David Cloninger

Cloninger: My All-SEC men’s ballot

Tyler Ulis deserves SEC Player of the Year while Ben Simmons (right) should win SEC Freshman of the Year.
Tyler Ulis deserves SEC Player of the Year while Ben Simmons (right) should win SEC Freshman of the Year. AP

The SEC will announce its coaches’ SEC awards Tuesday and a couple of Gamecocks could be named. I’m thinking USC could have its first first-team All-SEC member since 2010 and its first SEC superlative since 2011.

First, some details. Tuesday 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

Michael Carrera, South Carolina

Damian Jones, Vanderbilt

Jamal Murray, Kentucky

Ben Simmons, LSU

Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

Second-team All-SEC

Jalen Jones, Texas A&M

Moses Kingsley, Arkansas

Yante Maten, Georgia

Stefan Moody, Ole Miss

Kevin Punter, Tennessee

Just missed

Again, I only picked 10, and I give a lot of weight to where the team finished (which is why Moody and Punter, the league’s top two scorers, are on the second team. The Rebels did win 10 SEC games but when it came down to Moody and Murray, I had to pick Murray). I’m sure some of these will make it on the SEC’s list.

Wade Baldwin, Vanderbilt

Alex Caruso, Texas A&M

Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida

J.J. Frazier, Georgia

Dusty Hannahs, Arkansas

Retin Obasohan, Alabama

Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina

Gavin Ware, Mississippi State

All-defensive team

Alex Caruso, Texas A&M

Moses Kingsley, Arkansas

Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt

Ben Simmons, LSU

Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

All-freshman team

KeVaughn Allen, Florida

Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky

Jamal Murray, Kentucky

Ben Simmons, LSU

Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State

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

He was the guy that took over when Kentucky was struggling, and led it to yet another regular-season championship. Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis quarterbacked the Wildcats’ offense and defense and was the most valuable player to his team. He finished sixth in scoring, first in assists, first in assist/turnover ratio, sixth in steals and first in minutes. It’s an easy choice.

Freshman of the Year

If ever there was a prize dictated before the season, it was this one. LSU’s Ben Simmons was certainly worth the hype, although his team couldn’t put it together to get him to the NCAA tournament (at least, not as of this writing). The statistics are mind-boggling – not just the points (19.7) and rebounding (11.9) but the assists (5.1) and steals (1.9). How does a guy that big move so quickly?

Defensive Player of the Year

Many good candidates, including Ulis and Simmons. While each are certainly great at everything they do, I think the award should go to a guy who eats, sleeps and breathes defense, and who also helped lead his team to a regular-season championship. Texas A&M’s Alex Caruso is not going to be missed by any of the guys he guarded.

6th Man of the Year

A hard category to judge, since all of the guys that leaped to mind also started some of the year. Derek Willis and Skal Labissiere certainly played well for Kentucky but switched in and out of the starting five, while the same could be said for Josh Gray and Jalyn Patterson of LSU and Florida’s Devin Robinson.

I’d have to look at South Carolina’s Duane Notice for averaging 11.2 points per game and only starting five (granted, the last five). Throughout the Gamecocks’ first 26 games, he was the first option off the bench to supply instant offense. He became a starter when USC’s offense was starting games too slowly.

Coach of the Year

A lot of thinking for this one. Texas A&M’s Billy Kennedy took the Aggies to their first conference championship in 30 years, and that was after a 7-0 SEC start became a five-game-losing streak, only to finish with six straight wins. Kentucky’s John Calipari again lost an entire first team and huge parts of a second to the NBA, but responded with another conference title after having to “tweak” the system mid-stream. Kevin Stallings again led Vanderbilt to a top-five finish after dealing with a lot of injuries during the year.

The detractors here: The Aggies were supposed to be good and were good, and if Kennedy were to win, he should share it with assistant coach Rick Stansbury, who was instrumental in recruiting those dynamite freshmen. Calipari, despite his terrific coaching, is always going to fall into that, “Kentucky was supposed to be good, was good, so what?” category. Stallings did finish strong, but it’s like A&M and Kentucky – the Commodores were supposed to be good, being picked second in the preseason poll, and finished slightly less than that.

The award should go to a man who took a team predicted seventh to a third-place finish, just its fourth winning league season in 25 years and got a must-have win at the most hostile environment in the conference despite missing his best player. He’ll also be taking SEC stepchild South Carolina to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004. Frank Martin, you earned it.

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