As we near the end of the basketball regular season this week, it’s time to start thinking of the top candidates for various awards including who should win the player of the year award within the SEC. With the SEC playing much better, there are many candidates who deserve to make this list. Even the teams near the bottom have worthy candidates for an individual honor such as this.
The Heisman trophy doesn’t always just go to the best player on the best team. Last year’s winner made the playoffs, but not the national title. Lamar Jackson’s Louisville squad fell off hard and didn’t finish anywhere near the top. Johnny Manziel lost a couple of games and settled for a non-BCS bowl, as did Robert Griffin III. And that’s just within the last decade.
So I stepped back and took a look at individual achievement more than who was the MVP of the top rated teams. Also, if you’re curious, here are the leaders in each category within the SEC after this past weekend’s games:
Points: 19.5 – Yante Maten (Georgia)
FG%: 74.2% – Donta Hall (Alabama)
Assists: 6.2 – Chris Chiozza (Florida)
Rebounds: 9.4 – Robert Williams (Texas A&M)
Blocks: 2.7 – Anfernee McLemore (Auburn)
Steals: 2.1 – Tremont Waters (LSU)
With that said, here are the five candidates I have my eye on for player of the year, and the way I would rank them as of now, before we head into the final week of the regular season.
1. F Yante Maten (Georgia)
I went back and forth on who I wanted to put in first between Yante Maten, Robert Williams and Chris Chiozza. The numbers that put Yante Maten above the others is that he leads in points scored per game and is third in rebounds per game. He does it all for Georgia, even though the Bulldogs aren’t performing particularly well this season.
For a big guy, he’s not only shooting almost 48% with the most points in the league, but he’s also shooting 32% from beyond the arc and 83% from the free throw line – both areas where big men typically struggle. Add in his rebounds and blocks and it’s hard not to think he’s a prime candidate for player of the year.
2. F Robert Williams (Texas A&M)
Part of the reason Robert Williams fell to second and doesn’t have bigger numbers overall is because of Tyler Davis, another dominant big man for the Aggies. Davis almost made the list, but I chose Williams over Davis because of his blocks and rebounds per game being higher, which is just as important for a big man. Williams is also shooting 64% from the floor compared to Davis’ 58% and averages more assists, steals and less turnovers per game.
Still, Tyler Davis is a definite honorable mention due to 14.6 points per game (leading the team and #14 overall in the SEC) and 8.8 rebounds per game (which is second on the team and second in the SEC behind Williams).
3. G Chris Chiozza (Florida)
When I think about who to pick for player of the year, I imagine who is performing best at their position. Chris Chiozza is easily the best point guard in the league and does his job well, even though the overall stats aren’t quite as flashy when it comes to shooting the ball and rebounding. Although I have him third, the gap between first and third isn’t that large, just different positions. Watching Chris Chiozza play is a joy, and he has gotten better every year he’s been at Florida and is performing his best in his final season. I don’t know if he’ll have a career at the next level like most of the other players on this list, but he’s had a great career at Florida.
4. G Collin Sexton (Alabama)
Fourth and fifth came down to a debate between Sexton and Mustapha Heron. I went with Sexton due to his individual performance overall, despite Heron playing for a better team. The one negative that would make you potentially switch the two is turnovers as Collin Sexton averages about half a turnover more a game. But when you compare the numbers overall, Sexton has more points per game and assists which are numbers that are important to his position.
If you simply wanted to make the case of “Alabama is awful right now and Sexton is part of the reason with his turnovers” as to why I should leave him off, I understand. But taking into account the full season, I think he deserves to be on the list.
5. G Mustapha Heron (Auburn)
After the Alabama game, I saw a ton of people on Twitter ready to give Bryce Brown the player of the year award. He doesn’t even make my list because Mustapha Heron is the best player on this Auburn team, not Bryce Brown. Brown is good, but lately he has played his way out of contention for this award and Heron has played his way in. Granted, Heron wasn’t around for the Alabama game, but both players have missed one of their last five games.
Below, I have the season stats for both Heron and Brown. They have each played four of their last five games. In that span, Brown is shooting 29% for 52 points while Heron is shooting 45% for 68 points. Heron also has 19 rebounds in that span and Brown has 3. Overall on the season, Heron leads in every category except Brown averages 1 more assist and 0.3 more blocks per game.
(in alphabetical order)
G Bryce Brown (Auburn)
C Tyler Davis (Texas A&M)
F Donta Hall (Alabama)
G Jared Harper (Auburn)
F Kevin Knox (Kentucky)
F Jeff Roberson (Vanderbilt)
G Kassius Robertson (Missouri)
F Chris Silva (South Carolina)
G Tremont Waters (LSU)
G Quinndary Weatherspoon (Mississippi State)