Want some teams to follow who are outside the top 10 in the current college basketball rankings? Looking to do some early homework on possible sleepers for this year's NCAA Tournament? Take a look at Cincinnati, Saint Louis and Green Bay. The Bearcats look like the cream of the crop of the new AAC. Forward Justin Jackson is a shot-blocking machine, and senior guard Sean Kilpatrick does not get enough publicity, as he is one of the better backcourt players in the nation. Saint Louis is 4-0 in A-10 conference play thus far, and will be battle-tested by the time March comes around after having to play the likes of VCU, UMass, La Salle and George Washington. Plus, the Billikens definitely have one of the best nicknames in college hoops.
Green Bay is probably the least known entity right now, but they should be the automatic qualifier out of the Horizon League. Green Bay has won 10-straight contests, and nearly pulled off an upset early in the season over an extremely tough Wisconsin squad. The Phoenix have a center named Alec Brown who has an NBA body at 7-foot-1, 235. He has a very polished offensive game, as Brown can beat opposing defenders both inside and out. Meanwhile, point guard Keifer Sykes is an experienced junior averaging over 20 points and five assists per contest. Add in versatile sophomore bruiser Jordan Fouse, and Green Bay could emerge as a Cinderella come tourney time.
Let's move on to this edition's "Four on the Hardwood Floor:"
1. An overlooked member of the surging Kansas Jayhawks is point guard Naadir Tharpe. The 5-11 junior scored over 20 points in wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State, and he is averaging 5.1 assists per game in total. Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins get the pub, but Tharpe has been the catalyst for the KU offense of late.
2. Don't sleep on the Iowa Hawkeyes come tourney time. Iowa has a deep squad led by slick senior guard Roy Devyn Marble and underappreciated junior forward Aaron White.
3. The issues with Georgetown center Joshua Smith may be coming to a breaking point. Smith has not played since January 4 against St. John's due to academics. Smith has been wildly disappointing in stints with both the Hoyas and UCLA Bruins since entering the collegiate ranks.
4. Monitor the status of Temple point guard Will Cummings, who missed two games with a concussion before returning against the UConn Huskies on Tuesday. Cummings was averaging 16.1 points, 3.2 boards and 4.1 assists per game before the injury.
Let's see who else is trending in this week's College Hoops Barometer.
Ethan Wragge, F, Creighton - Wragge has been a long-range assassin for the Bluejays this year. The fifth-year senior has always been a terrific three-point shooter, but he has been lights-out for Creighton of late. Wragge connected on a school-record nine treys in Monday's surprising 96-68 drubbing of highly-ranked Villanova. Wragge attempts almost eight three-pointers per contest, and has hit a cool 50-percent thus far during his final campaign with the Jays. The 6-7 forward has also gotten more involved on the interior, averaging a career-high 4.3 rebounds per tilt. Wragge has become a standout complement in the frontcourt to All-American teammate Doug McDermott.
Chasson Randle, G, Stanford - Randle poured in a season-high 33 points against Washington on Saturday, hitting 11-of-15 shots from the floor and 10-of-13 attempts from the foul line. The difference in Randle has been efficiency; he is shooting 52.2-percent from the field as a junior, as compared to just 39.9-percent last season. As a result, despite attempting about the same number of shots per game between the two seasons, Randle is managing nearly six more points per tilt this year. He's no slouch in the other facets of his game, either. Randle is averaging 3.5 rebounds and 2.2 dimes per contest. He has been a prime time player for the Cardinal.
Ryan Watkins, F, Boise State - Watkins has been a double-double machine for the Broncos. The 6-9 forward has accumulated seven double-doubles already during his senior campaign, including two-straight such outputs. Not surprisingly, Watkins is averaging 10.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per tilt, making him a double-double threat each and every time he steps on the court. Watkins has seen a big boost in production in just one year; by contrast, he had just five double-doubles in his entire junior season. Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks are the more well-known names in Boise, but Watkins is the muscle for the 13-5 squad.
Pat Connaughton, F, Notre Dame - The growth in Connaughton's game has been a particularly welcome sight due to the absence of senior floor general Jerian Grant, who was dismissed from the squad due to academics earlier this season. Connaughton has improved his numbers by over five points and nearly three rebounds from a season ago, averaging 14.1 points and 7.3 boards per contest as a junior. He has been deadly from three-point land, connecting on 42.3-percent of his shots from downtown. Connaughton has also upped his distribution in Grant's absence, averaging 2.9 assists per contest. He nearly posted a triple-double on January 11 at Georgia Tech with 10 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Connaughton's versatility has made him a valuable fantasy commodity.
Malcolm Brogdon, G, Virginia - How have the Cavaliers been able to jump out to a 5-1 start in the ACC despite the underwhelming play of star senior Joe Harris? The answer lies in the play of the sophomore Brogdon, who has elevated his play since conference play began. Over those six games, the 6-5 swingman is averaging 14.5 points, having scored in double figures in each of the six contests. Brogdon has also snatched 4.8 boards per game over that span as well. The real question is whether Brogdon will be able to continue his stellar play, particularly against the better teams in the conference like Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Stay tuned to find out.
Davonte Fitzgerald, F, Texas A&M - A freshman forward who struggled to begin his collegiate career, Fitzgerald appears to have found his groove for the Aggies. The 6-7 neophyte has scored in double-digits in three of his last four games, including a career-high 20-point outburst at Mississippi State on Saturday. Fitzgerald has shot 13-of-22 over his past two contests for A&M. However, it remains to be seen if Fitzgerald can be a consistent contributor on the offensive end, as well as participate in other avenues of the game. In other words, his rebounding has only been adequate, and his passing stats are non-existent. Fitzgerald has some upside, but still needs time to grow.
Gavin Ware, F, Mississippi State - Ware started the season with a bang, notching double-doubles in three of the squad's first four games, while compiling double figures in rebounds in each of those contests. However, Ware has had just three double-doubles since that time, a span of 13 tilts. Still, Ware lit up Texas A&M to the tune of 22 points and 10 rebounds in the Aggies' last game, and the sophomore forward is still averaging 11.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Ware is still more of an athlete than a polished product at this point in time, and gets most of his points around the rim. He needs to work on expanding his scoring range and refining his post moves if he wants to take his game to the next level. He has boom or bust potential on a nightly basis.
Dorian Finney-Smith, F, Florida - Finney-Smith has always possessed the physical tools to be successful, but the consistency has been lacking. For example, the Virginia Tech transfer posted a monster double-double with 22 points and 15 boards at Arkansas on January 11. However, just one week later, the 6-8 sophomore notched just seven points and three rebounds in a victory over Auburn. Some of the issue may stem from the fact that Finney-Smith is still trying to find his niche. He is an above-average rebounder; in fact, he leads the Gators in rebounding. However, he is not really a power forward by sheer size or stature. He has also struggled with his accuracy and shot selection, making it difficult for Florida to rely on him as a consistent source of points from a shooting guard or small forward slot. He's got the talent, and can fill up the box score with averages of 10.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, but Finney-Smith remains a work in progress.
Kethan Savage, G, George Washington - The Colonials have been one of the surprise stories in college basketball this season, and Savage has played a major role in GW's ascension to prominence. The sophomore guard had taken his game to new heights, averaging 13.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per tilt. However, Savage fractured his foot toward the end of Saturday's 79-71 win over St. Bonaventure, and will be sidelined about 6-8 weeks. The 15-2 Colonials will be forced to rely even more heavily on Indiana transfer Maurice Creek, who leads George Washington with 14.5 points per contest.
DaJuan Coleman, F/C, Syracuse - Little has gone wrong for the undefeated Orange this season, but they'll have to play the remainder of the 2013-2014 campaign without their big man in Coleman. The 6-9 sophomore has battled knee issues, limiting him to just nine minutes played since December 20. Coleman tried to conservative methods of treatment to get healthy, but they did not work, forcing him to choose season-ending surgery on his left leg. Coleman was averaging just 4.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, but was a consistent presence in the paint on a squad that does not have a huge amount of size. Rakeem Christmas and Baye-Moussa Keita will continue to hold down the middle of that 2-3 zone in Coleman's absence.
Dave Sobolewski, G, Northwestern - Sobolewski was having a down season even before suffering a concussion and missing the last three games for the Wildcats. Though scoring was never his game, the point guard was shooting an atrocious 25.9-percent from the field before the injury. The junior was averaging a career-worst 6.7 points per game. Perhaps more disconcerting, though, was the increase in turnovers by the 6-1 guard and the decrease in assists. After notching over two assists for every turnover through the first two years of his collegiate career, Sobolewski is barely averaging more than one dime for every turnover this season. With new coach Chris Collins, a decrease in minutes has also occurred, adding to the downturn in production. As a result, even when Sobolewski returns, he may not be the greatest option.
Travis McKie, F, Wake Forest - McKie's stats have taken a nosedive with the emergence of a pair of sophomores for the Demon Deacons. Point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre is dominating the ball, averaging 15.3 points, 3.1 boards and 3.8 assists per contest. Meanwhile, Devin Thomas has been beastly on the interior, accumulating five double-doubles en route to averages of 11.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest. As a result, McKie is averaging career-lows in points (9.2) and rebounds (4.3). By contrast, McKie averaged at least 13 points and at least seven rebounds in each of the previous three seasons for Wake Forest. McKie has clearly taken a backseat to the young guns.