Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe and Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren are turning it up in league play, and both are rising in our college basketball player rankings at The DPI Gradebook.
We have officially rounded the corner into the last full month of the regular season, and thankfully, it is the shortest month of them all.
At this point, we are at least halfway through just about every conference schedule — and as is always the case, the stars are coming out in league play. The SEC and Big Ten continue to be the toughest proving grounds in the country, so it’s no wonder that those conferences account for each of the Gold Star Guide’s top four players, including our latest No. 1 overall: Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky.
Another byproduct of league play is that some players’ early, gasp-inducing stat lines are starting to come back down to earth. That’s not the case for everyone, though. Take Kofi Cockburn, Johni Broome and Jamal Cain for example. We are just about three months into the season, and all three are still averaging double-doubles while scoring in droves against their conference competition.
Yet another outgrowth in the late months of the season is the maturation of first-year players. This is around the time when some freshmen live up to the old adage of “no longer being freshmen.” For example, the country’s top three newcomers (Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith) have not just shown that they belong on the big stage — they are helping lead their respective teams to conference titles.
Let’s take a look at some of the other players that are running through their conference foes and rising up these ranks.
For the uninitiated, the Heat Check CBB regions are:
Heat Check CBB Northeast
- 82 total schools
- States represented: N.Y., Pa., Md., Mass., N.J., Conn., D.C., R.I., Del., N.H., Maine, Vt.
- Conferences represented: AEC, AAC, A10, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, CAA, Horizon, Ivy, MAC, MAAC, MEAC, NEC, Patriot
Heat Check CBB Southeast
- 118 total schools
- States represented: N.C., Va., Fla., La., S.C., Tenn., Ala., Ky., Ga., Miss., Ark., W.Va.
- Conferences represented: AAC, A10, ACC, ASUN, Big South, CAA, CUSA, Horizon, MEAC, OVC, SEC, SoCon, Southland, Sun Belt, SWAC
Heat Check CBB Midwest
- 72 total schools
- States represented: Ill., Ohio, Ind., Mich., Mo., Iowa, Wis., Okla., Kan., Neb., Minn., N.D., S.D.
- Conferences represented: AAC, A10, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Horizon, MAC, MVC, OVC, Summit, WAC
Heat Check CBB West
- 86 total schools
- States represented: Calif., Texas, Utah, Colo., Wash., Ariz., Ore., Idaho, Mont., N.M., Nev., Hawaii, Wyo.
- Conferences represented: AAC, B12, BSKY, BW, CUSA, MWC, P12, SEC, SL, SUM, SB, SWAC, WAC, WCC
We’ll start in the Southeast Region, where the country’s best glass-cleaner has Kentucky unequivocally on the rebound and where a star sophomore is making the Ohio Valley into a three-team race.
Southeast Spotlight Player: Johni Broome
It’s hard to find a player who is going crazier than Johni Broome in the Ohio Valley. Sure, the Eagles lost to Tevin Brown and Murray State in their recent matchup, but just look at what Broome has been up to in OVC play. The sophomore is averaging 18.5 points, 10.9 rebounds and 4.4 blocks in league games, and he is the most-used player in the conference at a 32.4 percent usage rate. Broome helped Morehead State make the Big Dance last year, and with the way he’s playing right now, it’s not hard to envision this team making another run in the OVC Tournament.
With all due respect to Nick Robinson and his teammates, I did not expect a 54-point Gold Star game to come out of Western Carolina this season. Robinson is easily the best player on the Catamounts’ roster right now, though, and he turned me into the fool by dropping a cool 37-11-6 line on East Tennessee State. The Chicago native has played well in previous stops at Saint Joseph’s and Valparaiso, but he has really come alive at WCU, averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists.
Midwest Spotlight Player: Jamal Cain
Jamal Cain has been a mainstay in these parts for the entire season, and it does not appear that the Marquette transfer is leaving anytime soon. Cain joins Kofi Cockburn as one of two players in the country averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds right now — and he has three more games on his ledger than his Illini counterpart does. Between Cain and fellow Golden Grizzlies Jalen Moore and Trey Townsend, Oakland has positioned itself atop the Horizon League standings and could be a nightmare matchup for some unlucky high-major come tournament time.
Midwest Spotlight Game: Yuri Collins vs. George Mason
If Saint Louis is the Gateway to the West, then Yuri Collins is the Gateway to Easy Buckets. The hometown product exploded for 13 assists against George Mason earlier this week for his fourth consecutive game with 10-plus dimes — and in each of the three games before this streak, he recorded nine. His 8.6 assists per game leads the NCAA, and his assist rate of 46.0 percent ranks third nationally. Against GMU, though, he also recorded a career-high 35 points. Watch out for the Billikens to make some noise in the A-10 Tournament thanks to Collins’ recent surge.
West Spotlight Player: Chet Holmgren
Gonzaga hasn’t had many folks excel in the Gold Star Guide — mostly because the Zags have too many stars. Having said that, Chet Holmgren is the cream rising to the top of this witches’ brew out in Spokane. In seven WCC games, the fresh-faced freshman is averaging 17.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks, while shooting a ridiculous 64.0 percent on 3.6 3-point attempts per game. Sure, they may be cries from the peanut gallery that “Gonzaga doesn’t play anyone,” but these numbers would be impressive against any opponent. Dismiss Chet at your own peril.
West Spotlight Game: Bryce Hamilton vs. Colorado State
If not for a late statistical fix that took three points away from his final tally, Bryce Hamilton may have had the top Gold Star game of the entire season last week. Even without that last triple, Hamilton hung 42 on the admittedly porous defense of Colorado State. which allowed another huge game to Hunter Maldonado just two days later. Hamilton has always been a microwave, but he hasn’t always delivered in the assist-to-turnover department. Against CSU, he had his first career game with five or more assists and one or fewer turnovers. Doing that while scoring 42? Wow.
Northeast Spotlight Player: Cam Spencer
With Loyola Chicago a name on everyone’s lips, and Loyola Marymount a program with some rich history, Loyola Maryland can sometimes feel like an afterthought. The Greyhounds’ point guard is trying to do something about that, though, helping to drag the team into the four-way logjam for second place in the Patriot. Of the 28 qualifying players in the country with a turnover rate under 8.0 percent, Spencer is the only one with an assist rate over 13.0 — and he nearly doubles that threshold. He also plays more minutes than any other player in the Patriot League.
Northeast Spotlight Game: Buddy Boeheim vs. Wake Forest
It’s never too soon to start worrying about Syracuse’s inevitable forced entry into the NCAA Tournament. That fate became slightly more realistic this past week, as Buddy Boeheim scored 47 combined points in wins over Wake Forest (at home) and NC State (away). The big one for Buddy was the game against Wake, when the senior lit up the Carrier Dome to the tune of 30 points — his best home scoring night ever. Boeheim has hit the 30-point plateau two other times in his career, but both came on neutral courts in last year’s ACC Tournament and in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Header image courtesy of Kentucky Athletics.