We have endured 415 games involving SEC basketball, and with each team playing their final game this Saturday, the SEC regular season will come to a close. Throughout the college basketball season, and more importantly throughout conference play we experienced what you come to expect from a college basketball season. From some teams surprising people, to great individual performances, to most importantly: the upsets. We got to enjoy Malik Monk’s 47-point performance against North Carolina that involved a game winner, and Sindarious Thornwell’s 44 and 21 performance joining Blake Griffin and Norris Cole to accomplish that feat over the last 20 years. We were able to experience the growth of teams throughout season that have shown promise for the upcoming years. Rick Barnes looks like he is capable of bringing Tennessee back to national prominence, and Bruce Pearl and Avery Johnson look like they something brewing in Auburn and Tuscaloosa. I guess my point is, despite the SEC being heavily criticized year-in and year-out, the fans of the league can show there is promise coming from this conference. It is not down the road, it is coming soon. I know I am saying this as Kentucky just claimed a share of its’ 48th SEC regular season title, while the rest of the league combined claim 49. But, I think in the next few years the narrative of, “Kentucky plays one or two tough teams in conference play each year” is going to come to an end. There are too many established coaches in the SEC to go along with the talented recruited classes coming for this conference to continue to be the laughing stock of the power five. So, all I am asking is Bryce Drew, Bruce Pearl, Mark Fox, and Rick Barnes, please continue to build your programs because these years of sending 4-5 teams to the tourney each season is getting sad.
Player of the Week
JJ Frazier (Georgia)
It has gotten to the point where if Georgia makes the tournament, there is an arguement to be made for J.J. Frazier to be named the SEC player of the year. I am aware that the player of the year in each conference typically goes to the best player on the best team, but I don’t think anyone has carried their team this year more than J.J. Frazier. You could argue Malik Monk, or Sindarious Thornwell, but Monk is a freshman and has been up and down and the Gamecocks have hit a skid and have lost 3 of the last 5. Let’s be honest, the only other help Frazier has gotten has come from Yante Maten, which formed the best inside-out duo in college basketball. Well, the past three games Yante Maten has not seen the floor due to an injury that occurred against Kentucky, who was their last lost. While including his performance against Kentucky which was his most impressive of the year, over the final stretch of the season Frazier is averaging 31 points per game, 4.2 dimes, and 3.7 rebounds. The 5’10 senior is doing everything he can to make sure his Bulldogs make the tournament. It is tough to root against the Isaiah Thomas sized Point Guard, but he makes Georgia a legitimate dark horse to win the SEC tournament and receive an automatic bid on Selection Sunday. Whether Yante Maten is on the floor or not.
Malik Monk (Kentucky)
As I previously discussed the concept of putting a team on your back. Malik Monk is doing just that. Over the past two games, Malik Monk has averaged 25 points in the second half alone. One of those games happened to come against Florida, who claimed the lead in the SEC due to them getting man-handled in Gainesville as Monk sat on the bench with a smile on his face as the Rowdy Reptiles sung him happy birthday. Monk was criticized for smiling while down by 20+, but he responded the only way he could. He dropped 30 second half points and led the way for the Cats as their floor general, De'Aaron Fox was sidelined with a knee contusion. Kentucky is riding a 7-game winning streak into College Station on Saturday. But, this time if they fall behind by 19, I don’t know if there is any chance of a comeback similar to the one they pulled off against Vandy. Well, of course, unless Monk carries the Cats once again. Just like how his shooting could potentially be the only thing that can land Kentucky in Phoenix come April.
I wish I could sit here a point a finger at a specific player or specific aspect of the game that Tennessee is struggling to achieve at the moment, but I can’t. They have been brutal in almost every facet of the game, and it is extremely disappointing. Following an upset of what was the No. 4 team in the country in the Kentucky, and riding high off a 4-game winning streak, I thought Tennessee was going to create a legitimate argument to squeeze into the bubble, and the NCAA tournament. Their younger players in Lamonte Turner and Grant Williams seemed to finally figure it out. Robert Hubbs III seemed like the leader this team needed and was going to be the veteran that would shine down the stretch to create the best argument possible for the committee. That vision of mine fell off the tracks really quick. The Volunteers have won two of their last eight, including the past 3 coming by double digits. It isn’t like Tennessee is making these games competitive then struggling down the stretch which would lead to these double-digit losses. They are clearly struggling on the defensive side of the ball. The 27-point loss and giving up 82 points to the 150th ranked offensive according to KenPom in South Carolina tells the story. I thought Rick Barnes had his team figured out and clicking at the right time, but boy was I wrong.
SEC Award Projections:
SEC Player/Freshman of the Year
Malik Monk (Kentucky)
With Monk’s performances in games that Fox missed, he has made a strong case for himself as the Player of the Year in the Conference over the likes of Thornwell and Frazier. His statistics also help his cause as he’s leading the SEC in scoring at 21.7 ppg on high shooting numbers (46.9 from the floor and 41.6 from 3). Earlier in the season everyone predicted the Freshman of the Year award in the SEC was going to go to someone in Kentucky’s backcourt. But, Malik Monk’s stock has been going up all season, while De’Aaron Fox’s has been down as of late. Monk has just put together too many outrageous performances that are going to be on the mind of the voters. From dropping 47 against UNC, putting up 30 in the second half against Florida, and hitting the game-tying shot against Georgia to send it to OT.
J.J. Frazier (Georgia)
If Georgia makes the tournament I would feel obligated to give this award to J.J. Frazier who has almost single-handedly brought his team to be competitive. The injury of Yante Maten only helps his case, and I think the voters need to focus on his performances down the stretch. If I am a coach and I see my first-round matchup is against Georgia, I would start to mentally prepare myself that J.J. Frazier is going to drop 40 on us.
SEC Coach of the Year
Mike White (Florida)
Mike White’s Gators went 21-15 last year with an 8th place finish in the SEC. This year they are currently 24-6 and are going to finish second in the SEC. In my preseason predictions I placed them second due to the talent they were bringing back, but I did not think that they were going to have any chance to compete with Kentucky. Granted, Kentucky and Duke have been underwhelming compared to the preseason hype, but Mike White gave Kentucky a battle for the SEC crown and was a second-half blown lead from stealing it. Florida overachieved this year, and made major strides from last year, therefore I think Mike White runs away with Coach of the Year.
SEC Defensive Player of the Year
Sindarious Thornwell (South Carolina)
As I criticized South Carolina’s offensive efficiency before, the reason they have been successful this season is because of the defensive side of the ball. They are ranked second in the entire country in adjusted defensive efficiency according to Kenpom, only trailing Virginia. Therefore, I believe the award should go to the teams most effective defender. South Carolina’s team defense is great, but the perimeter duo of Sindarious Thornwell and PJ Dozier make the defense what it is due to their ability to limit the drive. I have seen Thornwell guard 4 of 5 positions this year, which clearly displays his versatility. I have seen him grab 21 rebounds despite being a 6’5 guard. And I have also seen him average 2.2 steals per game despite having to cover a variety of different positions. If it wasn’t Sindarious Thornwell taking home this award, it would probably be his teammate P.J. Dozier, or Arkansas rim protector Moses Kingsley.