Thomas Beisner Previews The SEC
10/25/2012 03:53 PM
B.J. Young, Arkansas
Kenny Boynton, Florida
Archie Goodwin, Kentucky
Alex Poythress, Kentucky
Patric Young, Florida
Phil Pressey, Missouri
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia
Jeronne Maymon, Tennessee
Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Player of the Year: B.J. Young, Arkansas
The attention last season was on a group of Kentucky freshmen and rightfully so, but it was the 6’3” Razorback that led all newcomers in scoring at 15.3 points per game. After withdrawing his name from the NBA Draft, Young returns to Fayetteville and has the Hogs in a great spot to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
As a freshman, Young seemed to hit the wall in January as his scoring and shooting percentage dipped, but hit a second wind in the season’s final 10 games. Young averaged 17 points and shot 62% from the field, including 44% from downtown. If he’s able to carry that efficient production into his sophomore season and improve on his 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, he’ll likely put together the SEC’s most impressive statistical season. And if he can get the Razorbacks into the NCAA Tournament, he’ll also end up as the SEC Player of the Year.
Freshman of the year: Archie Goodwin, Kentucky
It’s going to be a player from Kentucky. That’s not changing. But who among the group of four players will finish the year with the most impact. Nerlens Noel is the likely #1 overall pick and, after Anthony Davis’ defensive impact, probably the safest bet. Alex Poythress is a preseason All-SEC and All-American and seems to be the trendy choice. And after last night’s Blue-White scrimmage, Willie Cauley-Stein even has a decent case.
But Archie Goodwin is probably the guy whose value to the team both as a playmaker and a leader is the most critical if the Cats want to win another championship. The UK staff considers him the most athletic player they’ve had at UK and privately, there are comparisons to Dwyane Wade. What is known though is that Goodwin will play three positions for the Cats and serve as the vocal and emotional leader. That makes him even more important to a team that is naturally quiet.
Conference Winner: Kentucky
Talent may not always win championships, but it’s a heck of a place to start and John Calipari again boasts the most gifted roster in the conference. Traditional thought says that a roster with no players who have started a single college game should not be the preseason pick to win the conference, but John Calipari has decimated traditional thinking in his three years at UK. Until he fails to maximize the potential of a young roster, it’s hard to pick against the Cats – even when the SEC road may be more difficult than Calipari’s seen.
The SEC may actually be better this year than it has been in the last decade, with six teams appearing to be headed for the NCAA Tournament (UK, Florida, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama). Of those six, not one really jumps out as a group that could contend with Kentucky for a league title over the stretch of the season, except for maybe Missouri, but the top four have intriguing matchups and the personnel to beat the Cats on a given night. When determining the choice for league champion though, it’s hard to bet against the best coach and the team with the most talent. Kentucky should be celebrating its 48th regular season SEC title when the season ends.
Team that could surprise: Tennessee
I’m not quite as high on Tennessee as Florida’s Billy Donovan and Kenny Boynton, who called the Vols the best team in the conference, but Cuonzo Martin has a tough-minded team that teams will absolutely hate to play. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon form the meanest frontcourt in the conference and set the tone for a team that won 8 of their final 9 regular season games last year. Also working in Tennessee’s favor is the new SEC schedule, which makes them face Florida only one time – at home – and starts relatively easy, allowing for the fairly reasonable possibility that they’ll travel to Rupp Arena February 16 sporting a 10-1 conference record.