Player of the Week
Travis Leslie, Georgia
The do-everything guard continues to compose a strong junior campaign. Leslie scored 20 points in a loss at Florida, connecting on 8 of 14 field goals including a healthy dose of mid-range jumpers. He added 6 boards, 4 assists, a steal and 4 of 4 free throws to finish off his stat line. In a home triumph over South Carolina he finished with a season-high 6 assists against a single turnover, also scoring 15 points on 6 of 11 field goals and grabbing 7 rebounds. With Bulldogs point guard Dustin Ware dishing out just a single assist in the two games, Leslie was asked to pick up the playmaking responsibilities. He responded accordingly. Leslie has tried to incorporate the three-point shot into his arsenal (1.3 attempts) but has found minimal success (31%). Being an undersized two, his lack of range will likely cost him a handful of draft slots (2012 draft). However, freakish athleticism goes a long way in covering up the blemishes. Georgia closes the regular season with a critical road test at Alabama, which could cement their at-large status or keep them teetering on the bubble.
Darius Miller, Kentucky
Miller put a ribbon on a strong four-game run scoring a career-high 24 points in a home win over SEC East leading Florida (keep in mind, his previous career-high of 22 was set last week). Miller converted on 9 of 15 field goals, including 2 three-point makes, snatched 5 boards, assisted on 3 buckets and swatted 3 shots. In a road defeat at Arkansas earlier in the week, he cashed in 13 points, 8 boards and 2 blocked shots. He now has at least two blocks in five straight games, and has made at least a single trey in every SEC contest. Currently standing at 8-6 in conference, Kentucky faces two tough foes to close the season: vs. Vanderbilt and at Tennessee. Two W’s could significantly improve their seed line in the dance.
Trevor Releford, Alabama
I sang his praises in last week’s column as captain of the "under the radar squad", but he let me down in a major way. In its most important stretch of games this year, the Tide and Releford put together an underwhelming (to be kind) performance this week. A tip in at the buzzer was required to fend off Auburn at home, and they couldn’t seal the deal on the road at Mississippi. The freshman point guard was undoubtedly the primary culprit. In the two games Releford combined for 12 points (4-13 FG, 0-3 three-pointers) ZERO assists and NINE turnovers. 0:9– now that’s not a winning ratio. Releford has turned the ball over with far greater frequency in recent weeks (20 in his last five), and could be feeling the pressure of a season on the brink. One thing is for certain, with games at Florida and versus Georgia to close conference play, he better lose the jitters quickly if Alabama wants to to squeak into the field of 68.
Top 5: Most Improved
1. Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt- Ezeli transformed from a big-bodied project to legitimate post force in one season. His points (12), rebounds (6), blocks (2.6), FT percentage (65%) and minutes (23) have all seen marked increases in his junior season. He’s averaging nearly 6 blocks per game in his last four.
2. Tony Mitchell 0, Alabama- The sophomore jumping jack is getting 8 more minutes per game in 2010-2011 and making the most of his opportunity. Mitchell has increased his scoring from 9 to 16, FG percentage from 49% to 54% and has seen an all-around increase in productivity in nearly every facet of the game.
3. Josh Harrellson, Kentucky- Once an out of shape afterthought, now a rebounding demon. Harrellson is grabbing 9 boards per game (4 offensive) as a result of conditioning and PT. He’s playing 27 minutes per night compared to 9 as a frosh and 4 last season. In addition, he’s shooting 59% and blocking 1.5 shots.
4. Delvon Johnson, Arkansas- The 6’9 220-pounder has earned himself a basketball future somewhere with his resounding senior year. After swatting under a shot per game last season, Johnson currently ranks #9 in the country at 3.2 per. His scoring (9), field goal attempts (7) and rebounding (7) have all increased three-fold as well.
5. Earnest Ross, Auburn- With essentially the entire Tigers roster lost to graduation, and top gun Andre Malone leaving the program mid-season, the burden has fallen onto the sophomore’s shoulders. Auburn isn’t finding many victories, but Ross is scoring 13 points and hauling in 7 boards a game, compared to 3 and 3 as a freshman.
Florida’s Chandler Parsons returned with a bang averaging 15.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5 assists this week. The Gators as a unit had 31 assists against 15 turnovers.
Georgia can win the battle of starting lineups on most nights, but they continue to get zero production off the pine. The Bulldog bench scored 7 points in two games.
South Carolina freshman PG Eric Smith dished out 10 assists this week. He had only 12 in twelve conference games prior. The Gamecocks had 4 team assists in a loss at Georgia, shooting 28% from the floor and 1 of 19 from distance.
Tennessee shot 37% in two games (W at Vanderbilt and L vs. Mississippi State) including 7 of 36 from beyond the arc (19%).
Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli had more blocks (10) than rebounds (8) this week. His teammate Lance Goulbourne erupted for 16 points and 17 boards on Saturday– his ankle is finally on the mend.
Mississippi leader Chris Warren scored 58 points in two games, with 23 of his 33 field goal attempts coming from downtown. He connected on ten three’s and 16 of 18 free throws.
Mississippi State’s Dee Bost packed the stat sheet, with both the good and the bad represented. He averaged 14.5 points, 9.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds, but shot 27% from the field, 29% from three and coughed up 5 turnovers per game. The Bulldogs road win at Tennessee could earn them a bye in the SEC Tournament. They accomplished that feat with a limited Renardo Sidney (10 minutes & 6 points), who was suffering from a stomach bug.