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College Hoops Barometer: The Freshman Wall

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.

Isn't it time for schools like Butler and Virginia Commonwealth to shed that "Mid-Major" label? The Bulldogs and Commodores are both in the top 20 of the current rankings. Both programs feature high-profile coaches (Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart) who shrugged off offers from larger schools to stay at home and build their respective programs. Both schools have at least one Final Four appearance in the last five seasons. On a neutral floor, they can hold their own against anyone.

College basketball thrives on the cliche of Cinderella crashing the ball, but it's time to give programs like Butler and VCU the respect they deserve. There's nothing wrong with this designation for some programs, but neither Butler nor VCU needs a Fairy Godmother to be successful anymore.

With that settled, let's focus on some of the more intriguing players over the last week or two in this edition of the College Hoops Barometer.

UPGRADE

Richard Howell, F, NC State -
Howell has been a model of consistency for the Wolfpack this season. He's accumulated double-digit rebounds in each of his last seven games, with 11 double-doubles total this year. Not surprisingly then, Howell is averaging a double-double during his senior campaign with 12.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per tilt. He's also shooting a career-high 58.6 percent from the field. C.J. Leslie may get the publicity due to his athleticism and upside, but Howell has been arguably the most consistent low-post threat for N.C. State.

Melvin Ejim, F, Iowa State -
Another double-double machine, Ejim has five in his last seven games for the Cyclones. By contrast, the junior forward had just three all last season. Although he does most of his damage in his paint, Ejim has also added the occasional three-point shot to his arsenal, hitting 41.9 percent of his treys this season. With Utah transfer Will Clyburn, Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious and freshman sensation Georges Niang, the Cyclones are off to an impressive 13-4 start with Ejim as the anchor.

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, F, Georgetown -
Smith-Rivera has been the chief beneficiary of the absence of teammate Greg Whittington. Suspended indefinitely for academic issues, the sophomore forward was the second-leading scorer and rebounder for the Hoyas behind Otto Porter. Enter Smith-Rivera, a multi-purpose guard who plays bigger than his 6-foot-3 frame. Since Whittington's suspension four games ago, the freshman is playing nearly eight more minutes per game while averaging 11.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Smith-Rivera has nearly doubled his production in Whittington's absence. Expect this trend to continue with Whittington out.

Ryan Broehkoff, F, Valparaiso -
Broehkoff could be Australian for three-pointers. The Aussie has been nailing treys from all over the court during his senior campaign, hitting a scorching 47.3 percent from three-point territory. He's not just a one-trick pony, though, as Broehkoff also averages 8.4 rebounds per game and has compiled four double-doubles in his last five games for the Crusaders. With Valpo off to a hot start at 5-1 in the Horizon League, Broehkoff is making a case for conference Player of the Year honors.

CHECK STATUS

Keion Bell, G, Missouri -
The Pepperdine transfer missed Tuesday's game against South Carolina with a sprained ankle. Bell was a monster scorer during his time in Malibu, but has been relegated to second fiddle to Phil Pressey and Jabari Brown. He averaged 18.9 points per game during his junior season at Pepperdine, but is managing just 8.9 points per contest for the Tigers this season. An ankle injury compounded by his lack of touches makes Bell a risky proposition.

Travis Wear, F, UCLA -
Wear has seen an upswing in scoring recently, averaging 17.3 points over his last four contests. His rebounding over that span has been close to his 5.9 boards per game season average, though, and wear does not provide much else in the way of stats. As a result, one has to wonder whether he can continue this hot scoring streak playing alongside the likes of Shabazz Muhammed, Kyle Anderson and Larry Drew. Wear had five consecutive games with single-digit points before his current streak of seven consecutive games in double figures. In sum, ride the hot hand, but know that the additional points could come to an end at any moment.

Michael Lyons, G, Air Force -
Lyons has taken his scoring up a notch as a senior, jumping from 15.6 points to 18.9 points per game. This uptick was punctuated with a 37-point barrage in his last game against Boise State, as Lyons shot 13-of-18 from the floor. He's getting to the free-throw line more often than ever before in his career and is also grabbing more rebounds (4.8) and dishing out more assists (2.3) than his junior season. Curiously, though, he had a three-point game against Nevada on Jan. 9, and was held to eight points at Colorado State on Jan. 16. In other words, it's been feast or famine for Lyons lately in the scoring column. He's still an excellent option, but be wary of at least a clunker or two.

JayVaughn Pinkston, F, Villanova -
Pinkston had some big buckets in Villanova's upset over Louisville on Tuesday, showing more than his 11-point, six-rebound stat line would indicate. Still, Pinkston is the leading scorer for the Wildcats at 13.2 points per game, and has scored in double figures in 10 of his last 11 contests. The sophomore forward uses his big frame at 6-7, 260, to bully opponents on the offensive end. Consistency and rebounding would add even more value, and foul trouble has been an issue as well. Pinkston is still a tad raw and learning his craft, but it looks like he's on the rise.

DOWNGRADE

Travon Woodall, G, Pittsburgh -
Woodall has been adequate, if unspectacular this season for the Panthers. His stats for the last two seasons are essentially mirror images; as a senior he is managing 10.7 points, 2.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. His turnovers are down, but so are his points, rebounds and assists slightly. He also suffered a minor head injury in a loss to Marquette on Jan. 12 and has not quite looked comfortable on the court since. Although the Panthers have won four of their last five conferences games, Woodall has played mostly a supplementary role, with his biggest contributions coming in the assist column. Perhaps downgrading is a bit harsh, but he has greater potential than what he's showing.

Jeff Elorriaga, G, Boise State -
A concussion suffered Jan. 16 at new Mexico will sideline Elorriaga for the immediate future. The junior guard was coming off of six-straight scoring outputs in double-digits, including a dynamic 30-point effort against Corban University. He had been showing improvement dishing the rock as well with at least four assists in three consecutive tilts before the injury. On the season, Elorriaga averages 11.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.2 dimes per game. The Broncos will need to rely even more heavily on Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks in Elorriaga's stead.

Xavier Thames, G, San Diego State -
Thames has been battling a back injury, which has forced him to miss two of the last four games for the Aztecs. A complementary piece to the San Diego State puzzle, Thames averages 9.8 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Unfortunately, his stats were down slightly from a season ago, including a dismal 35.3 shooting percentage from the field. A tricky back injury certainly won't help matters much, and Thames may eventually be shut down temporarily to ensure that he can return at some point this season in a productive fashion for the Aztecs.

Alex Poythress, F, Kentucky -
He may still be a star someday, but Poythress has struggled in conference play thus far for the Wildcats. He's fouled out of two of five SEC games for Kentucky, averaging just 9.4 points over that span. His rebounding hasn't been that bad, though that was never supposed to be his greatest talent. There are simply times when the athletic swingman gets lost in the shuffle, failing to demand the ball or assert himself on the offensive end. He has not developed a long-range game at this point in his career. Likewise, he took just three shots in Tuesday's 59-55 loss, a game he fouled out of in just 15 minutes of action. After a hot start to his Kentucky career, Poythress appears to have hit a bit of a wall.

Follow @JesseLSiegel on Twitter.

Siegel was named the 2012 College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

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