Name the SEC team that has beaten five ranked teams this season. Give up? Hint: It's not Florida, Kentucky, Alabama or LSU, all highly regarded though they were.
It's Vanderbilt, whose conquering of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU and Georgia Tech, has put the once dicey NCAA future of the 'Dores squarely into the "just keep it up" column. Led by the scoring punch of wings Shan Foster and Derrick Byars, Vandy has weathered a tough stretch with aplomb, and given its stars a chance at personal accolades as well, including a boost in this week's Sea of Blue SEC Player of the Year Rankings.
The statistics for only the SEC games are now more important than ever, as the preseason/non-conference slate disappears into the rearview mirror.
The jostling of the standings, and the rolls a few teams like Vandy have put together, have jumbled things since last week's rankings. Here's the updated standings as wek see them for this round. (Results are through games of Friday, Jan. 26)
SEC Player of the Year Rankings(1.) Glen Davis, Jr., LSU: It hasn't been the best week for the LSU Tigers and their star, Glen Davis, as a pair of league losses have the Bayou Bengals on the cusp of irrelevance. But Davis is still motoring along without much help, leading the SEC in rebounding and offensive rebounds, and maintaining his role as the guy no one can single-team in the paint. With his teammates firing up brick after brick, Davis too often finds himself having to force the action, resulting in lower shooting percentages and, most importantly, no wins. Still, Davis' entire body of work, and his continued importance to his team's success keep him atop this week's ladder, though the SoB MVP Watch is keeping close tabs.
Numbers: 18.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 49% FG, 72% FT
(2.) Joe Crawford, Jr., Kentucky: For Kentucky, the meat of the SEC schedule is yet to come, but while back-to-back league losses have the ever-jittery Big Blue faithful questioning its existence once again, no one can question the emergence of their junior scoring guard Crawford. While his center's star has taken a dip in recent weeks, the Detroit native is now the SEC's leading conference-only scorer (20.3 ppg), and in a disappointing loss to Georgia was the only player to show up big, tallying a career-high 29 points on 12-of-20 shooting. Others around the league may get more pub, but the promise JoeC showed as a McDonald's All-American is finally shining through.
Numbers: 14.8 ppg (20.3 SEC), 2.7 apg, 4.2 rpg, 54% 3FG
(3.) Derrick Byars, Sr., Vanderbilt The surprise team of the SEC to date this season is undoubtedly Vandy, whose road play has been exemplary, in no small part due to the leadership and scoring of the senior Byars. Together with Shan Foster (15.5 ppg SEC), Byars has put the 'Dores back on track towards an NCAA berth with wins at Kentucky and LSU this week. Three 20-plus scoring outings in the conference, 51% shooting from both the field and the three-point line in conference games, and a healthy dose of toughness rocket the unsung Byars into the MVP mix. Can the Commodores keep it up? If Byars has anything to say about it, they should have an excellent shot.
Numbers: 15.6 ppg (18.7 SEC), 5.3 rpg, 51% 3FG (SEC)
(4.) Joakim Noah, Jr., Florida: He may look odd, but there's nothing strange about his effect on the nation's No. 1 team. The media darling is beginning to come out of his shell finally, after battling a long illness and some general early-season malaise. Noah's 24 points and 12 boards helped down a tough Ole Miss this week, and Noah has upped his defensive game as well (6 blocks in two games). Florida is still an assemblage of strong parts, but many thought Noah was the straw that stirred the drink last year, and he's beginning to show signs of the same for the Gators now as well.
Numbers: 12.8 ppg (14.2 SEC), 8.5 rpg (9.8 SEC), 69% FG (#1 SEC), team ranked #1
(5) Tre' Kelley, Sr., South Carolina: While no player on a team on pace for roughly 3 conference wins has a shot to take home MVP hardware, Kelley should get a mention, if only because of how much he means to his team. The senior scorer, playing on a leg likely to need offseason surgery, has been the only good thing for the Gamecocks much of the season, and his 22 points on Wednesday helped USC to its first league win, over Arkansas. Gritty, electric and untiring, Tre' has earned the respect of his peers and the league's coaches, who know that however much you plan to stop him, the guard's motor just won't stop until the final buzzer sounds.
Numbers: 16.9 ppg (18.4 SEC), 4.5 apg, 42% 3FG
(HON. MENTION) Chris Lofton, Jr., Tennessee: OK, so there's no honorable mention per se, but while Lofton sits out with a bum ankle, others take his spot in the rankings. Assuming the sharp-shooter returns to form sooner rather than later, we should see more of what we've come to expect from the junior star. Until, then, he sits our bench in street clothes as well.
Numbers: 21.5 ppg (19 ppg SEC*), 51 FG%, 81% FT, 46% 3FG
Others on the cusp: Randolph Morris (Kentucky), Jamont Gordon (Miss. St.), Shan Foster (Vanderbilt), Ronald Steele (Alabama)