If the season ended today, Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins
would be the player of the year in the Southeastern Conference.
That opinion is expressed solely by the Fast Break and doesn’t reflect the editorial position of this website or the Southeastern Conference. But let us throw a few facts and figures your way, and perhaps you’ll agree that, this season, Jenkins is the man in the SEC.
Let’s start with the obvious. Jenkins leads the league in scoring (19.8 ppg) in all games and SEC games only (22.3 ppg) and pretty much has all season. Pay particular attention to that latter number. When a power conference player increases his overall scoring average against his league brethren, it speaks volumes. On average, the competition is significantly better, night after night, than during the non-conference portion of the schedule. And theoretically, conference opponents, having seen a particular player at least twice a season, might have figured out ways to stop him.
So far, no one has been able to suppress Jenkins.
How does Jenkins do his damage? If you’ve been reading the stories in this space, think back to our profile on Jenkins that appeared in December. His jump shot is as pure and repeating as any player in the country. And he gets it in the air quickly, too. Jenkins is shooting an off-the-charts .462 from three-point range in SEC games only and leads the league in makes (30) and attempts (65). After a surprising slow start from behind the arc (and a rare 2-of-15 night against Marquette), Jenkins is still at .417 for the season.
Jenkins is also a killer from the free-throw line after correctly deciding—without the prodding of his coaches—that getting to the rim more often would set up his jump shot, make him harder to guard and get him some easy points from the free-throw line. Jenkins was right—a year ago he attempted 60 free throws. This year, he’s already been to the line 131 times.
There’s one more thing that Jenkins has going for him. He’s a perpetual motion machine who probably runs five miles a night in and around screens set by his opponents. The Fast Break noticed this while watching him in action twice last week, against the best defensive team in the league (20 points against Alabama) and in the Commodores’ biggest game of the year (career-high 32 points against Kentucky on a day when preseason first-team All-SEC pick Jeffrey Taylor
was limited to four points).
Jenkins’ ability to move without the ball may be the biggest reason he’s become so hard to defend.
“That’s been very significant,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings
said. “He has become a much better cutter over the last couple of months. He’s really learning the art of cutting. His teammates are doing a better job of trying to get him free and having a sort of sixth sense for when he’s coming and where he’s going.
“His conditioning is terrific and his stamina is terrific. He’s able to cut and move for long periods of time without getting real tired. And he’s able to shoot at the end of all those cuts without fatigue playing a part, which is significant as well.”
We’ll leave you with two more Jenkins factoids. He’s scored 20 or more points 14 times this season, tops in the SEC (Ole Miss guard Chris Warren is second with 11). And Jenkins has led Vanderbilt in scoring 17 times.
SEC FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR:
Will it be Kentucky teammates Brandon Knight or Terrence Jones
? Knight, fourth in the SEC in scoring, has broken a long-standing Kentucky freshman record with 10 20-plus scoring outings this season. He’s won the league’s freshman of the week award four times.
Jones has also won that award four times—after a strong 25-point, nine-rebound effort against Vanderbilt—and is third in the league in scoring and first in rebounding. As Kentucky coach John Calipari
has set many times, Jones can be truly dominating if he sets his mind to the task.
Thus, the Fast Break’s choice with just a handful of conference games left is Jones. He’s reached double figures in 16 of his last 17 games and may well have to contribute more down the stretch as the Wildcats try to win a road game in the league and position themselves for the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky is 0-5 on the road in the SEC. Since the league added Arkansas and South Carolina and adopted division play in 1991-92, Kentucky has lost that many road games just one other time. The Wildcats were 3-5 in 2006-07, Tubby Smith’s last season as coach.
HINES AN UNSUNG HERO:
Lost amid Alabama’s success in league games (8-2) has been the steady contribution of senior forward Chris Hines
, a player who exemplifies the Crimson Tide’s competitive nature.
Hines was a star at Hillcrest High School in Evergreen, Ala., averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds and leading his team to the Class 4A championship as a senior. He desperately wanted to play at Alabama but didn’t qualify academically and went to a prep school for a year.
Still without a qualifying ACT score after prep school, Hines opted for Southwestern Illinois Community College, where he became a first-team All-American, averaging 20 points and 12 boards.
That was enough to finally get Hines a scholarship to Alabama, though he never played for the coach that signed him, Mark Gottfried. Under new coach Anthony Grant,
Hines evolved last season into a steady contributor, starting the last 14 games, averaging nine rebounds in his final four games and earning the team’s Most Improved Player award.
This season Hines averages 5.0 points and 6.4 rebounds and is second on the team in blocked shots (39) and third in steals (31). He turns up all over the hustle plays the Bama staff charts each game and has become one of those glue guys every team needs if it hopes to play in a postseason tournament.
Hines’ childhood prepared him for his well-traveled basketball career. He was put up for adoption at seven days old, and when he was 10, the woman who adopted him passed away. Hines moved around between relatives in Evergreen and Montgomery after that and basketball eventually became his salvation.
Hines plays the game like he’s just glad to be on the floor, and his numbers reflect that. A typical Hines outing: 11 points, three assists, three blocked shots and two steals against Seton Hall. Or eight rebounds, five steals, and assist and a blocked shots against Tennessee. He scored only four points in each of those games, but he made his presence known nonetheless.
Tennessee is 0-2 since coach Bruce Pearl
returned from his eight-game suspension, but a lot of teams would be 0-2 after traveling to Kentucky and Florida. Pearl understands that, but he knows the Vols could have played better and even pulled out a win in Gainesville.
In trying to analyze the Vols’ inability to put away SEC games—they’ve lost twice in overtime, by a point at Florida and three points at Arkansas—Pearl has singled out point guard play and free-throw shooting, or the lack thereof.
This week, Pearl has hinted he might tinker with the point guard spot, perhaps using former walk-ons Josh Bone and Skylar McBee
there. Starter Melvin Goins
, who hit his head in the Florida game and has back and neck soreness, didn’t practice on Monday, allowing Bone and McBee to get more reps at the point.
The numbers support Pearl’s thoughts on getting to the free-throw line. Tennessee is last in SEC games in free-throw attempts (148), an average of just 14.8 per game. Consider that earlier in the season, the Vols were among the nation’s leaders in free throws attempted. In its most significant early-season victories, Tennessee shot 28 free throws against VCU, 35 against Villanova and 30 against Pitt.