How about the depth in the Atlantic 10 this season? UMass is ranked, George Washington looks legit, and VCU and Saint Louis will be forces to be reckoned with come tourney time. Don't overlook Dayton, either. Though the Flyers suffered a bad loss at Illinois State on December 7, they beat Gonzaga on a neutral floor earlier in the season. The Flyers are led by all-purpose forward Devin Oliver, who is averaging 12.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per contest.
Here is this week's "Four on the Hardwood Floor:"
1. North Carolina's Leslie McDonald has been cleared to play by the NCAA. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be an end in sight for teammate PJ Hairston, who could miss the entire 2013-2014 campaign due to a variety of off-court incidents from the summer.
2. Is it just me, or does it feel like Shabazz Napier has been in college forever? Napier should be getting some serious Player of the Year buzz as a senior.
3. Syracuse is no longer in the Big East, but they'll see a familiar face on December 28 when they host the Villanova Wildcats at the Carrier Dome. With both squads currently in the top-10, this will be a huge early season contest to gauge just how good ‘Cuse is, and if the Wildcats are really back.
4. Who will win the Big Ten? Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State all look like viable candidates. The Badgers may have the edge for the regular season crown, as they host both the Buckeyes as well as the Spartans in their matchups this coming February. Coach Bo Ryan has an incredible record at the Kohl Center (188-18).
Thirsty for more? There's plenty left to discuss in this edition of the College Hoops Barometer, the gift that keeps on giving.
Anthony Brown, G/F, Stanford - It took him nearly four years, but Brown has finally broken out for the Cardinal. Brown played just four games last season due to a hip injury. He is healthy and has seen a resulting spike in his production. The 6-6 swingman is averaging 16.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game for Stanford. Brown is shooting a ridiculous 60-percent from three-point range, having connected on 21-of-35 treys thus far this season. He is hitting 58.3-percent of his shots in total. Though junior Chasson Randle is the leading scorer for the squad and Dwight Powell can do a little bit of everything at 6-foot-10, Brown's return has been vital to the Cardinal's 7-2 start.
Chris Denson, G, Auburn - The Tigers football program has been getting all the pub recently, and perhaps rightly so. However, Denson leads the basketball squad in scoring and is second on the team in rebounds and assists. The senior guard is averaging 19.9 points, 5.9 boards and 2.7 assists per game. Denson's numbers are substantially better than they were a season ago, including an impressive 51.8- percent mark on shots from the field. The Tigers won't have nearly as much success on the basketball court as they have had on the gridiron in 2013, but Denson will be pacing them throughout the season.
Dustin Hogue, F, Iowa State - Teammate Melvin Ejim was a double-double machine last season, but Hogue has bested him in that department through eight games this year. The JUCO transfer has four double-doubles over that span, including three-straight for the Cyclones. By comparison, Ejim has just one double-double in six games played, though Ejim is leading the squad in scoring at 18.7 points per contest. Still, Hogue has been particularly monstrous on the glass of late, snatching at least 14 boards in each of the last three tilts. The 6-6 forward from Yonkers, New York is averaging 12.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game during his first season with Iowa State. Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang are more well-known than Hogue, but perhaps the JUCO transfer should be getting more publicity.
Johnathan Loyd, G, Oregon - The Ducks were supposed to struggle in the backcourt without starter Dominic Artis, who was suspended for receiving impermissible benefits to begin the 2013-2014 campaign. However, that has not been the case, as Oregon has gotten scoring from Houston transfer Joseph Young and plenty of assists from Loyd. Loyd is averaging 7.3 dimes per tilt, putting him in fourth in the NCAA. He had 13 assists against Pacific on November 29, then followed that up with a 15-assist outburst on December 8 at Ole Miss. It will be interesting to see how Loyd's minutes are affected once Artis returns, but thus far Loyd has been an extraordinary disher for Oregon.
Trevor Cooney, G, Syracuse - The Orange felt that freshman point guard Tyler Ennis would make a seamless transition from high school to the college game. However, they were not so sure that Cooney's switch from bench player to starter would be quite so smooth. Cooney has surpassed expectations thus far, though. The sharpshooter is hitting a blistering 46.3-percent from three-point land en route to a 13.8 points per game average. Only CJ Fair is averaging more points per contest than Cooney. Cooney is still prone to the occasional dud, as witnessed by his zero-point effort in ‘Cuse's last game against St. John's. Cooney is also not much of a contributor outside of the scoring column, as he is managing 1.9 board and 2.0 assists per game. However, Cooney has been a much better defender than expected, stealing 2.5 passes per tilt at the top of the 2-3 zone. Cooney isn't a star, but he has performed better than expected and can certainly fill it up from beyond the arc.
Trevor Releford, G, Alabama - Releford has been bothered by a hip injury which sidelined him against Charleston Southern this past Saturday. He made a dazzling return to action Tuesday against Wichita State, pacing the Tide with 22 points, three rebounds and six dimes in the 72-67 loss to the Shockers. Still, the injury has been nagging Releford since before Thanksgiving, and has limited his mobility and explosiveness. He can play through the pain, but this type of injury may only get better through rest, something which could require a few more DNP's from the Alabama senior moving forward.
Chris Jones, G, Louisville - Jones has been battling a wrist injury that forced him to miss Saturday's game against Western Kentucky. He returned Tuesday and was not needed much in the blowout win over Missouri State, but didn't look quite right. Jones tallied nine points on just 3-of-9 shooting for the game. The freshman guard also notched two rebounds, one assist and one block for the game. Another highly-touted freshman, Jones has taken the place of Peyton Siva in the starting lineup for the Cardinals. He is averaging 14.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game to begin his first season in Louisville. Jones should bounce back quickly, but make sure the wrist injury heals and does not become a chronic impediment for the freshman.
Charles Mann, G, Georgia - Mann sat out last game against Lipscomb, and the Bulldogs struggled without their leading scorer and starting point guard. Mann is a sophomore who has seen an uptick in scoring this season. He is averaging 14.3 points per game, while hitting 50.8-percent from the floor. Mann thrives at getting into the lane and drawing fouls. The 6-5 guard shoots an impressive 6.7 free-throws per contest, hitting 76.6-percent from the charity stripe. Along with 2.4 boards and 2.9 assists, Mann is the catalyst for the Georgia offense. The injury does not appear to be serious, but monitor Mann's status as the Bulldogs finish up their non-conference stretch.
Fuquan Edwin, G/F, Seton Hall - Edwin suffered a fairly serious ankle sprain against LIU on December 5, and has not played since that time. That's three games that the Pirates have been missing their senior leader. Edwin poured in 35 points in a loss to Mercer on November 16, but had otherwise been a bit quiet for Seton Hall prior to the injury. His points are down, and his rebounds are way down; Edwin is averaging three fewer rebounds this year as compared to last season. He has still been feisty on the defensive end with 2.8 steals per game, but overall it has been a poor start to the season for the 6-6 swingman. The injury only makes matters worse.
Matthew Wright, G, St. Bonaventure - Wright missed Saturday's game against Iona due to an ankle injury of his own, but was able to play Tuesday at Wake Forest. Unfortunately, the Wright looked sluggish, as the leading scorer for the Bonnies had just nine points on 4-of-12 shooting. The senior guard is more of a volume scorer anyway, though, as he is shooting just 39.1-percent from the field and 28.8-percent from three-point land en route to a 16.5 point per game average. Wright has been a decent rebounder and assist man as well, but the ankle injury may limit his effectiveness for the time being. Teammate Andell Cumberbatch not only has one of the best names in college basketball, but he has also been picking up the slack for St. Bonaventure as Wright heals up.
Jarred Shaw, C, Utah State - The leading scorer and rebounder for the Aggies, Shaw has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. The 6-10 center is averaging 16.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for Utah State. A former member of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Shaw saw little playing time in Stillwater and subsequently transferred to play for the Aggies. He was extremely productive last season during his first campaign at Utah State, posting averages of 14.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Shaw is shooting 87.1-percent from the foul line and 54.3-percent from the free-throw line as a senior. He also flashed his passing ability with 1.4 dimes per tilt, while swatting 1.4 shots per game as well. Shaw's absence will certainly be felt.
Gary Harris, G, Michigan State - Ankle injuries appear to be a common thread this week. Harris has been plagued by injuries over the first two seasons of his Spartan career, including a nagging ankle injury that initially cropped up over the summer. Harris aggravated the injury recently and has missed three of the last four games for Michigan State. When healthy, Harris is one of the more dynamic two-guards in the nation. He is averaging 17.6 points, 4.4 boards and 2.7 assists per game. However, with Big Ten play set to begin for the Spartans on December 31, it's possible that Harris sits out at least the matchup against lowly New Orleans on December 28, and perhaps even the visit to Texas on December 21. Harris is a star, but only when he can stay on the court.