SEC Tournament Preview: Who Will Be the Surprise Player in Atlanta?Posted by Brian Joyce on March 12th, 2014
In anticipation of all the action at the Georgia Dome later this week, the SEC microwriters will be previewing the SEC Tournament by answering several of the key questions heading into the event in a roundtable format. Today’s burning question goes in depth on the individual performances we could see this weekend. After being snubbed for an All SEC first team selection in 2013, Marshall Henderson went on a tear through last year’s SEC tournament guiding Ole Miss to a surprise championship and claiming MVP. Who will be the surprise breakout player of this year’s tournament?
Christian D’Andrea (@trainisland): Georgia sophomore Kenny Gaines was the second-leading scorer for the third-best team in the SEC, but was completely snubbed by the media in this week’s All-SEC honors. In fact, Gaines may be the conference’s most overlooked guard. He’s hitting the SEC Tournament after averaging 18.6 points per game over his last seven and shooting a blistering 56.8 percent from long range over that span. He could outshine players like Marshall Henderson, Jordan McRae, and Trevor Releford if he can carry his recent hot streak with him to Atlanta.
Brian Joyce (@bjoyce_hoops): Florida has been anchored all year by its senior class, but it has been a sophomore that has been dialed in lately. If Florida will win the SEC championship as I expect them to do on Sunday, those senior leaders will be looking for Michael Frazier to continue his hot shooting from beyond the arc. He’s hit at least two threes in every game since February 15th, including a record setting 11 three pointers last week in Columbia. Frazier has been incredibly efficient shooting 44 percent from deep, with a 63.1 effective field goal percentage, and a 126.7 offensive rating. Look for Florida to continue to feed the hot hand in Nashville all the way to an SEC championship.
David Changas (@dchangas): Kentucky has an incredible history in the SEC Tournament, having won it 27 times. This year, the Wildcats are limping into Atlanta, and no one seems to be talking about them. Despite their struggles, counting them out should be done at one’s own risk. Without the spotlight on them, they may actually be a bit of sleeper heading into the event. They have a relatively favorable draw, as they’ll get the Alabama/LSU winner Friday, and if they win there, should draw Georgia or Ole Miss Saturday. A player who could be a key to a run to the championship game for Kentucky is freshman forward James Young. Young is a supremely talented forward who has struggled to shoot the ball of late. But he’s the type of player who could get on a hot streak and propel the Wildcats by hitting outside shots and opening things up for Julius Randle and the other Kentucky big men. Young is already a known commodity in the league, having been named to the All-freshman team and to the All-SEC second team. Though he came to Lexington as a five-star recruit, Young didn’t have quite the acclaim of Randle or Andrew and Aaron Harrison, but he’s got the type of game that should translate well to March. Expect him to break out this week in Atlanta.
Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell): Kenny Gaines. Brian wrote about Georgia’s smoother path the final on Sunday (See no Florida) and that resonated with me. The Bulldogs have surprised all conference season, and why can’t that trend continue into the SEC tournament? Gaines seemingly hasn’t gotten as much attention as fellow sophomore Charles Mann, but he’s on a tear lately. He’s scored 49 points on 19-of-30 shooting in his last three games. Gaines has been a solid shooter all year long (38.5 3P%, 61.1 TS%), and there’s no reason he can’t continue that hot shooting into the weekend. Mann deserves some love too, and the more distribution-oriented guard (23.4% assist rate) could have a big tournament as well. Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown got the early love as the most dynamic big guard duo in the SEC, but Mann and Gaines could be poised to end the year with that title.