It was after a spanking at Rupp Arena in Feb. 2003 that an introspective Billy Donovan told the media honestly that he had to recruit a different type of player, one modeled after the success Tubby Smith had been brewing at Kentucky. We all know the results of that effort -- the 2006 NCAA title.
Interestingly, in a similar nod to Smith's team-first concept, the Gators have on the floor a multi-headed hydra, with no single player garnering praise or scorn. Thus, it is each game that a new face emerges, both on the court and in the weekly Sea of Blue SEC Player of the Year rankings.
As we get further along this season, some names previously under the radar will stand out more in SEC games, creating a race for the trophy as league's best. Just look at Kentucky's Joe Crawford, whose scoring average has spiked in conference games.
All the upsets and surprises in the early weeks of the conference season have led to some new names and some curious trends since last week's rankings. To be considered the league's best, you have to post great numbers but also lead your team to wins. Consider that as you follow our prognostications.
Here's our best shot at sifting through it all. (Results are through games of Wednesday, Jan. 17)
SEC Player of the Year Rankings(1.) Glen Davis, Jr., LSU: The Tigers have not roared to date, but it's not because of their star. The biggest stat in Davis' favor thus far? Teammates Tasmin Mitchell and Terry Martin are both in the league's top 20 in scoring (SEC games only), meaning that clamping down on Big Baby is opening up opportunities for his mates. Davis' scoring has dipped, but not his effect on the game.
Numbers: 18.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 51% FG, 72% FT
(2.) Randolph Morris, Jr., Kentucky: A strong case can be made that Morris is the league's most valuable player, if not its most renown. Like Davis, the interior threat posed by Randy has made lethal scorers out of fellow juniors Joe Crawford (20 ppg in SEC) and Ramel Bradley (14 ppg). In the blowout of USC, Morris posted his 7th double-double of the year. His 3 blocks show his maturation on both ends. The biggest stat in his favor? A 4-0 SEC start for the Cats.
Numbers: 16.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.2 bpg
(3.) Chris Lofton, Jr., Tennessee: As stated above, the POY award is a mixture of statistical relevance and on-court success. While no one can deny Lofton's fitting the bill in the former, the latter has to be cause for concern. Three straight losses, two in the conference, have Vols fans sweating, and wondering what happened to their mojo. For his part, Lofton has continued to post 20-point games, just lately in losing efforts.
Numbers: 22.5 ppg (24 ppg SEC), 3.5 rpg, 51 FG%, 81% FT, 47% 3FG
(4.) Joakim Noah, Jr., Florida: It's almost impossible to choose one Florida Gator for this list, but only because several are worthy and none stand out. Noah gets the nod this week for his consistency. Leading the SEC in FG% and 4th in rebounding, Noah is the energy that pulses through the Gator attack, especially on defense. NBA scouts would no doubt love to see Noah more aggressive on the offensive end, but Florida fans will take a 3-0 league start instead.
Numbers: 12.3 ppg, 2.8 apg, 8.3 rpg, team ranked #1
(5.) Derrick Byars/Shan Foster, Sr./Jr., Vanderbilt Raise your hand if you had Vandy with wins over Bama and Tennessee in the office pool. The power behind the 'Dores' surprising start is a double shot of deep threats. Foster's leadership was already known, but Byars has emerged as a fantastic compliment, pacing Vandy in scoring. Splitting the kudos will cost both votes, but given their SEC start, why bet against them?
Numbers: [Byars]15.1 ppg (17.8 SEC) /4.8 rpg, [Foster]15.4 ppg (15.8 SEC) / 4.8 rpg
Others on the cusp: Taurean Green (Florida), Tre' Kelley (S. Carolina), Joe Crawford (Kentucky), Jamont Gordon (Miss. St.), Ramel Bradley (Kentucky), Ronald Steele (Bama)