By: Chris Dortch
SEC Digital Network
The regular season is behind us and the Southeastern Conference Tournament awaits, so it’s time for the third annual Fast Break All-SEC awards. As always, we remind you that opinions expressed in this space are the opinion of the Fast Break and not necessarily the SEC or its member institutions. The official All-SEC awards were announced on Tuesday.
G-Trevor Releford, Alabama—That 50-footer that helped Alabama turned back Georgia at the buzzer in the Crimson Tide’s season finale was but a microcosm of this man’s worth to his team. As a junior, Releford turned in his best season, finishing fifth in the SEC in scoring (15.6), field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and minutes played and second in steals. His weakness was supposed to be 3-point shooting, but he led Alabama at 47 percent.
G-Jordan McRae, Tennessee—This guy was a force in the season’s final month, averaging 23 points from Feb. 13 to March 9. Included in that barrage was a 35-point game against Georgia, 34 against LSU, 27 against Florida and 25 against Texas A&M. McRae was versatile, too; at one time or another he played every position but center.
G-Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss—Henderson was inconsistent, and his shot selection sometimes made his coach, Andy Kennedy, talk to himself, but he led the SEC in scoring, 3-pointers made per game and free-throw percentage and energized a team that needed scoring punch.
G-Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia—The SEC’s Mr. Consistency, Caldwell-Pope was one of only 10 players in the country to score in double figures in every game, and the only one from the SEC. Considering he was the opposing team’s top target every game, that’s impressive.
F-Murphy Holloway, Ole Miss—Holloway led the SEC in rebounding, finished second in field-goal percentage, offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding and eighth in scoring. More important, he was a fifth-year senior anchor that helped keep his team focused when it threatened to run off the rails after late-season losses at South Carolina and Mississippi State that cost it a tie for first-place with eventual champion Florida.
G-Elston Turner, Texas A&M—Turner introduced himself to the SEC with a scary 40-point performance in the Aggies’ second league game at Kentucky. After that, opposing defenses made sure he didn’t go off on them and he struggled for a time, but like Tennessee’s Jordan McRae, he got hot again in the final month, averaging 25.6 points in his last seven games.
G-Phil Pressey, Missouri—Pressey is one of the most imaginative passers in the country, which can be a blessing and a curse. Because he can occasionally throw the slickest passes the SEC has seen since the days of Pete Maravich, perhaps he has the confidence to believe he can do it all the time. That explains how he racked up so many turnovers (114).
F-Laurence Bowers, Missouri—We’ll never know if the five games Bowers missed in the middle of the SEC season after injuring his knee cost the Tigers a chance at winning the regular-season championship, but that was a tough loss, because he’s one of the most efficient two-way scorers in the conference, a good rebounder and a shot-blocking presence in the paint.
F-Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee—Stokes struggled early in the season, but once conference play began he began to play the way many people thought he could. Stokes was the only player in the SEC to average a double-double in league games only, and he became a must-stop player for opposing defenses, often drawing double and even triple-teams.
F-Erik Murphy, Florida—Murphy led the SEC in 3-point percentage and became the best stretch four man in the country not named Ryan Kelly after improving his strength and collection of low-post scoring moves.
ALL-SEC FRESHMAN TEAM
Archie Goodwin, Kentucky—Goodwin had his ups and his downs as most freshmen do, but he was the only Wildcat to start all 31 games, and he led them in scoring. His average of 14.1 points per game was 11th in the SEC.
Alex Poythress, Kentucky— Had Poythress asserted himself all season he could have easily been the best freshman in the league, if not the country. He’s got rare inside (.584 FG)/outside (.419 3PT) ability, but his 1-3 assist-to-turnover ratio (21 assists, 64 turnovers) set him back.
Nerlens Noel, Kentucky—See below. No way we’re going to penalize Noel because he blew out his knee and was lost for the year while trying to make a hustle play.
Michael Frazier, Florida—Frazier was recruited as a shooter and he didn’t disappoint, leading the Gators in 3-point percentage (.484, 45 of 93). That’s exceptional, but for a freshman it’s off-the-charts good given that shot selection can sometimes be an issue for young players. Not so for Frazier.
Craig Sword, Mississippi State—This poor dude had no idea what he signed up for after all the season-ending injuries and suspensions that sometimes left new State coach Rick Ray with just six scholarship players. A lot of responsibility was heaped on Sword’s shoulders, and he handled it as well as could be expected.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia—This one was tough. Some consideration had to go to Marshall Henderson, who set an early pace, and to Tennessee’s Jordan McRae, who was probably the best player in the league in the season’s final month. But for sheer consistency, and versatility, KCP is the man. We mentioned earlier that he scored in double figures in every game, right? And here’s another cool stat: He was the first player in the country to rack up 500 points, 200 rebounds, 50 assists and 50 steals. KCP played more consistently than anyone in the league from the start of the season to the end.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Nerlens Noel, Kentucky—This would have been the easiest award to hand out had Noel not been injured. Come to think of it, it’s still a no-brainer. No freshman in the SEC was as valuable or important to his team as Noel. It’s a shame he didn’t get to finish out what figures to be his only college season. Despite the fact he tore his ACL, he’s still projected to be a top-five pick in the June NBA Draft.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Nerlens Noel—He played in just 24 games, but Noel still led the SEC in blocks by a wide margin and also finished fourth in steals per game, indicating he wasn’t just a shot swatter but a well-rounded defensive player. It would have been interesting to see if he could have surpassed the school and conference block records set the season before by Kentucky’s Anthony Davis.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Mike Rosario, Florida—Rosario battled injuries in his junior season, and because of Florida’s guard depth didn’t contribute as much as some expected. This year was a different story. Rosario started 29 games, averaged nearly 30 minutes and finished third on his team in scoring while providing the Gators with another 3-point threat.
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR
Shavon Coleman, LSU—Coleman started six games, but he came off the bench 23 times, so he qualifies for this award. His averages of 10.1 points and 6.1 rebounds led all SEC bench players.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Billy Donovan, Florida—OK, so it’s too easy, maybe even cliché, to give this award to the coach of the team that won the regular-season championship. But except for a couple of late-season slip-ups on the road to a pair of teams hungry to validate their NCAA tournament hopes, the Gators did just about everything that was expected of them, and they took no prisoners in league play with a +17.6 scoring margin. Give the offensive-minded Donovan props for ramping up his team’s defensive intensity; the Gators led the SEC in scoring defense, field-goal defense and 3-point defense.