The Wichita State Shockers have a legitimate chance to finish the 2013-14 regular season undefeated, 31-0. Before you scoff at such a bold prediction, hear me out. The Shockers have one more game in the non-conference portion of their schedule, in which they will face 4-8 Davidson. Assuming they can pull that one out, Wichita State will be 13-0 heading into Missouri Valley Conference action. The Shockers are clearly the class of the MVC, a conference that has five teams with sub-.500 records already. Their toughest games will come against Drake, Missouri State and Indiana State, not exactly a who's-who of college basketball powers.
While a perfect run through the regular season would still be unlikely, it's not impossible, particularly in a smaller conference. The last team to accomplish such a feat? The Saint Joseph's Hawks in 2004, led by Jameer Nelson and Delonte West. St. Joe's finished 27-0 before losing in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. Wichita State is coming off a Final Four appearance last March and returns nearly the entire squad; as a result, the Shockers could once again provide shocking results.
Here is this week's "Four on the Hardwood Floor:"
1. The more I see of the Iowa State Cyclones, the more I like them. They are physical on the interior with Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue, have outstanding guard play from Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane, and versatility from sophomore Georges Niang. If they can avoid their patented slow starts when conference play begins, the Cyclones should be a legitimate force to be reckoned with.
2. Boise State's Anthony Drmic can score. The 6-foot-6 junior swingman excels shooting the rock from all areas of the floor, whether it be from close range, three-point territory or the charity stripe. He is averaging 19.5 points per contest, but has already had three games of 25 points or more.
3. Just want to reiterate the upside of Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin, who is averaging 13.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest, but has also had games with five assists, four steals and three blocks. The 6-9 sophomore is extremely versatile and may have superstar potential.
4. Keep an eye on Colorado State's J.J. Avila, who is quietly having a superb season for the Rams. The 6-7 junior forward is averaging 18.4 points, 6.3 boards and 3.5 assists per game. He posted similar numbers last year as well.
As we turn the page on 2013, what else have we learned? Let's take a look in this week's edition of the College Hoops Barometer.
Aaric Murray, C, Texas Southern - What a long, strange trip it's been for Murray. After dominating at La Salle the first two seasons of his career, Murray transferred to West Virginia for a shot at the big time. His impact was underwhelming, as Murray averaged 8.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks for the Mountaineers, never looking quite comfortable in Morgantown. His journey has now brought him to Texas Southern, where the 6-10 center is back to his imposing ways. Murray averages 24.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game for the Tigers. Just in case the level of competition argument was going to be made, Murray scored a ridiculous 48 points in a win over Temple on Dec. 18, hitting an absurd 20-of-28 shots from the field. Murray's star is on the rise once again, and he should have his way in the SWAC.
Talib Zanna, C, Pittsburgh - Zanna has shown much improvement in his offensive game as a fifth-year senior, and one of the main reasons the Panthers have started the season 11-1. Zanna is shooting a career-high 59 percent from the floor en route to an average of 12.5 points per game. Although he has always been a decent rebounder, he is also averaging 7.4 boards per contest, also a career high. Zanna already has four double-doubles this season; he had six in his entire collegiate career heading into the 2013-14 campaign. Although fellow senior Lamar Patterson is the catalyst for the Pittsburgh squad, Zanna is an integral part of the Panthers' early season success.
Joel Embiid, C, Kansas - A 7-footer from Cameroon, Embiid has had limited experience playing basketball. However, despite the late start, he has shown incredible promise for the Jayhawks. Over his last two games, the freshman is averaging 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.5 steals. The opponents were no slouches either, as Embiid dominated stellar squads in Georgetown and New Mexico. He is shooting a blistering 68.3 percent from the field and has been compared to Hakeem Olajuwon at the same age. Although that is quite a leap, it shows the type of potential that Embiid possesses. His stock is definitely on the rise.
Deonte Burton, G, Nevada - Burton deserves some publicity for his extremely high level of production over the course of his Nevada career, all while toiling in relative anonymity. As a senior, the 6-1 Burton averages 22.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.8 steals per contest. Burton is shooting a career-high 48.4 percent from the field, including more than 37 percent from three-point land. He has scored at least 20 points in 10 of the Wolf Pack's 12 games; in those other two games, he had 19 points each. Burton's remarkable consistency makes him a reliable option in any format, and a player who should vie for Mountain West Player of the Year honors despite the struggles of his squad.
Javan Felix, G, Texas - Felix is shorter than 6-foot, but he wants the basketball in big moments. This was evident at North Carolina on Dec. 18, as he scored two baskets in the final two minutes of the 86-83 win to spur the Longhorns to victory. However, Felix is not a high-percentage shooter, as he is hitting just 32.8 percent from the field. The volume scorer averages 10.9 points on 11.2 shots per game. He is also managing 1.8 boards and 3.1 assists per game. Felix plays bigger than his stature, but he is just a cut below the star level. He has the tools, but his shot selection as well as his decision-making need to improve to push him into the conversation for elite-guard status.
Angus Brandt, F/C, Oregon State - Brandt suffered a torn ACL in his right knee last season, playing in just four games for the Beavers. Unfortunately, OSU is fearing the worst after Brandt sustained yet another right knee injury in Sunday's loss to Akron. Brandt was coming off a career-high 27 points against Towson on Dec. 18, but has missed the last two games due to the injury. The fifth-year senior was shooting a career-high 54.3 percent from the field en route to a 12.0 points per game average. Although no update has been given on Brandt's status, even more pressure would be put on stud forward Devon Collier should Brandt miss an extended period.
Maurice Creek, G, George Washington - The leading scorer for the surprising Colonials? That would be Creek, the Indiana transfer who has found a new home at GW. Creek was supposed to be the next great Indiana star after a freshman season that saw him average 16.4 points per game. However, he struggled the following season, then missed an entre year due to injury. When he returned, he was no longer part of coach Tom Crean's rotation, as he played just 7.8 minutes per game last season on a stacked Indiana squad that featured the likes of Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls, Cody Zeller and Christian Watford. A fresh start has been just what the doctor ordered for Creek, who has returned to his stats from his impressive freshman campaign. Now a senior, Creek averages 16.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists. He is shooting an absurd 46.9 percent from downtown. It's been an amazing 11-game stretch thus far, but is Creek truly back? Stay tuned to find out.
Rayvonte Rice, G, Illinois - A transfer from Drake, Rice sat out last season but has picked up right where he left off for the Bulldogs. The 6-4 guard averages 17.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per tilt for the Illini. Rice is not much of a long-distance shooter, choosing mostly to break down the defense inside the arc. He is adept at getting to the free-throw line. Rice grew up in Champaign, and his cousin is former Illinois running back Mikel LeShoure, so playing for Illinois appears to be a dream come true, and he has emerged as the leader of the squad. However, while a Cinderella story is nice, the real test for Rice will be once conference play begins in the extremely competitive Big Ten. The Illini face a ridiculously tough stretch against Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State during a 15-day span in mid-January. That's when we'll really find out if Rice has got what it takes to become a hometown hero.
Jerian Grant, G, Notre Dame - Grant was dismissed from the team due to academic issues, a crushing blow for the Irish, and an oddity coming from an experienced senior. Grant was the leading scorer, point guard and floor general for Notre Dame, averaging 19.0 points, 2.5 boards and 6.2 assists per game. The son of former NBA veteran Harvey Grant, he will be virtually impossible to replace, though freshman Demetrius Jackson will try. The freshman plays 24.8 minutes per game, averaging 7.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per tilt.
Akil Mitchell, F, Virginia - Mitchell has seen an unexpected downturn in production as a senior this season. As a junior, Mitchell played more than 30 minutes per game and averaged 13.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per contest for the Cavaliers. As a senior, he is getting just 23.1 minutes per game, is attempting half as many shots as a season ago, and shooting a worse percentage from the floor as well. In sum, Mitchell is managing just 6.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game thus far as a senior. Coach Tony Bennett has gone with extremely guard-heavy lineups, which has also been a limiting factor for Mitchell. His size may be needed more as the Cavs head into ACC conference play, but for now, Mitchell has been lackluster to begin the 2013-14 campaign.
Ricky Kreklow/Jabari Bird, G, Cal - The Bears are in a bind at the off-guard position, as both Kreklow and Bird will be sidelined for a lengthy amount of time due to injuries. Kreklow injured his wrist and will miss approximately 4-6 weeks. Kreklow was also injured last season, though had recently made his way into the starting lineup for the Bears. Meanwhile, Bird was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school, but has had an up-and-down freshman season for Cal. The 6-6 neophyte averages 11.3 points and 3.2 rebounds per contest. However, Bird suffered a sprained ankle and will be out indefinitely. Losing both athletic wings for the start of Pac-12 conference play will be particularly hurtful when the Bears go up against teams like Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State during the first two weeks of January.
J'Mychal Reese, G, Texas A&M - Reese has battled off-court incidents with the Aggies during his brief time in College Station, and A&M finally had enough and kicked him off the squad. Reese was initially suspended to begin his sophomore campaign due to a violation of the athletic department's rules and regulations. He missed the first four games of the season, then was reinstated and played in six contests for the Aggies. Reese, considered among the top 100 recruits in the class of 2012, averaged 7.0 points and 2.0 rebounds per game before being dismissed from the team for a similar violation.