David Cloninger

Cloninger: My all-SEC ballot

My opinion on who should win SEC Player of the Year.
My opinion on who should win SEC Player of the Year. tglantz@thestate.com

The SEC will announce its coaches’ SEC awards Tuesday and as it has been for the past two years, it should be stocked with Gamecocks. The question is, which ones will win what?

First, some details. Today is the coaches’ awards, where coaches can’t vote for their own players. The media awards will be released in around two weeks (yes, I vote; no, I haven’t received my ballot).

The first and second teams will feature 7-10 players, because the SEC’s system of not breaking ties (and such a limited base of 14 ballots) leaves a lot of honorees. I’ll list my top two groups of five below, and I’m sure all 10 of them will wind up on the SEC’s lists (perhaps all on their first team).

So (regardless of position):

First-team All-SEC

Makayla Epps, Kentucky

Tiffany Mitchell, South Carolina

Victoria Vivians, Mississippi State

Courtney Walker, Texas A&M

A’ja Wilson, South Carolina

Second-team All-SEC

Alaina Coates, South Carolina

Sophie Cunningham, Missouri

Tiaria Griffin, Georgia

Jessica Jackson, Arkansas

Ronni Williams, Florida

Just missed

Again, I only picked 10. I’m sure some of these will make it on the SEC’s list.

Shacobia Barbee, Georgia

Eleanna Christinaki, Florida

Bashaara Graves, Tennessee

Katie Frerking, Auburn

Jordan Frericks, Missouri

Jordan Jones, Texas A&M

Shandricka Sessom, Ole Miss

Tra’Cee Tanner, Auburn

Morgan William, Mississippi State

All-defensive team

Shacobia Barbee, Georgia

Alaina Coates, South Carolina

Katie Frerking, Auburn

Mercedes Russell, Tennessee

A’ja Wilson, South Carolina

All-freshman team

Eleanna Christinaki, Florida

Sophie Cunningham, Missouri

Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State

Caliya Robinson, Georgia

Cierra Porter, Missouri

Now for the big prizes. There will be a Scholar-Athlete of the Year but there’s no way I can predict that.

The others:

SEC Player of the Year

Dawn Staley said last week that she thinks the Player of the Year is on her team, from among A’ja Wilson, Tiffany Mitchell and Alaina Coates. What she was hoping is that the three don’t split votes, therefore pushing another candidate to the top.

All three had stellar seasons, as did Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians, Kentucky’s Makayla Epps and Texas A&M’s Courtney Walker.

Many subscribe to the “best player from the best team” for POY, and with USC dominating the schedule this year, there’s logic to that. Coates led the league in rebounding and averaged a double-double, while Mitchell was her sterling self with nearly 15 points per game and every big shot USC had to have.

I thought in the preseason the Gamecocks would have a third straight Player of the Year, and I think I’ll be right. I think I’ll also be right that Mitchell will hand the award to Wilson, who was third in scoring, fourth in rebounding and first by a mile in blocked shots.

(And I do think there may be some folks who vote for Mitchell or someone else because they figure, “Wilson will win Defensive Player of the Year.” I hate that thinking. Give it to the winner, not the best candidates for Everybody Gets a Trophy.)

Freshman of the Year

She had the hype for it before the season began, and when she set the school single-game scoring record four games in, that was just the start. Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham finished 11th in the league in scoring and won six Freshman of the Week awards.

Defensive Player of the Year

Again, I hope they don’t split this just so another name can get called. Wilson deserves it after her stunning performance blocking shots and finishing fourth in rebounding.

6th Woman of the Year

Lot of strong candidates, but I’d have to say Cassie Peoples of Florida rises to the top. She averages over nine points and two assists per game, plays 18 minutes and only started three games. The Gators also finished fourth.

Coach of the Year

It was an award that really switched back and forth throughout the season. Terri Williams-Flournoy had Auburn in fourth place until a late skid, Joni Taylor had Georgia in fourth just a week ago and Gary Blair guided A&M to a second-place finish despite not having Courtney Williams for a lot of the season. Amanda Butler took Florida to a fourth-place finish after not going to the postseason last year.

Most people would say it’s not that good of a coaching job to take an already great team and keep it great, but look at what USC didn’t have this year – lost seniors, a thin bench, injuries – and it actually improved. The Gamecocks went 16-0.

Dawn Staley, take it a third time.

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