College Hoops Barometer: Risers & Fallers

College Hoops Barometer: Risers & Fallers

This article is part of our College Hoops Barometer series.

The madness was different in March of 2020.  If all goes according to plan, though, March of 2021 will provide a return to a much more tolerable, affectionate madness.  The NCAA Tournament is scheduled to go on as planned as of the writing of this article, with the entirety of the tourney to be held in the state of Indiana.  It will be interesting to see if the lack of geographical preference will play a role in the results.  The same can be said for the fans, or lack thereof.  Regardless, the bracket is back!

Some quick housekeeping notes.  Next week, the College Hoops Barometer will morph into the Bubble Barometer.  For those uninformed, that is our annual look at those teams dancing on the fringes of an NCAA Tournament berth.  Then the following week, the NCAA Tournament Gospel will rise up from the ashes once again, giving tips on how to fill out your bracket, analyzing some of the juicier possible upsets, and looking into the crystal ball to predict how this year's tourney will shake out.

Let's take one last look at some peak performers on the hardwood before turning our attention to March Madness.

UPGRADE

Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State 

Cunningham is really starting to assert himself for the Cowboys, and his recent offensive explosion could not have come at a better time.  Oklahoma State has won five-straight games, including three in a row versus ranked opponents.  The Cowboys notched back-to-back victories over in-state rival Oklahoma, and Cunningham was the chief catalyst for those triumphs.  He poured in a career-high 40 points Saturday, while also grabbing a career-best 11 rebounds, in a 94-90 OT win.  In a rematch Monday, Cunningham tallied 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists in a 79-75 win, resulting in a sweep of the season series.  Since his return from injury at the end of January, Cunningham is averaging 21.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.9 steals per contest.  Cunningham has looked every bit like the projected No. 1 pick in this June's NBA Draft, and the Cowboys could be dangerous in the tourney if Cunningham's hot streak continues.

 Tre Mann, G, Florida 

Just when it seemed as though the season may be slipping away for the Gators, Mann brought Florida back into the conversation.  The Gators have won three-straight contests, with Mann leading the charge.  During that span, the sophomore is managing 17.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.0 steals.  That includes the first double-double of Mann's brief collegiate career, as he notched 19 points and 13 rebounds in last week's win at Auburn.  The leading scorer and disher for the squad, Mann has taken on a much greater role between his freshman and sophomore seasons.  Part of that has to do with the unfortunate absence of Keyontae Johnson, but Mann deserves some credit for positive development as well.  A strong finish to the season will guarantee the Gators a tournament bid.

 Quentin Grimes, G, Houston 

As Grimes goes, so go the Cougs.  While it is true that Houston hasn't lost many games in general this season, the Cougars are 9-0 when Grimes scores at least 20 points in a contest.  The biggest change in Grimes's skill set from a season ago has been the vast improvement in his three-point shooting.  Grimes is hitting a career-best 39.3 percent from long range.  He has hit a staggering 14 three-pointers over his last two outings.  That included a career-high 33 points last week versus Western Kentucky.  Grimes has also been much more active on the glass, nearly doubling his rebounding average from a season ago.  The Cougars have been mauling opponents this season with a deep, talented squad.  However, it is the rise of Grimes that has really taken Houston to the next level.

 McKinley Wright, G, Colorado 

Wright deserves some props for what has been a superior career at Colorado.  He has started all but one game during his standout collegiate experience.  He has averaged at least 13.0 points for game in every campaign, including a career-high 15.0 points per contest as a senior.  Wright has been even better of late, averaging 20.7 points over his last three outings.  Wright is also managing a career-best 5.8 dimes per tilt.  This leads the Pac-12 Conference.  He dished out a career-high 14 assists last week in an impressive upset win versus UCLA.  McKinley has racked up three double-doubles in all as a senior.  To cap it off, the Buffs will almost assuredly make the big dance for the first time in McKinley's tenure.  A sweet, sweet reward for the senior.

CHECK STATUS

 Chuck Harris, G, Butler 

The loss of Aaron Thompson has been Harris's gain.  The freshman has stepped up in the wake of a shoulder injury to Thompson.  In fact, Harris and teammate Bryce Nze led a convincing upset over Villanova this past Sunday.  Harris tallied 20 points, five rebounds and four assists in the stunning 73-61 triumph.  After getting his sea legs during the early part of his first season, Harris has come on strong of late.  He is averaging 17.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals over the last four tilts.  Even if the aforementioned Thompson returns for the Big East Tournament, Harris has earned himself significant minutes with his recent play.

 Justin Smith, F, Arkansas 

Smith has been a key component of the current seven-game winning streak for the Hogs.  During that span, Smith is averaging 15.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 thefts.  Smith racked up three double-doubles over that time period.  Smith also stole an impressive five passes in a recent victory over Florida.  Alabama recently clinched the regular season crown in the SEC, but Arkansas remains right on the Tide's tail.  It looks like the Hogs are peaking at just the right time, and Smith's stellar play deserves some credit.

 Alex Lomax, G, Memphis 

Lomax has missed the last two games for the Tigers due to an ankle injury.  The leading assist man for Memphis, Lomax was managing 4.4 dimes per contest.  This put him third in the American Conference in dishing.  Lomax was able to impact the game in a variety of other ways, too, averaging 6.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals per tilt.  The loss comes at a bad time for the Tigers, who are 14-6 overall, including 10-3 in conference action.  Most pundits currently have them on the outside looking in regarding inclusion in the NCAA Tournament.  A win in the regular season finale against Houston could go a long way towards aiding their cause; certainly the Tigers hope to have Lomax back in the fold by that contest.

 Sharife Cooper, G, Auburn 

If Cooper qualified, he would be third in the SEC in scoring at 20.2 points per contest.  However, he missed the first 11 games of the season due to eligibility concerns.  After a rousing return for the Tigers, Cooper has now been shelved for each of the past three contests due to an ankle injury.  It has been a difficult season for Auburn, as Justin Powell has also missed significant time with a concussion.  Cooper could return for the SEC Tournament, which is essentially Auburn's NCAA Tournament following a self-imposed postseason ban.  The silver lining of these absences and injuries has been the play of Allen Flanigan and other underclassmen, who may not have gotten as much exposure or experience otherwise.

DOWNGRADE

 Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois 

The Illini torched Michigan on Tuesday in a statement win without arguably their best player.  Still, a pivotal injury for both the Big Ten Conference Tournament as well as the NCAA Tournament as a whole could be the broken nose (and ensuing concussion) suffered by Dosunmu.  The multi-talented guard has been listed as day-to-day, and while playing with a shield is always a possibility, there can be ancillary complications.  He has already missed three games for the Illini, who are having the program's best season since making the Final Four and ultimately the Championship Game in 2005.  Freshman Andre Curbelo nearly had a triple-double last Thursday versus Nebraska in seeing heavy minutes without Dosunmu, while senior Trent Frazier led the squad with 22 points in the rout of the Wolverines.  Even with the impressive victory over Michigan, the Final Four chances for the Illini still likely hinge upon whether Dosunmu will be able to return to health.

 Malik Williams, C, Louisville 

Williams was unable to escape the injury bug.  Williams missed the first three months of the season due to a foot ailment.  He played in two games at the end of February, then aggravated the same injury in his third game back.  He will be sidelined for at least the next month and, unless the Cardinals somehow make the Final Four, it is unlikely that he will be able to return this season.  It is also unclear whether this will be the end of the senior's time at Louisville.  Freshman Jae'Lyn Withers has played well up front, but the frontcourt duo of he and Williams never really came to fruition.

 Liam Robbins, C, Minnesota 

Robbins has been battling a nagging ankle injury which has kept him out for two games, and could sideline him for even longer.  The Drake transfer has seen his stats dip a little bit from his time with the Bulldogs, though perhaps this is not unexpected given the uptick in competition.  However, after a torrid stretch during the middle of the season, Robbins had slowed down considerably even before the injury.  He scored in single digits in four of the last five games he played.  The Gophers have dropped five-straight games, and unfortunately even a return to health for Robbins likely will keep Minnesota out of the NCAA Tournament this season.

 Jack Nunge, F, Iowa 

The Hawkeyes lost a key piece of their frontcourt depth, as Nunge will miss the remainder of the season due to a torn meniscus.  The 6-11 sophomore was averaging 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per tilt in a resurgent season.  Nunge must feel snake bitten, as he had missed all but five games last year after suffering a torn ACL and had sat out the prior season for developmental reasons.  Nunge had registered two double-doubles this season, including arguably the best game of his collegiate career earlier this month versus Michigan State.  Nunge tallied 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in an 88-58 thrashing of the Spartans.  Freshmen Keegan Murray and Patrick McCaffery will likely split the minutes vacated by Nunge, though certainly even more pressure in the frontcourt will now be placed on star center Luka Garza.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jesse Siegel
Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
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