Handicapping the SEC POY Race Heading Into FebruaryPosted by Christian D'Andrea on January 29th, 2013
Christian D’Andrea is a microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can complain about his terrible oddsmaking in the comments, or find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.
The first three weeks of conference play have come and gone in the SEC, and we’ve uncovered some revelations about the league. Ole Miss, for example, showed that a weak non-conference schedule camouflaged an emerging team. Florida, who hasn’t played a league game that it hasn’t won by 17 points or more, is every bit the beast they were expected to be. Missouri and Kentucky, on the other hand, have struggled despite talented rosters. What’s less clear is who the best player in the conference is. Several athletes have stepped up this year, some big men like Nerlens Noel and Reginald Buckner to guards like Phil Pressey and Kenny Boynton. They’ll all have their chance to join legends like Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Bernard King, and Dan Langhi in earning SEC Player of the Year honors. So far, a surprising player leads the pack as January winds to a close. Ole Miss is 6-0 in conference play, and a big part of that revival has been thanks to Marshall Henderson’s shooting. He’s not the only one with his eyes on the SEC POY hardware, though. Let’s take a look at who is gunning for league honors, and where their odds stand nearly 20 games into the season.
- Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss (5:1 odds to win POY) – Well this is certainly surprising – at least to people not named Marshall Henderson. Henderson has been the catalyst behind Ole Miss’ surprising season by leading his team in scoring and swagger. The cocksure shooter has willed Mississippi to a 6-0 start in conference play. He leads the SEC in scoring and his shooting touch has pulled the Rebels out of tight games against Auburn, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. Henderson has plenty of negatives, though. He’s shooting less than 40 percent from the field and a big function of his game is having players like Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway up front to clean up his mess. He’s also an unreliable passer who averages more turnovers than assists from the backcourt. Still, he’s been the focal point of Mississippi’s 2013 revival, and his scoring and ability to come up big in the clutch have made him the POY front-runner as January winds down.
- Kenny Boynton, Florida (8:1) – Boynton’s early shooting woes suggested that he had returned to his low-efficiency ways, but the senior guard has been on fire for the Gators since SEC play started. In his past five games, Boynton has averaged 14.2 points on 51 percent shooting from the field while dishing 14 assists and only four turnovers. He’s also been a defensive pest who can disrupt passing lanes and harass opposing guards into bad shots. There’s no doubt that he’s Florida’s engine in the backcourt, and his vocal leadership and swagger give his game an edge that can’t be reflected through his statistical impact. He has been the veteran force behind the SEC’s most dominant program through three weeks of league play. Still, he’s a streaky player who is at risk to regress into a sub-40 percent shooter and take the Gators out of close games with his poor shot selection. He’s got work to do, but his standing on the league’s best team will earn him votes in March.
- Laurence Bowers, Missouri (8:1) – Mizzou is 12-2 with Bowers in the lineup and 3-2 without him this season. The senior forward, now freed up on the interior thanks to Alex Oriakhi’s presence, has been the Tigers’ most reliable scorer and his double-double performances against VCU, Stanford, and Illinois helped carry Missouri to an early top 10 ranking. He can score inside and out (averaging nearly a three-pointer per game) and his versatility makes him a nightmare match-up for opponents. The biggest question about Bowers will be his ability to return from a MCL sprain in the coming weeks. If he can return to his high level of play, then he’ll be a big-time candidate for POY honors. However, he’ll have to carry Mizzou to some big wins to get there. The Tigers have been hurting without him in the lineup, and a big run once he returns could be the most convincing evidence that Bowers is the SEC’s most valuable player.
- Murphy Holloway, Ole Miss (10:1) – While Henderson gets more of the hype, Holloway deserves his fair share of the credit for Ole Miss’s success as well. The 6’7″ forward is averaging a double-double and had developed into one of the SEC’s most efficient scorers in the paint. His 22-point performance led the Rebels past Mizzou earlier this year, and while his scoring has cooled lately he’s been a key element around the rim for Andy Kennedy. If he can put up 15/10 each night and guide Ole Miss to more big wins then he’ll give his teammate Henderson a run for league honors in March.
The Value Bets
- Phil Pressey, Missouri (15:1) – The shooting question posed when assessing Boynton and Henderson’s situations applies to Pressey as well. The junior point guard is a prolific shooter who misses shots at a steady rate – he’s shooting under 36 percent from the field. However, Pressey’s ability to distribute the ball and facilitate Missouri’s offense has been impressive. He’s seventh in the country and third amongst power-conference players in assists at 7.2 per game, even though that figure comes with a high turnover rate as well. A 10-turnover game against Florida has his A:TO rate slipping under a ratio of 2:1, and his poor performance in Mizzou’s SEC losses (6.0 PPG, 5.5 APG, 7.5 TOPG, 33.3% FG) could hurt his all-SEC chances. Pressey has established himself as the conference’s best distributor, but he’ll have to carry Missouri to bigger conference wins than Vanderbilt and South Carolina to be player of the year. If he can cut down on the careless mistakes and lead the Tigers to wins over Florida, Ole Miss, and Kentucky down the stretch, then he’ll be in the running for the league’s top honor.
- Erik Murphy, Florida (15:1) – Like Boynton, Murphy is competing for the best-player/best-team mantle that would earn him plenty of conventional votes from the Coaches and Associated Press alike. His floor-spacing ability has given the Gators an extra dimension and helped Florida develop into the SEC’s most efficient offense. He’s only playing 25 minutes per game thanks to a combination of foul trouble and UF’s recent blowouts, but he has made a significant impact in his playing time. Over his last five games, he’s averaging 14.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while making 50 percent of his three-point attempts.
- Nerlens Noel, Kentucky (25:1) – Noel has been Anthony Davis-lite for Kentucky, and his freshman season has only been a disappointment to fans who are measuring him up against the Wildcats’ last can’t-miss big man prospect. He’s been a shot-blocking monster in league play by averaging six blocks per game against SEC opponents. However, his offense is unreliable, he turns the ball over too much, and he plays for a team that has struggled to live up to expectations. If UK can harness its talent and make a run through the conference as the season wears on, Noel’s chances will increase significantly.
- Archie Goodwin OR Alex Poythress, Kentucky (30:1) – Poythress plays basketball with the body of a NBA player and the mind of diabolical 14-year-old who occasionally forgets how the game is played. His immense physical talents have given way to poor decision-making and lapses on both ends of the court, sometimes when Kentucky needs him the most. Goodwin is a scoring machine whose defense and streaky shooting have cost the Wildcats some winnable games this season. Both are immensely talented players, and either one is ripe to put things together and go on a tear that could move UK off the NCAA Tournament bubble and back into the spotlight. The Wildcats have suffered from a lack of cohesion this season after replacing their entire starting five from last year’s NCAA Championship team. If Goodwin or Poythress can unlock their potential this spring, either player could end up stealing POY honors as they guide Kentucky back to postseason success.
- Trevor Releford, Alabama (75:1) – Alabama’s revival in conference play has been driven by Releford, who is scoring 17.4 points per game against SEC foes. However, Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph might be more indispensable to the Tide’s success, despite having less gaudy stats. Releford is a contender if ‘Bama can keep up its 4-2 rate of play, but it’s tough to see him as a true POY contender unless he leads Alabama to some meaningful wins in conference play and this team to the NCAA Tournament.
- Elston Turner Jr., Texas A&M (75:1): Turner’s stock peaked when he exploded for 40 points in A&M’s upset win over Kentucky, but it’s been falling back to earth along with the Aggies in their recent four-game losing streak. He followed up his head-turning performance against the Wildcats with a four-point outing against Florida to raise questions about his consistency, and the Aggies’ losses to cellar-dwelling Georgia and LSU since then have effectively erased the good will from that Kentucky win.
- Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee (100:1) – Stokes is at the back of the pack right now, and he’ll need to mature quickly and lead Tennessee on a big-time winning streak to work his way into contention. His 15-point, 18-rebound performance in UT’s win over Alabama was an example of how he can do that, and Stokes’ size and strength in the paint may make him too much to ignore as the season winds down. If he can learn to tap into that scoring touch and become a two-way presence for 30 minutes per game in Knoxville, then he’ll push the Volunteers towards the NCAA Tournament bubble and move closer to league accolades in his second year. There are a lot of contingencies at play here, but Stokes has the ability to do something special.