Three undefeated schools remain in the Top 25. The superlatives have already been extolled upon defending champion Villanova, as the experienced Wildcats continue to surge as 2017 begins. Meanwhile, the Baylor Bears slot into the No. 2 spot, a rather surprising feat for a school that has seen much negative publicity over the past year regarding certain sports programs. Scandal aside, the Bears' ballers have shot up the charts this season, buoyed by the play of junior Johnathan Motley, who is fourth in the Big 12 in scoring and second in the conference in bounding.
The third squad without a blemish on its resume is a Cinderella-turned-juggernaut in the form of the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The 'Zags are 14-0, having already beaten several major conference foes including Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, Washington and Iowa State. Even with the losses of Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer to the NBA, Gonzaga is stacked along the frontline with the mammoth Przemek Karnowski and freshman seven-footer Zach Collins. Coach Mark Few hit a few home runs with transfers as well, including former Mizzou forward Johnathan Williams, former Washington point guard Nigel Williams-Goss and former Cal shooting guard Jordan Mathews. Add in redshirt sophomore Josh Perkins, and the 'Zags are right back in the mix for the Final Four despite an entirely revamped roster from last year's Elite 8 unit.
Thirsty for more? Here are some players grabbing headlines in this week's edition of the College Hoops Barometer.
Jock Landale, C, Saint Mary's - The big-bodied 6-foot-11 center had a streak of four-straight double-doubles snapped in the Gaels' last contest, a 72-60 triumph over San Diego. Landale finished with 14 points and nine rebounds for the game. The junior is averaging 17.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per tilt, leading the Gaels in both categories. At 12-1, Saint Mary's may be the only squad that can take down the aforementioned 'Zags in the West Coast Conference. The first of two regular season matchups between the two perennial WCC contenders takes place in Spokane on January 14. The battle between Landale and Przemek Karnowski in particular should make for great theater as they clash in the post.
Sebastian Saiz, F, Ole Miss - Speaking of double-doubles, Saiz has made a habit of collecting them thus far in his senior campaign for the Rebels. Saiz has tallied four-straight double-doubles of his own, and five in his last six outings. On the year, Saiz has eight double-doubles in 13 tilts. Expanding on those numbers even further, Saiz has already notched four games with at least 15 rebounds, and has scored at least 20 points in seven contests. Saiz leads the SEC in rebounding by a wide margin at 12.2 boards per contest. The next closest player, Moses Kingsley of Arkansas, is averaging 8.7 boards per game. In fact, Saiz is third in the entire nation in cleaning up the glass, and should continue to make a living on the glass even during conference play.
JeQuan Lewis, G, VCU - Shaka Smart and his "Havoc" defense may be in Texas now, but that doesn't mean the Rams have abandoned their defensive principles. Lewis, a senior who played for Smart when he was still coaching VCU, has recorded at least five steals in three-straight games. Averaging 2.4 thefts per contest, Lewis is in the top 20 in the country in that category. Lewis is certainly no one-trick pony, though. The senior guard is averaging 16.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists. Lewis has shown more of a scoring mindset of late, managing at least 20 points in three of the last five tilts. Lewis set a season high with 26 points in VCU's last game, a 73-64 win over George Mason. The catalyst on both ends of the floor, Lewis has the Rams thinking about a seventh-straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Chris Clarke, G/F, Virginia Tech - Clarke was one of the key pieces in Virginia Tech's upset win over the suddenly reeling Duke Blue Devils. The 6-foot-6 sophomore tallied 13 points, six rebounds and two dimes in the stunning 89-65 win. Clarke had two double-doubles prior to that Duke win, though, and a triple-double in the contest before that. Clarke notched 13 points, 12 rebounds and 10 dimes in a 113-71 laugher over the Citadel in that contest. Clarke is a superb rebounder for his size, a capable assist maker, and is shooting a blistering 66.3 percent from the field. While he makes his mark largely inside the three-point arc, Clarke has a unique skill set for his size. The 12-1 Hokies could emerge as surprise contenders in the ferociously contested ACC
Ivan Rabb, F, California – Rabb could have gone pro after his freshman campaign, but decided he had unfinished business with the Bears. After sitting out the first two games of the season, Rabb reeled off four-straight double-doubles. Then he hit a lull; Rabb failed to score in double figures in four of five games . Perhaps not surprisingly, the Bears lost two of those contests in non-conference play. However, Rabb has quickly turned things around of late, averaging 15 points and 14.3 rebounds over his last three contests. Has Rabb finally found his groove, or will he continue to be streaky? Away games at UCLA and USC are up next and will certainly challenge Rabb and company.
DJ Wilson, F, Michigan – Wilson had a simply monstrous output in Sunday’s OT loss to Iowa. Wilson shot 11-of-18 from the floor, including 4-of-8 from downtown, en route to a career-high 28 points. Wilson’s productivity didn’t end in the scoring column, though. The junior forward also snatched 14 rebounds, tallying his third double-double of the season in the process. Lastly, he dished out a career high six assists. However, consistency has been the issue for Wilson, who clearly has the ability to put forth elite statistical games. However, he had just seven points and three rebounds in the game prior to Sunday’s loss, an unexpectedly narrow win over lowly Furman. The Wolverines will need everything Wilson can give them as they head into a rough Big Ten conference stretch.
Bruce Brown, G, Miami - Brown has proven extremely versatile for the 'Canes. The highly touted freshman has a triple-double to his credit already, having registered 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against South Carolina State in early December. While it would be foolish to expect triple doubles on a nightly basis (Brown is not quite at that Russell Westbrook/James Harden level just yet), he certainly has the ability to affect the game in a variety of ways. Brown collected a career-high 17 points in Saturday’s convincing win over NC State, while also managing eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block. Brown is still learning the college game and can sometimes commit silly turnovers or fouls, but his stock appears to be trending in the right direction for Coach L and the U.
Trevon Bluiett, F, Xavier – Talk about a clunker. Bluiett went 0-for-10 from the field in Saturday’s 81-76 win at Georgetown, managing a single, solitary point overall. Bluiett appears to have fallen in love with the three-point shot, perhaps to his detriment. He went 0-for-6 in that contest from three-point land, and is shooting just 33.2 percent from long distance as a junior. Despite his rather lackluster numbers from beyond the arc, Bluiett continues to launch shots from downtown with reckless abandon, hoisting 7.2 treys per contest. Now, it hasn’t been all bad for Bluiett, who is getting to the foul line more than ever before and still averaging 17.9 points per game. Nevertheless, one has to wonder about his shot selection for the Musketeers.
Shavar Newkirk, G, Saint Joseph's - A torn ACL has ended Newkirk's season prematurely. The injury deals a crushing blow to the Hawks, as Newkirk is a gifted scorer, leading the squad with 20.3 points per game. However, Newkirk was also second on the team in dishing and third in rebounding. In his absence, the Hawks will likely struggle in the A-10. Look for sophomore Lamarr Kimble to shoulder even more of the offensive load for St. Joe’s. Kimble is averaging 14.8 points 4.1 rebounds and 4.5 dimes per contest.
Robert Johnson, G, Indiana – Johnson is dinged up, though the Hoosiers won’t disclose what’s bothering him. Nevertheless, Johnson was held out of the starting lineup Tuesday against Wisconsin, and did not appear like himself during his brief time on the court against the Badgers. Johnson is averaging 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, and Indiana will need him to be healthy if they want to contend for the Big Ten crown. Junior Josh Newkirk would be the most direct recipient of an increase in minutes in Johnson’s stead.
Craig Victor, F, LSU – Victor is no longer a part of the LSU basketball program after being dismissed due to an undisclosed violation of team rules. Already looking to fill the huge vacuum left by No. 1 pick Ben Simmons, the Tigers will now be missing averages of 13.4 points and 9.8 rebounds from over their last five games. Antonio Blakeney looks poised to gobble up even more shots for the Tigers; he had already been averaging over 13 shots per game prior to Victor’s dismissal. Freshman Wayde Sims could also be a candidate for increased action; he tallied a career-high 14 points, along with six rebounds, in LSU’s first game without Victor, a 96-89 loss to Vandy.
Charles Cooke, G, Dayton – Another team will be without its leading scorer, though perhaps not quite as long. Cooke, a graduate student who played his first two years of college ball at James Madison, had previously injured his wrist and missed the Flyers’ game versus VMI just before Christmas. Cooke returned against La Salle, scoring 13 points, only to hurt himself again, this time injuring his back. The back ailment subsequently sidelined Cooke for Tuesday’s tilt with St. Bonaventure. It remains to be seen how long Cooke will be out, though the injury is not considered serious. Nevertheless, the Flyers will be missing Cooke’s 18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per tilt in the short term.