One for the Ages
It’s about time to separate the teams who are going to get a shot in March from the teams who are going to be sitting right outside the bubble, only to play in the NIT. The SEC is starting to round out and you can analyze all the stats you want, but the eye test is all that matters right now. And yes, it is still early on, but you can get a sense of who is going to be fighting for seeding in March Madness, and who is going to be sitting on the outside looking in. Non-conference play has given us great matchups such as Kentucky vs. the Blue Bloods (UNC, UCLA, and Louisville) and Texas A&M vs. Arizona, but it is time for conference play. The SEC needs to bring back the intensity of its rivalries, and this could be the season to do it. If you watched Kentucky this year, they are vulnerable which leaves the door wide open in the SEC. And with a veteran Arkansas squad, a tall and aggressive A&M team, and a quick defensive oriented South Carolina team, the previous state of the SEC can be returned. Where every game matters and every road game you must play your A game just to make it out of that hostile environment with a win. The SEC is on the come up with the multitude of big name coaches and their success on the recruiting trails. Coach Cal is going to get the competition he asked for, and maybe the start or renewal of some rivalry games along the way.
Player of the Week
Malik Monk (Kentucky)
I just mentioned the great matchups between Kentucky and their scheduling of a couple of the other blue bloods. But, I failed to mention the fact that freshman phenom Malik Monk dropped 47 points against North Carolina. He had a pretty good day at the office, merely going 8-12 from 3 and scored the most points by a freshman in the Calipari era which was previously held by long-range sniper Jamal Murray. The most impressive part about his performance was that every single one of those 47 points, Kentucky needed. Monk nailed two clutch 3’s with a minute left, both to take the lead. He was scoring in a variety of ways, catch-and-shoot, off the dribble, and with acrobatic finishes at the rim. It was one of the best regular season college basketball performances I have seen in my life time in one of the best regular season college basketball games that I have ever witnessed. It was Buddy Hield-esque, and he is just a freshman in comparison to Buddy Hield dropping 46 as a senior. He followed up the 47 with just a 16-point performance in Louisville against one of the best defensive teams in the country. Although, it was a rough outing, out of the sheer fact that Monk had the best performance so far this season, he earns the honor of player of the week.
Yante Maten (Georgia)
Yante Maten has led his Georgia team to every single win they have gotten this year. It is a two-man show over in Athens and the primary star is Yante Maten. The co-star JJ Frazier has been underwhelming this year and was considered a potential SEC player of the year candidate. Well, this is Yante Maten’s team and he is balling out this season. He has two 30-point games and one was a 30-point 13 rebound showing against a top-5 Kansas Jayhawk team. He isn’t just feasting on lower competition, he is tossing people around down low regardless of who they are and what team they play for. Over two of the past three games he dropped 18 and grabbed 15 off the glass, and to follow that performance up he just put up 30 on 13 shots. He isn’t just chucking up shots because there are so few options on the team other than him, he is scoring in high volumes with high efficiency. He is one of the best players in college basketball at this moment, and is very much in contention to be SEC player of the year. The only problem is, will he endure enough team success?
Deandre Burnett (Ole Miss)
Deandre Burnett was the leading scorer in the SEC for a period of time. He even dropped 41-points earlier this season in an OT victory over Oral Roberts. But, when you don’t put up single digit numbers in the scoring column all year and do that twice over the span of 8 days, there is a problem. Over the past three games Burnett has shot 7-26 from the field or 27%. Watching Burnett play, it seems as if he thinks that it is a one-man team out there on the floor. He has never been too good at setting up his teammates, but earlier in the year he knew when to pass it off for his team to get the better shot. At this point, he is just chucking up contested fade-aways and taking low percentage shots. It is not as if he is just in a slump and missing shots he would normally make. Burnett is settling for tougher shots because he refuses to move the ball and have faith in his teammates. The past two games they have won due to the lack of competition, but the previous game against Virginia Tech should have been a lesson to Burnett. For Ole Miss to win ball games he is going to have to score, but his scoring can also lead to defenses collapsing on him and leaving the rest of his team open to find holes in the defense. Burnett is helping the defense out by driving out of control and shooting off his back leg with a hand in his face. Ole Miss does not have the talent to balance out his inconsistency, so expect Andy Kennedy to crack down on his star guard to get his Rebels some W’s.
Top-5 Potential SEC Player of the Year Candidates
Conference play is about to start and you can notice the difference between the glue guys or role players between the stud who is going to lead his team to victory and give them a fighting chance come March.
1. DeAaron Fox (Kentucky)
DeAaron Fox is the best player on the best team in the conference. Despite two early losses to UCLA and Louisville, Kentucky is still the team with the most upside and talent in the conference and it is not even close. The kid is a triple-double threat every night, and effects the game in all facets. If Kentucky is holding another SEC championship trophy, expect De’Aaron Fox to earn honors of SEC Player of the Year.
2. PJ Dozier (South Carolina)
I have written earlier on this site that P.J. Dozier has been underwhelming in his second season under coach Frank Martin. I expected more out of a former 5-star guard. But, Dozier has completely turned it around. Ever since leading scorer Sindarious Thornwell got suspended indefinitely, Dozier has dropped at least 20 every night. The success of the Gamecocks season is going to rely on Dozier, and if the past couple games have been any indication, South Carolina is in good hands.
3. Tyler Davis (Texas A&M)
I think Texas A&M has the best chance to contend with Kentucky in the SEC due to their length and athleticism. And if that is going to happen, Tyler Davis is going to be the reason for that. A&M has 3 losses to its resume, but they are all to ranked opponents. They have not figured it all out yet, but there has been one consistent facet to every one of their games, Tyler Davis is going to feast down low.
4. Yante Maten (Georgia)
Yante Maten might be the most effective player in the SEC right now. He scores, he rebounds, he does it all. But, I don’t know if his team has enough firepower around him for them to succeed. The award may be an individual award, but you earn it with team success. Maten is going to finish with ridiculous numbers, which he has shown already, but it might not be enough. But, if Georgia has team success and finishes amongst the top of the SEC, Maten will be holding that trophy at the end of the year.
5. Malik Monk (Kentucky)
I already mentioned that De’Aaron Fox is the best player on the Kentucky team. But, that does not mean he has the best chance to put up ridiculous numbers. Monk put up 47 against a top-10 team in the country this week, but he is streaky. He just shot 1-7 from 3 against Louisville. But, when you are the leading scorer of the best team in your conference and are apt to go off like he did the other day, you most definitely deserve a mention to earn the honors of SEC player of the year.