Earlier this season, I made the not-so-bold prediction that the Wichita State Shockers could run the table in the Missouri Valley Conference and enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated. While the Shockers have held serve so far, there are still two other, more unanticipated undefeateds in the college basketball landscape. Arizona remains unblemished in the Pac-12, holding the No. 1 slot in the country for eight-straight weeks. The 21-0 start for the Wildcats is the best in school history, though it was a struggle to beat Stanford on Wednesday.
Perhaps even more surprising, though, the Syracuse Orange have sprinted to a 20-0 start in their first season in the ACC. A down year for North Carolina and even Duke has allowed the 'Cuse to thrive, though it has still beaten stellar squads in Villanova, Pitt and Cal. Syracuse also was able to replace one stellar point guard (Michael Carter-Williams) with another (Tyler Ennis). The 2-3 zone continues to confound opponents.
Although neither Arizona nor Syracuse should be able to run the table, their starts speak volumes about not only the talent assembled but also the coaching jobs done by Sean Miller and Jim Boeheim, respectively.
Next, some more tidbits in this week's "Four on the Hardwood Floor:"
1. The Michigan Wolverines lost the national championship to Louisville, lost their two best players to the NBA, then lost forward Mitch McGary to back surgery. The response? A 15-4 record, including a current nine-game winning streak and perfect 7-0 start in the stout Big Ten. Behind Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert, the Wolverines have beaten three straight ranked opponents in Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State.
2. Speaking of the Big Ten, what happened to the Ohio State Buckeyes? After a stellar beginning to the 2013-2014 campaign, OSU is just 3-5 in conference play. The Buckeyes have been struggling to score points. They will likely be out of the rankings next week.
3. The only team you might know from the Southern Conference is Davidson, the alma mater of NBA star Stephen Curry. However, the leader of that conference is Chattanooga. The Mocs are led by Z. Mason, a former Ole Miss football player who is averaging 18.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 29 blocks per contest despite standing just 6-foot-6. And yes, he goes by only Z.
4. Green Bay's Alec Brown has been turning heads among NBA scouts due to his ability to shoot the basketball at 7-1, but he suffered a shoulder injury Sunday. His status could play a role in determining the outcome of the Horizon League and the resulting automatic qualifier.
Without further ado, let's dive right into this edition of the College Hoops Barometer.
Jordan Mickey, F, LSU - A freshman who has not been getting enough publicity in this year's standout class, Mickey has been able to assert his dominance on the interior for the Tigers. The 6-8 forward is among the nation's leaders in blocked shots with 3.6 swats per contest. He has blocked at least five shots in eight games this season, including three times in the past five outings. Mickey has also been able to take advantage of the attention given to stellar teammate Johnny O'Bryant, parlaying his opportunities into averages of 13.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest. Mickey trails only O'Bryant in those categories for LSU. The Tigers are an improved basketball team from a season ago, and Mickey is the main reason for the newfound success.
Ryan Spangler, F, Oklahoma - Spangler has become a double-double dynamo for the Sooners. The transfer from Gonzaga has tallied nine double-doubles during his first year with Oklahoma, including four in his last six contests. He had a career-high 17 rebounds in Monday's victory over Oklahoma State at Bedlam. Not surprisingly, Spangler is averaging a double-double with 11.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Spangler's emergence, along with improved play from Cameron Clark and sharpshooter Buddy Hield, has allowed the Sooners to prosper.
Jordan Bachynski, C, Arizona State - One of the most valuable big men in the college game, Bachynski leads the nation in blocks with 4.4 rejections per contest. That is almost one block more than the next closest player. He also started the season off with six-straight double-doubles, and has 10 on the year in total. In sum, the 7-2 senior is managing 12.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per contest, while shooting a career-best 59.1-percent from the floor. As the old adage goes, you can't teach height, so Bachynski will certainly get some attention from the NBA next season. However, 15-5 Arizona State is hoping for an NCAA Tournament berth with their big man first.
Markel Starks, G, Georgetown - As a unit, the Hoyas are going nowhere fast. G-Town is just 3-6 in the Big East, and the Hoyas have lost five-straight games. They have also been racked by suspension, injury and inconsistency. Starks has been a mainstay for Georgetown over his four years, though, and has been even better this season. Starks is averaging career-highs across the board with 16.4 points, 2.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. Starks has been even better over his last three games, averaging 23 points per tilt over that span. Paired with teammate D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, the Hoyas still have a dynamic backcourt despite the squad's struggles as a whole.
Alex Kirk, C, New Mexico - Kirk is sidelined for an undisclosed period of time due to a lower leg injury. He has already missed the last two games for the Lobos. One of the better true centers in the nation, Kirk is averaging 14.0 points, 8.9 boards and 2.9 swats per contest. Fortunately for the Lobos, forward Cameron Bairstow is having an outstanding, breakout campaign for UNM. With standout point guard Kendall Williams still in the fold, along with big bodies of Hugh Greenwood and Cullen Neal, New Mexico should be able to weather the absence of their big man Kirk.
Chris Walker, F, Florida - A highly touted freshman, Walker missed the first semester for Florida due to academic reasons, then sat out more time while being investigated by the NCAA for receiving impermissible benefits. He has finally been cleared, meaning the 17-2 Gators will be given even more of a boost in the frontcourt. Walker was one of the better forwards in the 2013 class, though it remains to be seen how he'll be used by coach Billy Donovan. The Gators are undefeated in SEC play and already have Patric Young, Will Yeguete and Dorian Finney-Smith manning the post. Still, Walker's talent is undeniable, and he is certainly a player to monitor once he gets his legs under him.
Kyle Davis, F, Utah State - Davis missed two games due to a knee injury, and was supposed to miss more time due to the ailment. He made a surprising return Tuesday against New Mexico, though. Davis did not start, but he played 19 minutes and piled up 10 points, five rebounds, two assists and two blocks for the Aggies. Davis is averaging 9.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per contest for Utah State. However, it remains to be seen how effective he'll be in the coming weeks as he continues to work through the injury. Keep an eye on his progress.
Tre Coggins, G, Air Force - The leading scorer for the Falcons, Coggins has been suspended for two games, and possibly longer, due to disciplinary reasons. Coggins was averaging 17.4 points per game this season, along with 2.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per contest. The already thin Falcons will be forced to rely even more heavily upon junior Max Yon. The point guard is averaging 13.5 points, 3.6 boards and 3.1 dimes per tilt.
Branden Dawson, F, Michigan State - The Spartans have been decimated in the frontcourt, with Dawson the latest member of the squad to succumb to injury. In sort of a freak accident, Dawson broke his hand after slamming it on a table while watching game film. The Spartans were already without the services of senior leader Adreian Payne, who has been sidelined with a lingering foot issue. Dawson was averaging 10.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest before the injury. Sophomore forward Matt Costello has stepped his game up for Michigan State in the absence of both Dawson and Payne. Costello set career-highs in rebounds in successive games for the Spartans, including the first double-double of his career in Tuesday's 71-69 OT win over Iowa. Payne will miss at least another week, and Dawson is expected to be out at least one month. As such, Costello should continue to see heavy minutes for MSU, while Dawson will aim for a return in the Big Ten Tournament.
Andre Hollins, G, Minnesota - The Gophers are going to have a tough time replacing their best player in Hollins, who will be sidelined indefinitely with an ankle injury. Hollins was averaging 15.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 rebounds per contest prior to the injury. Senior Malik Smith exploded for 29 points in Minnesota's last game, an 82-78 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. It looks like he'll stand to gain the most from an extended absence by Hollins. Look for Austin Hollins (no relation) to also attempt to pick up the slack.
Deverell Biggs, G, Nebraska - Speaking of the Cornhuskers, Nebraska dismissed Biggs from the squads recently. The third-leading scorer on the squad, Biggs was kicked off the team for multiple disciplinary reasons. He was averaging 9.9 points per contest, to go along with 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists per contest. Fortunately for the ‘Huskers, it looks like they have a budding star in Terran Petteway, who poured in a career-high 35 points in the above-referenced contest against Minnesota.
Jarvis Threatt, G, Delaware - The Blue Hens suffered a damaging blow to their NCAA Tournament hopes, as their point guard and second-leading scorer in Threatt has been suspended through the end of February due to a violation of athletic department policy. Threatt was averaging 17.9 points and 5.4 assists per contest for Delaware. Likewise, despite standing at just 6-2, the junior was also averaging 5.8 rebounds per contest. The Blue Hens were a perfect 7-0 in the Colonial before the suspension. They will be forced to rely even more heavily on senior Devon Saddler, who is shooting over 50-percent from the field and 40-percent from three-point land en route to a 21.9 points per game average.