This article is part of our College Hoops Barometer series.
What a last six months or so for San Diego State athletics. Hoops alum Kawhi Leonard leads the Toronto Raptors to an improbable NBA title in June, then baseball alum Stephen Strasburg pitches the Washington Nationals to a World Series championship in October. Both were named Most Valuable Player. And now, the Aztecs find themselves ranked at No. 7, their highest ranking in six years. The Aztecs went to the Sweet 16 that season, but that's the furthest they've been in the NCAA Tournament.
This year's version of SDSU basketball, perhaps unsurprisingly with the pedigree of the above-referenced Leonard, features lockdown defense. Sophomore Nathan Mensah is becoming a force on the interior, leading the Aztecs in rebounding and shot blocking. The Aztecs are allowing just 56.8 points per contest, which is fifth in the nation. Malachi Flynn is the catalyst on offense for San Diego State; he's second in the conference in assists, and leads the team in scoring. However, the Aztecs are deep. They have four players averaging at least 10 points per game, and nine players averaging at least 10 minutes of court time per contest. They just took care of Utah State rather handily; the Aggies were supposed to be their biggest competition in the Mountain West.
We will have to deal with the usual noise from the outside before the big dance; who have they played? Have they been tested enough? However, make no mistake about it; these Aztecs are for real and could do some serious damage come tourney time.
With that, let's take a look at the rest of the crowd in this week's edition of the College Hoops Barometer.
Isaiah Stewart, F, Washington – Stewart is being overlooked, and it is anyone's guess as to why. Maybe because his games are played after the east coast goes to sleep. Or perhaps because he is listed at 6-foot-9 yet is largely a post player. Or even that the Pac-12 gets no respect. Whatever the rationale, it is time Stewart received more pub. Whether his game translates to the NBA or not, he has been a monstrous force for the Huskies as a freshman. He leads the team in points (19.5) and rebounds (9.1). He has eight double-doubles on the year, including six in his last seven contests. He has been superb over this current span, averaging 22.9 points and 10.7 rebounds. He is third in the conference in scoring, fourth in rebounding and fifth in field goal percentage. Stewart is extremely effective in using his body to his advantage. He should be garnering consideration for not only Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, but also conference player of the year.
Hunter Maldonado, G, Wyoming – Not much has gone right for the Cowboys this season, but Maldonado has been the silver lining. After a promising start to his 2018-2019 campaign, Maldonado encountered back problems, and ultimately decided to shut it down. He has returned to health, and the results have been a smashing success. The 6-7 redshirt sophomore is averaging 18.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest. He leads the squad in all of those categories. In fact, he is second in the conference in scoring, trailing only Derrick Alston of Boise State. Maldonado has scored at least 20 points in five of the last seven contests. Maldonado is even gaining some buzz for the NBA Draft based on his size and skill set.
Kira Lewis, G, Alabama - Lewis decided to return to Alabama for his sophomore campaign, and he has only helped his cause thus far this season. Lewis has been something of a jack of all trades for the Tide, averaging 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.7 dimes per contest. He leads the team in assists and steals, and is tied for the team-lead with John Petty in scoring. The duo is actually tied for fifth in scoring in the SEC, while Lewis is eighth in the conference in assists. The steals also add an intriguing element to Lewis's game, as he is fourth in the conference in that category. With a multi-faceted array of tools at his disposal, Lewis can impact the game in a variety of ways.
Zavier Simpson, G, Michigan- Rival Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston may have gotten the best of Simpson and the Wolverines this past Sunday, but that does not change Simpson's magnificence in dishing the basketball this season. He is second in all of college basketball in assists thus far this season, averaging 8.9 dimes per tilt. Only Josh Sharkey of basketball powerhouse Samford is managing more assists per contests (9.2). Simpson has accumulated double-digit assists in five games this season, including three double-doubles. Not known for his scoring, Simpson has improved his shooting tremendously as well. He is shooting career highs of 47.7 percent from the floor and 36.1 percent from three-point range. His three-point shooting percentage has gone up each and every year at Michigan. With averages of 11.4 points and 4.5 rebounds to go along with hi dynamic playmaking skills, Simpson is one of the more versatile, well-rounded point guards in the nation.
Tyrique Jones, F, Xavier – Jones has been a rebounding dynamo for the Musketeers as a senior. He has recorded five-straight outings with double-digit rebounds, notching double-doubles in four of those contests. Jones has eight double-doubles in total for Xavier this season. Jones is second in the Big East in rebounding behind only DePaul's Paul Reed. Jones has increased his rebounding as well as his scoring from a season ago despite playing the exact same number of minutes per contest. The increase in productivity has been a welcome sign for the 12-3 Musketeers.
Pat Spencer, G, Northwestern - The Wildcats are 0-3 in Big Ten conference play, and just 5-8 on the season overall. While team success may not be in the cards this year, a diamond in the rough for individual statistics could still be found. Enter Spencer, a senior point guard. Spencer was one of three guards on the entire team averaging more than 10 minutes per game. The other two guards, Anthony Gaines and Boo Buie, are now injured. In fact, Gaines has been lost for the season, while Buie is out indefinitely. That leaves a monstrous void to fill. Spencer responded last game with 22 points, four rebounds, eight assists and two steals. The win-loss column may not be pretty for the Wildcats this season, but Spencer has the chance to see a huge bump in his numbers.
Marcus Santos-Silva, F, VCU – Santos-Silva is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Rams at 13.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest. However, he took his game to another stratosphere Sunday at George Mason. The 6-foot-7 junior tallied 26 points and 12 rebounds in the 72-59 triumph over the Patriots. It was the fifth double-double of the season for Santos-Silva, who is fourth in the Atlantic 10 in rebounding and 16th in scoring. While these types of mammoth outings are not commonplace, Santos-Silva is clearly capable of outstanding outputs from time to time.
Jervay Green, G, Nebraska – Keep an eye on Green, who keeps working his way into and out of the lineup for the Cornhuskers and coach Fred Hoiberg. Green served a two-game suspension in the middle of December after violating team rules. The JUCO transfer seemed to be back in the rotation, though, playing three-straight games before not seeing the court Tuesday in what was deemed a coach's decision. Green has been a well-rounded threat when on the hardwood, averaging 9.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest. He is fourth in scoring, tied for second in rebounding, and second in assists on the squad. With Green benched last game, fellow junior Thorir Thorbjarnarson tallied 17 points and nine rebounds. Thor looks to be the hero the 'Huskers will need if Green remains troubled.
Wendell Moore, F, Duke – Moore will be sidelined indefinitely after breaking his right hand Saturday against Miami. The freshman actually remained in the game for the Blue Devils, but after the swelling subsided it was determined that he would require surgery. Moore had been a versatile threat for Duke, averaging 7.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.1 steals per contest. Joey Baker and Alex O'Connell could see extra minutes in the absence of Moore, though the Blue Devils are rather deep this season, meaning the minutes could be spread among Jack White and Jordan Goldwire as well. The guess here is that Moore will attempt to get healthy in time for March.
Kyle Young, F, Ohio State – A key cog on the interior for the Buckeyes, Young underwent an appendectomy and is likely to miss at least a couple of games in the short term. With his appendix removed, Young is on the mend and could return as soon as next week, but the Buckeyes will likely exercise caution following the surgical procedure. Young is second on the team in rebounding behind leader Kaleb Wesson. Kaleb's brother Andre Wesson saw a season-high 32 minutes last game with Young on the shelf, and would appear to be the chief beneficiary should Young miss more time.
Geo Baker, G, Rutgers – Baker, the floor general for the Scarlet Knights, will be sidelined indefinitely due to a left thumb injury. Baker leads Rutgers in minutes played as well as assists, dishing out four dimes per contest. Certainly no one-trick pony, Baker was also managing 11.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per tilt. He was second in the Big Ten in steals at the time of his injury, and sixth in the conference in dishing. Sophomore Caleb McConnell started in place of Baker and exploded for 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in last Friday's win at Nebraska. Jacob Young could also see extra run during Baker's absence.
Jermaine Couisnard, G, South Carolina - A freshman guard, Couisnard has been dealing with a back issue, and his status is currently unknown. Couisnard has been a force off the bench for the Gamecocks, averaging 8.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per contest. Known more for his slashing ability than outside shooting of late, Couisnard had been held under 10 points in four-straight games prior to the injury. His inconsistent play has been a microcosm for the young season for South Carolina, which beat Virginia on the road, and then lost to Stetson at home. It remains to be seen if Couisnard will be able to take the floor for the next few games for the Gamecocks.