The nation's best top-to-bottom conference just keeps on bringing the hits. Whether it's Ole Miss protecting its home turf, Tennessee rising off the mat to down a streaking Georgia or Auburn leading the West Division, there is no tougher league to play in night in and night out.
Not so surprisingly, it's also a league that features many outstanding individual talents. And while there may be no Kevin Durant -- who is the clear favorite for national Player of the Year -- it does have a load of great college players and returning talent. While the NBA has robbed the SEC of its best young players over the years before they could reach full potential (Gerald Wallace, Mo Williams, Azubuike, Brandon Bass, Mike Miller, Donnell Harvey, etc.), the new NBA rule plus some cheeky decision-making from the Gators group have led to a stronger league, and a lot of parity, especially on the road.
Keep in mind the growing disparity between the preseason games, their results, and the statistics for only the SEC games. Some players pick up their games against the league's best, while others who feasted on also-rans are exposed.
For reference, here are last week's rankings. This week sees some shuffling, as surprise teams get some love. (Results are through games of Friday, Feb. 2)
SEC Player of the Year Rankings(1.) Glen Davis, Jr., LSU: What can you say, exactly? Davis tries to get his teammates more involved as other teams start keying on him, sagging defensively. He posts a career-high 6 assists in the first half against Georgia, only to see his mates fail to execute down the stretch and drop a needed game. Then he comes home for a must-win against Alabama, posts 6 assists again, gets double- and triple-teamed on every low post touch, and his team helps throw the ball away, rush shots and blow a pair of late leads. While it would be easy to punish Davis for his team's subpar conference mark, in this case, having watched a slew of his games, it's just not his fault. It's a shame John Brady and the other Tigers aren't playing up to the level of their superior teammate.
Numbers: 18.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 49% FG, 71% FT
(2.) Derrick Byars, Sr., Vanderbilt As the Commodoes continue an upstart campaign against prognosticators and opposing coaches alike, the senior Byars has upped his game considerably, and earned the right thus far to be included among the league's best -- and most important -- players. Despite not being able to close out No. 1 Florida at Gainsville this week, the 'Dores are in the mix, and Byars is the main reason why. A 19- and a 20-point game in a split this week just shows how Byars is leading by example. Gotta hit those threes, though, to beat the Floridas of the world. Still, it's clear that as Byars goes, so too does Vanderbilt.
Numbers: 16.0 ppg (19.0 SEC), 5.1 rpg, 43% 3FG (SEC)
(3.) Joe Crawford, Jr., Kentucky: Faulting Crawford for Byars' overtaking him in the standings isn't fair. Consider it just the fact that Kentucky is expected to contend, and that JoeC has a (theoretically) better cast of teammates helping him. In a lone game since the last installment, Crawford was effective, scoring 15 points on 50% shooting. Four turnovers, including a couple of miserable in-bounds mistakes, hurt his team, however. Still, the Motown native's unreal 52% shooting from long range keeps him among the league leaders. He is also, still, the SEC scoring leader in league games. Needs to show up Saturday when the Cats head back on the road.
Numbers: 14.8 ppg (19.6 SEC), 2.3 apg, 4.1 rpg, 52% 3FG (SEC)
(4.) Joakim Noah, Jr., Florida: The only undefeated SEC team deserves a Player of the Year candidate, though there is a tendency to cancel each other out. Still, with his Gators' back against the wall at home against Vandy, Noah came up big, scoring 19 points (7-of-8 FT), grabbing nine boards and killing the smaller 'Dores in the paint. Noah is fluid and quick for a big man, and his post defense -- even when he's not blocking shots, which he also does -- is highly effective. While Al Horford is a load in the paint, Lee Humphrey cans threes, Corey Brewer slashes and Taurean Green dishes, only Noah does all of the above in addition to providing energy to the whole arena. He's a glue guy, and from the center spot, no less.
Numbers: 12.9 ppg (14.0 SEC), 8.4 rpg (9.3 SEC), 65% FG (#2 SEC), team ranked #1
(5) Tre' Kelley, Sr., South Carolina: Led by Kelley's indomitable spirit, the Gamecocks rallied for a pair of SEC wins after going winless, and looking bad doing so, in their first four. Kelley's a longshot, if only because his team is unlikely to top more than 5 or 6 league wins, barring a big second half of the schedule. But that shouldn't keep the pint-sized scoring guard from being mentioned in the same breath as the conference's best players. Despite eight assists, Kelley's 4-for-17 night against Auburn not surprisingly came in a loss to Auburn. If the rest of his team can begin to harness even a portion of Tre's guts and will on his bum leg, maybe they can prove naysayers like myself wrong. At any rate, if they don't, it won't likely be because of some lack of effort on Kelley's part.
Numbers: 16.9 ppg (18.0 SEC), 4.8 apg
(HON. MENTION) Chris Lofton, Jr., Tennessee: Still doubtful for this weekend's big game vs. No. 1 Florida, Lofton nonetheless deserves a place on this list, even if it's in the honorable mention category for now. His gimpy ankle might be keeping him from taking the court, but his importance to his team cannot be overstated. Props to the Vols for overcoming his absence in a must-win over Georgia.
Numbers: 21.5 ppg (19 ppg SEC*), 51 FG%, 81% FT, 46% 3FG
Others on the cusp: Randolph Morris (Kentucky), Jermareo Davidson (Alabama), Jamont Gordon (Miss. St.), JuJuan Smith (Tennessee)