This article is part of our College Hoops Barometer series.
We made it! Your patience has been rewarded. March is here, in all its bracket-busting glory. But before we get to talking about sleepers, busts, upsets or favorites, the regular season needs to come to an end.
Next week's Barometer will focus on the bubble teams, as those squads on the fringe attempt to make their final push for NCAA Tournament inclusion. Then we'll dive into tournament coverage in my yearly strategy/preview article for picking your brackets.
This week's article will stick to the formula we all know and love, focusing on players on the rise or trending in the wrong direction, albeit with a dash of tournament flavor. Also, as an FYI, I'm saving Rutgers for next week. The Scarlet Knights could be on the verge of their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1991.
Olivier Sarr, C, Wake Forest – The Demon Deacons are unlikely to be included in the big dance, but Sarr is having a breakout season nevertheless. Sarr has 10 double-doubles of the season, but arguably his best performance came last Saturday against Notre Dame. Sarr dominated the Irish, outdueling John Mooney, who leads the ACC in rebounding and is second in all of Division I in that category. Sarr accumulated 30 points and 17 rebounds in an 84-73 triumph. Both totals smashed previous career highs for Sarr. The seven-footer from France is shooting an absurd 70 percent from the field over his last four outings. Wake Forest may be situated near the bottom of the conference, but Sarr has been one of the better big men in the ACC this season.
Matt Bradley, G, California – Bradley has raised his game of late, averaging 23.5 points and 5.5 rebounds over his last two contests, both wins for the Bears. Bradley can be dynamic from three-point land, and he is hitting over 48 percent of his shots from downtown over the last five games. The leading scorer for the Bears, Bradley has scored at least 20 points in 11 contests as a sophomore. Bradley is fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring. He is also a superior foul shooter, hitting 86.1 percent from the charity stripe. While the Bears would need a miracle to make the NCAA Tournament, Bradley has done everything in his power to keep Cal's hopes alive.
Naji Marshall, F, Xavier – Marshall does a little bit of everything for the Musketeers. His versatility has been on display over the last five games in particular, as Marshall is managing 18.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists over that span. He tallied three steals in a win over DePaul last week, and has blocked at least one shot in three of those last five outings. While teammate Tyrique Jones leads the Big East in scoring, Marshall has been the catalyst for boosting the Musketeers back into tournament contention. Xavier has won three of its last four contests, and hasn't lost to an unranked squad in over a month. At 19-10 overall with an 8-8 conference records, the Musketeers may figure prominently in the bubble discussion.
Christian Vital, G, Connecticut – The Huskies have shown markedly improved play of late, and much credit goes to Vital, along with fellow backcourt mate James Bouknight. Vital, a senior, has been on a tear recently. Over UConn's last five contests, Vital is managing 22.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 3.0 steals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Huskies went 4-1 during that span. UConn went from afterthought to possible bid stealer with the recent play from its guard tandem. A deep run in the American Conference Tournament could make the bubble situation even murkier.
John Fulkerson, F/C, Tennessee – Fulkerson was instrumental in Tuesday's 81-73 road upset at Kentucky. The junior big man poured in a career-best 27 points, hitting 10-of-15 from the floor and a perfect 7-for-7 from the charity stripe. After barely playing during his first few seasons with the Vols, Fulkerson has been a key cog for a Tennessee squad that lost a bevy of players to graduation and injury. Over the last nine games, Fulkerson is averaging 18.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per tilt. During that span, he has scored at least 20 points on four occasions. The triumph over the Wildcats gives Tennessee a glimmer of hope when it comes to the big dance, but Fulkerson and the Vols still appear to be on the outside looking in. The SEC Tournament will make or break the last couple of bids from this conference.
Brad Davison, G, Wisconsin – Davison has seen improvement during the latter stages of the regular season, including a 30-point barrage on February 15 at Nebraska. Over the last five games, all wins for the Badgers, Davison is averaging 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contest. After looking mediocre for the better part of the season, the Badgers have reeled off six-straight wins catapulting them near the top of an extremely competitive Big Ten. It is worth noting that Davison can run very hot and cold, though; he had an eight-game stretch earlier in the season in which he failed to score in double figures. The Badgers will ride this current, positive wave into the NCAA Tournament, though.
Josh Green, G, Arizona – A back injury has already forced Green to miss the last two games for the Wildcats, and it's no sure thing that he returns for the final two games of the regular season slate either. Arizona could certainly use the help too, as they have dropped three-straight games and suddenly find themselves out of the top 25 and trending in the wrong direction. Green is third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding and assists. Nico Mannion has had to take on even more of the burden in the absence of Green, though senior guard Dylan Smith also has 15 rebounds over the last two tilts with Green on the shelf.
Jarron Cumberland, G, Cincinnati – Cumberland was the preseason player of the year in the American conference, but it has been a topsy-turvy season for the senior. He has battled a bevy of lower-body injuries, most notably a foot/ankle issue, which currently has him sidelined and in a walking boot. There is no timetable for his return to the floor, which could be a crushing blow for the Bearcats. Cumberland leads the team in scoring and assists as the Bearcats continue to vie for the regular season conference crown. Perhaps more concerning, though, would be if Cumberland is forced to miss the big dance. Keith Williams had 30 points with Cumberland sidelined Tuesday against USF, and he and forward Tre Scott would be asked to be shoulder hefty loads if Cumberland misses more time.
Rylan Jones, G, Utah – The freshman phenom suffered a concussion in Saturday's clash with Cal, and it's possible his season is over. The Utes are just 6-11 in Pac-12 conference play, and could ultimately decide to play it safe with Jones, as Utah is not going to be playing in the NCAA Tournament this month. Jones leads the Utes in dishing and thefts, and is third on the squad in scoring. In fact, Jones is sixth in the conference in assists, and tied for 11th in steals. Sophomore Both Gach has the chance to be the primary distributor for the Utes for the remainder of the way, while team leader Timmy Allen will also help fill some of the void.
Jase Febres, G, Texas – The Longhorns have been a disappointment this season under head coach Shaka Smart, yet somehow they remain in the mix for an at-large berth in the tourney. Injuries are attempting to derail any hopes, though. Smart recently lost forward Jericho Sims for the season, and now Febres is gone as well. The latter is scheduled to have arthroscopic knee surgery. Febres was fifth in scoring for the Longhorns, averaging 9.3 points per game. Somehow, the thin Longhorns have reeled off five-straight wins anyway, including a thrilling win over Oklahoma on a virtual buzzer-beater from Matt Coleman. Along with Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones, Coleman will be asked to provide even more scoring with Febres sidelined for the remainder of the season.