This article is part of our College Hoops Barometer series.
Put down the pigskin and pick up that roundball. The meat of the college basketball season is upon us. February is a time for the contenders to separate themselves and for the conference pictures to sharpen. It's also a good time to start scouting those mid-majors that could do some damage in the NCAA Tournament. This week's edition of the College Hoops Barometer will have a little mid-major flavor to it, while still giving the blue bloods their due. Selection Sunday will be here before you know it.
Fatts Russell, G, Rhode Island – Don't let the name fool you; Daron Russell is 5-foot-10, 165-lbs. He grew out of his chubby babyface that spawned his nickname long ago, but the name stuck, his game has matured, and the junior is having one of the better seasons in the A-10 this year. Despite being overshadowed at times by Obi Toppin and the Dayton Flyers, Russell has still led the Rams to an 9-1 start in conference play. He is the leading scorer in the Atlantic 10, averaging 20.2 points per contest. Russell poured in 30 points in a convincing win over VCU last Friday. Fatts is much more than just a scorer, though, as he is also managing 3.6 boards and 4.6 assists per tilt. Russell had a double-double against Middle Tennessee State at the end of December with 10 points and 10 dimes. The Rams are riding a nine-game winning streak, but two matchups with the aforementioned Flyers will really show if they are ready for primetime.
Paul Atkinson, F, Yale – The Bulldogs are currently undefeated in the Ivy League, with Atkinson leading the charge. In a conference that has been largely dominated by Penn, Harvard and Princeton over the last 40-50 years, it's the Bulldogs that can make their second-straight NCAA Tournament berth, and third in the last five seasons. Atkinson leads the conference in field goal percentage, is fourth in scoring and fifth in rebounding. The 6-foot-10, 220-lb junior has six double-doubles on the season, including two-straight such outputs in convincing wins over Cornell and Columbia. The Bulldogs have won six-straight games by double figures. Princeton appears to be their biggest competition this season, and a Valentine's Day matchup between the two schools should provide insight into the true contender in the Ivy League.
Cameron Krutwig, C, Loyola-Chicago – Remember these guys? Cinderella darlings just two seasons ago, the Ramblers are now led by the junior Krutwig, who was a freshman on that magical squad that made it all the way to the Final Four. Krutwig is averaging 15.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per contest. He leads the conference in rebounding, is second in field-goal percentage, third in assists and fourth in scoring. Talk about a well-rounded big man. He even had a triple-double against Vanderbilt back in the middle of December. Northern Iowa will provide stiff competition for the NCAA Tourney bid from the Missouri Valley Conference, but with Krutwig and Sister Jean still in their corner (she turned 100 years old last August), the Ramblers have more than a fighting chance.
Phlandrous Fleming Jr., G, Charleston Southern – Already a Hall of Fame member of the All-Name Team, Fleming also might just be the best player in the Big South. The junior guard is a triple-double threat each and every time he steps onto the hardwood. Fleming is averaging 16.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per tilt for the Buccaneers. He has eight double-doubles and narrowly missed a triple-double against Gardner-Webb on January 25 with 31 points, 11 rebounds and nine dimes. Fleming also swatted six shots and stole four passes in that victory. He has scored at least 20 points in 10 of the last 12 games. The Bucs will need to win their conference tournament to make the big dance (watch out for Winthrop again), but Fleming certainly knows how to fill up a box score.
DeJon Jarreau, G, Houston – Jarreau channeled his inner Mike Tyson and actually bit an opposing player, resulting in a one-game suspension from his coach Kelvin Sampson. The American Athletic Conference upheld the suspension. The junior leads the Cougars in assists with 3.9 dimes per contest and has been something of a Jack-of-all-trades for this squad. Jarreau is fifth in scoring (9.5 points) and fourth in rebounding (4.2 points). Fortunately for the Cougars, they have plenty of guards to pick up the slack. Expect a combination of Quentin Grimes, Nate Hinton and Caleb Mills to replace Jarreau's production. Let's hope he shows some more restraint in the future.
M.J. Walker, G, Florida State – Walker is nursing an ankle injury, which caused him to miss Saturday's clash with Virginia Tech. He was able to return Monday against North Carolina, and even played 25 minutes in the game. However, Walker did not look like himself, scoring just two points on 1-of-7 shooting. He missed all four of his shots from three-point land. Walker is one of three Seminoles averaging in double figures in scoring this season, but he's managed double digits just once in his last five games played. Florida State remains one of the best teams in a watered-down ACC this season but will need Walker at full strength.
Ryan Murphy, G, Pittsburgh – A concussion sidelined Murphy for Sunday's 62-57 win over Miami. It was the first missed game of the season for the JUCO transfer, who is averaging 10.1 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists per contest. A supposed sharpshooter from New Mexico Junior College, Murphy has been just average from three-point land as a member of the Panthers, hitting 35.5 percent of his shots from downtown. Still, he is fourth on the team in scoring and third in assists, proving a key cog for a team attempting to make a run at an NCAA berth from the suddenly pedestrian ACC. Fortunately for Pitt, their top five scorers are all guards. Sophomore Trey McGowens paced the squad with 17 points against The U last weekend, while Au'Diese Toney tallied a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Herb Jones, F, Alabama – Jones underwent surgery on a fractured left wrist this past Saturday and will miss at least the next month for the Tide. The absence of Jones will be difficult to overcome for Alabama, as the junior was averaging 9.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Jones was fifth in scoring but second on the squad in rebounding and dishing. The Tide are extremely thin in the frontcourt with Jones on the shelf. Freshman Javian Davis has played 35 minutes for Alabama the last two games and started in place of Jones, accumulating 19 points, five rebounds and four blocks. He will be the most direct beneficiary of minutes while Jones is sidelined. It remains possible Jones misses the remainder of the season.
Brandon Robinson, G, North Carolina – Cole Anthony is back for the Tar Heels, which certainly knocks Robinson down a peg or two in terms of usage and resulting production. An ankle injury also won't help matters. Robinson sprained his ankle on the final possession of last Saturday's 71-70 loss to Boston College, and subsequently missed Monday's clash with Florida State. While the injury is not considered serious, Robinson is currently not 100 percent, and even upon his return, will almost certainly take a back seat to the freshman sensation Anthony.
Malcolm Porter, G/F, Portland – A starter for the Pilots, Porter was averaging 9.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per contest. However, he has missed the last three games due to undisclosed reasons. The absence and lack of reason given is particularly odd given that his father, former NBA player Terry Porter, is the head coach of the Pilots. The younger Porter exited the January 23 loss to Loyola-Marymount after just 49 seconds and has not seen game action since. Porter also missed two games in December due to injury. Mum is the word at this point, as speculation abounds.
Both Gach, G, Utah – Another member of the All-Name Squad, Gach has missed the last two games for the Utes due to a knee injury. Though the ailment is not considered serious, Gach has clearly been bothered by the issue. In the five games played prior to sitting out, Gach failed to score in double figures. By contrast, he scored at least 10 points in nine of the first 14 games of the season for Utah, averaging 12.9 points to go along with 4.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Gach is third in scoring and dishing overall on the year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Utah was throttled in its two games without Gach. Even more pressure will be placed of freshman Rylan Jones and star forward Timmy Allen if Gach continues to miss time.