Player of the Week
Elston Turner – Texas A&M
Turner has turned in two of the more spectacular performances in the SEC on the season. After dropping 40 against Kentucky earlier in the season, he put up 37 against Ole Miss last Wednesday. His performance was a huge one for an Aggie team that is slipping their way off the NCAA bubble and right into NIT territory. He hit a career high seven 3’s against the Rebels and didn’t turn the ball over in 39 minutes of action. Turner has been the lone consistent player for this A&M squad that has struggled mightily since beating Kentucky back in early January. The team has dropped 7 of 10 since that point and with Saturday’s loss to Vandy on the road, unless the team can win out and win a game or two in the SEC tournament, there will be no dancing come March for the Aggies.
Keion Bell – Missouri
Bell has been on of the hottest players in the country in the month of February. The transfer from Pepperdine has now scored over 20 points in 4 of 5 games this month and has become the go-to player on offense recently. With Phil Pressey struggling, Lawrence Bowers still recovering from an injury and sans Michael Dixon, the Tigers have needed the 5th year senior’s veteran presence when the team isn’t playing their best ball. Bell has been that steadying influence and is seeing his number called more often because of it. Bell has done it in a number of different ways. He is shooting the three ball well, getting to the free throw line and has done it all without taking an abundance of shots. He has been very efficient during this stretch and is pulling down five boards and dishing out two assists as well. Even though they don’t always play like it, Mizzou is still one of the most talented teams in the SEC. They are just struggling to find their identity with so many new faces on the floor.
Johnny O'Bryant – LSU
The only player even close to being on Bell’s level this month has been O’Bryant. The Tigers’ big man has a double double in eight of his last nine games and was two assists away from his first career triple double on Saturday against Mississippi State. O’Bryant has gotten himself back into shape after suffering an injury early in the season and is now asserting himself on the offensive end of the floor, which is something that Johnny Jones’ squad had been missing for most of the season. His eight dimes against the Bulldogs is a telling sign as teams are starting to double the 6’9 sophomore. That has opened things up for the rest of his teammates including Charles Carmouche who had one of his best games of the season after scoring 21 and knocking down five 3’s. After starting off conference play 0-4, LSU has rebounded and now sit at 6-6 in conference play but face a tough schedule to end the season.
It was a tough week for the Wildcats. The team had fought and clawed their way back into the top 25 after early losses to Duke, Notre Dame, Baylor and Louisville saw them fall out for the first time in over two years. With games at Florida and at Tennessee on the schedule last week, the team was in a position to get themselves back in the "contender" conversation. Two losses and a season ending injury to leading rebounder and shot blocker Nerlens Noel have left many wondering whether this team can win enough games to even make the tournament which would be an epic collapse for a team with such high expectations. The Gators were and are just the better team by far but it was the rout against the Vols that was the head scratcher. Cuonzo Martin’s squad took it to Kentucky early challenging a porous perimeter defense that now doesn’t have a shot blocker on the backside to help erase some of the mistakes. The result? A 30 point blowout that was Calipari’s worst since his first year in coaching. Alex Poythress and Ryan Harrow have been the two biggest disappointments on the season. Noel’s injury gives them both a second chance to step up and become the players that they everyone believe they can be.
Top 3 Players to Watch
1. Willie Cauley-Stein – Kentucky
With the injury to Noel, Cauley has an opportunity to really shine during the latter part of this season. Kentucky’s depth has been a concern for most of the season and with virtually no other true "big" on the roster, Cauley is in line for some major minutes going forward. There is no questioning his talent and potential but the big man is still very raw and has a limited back to the basket game right now. He gets too out of control and as we saw against Tennessee doesn’t always make the best decisions. If he can learn to play within himself, not let his emotions get the best of him and stay on the floor then there is still hope for this team.
2. Casey Prather – Florida
Much like Cauley-Stein, Prather is going to see a bump in minutes due to an injury in the frontcourt. With Will Yeguete out for the next couple of weeks, Prather becomes the 3rd big in Billy Donovan’s rotation. At 6’6, Prather isn’t your prototypical big man but he is physical and has the tools to stay with and guard most forwards in college basketball. Florida is all but a lock to with the SEC but at this point playing for a number #1 seed in the NCAA tournament is their main concern and Prather will be a big part of that as his role keeps increasing.
3. Trae Golden – Tennessee
Golden hasn’t played particularly well during conference play this season. He scored in single digits in five of the team’s first seven games in the SEC but since coming back from a hamstring injury suffered in late January, Golden has really picked up his scoring. He has scored in double figures in each of the last three games and looked extremely well against Kentucky. He started off the game attacking the basket and never looked back. If the Vols have any chance at the NCAA’s, they will need to win out and Golden’s assertiveness on offense will be a major contributor.