This article is part of our College Hoops Barometer series.
This college basketball season has the feel of being one of the more topsy-turvy years in recent memory. Sure, the usual suspects lurk near the top of the rankings, as Kansas and Duke are both in the top 5, and Gonzaga has become a perennial powerhouse as well. However, very few undefeated teams remain even before the calendar turns to 2020. In fact, there are squads in the top 20 with as many as three losses already. Plenty of schools have suffered curious defeats. Meanwhile, a team like Memphis has lost No. 1 recruit James Wiseman to the NBA for good. Dayton and San Diego State look fierce, Penn State is ranked, and North Carolina has fallen out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2014. Get ready for a wild next few months. The madness already appears to have taken hold long before March.
Here are some movers and shakers to keep an eye on in this edition of the College Hoops Barometer. Happy Holidays and a happy, healthy new year!
Jordan Ford, G, Saint Mary's – Ford has been scalding hot of late for the Gaels. He's posted back-to-back 30-point outings, including a season-high 34 points in a 40-point drubbing of Arizona State. Ford hit seven three-pointers in that game. He leads the West Coast Conference in scoring, and is 15th in the nation. Ford is aiming to average at least 21 points per game for the second-straight season. The Gaels have already beaten power conference squads in the forms of Wisconsin, Cal and the aforementioned Sun Devils, and also won against Utah State when the Aggies were ranked earlier this season. With Ford proving a scoring dynamo, the Gaels could be dangerous, and overlooked, in a conference where Gonzaga will dominate the headlines.
Devon Dotson, G, Kansas – Dotson and the Jayhawks have perhaps been the most consistent squad to start the season. They've rattled off nine-straight wins after a two-point loss to Duke in the season opener, and have not succumbed to any startling upsets like many of their counterparts near the top of the rankings. Dotson currently leads the Big 12 in scoring, is third in steals and fifth in assists. He had 31 points, six rebounds, four assists and five steals in the thrilling overtime win over Dayton in the Maui Jim Invitational Final. That win is about as impressive as any thus far this season, as the Flyers have been mauling the opposition otherwise. There's still a lot of basketball to play, but Dotson looks like the early frontrunner for Big 12 Player of the Year, even with the stellar numbers being put up by Iowa State's Tyrese Haliburton.
Lamar Stevens, F, Penn State – The reigning Big Ten Player of the Week has wreaked havoc on the opposition of late. Steven posted two-straight double-doubles for the Nittany Lions, as Penn State won consecutive contests over Maryland and Alabama. Stevens also flashed his versatility, averaging five assists over that span while also swatting a total of seven shots. Stevens is currently fourth in the Big Ten in scoring, 11th in rebounding, 13th in blocks and second in steals. Not too shabby for a guy playing basketball at a football school.
Kristian Doolittle, F, Oklahoma – Doolittle is averaging 23.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in his last three contests. That includes a mammoth 21-point, 15-rebound performance in Tuesday's loss to Creighton. By contrast, he had four 20-point games for his entire collegiate career prior to these tilts. The senior leads the Sooners in rebounding and is second in scoring, sitting just behind leading scorer Austin Reaves. Doolittle began the season with back-to-back double-doubles, but it has been his scoring that has taken flight recently. It will be interesting to see if Doolittle can keep up this level of production once conference play begins. The Sooners were picked to finish eighth in the standings prior to the season. He certainly appears to be on the upswing, though.
Rocket Watts Jr., G, Michigan State – Watts is a member of the All-Name Squad this season, but suffered a stress fracture in his lower leg earlier in December, and has missed the last three games for the Spartans as a result. While it appears he may be close to returning, it seems unlikely he takes the floor prior to MSU's clash with Western Michigan on Dec. 29. The freshman had been a key cog for the Spartans behind Cassius Winston prior to the injury, averaging 6.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per tilt.
Boo Buie, G, Northwestern – Another fantastic name. Buie is a freshman guard whose production has been all over the place for the Wildcats. He started off the season slow, but has reached double-digits in scoring in three of the last five contests. That includes a career-high 26 points in Wednesday's narrow loss to Michigan State. Buie hit five treys in the 77-72 loss. A three-star recruit, Buie is an aggressive scorer who is one of five players on the Wildcats averaging at least nine points per contest. As the season progresses, expect Buie to work his way into the starting lineup. There will certainly be growing pains, but the upside is there.
Matt Haarms, C, Purdue – Haarms was forced to exit Sunday's loss to Nebraska early due to a concussion, and he did not play Tuesday against Ohio. Though he wasn't needed against the inferior Bobcats, an extended absence for Haarms would be concerning for the Boilermakers. The towering center is third in the Big Ten in blocks, while also pulling down 6.2 rebounds per contest. Purdue is lacking in frontcourt depth, meaning they will have to lean heavily on sophomores Trevion Williams and Aaron Wheeler, as well as little-used senior Evan Boudreaux. Williams in particular had a monstrous game versus Nebraska when Haarms left, piling up 18 points and 16 rebounds in a losing cause.
Mustapha Heron, G, St. John's – An ankle ailment has kept Heron, one of the leading scorers for the Johnnies, sidelined for the last week or so, including a missed win versus Albany on Dec. 18. Heron is averaging 15.0 points along with 2.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per tilt for the Johnnies, who lost leading scorer Shamorie Ponds to the NBA. The Johnnies have four players averaging double figures this season, and currently possess a 10-2 record at the time of this writing. However, the Johnnies have a couple of difficult games coming up versus Arizona and Butler, games that will be even more difficult if Heron, the Auburn transfer, remains sidelined.
Cole Anthony, G, North Carolina – Arguably the top freshman in the nation, Anthony will miss at least the next month after undergoing knee surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus. It's a devastating blow for the Tar Heels, as Anthony leads UNC in scoring, dishing and steals, while placing third in rebounding. Brandon Robinson and K.J. Smith will attempt to fill the massive void left by Anthony. UNC is currently floundering, having lost four-straight games (two when Anthony was still in the lineup). Injuries to Leaky Black and Sterling Manley have not helped matters, though Black did return for UNC's last game versus Gonzaga. This may be a hot take, but the short-handed Tar Heels could be in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade.
Myles Powell, G, Seton Hall – Powell will be sidelined indefinitely after suffering a concussion in Seton Hall's contest with Rutgers last Saturday. He already missed Thursday's loss to Maryland; surprisingly the Pirates shocked the Terps by a score of 52-48. Not only did they play without Powell, but the Pirates were also playing without forward Sandro Mamukelashvili, who is healing after breaking his wrist. Senior Quincy McKnight had a monstrous outing with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists, while sophomore Jared Rhoden grabbed 12 rebounds and center Romaro Gill swatted six shots. It will be interesting to see if the Pirates can band together and sustain this level of success without two of its best players.
Elijah Childs, F, Bradley – The leading scorer and rebounder for a Braves team that went to the NCAA Tournament last season, Bradley suffered a hand injury and will be shelved for 3-6 weeks. Childs had bumped up his season averages as a junior, managing 14.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per contest prior to the injury. That included three double-doubles, including a 21-point, 14-rebound effort against a supremely talented Memphis squad on Dec. 3. Look for senior Koch Bar to gain additional minutes in the absence of Childs. Bar collected 11 rebounds in Bradley's last contest.
Isaac Likekele, G, Oklahoma State – Likekele has missed three-straight games due to a mysterious illness, and there is currently no timetable for his return. We do not want to speculate about the seriousness of the illness, but it is worth noting that Likekele has yet to play a game in the month of December for the Cowboys. The sophomore had been the catalyst for the Oklahoma State offense prior to the illness, as he averaged 13.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists per contest. Likekele led the Cowboys in scoring and dishing, and was third in rebounding. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Cowboys have lost two of the three games in which Likekele has been absent. With two games left in this calendar year before conference play begins in earnest, here's to hoping for positive news on Likekele in the near future.