Accentuate the Positive
A lot of times in our society, everything seems to focus on the negative. The negative is always the easiest thing to write about. Regular readers of this column know that. At this point in the college basketball season, everyone's energy should be focused on March Madness. The conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament comprise some of the most exciting weeks in the sports calendar. It is sad when negative stories take away from the games on the court. St. Bonaventure was ruled ineligible from their conference tournament and decided to just quit their final games. The University of Georgia has withdrawn from the SEC conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament due to rule infractions involving Head Coach Jim Harrick. And even Duke, supposedly the most pristine program in college basketball, has a player coming off the bench and attacking another team's head coach. Oddly enough, this marks the second year in a row that a Duke player has come off the bench and accosted someone, you may remember Matt Christensen going after the referee following Duke's loss to Indiana in the tournament last year. Of course, you will never hear ESP(ACC)N reporting anything negative about Coach K or his group of "quality" student-athletes. Coming close to breaking my own rule about being negative, let's discard this train of thought and instead focusing on what was a great year in the Southeastern Conference, the toughest conference in all the land, and the University of Kentucky Wildcats' remarkable 16-0 run.
It is this 16-0 record that makes the vote for SEC Player and Coach of the Year very easy. UK Senior Keith Bogans and Head Coach Tubby Smith. Congratulations! Bogans may not have the stats as someone such as Tennessee's Ron Slay or Georgia's Jarvis Hayes, but he was the best player on the best team. If Bogans really wanted to, he could average 20 points a game, but then UK would not be 16-0. Instead, he realizes the team comes first and has adjusted his game to fit into the framework Tubby Smith has set. And speaking of Tubby Smith, he is the mastermind behind a team that, during conference play, is the number two offensive team at 74.8 points per game, the top defense at 58.9 points per, the highest scoring margin at +15.9, the highest field-goal percentage at .478 on offense, and the lowest, .411 on defense. Let's not forget the league leading .284 percentage they allow on threes and the fact they are number one in rebounding offense, rebounding defense, and rebound margin. When you look at these stats, it is easy to understand why they were 16-0.
The Freshman of the Year award goes to someone who, to be honest, is not a personal favorite. Anthony Roberson of Florida is the kind of trash-talking youngster that has hopefully learned a lesson or two during his first year in the SEC. That being said, the kid is a player, and considering the rather mediocre point guards in conference, could be setting himself up to reign on the All-Conference teams for the next couple of years. His teammate Matt Walsh had the hotter start, but really faded once conference play began. Besides, while Roberson seemed to back up his talk with some big shots, Walsh simply became the guy that should have gone to Duke. Seriously, look at him. The headband and hair, the flopping all over the floor, and the whining to the referees; this guy has Duke written all over him. If you close your eyes you can see him shoving other team's coaches right now.
When picking my All-SEC teams, tradition was broken in the form of actually listening to ESPN/ABC commentator Dick Vitale. Usually he is just a whole bunch of hot-air nonsense and trite clichés, but he makes a good point about naming All-America teams. He chooses a point guard, a shooting guard, a small forward, a power forward, and a center, instead of the more traditional five best overall players. In his mind, simply picking the five best players, regardless of position, is akin to naming an All-American football team with eight quarterbacks, and he is right. That is why my first team features Bogans at shooting guard, Slay at small forward, Matt Bonner of Florida at power forward, and Mario Austin of Mississippi State at center. Point guard is a little odd, simply because there is no dominant point guard out there. So let's go with South Carolina's Chuck Eidson. He is in the top five in assists and steals, while at the same time being the only point guard averaging in double figures. Also, it yields the chance to use the best quote of the season by Wildcat Gerald Fitch. Fitch describing Eidson, said, "When you look at him he doesn't look like a basketball player. He just looks like some guy who likes school." This would be the opposite of UK point guard Cliff Hawkins who, after returning from academic suspension simply said, "I hate school."
The second team features Georgia forward Jarvis Hayes, who could be the most talented player in the league, Auburn's Marquis Daniels, whose stats are simply amazing, Erwin Dudley of Alabama, and Ronald Dupree of LSU. Hawkins had a chance to be on here as the second team point guard, but that honor instead goes to Georgia guard Rashad Wright. The third team has Wildcats Fitch, Chuck Hayes, and Marquis Estill, and are rounded out with Matt Freije of Vanderbilt and Ezra Williams of Georgia.
Arizona, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma, Kansas, Xavier, and Maryland are among the top teams in the nation that have fallen to SEC schools this year. There is a reason the SEC, and not the Big 12, is the number one conference in the Ratings Percentgae Index (RPI). Hopefully, this great SEC season will carry over to the NCAA Tournament, where even without Georgia, they should be awarded six to seven bids. It all begins this weekend at the SEC Tournament and hopefully, with the first tip, the focus will be back to basketball action on the court, and all the other scandals can wait until another day.
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