I had planned to write about guards nearly exclusively this week since there are plenty of first-year little guys running around and playing well. As much as I would have liked to do that, however, there are still forwards and centers that pop up and demand my attention. For example, somehow I missed Mamadou Ndiaye, despite his 7-foot-6, 290-pound frame. This week's Haze will feature some nice guards, but we'll start with the new starter in Arizona.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, forward, Arizona Wildcats
Some people may have thought that the Wildcats' season was sunk when Brandon Ashley was lost to a broken foot. Arizona is not very deep, but it does have the 6-7 Hollis-Jefferson to step in and get major minutes. In his last three games with the bump in minutes, the Pennsylvania native has provided 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds. He is a nice passer and has helped Arizona's defense all season. Hollis-Jefferson could be a key to a March run for Arizona.
Rysheed Jordan, guard, St. John's Red Storm
The Red Storm has turned its season around with six wins in their last seven games and at least partial credit should be given to Jordan. The 6-4 guard is the lone first-year player on St. John's and he has taken over point guard duties after coming off the bench early in the season. He has eight double-digit scoring performances, including 18 points in the win over Providence on Feb. 4. Jordan has also provided 20 assists in his last three games.
Derrick Walton, guard, Michigan Wolverines
After Trey Burke took his talents to the SLC, Michigan needed someone to step into the great void. Spike Albrecht had one sensational game, but isn't a starter. Walton might be. The 6-1 native of Detroit has played major minutes in the Wolverine backcourt and is averaging 8.6 points and 2.9 assists. He has heated up from 3-point land with 8-of-15 in his last five games. Walton's assist rates have been spotty, but he made a name for himself with a season-high 19 points in the win at Michigan State on Jan. 25.
Mamadou Ndiaye, center, Irvine Anteaters
Most basketball players dwarf the general populace. Ndiaye dwarfs most basketball players. We know he is big, but can he play? The answer is qualified yes. Through 24 games, Ndiaye is averaging 8.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks. He had his best game of the season on Feb. 6 against Long Beach State with eight points, 10 rebounds, and 11 blocks. The Anteaters have to slow down to accommodate Ndiaye when the big man is on the court, but he is a difference maker to keep an eye on.
Sean Obi, forward, Rice Owls
There once was a player for Rice named Arsalan Kazemi who was a banger who improved throughout his career. He moved to Oregon for his final season in 2011-12, but his place had not been filled until the 6-9 Obi joined the Owls. Obi has been cleaning the glass, particularly in conference play and has at least 10 rebounds in six of his last seven games. He adds 11.8 points on 60.4 percent from the field to make him one of the most productive freshmen in Conference USA.
Jonathan Stark, guard, Tulane Green Wave
Staying in the same conference, we go small with the 6-0 Stark. He has been starting all season and is averaging 14.9 points and 4.1 assists. In high school, Stark was known as a 3-point marksman and he has made 39.7 percent of his threes. He has scored 20 or more points in eight games, but only one of his last seven (21 points in the loss to Old Dominion on Jan. 25). The Green Wave are playing for the future and Stark should be a big part of that.
Bola Olaniyan, forward, Southern Illinois Salukis
We finish with our third native of Africa (along with Ndiaye and Obi). The 6-8 Olaniyan is a redshirt freshman who did not play much in the first half of the season. In his last six games, his minutes have been on the uptick and he has gathered at least seven boards in each game. The Salukis have won their last four games. Olaniyan brought down a season-high 14 rebounds in the Feb. 1 win over Loyola (IL) coming off his first double-double (12 rebounds, 12 points) against Indiana State on Jan. 29.