to-day. Cashmere has been silky smooth for the Bearcats this season, averaging 15.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. He had scored at least 20 points in three of the last four contests. A master in the art of thievery, Wright has also managed nearly two steals per game. He's had at least three thefts on six occasions this season. Wright is a stud when in the lineup, but make sure the knee injury doesn't linger before activating him.
Ryan Kelly, F, Duke - The Blue Devils lost Kelly indefinitely to a right foot injury, putting a damper on what had been a superb start to the season for the Dukies. Kelly averaged 13.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game before the injury. Not only will Duke miss Kelly on the offensive end, where the big man could step out and hit three-pointers at a 52.1-percent clip, but it will miss his presence as one of the defensive anchors for the Blue Devils as well. Duke dropped its first game of the season, and first without Kelly, Saturday at N.C. State.
Brandon Mobley, F, Seton Hall - For the second straight season, Mobley dislocated his right shoulder. He is out for an undetermined time but could need shoulder surgery again and miss the rest of the season. The injury could not come at a worse time for the 6-9 sophomore; Mobley had compiled four double-doubles in his previous eight games before the injury. On the year, he is averaging 9.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. The Pirates will lean on Eugene Teague and Fuquan Edwin even more in Mobley's absence.
Jesse Morgan, G, Massachusetts - Morgan suffered a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the season for UMass. The second-leading scorer for the Minutemen, Morgan averaged 13.4 points before the injury. Despite being more of a volume scorer, UMass will miss Morgan's presence and be forced to rely even more heavily upon junior point guard Chaz Williams. Morgan was also managing 2.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.7 steals per contest.
Casey Prather, F, Florida - The Florida forward has a high left ankle sprain and will be sidelined 10-14 days for the Gators. One of the glue guys for Florida, the 6-6 junior swingman averaged 6.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 15.5 minutes per contest. Prather actually started the two games prior to getting hurt, as the Gators have been snake-bitten by the injury bug. Erik Murphy, Mike Rosario, Will Yeguete and Scott Wilbekin have spent time nursing injuries for UF this season. Nevertheless, the Gators have still jumped out to a 12-2 start.
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