Freeze Frame: Evaluating SEC Player of the Year Candidates

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 15th, 2016

If you tune into ESPN to watch college basketball sometime this season, there is a very good chance that you”ll hear about LSU freshman Ben Simmons during the broadcast. He has been the most discussed college basketball player this year, finding himself on the midseason short list for National Player of the Year even after LSU’s disastrous non-conference performance. Correspondingly, Simmons is without question the front-runner for SEC Player of the Year as well, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other outstanding players in the league. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we will evaluate several SEC players vying for the hardware.

Ben Simmons is the frontrunner for SEC player of the year (

Ben Simmons is the frontrunner for SEC Player of the Year (

The favorite – Simmons, LSU: It is hard to envision a scenario where Simmons would not be the SEC Player of the Year at the end of this season. The hype bestowed upon the freshman encourages a corresponding search for his flaws, but it’s impossible to deny his otherworldly talent. In nitpicking any weaknesses, (to wit: his lack of help side defense, as noted in an earlier Freeze Frame; and an inability to shoot the ball from the perimeter), we may have forgotten how historically good Simmons’ freshman year has been.

You may have heard of a few of these guys.

You may have heard of a few of these guys (Data compiled using basketball-reference. com).

The Tigers’ star is one of only five freshmen since 1995-96 who has averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in his first season. The bonus is that Simmons now has the Tigers playing better in league play, to the point that they appear likely to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid — a feat that seemed all but impossible just a couple of weeks ago.

If not Simmons, who? – Stefan Moody, Ole Miss: If Simmons doesn’t win the award, it should probably go to Moody. Moody is putting up 24.4 points, 4.1 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game while maintaining an offensive rating of 114.3 (according to KenPom). His insane range out to 30 feet makes Ole Miss a threat to beat any team simply because he is capable of going off on any given night. Against LSU, Moody put up shots from the “L” and the “U” near half-court. As long as he keeps making some of those and the Rebels keep winning (12-4 overall, 2-2 in SEC play), the senior guard will remain in this discussion.

The most valuable player to his team’s success – Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: Ulis has been on the floor for all but seven minutes of action during conference play. Kentucky knows what it is like to be without its lightning-quick point guard — the sophomore was injured during the South Florida game and remained out for the next game against Illinois State — and it doesn’t want to relive those particular memories. If a case were to be made for Ulis winning the SEC Player of the Year award, it would be on the premise that he is the most valuable player to his team.


A more aggressive Ulis may not be a bad thing for the Cats.

Ulis has been a lot more aggressive offensively recently, scoring 20 or more points in four of his last five games. Earlier this season, the sophomore penetrated with the intent of dishing off to an open teammate. Kentucky’s half-court offensive sets against Mississippi State on Tuesday show that Ulis was looking to pull up for the jumper and find his own points once he got into the lane. The above frames exhibit three scoring opportunities stitched together to reveal the natural passer seeking space to score — even when teammates were available for the dish. This isn’t a bad thing for the Wildcats.

The best player on the best team – Jalen Jones, Texas A&M: It is not a stretch to say that Jalen Jones is the best player on what could end up being the SEC’s league champion this season. Texas A&M sits at 4-0 in conference play and also owns the advantage of hosting its only matchups with fellow contenders Kentucky and South Carolina. The Aggies draw Vanderbilt and LSU twice, but it means that they will host pretty much every top contender in the SEC race before the end of regular season play. If you are the type of person to lay down a sports wager, you should consider taking Texas A&M to win the SEC regular season race. And if you are the type that gives the SEC Player of the Year nod to the best player on the best team, then you should think about casting a vote for Jones.


Jalen Jones has been stretching the floor for the Aggies.

Since conference play began, Jones is averaging 23.0 points per game with a 129.1 offensive rating. One aspect of his offensive repertoire that has been exceptional for a 6’7″ power forward is his efficiency from the outside. He has made 13-of-29 shots (44.8%) from long range on the season. Above is a screen grab of his trio of three-point makes against Florida. Jones has deep range, and you will see that the Gators defended him moderately well, with a hand up, on each of his perimeter shots. If Jones continues to improve and the Aggies stay at the top of the league standings, we should continue to hear the senior’s name associated with multiple postseason honors.

The darkhorse – Moses Kingsley: Arkansas currently sits at 3-1 in conference play, tied for second in the league with Kentucky and LSU. It’s hard to expect the Razorbacks to stay in that spot for very long, but their home court advantage gives them some hope. Arkansas’ next two home games are against Kentucky and Texas A&M, so if Mike Anderson’s group can pull off one of those two upset opportunities and protect its floor the rest of the way, we could be looking at a surprising top-five finish for the Hawgs.

According to KenPom, Arkansas has the SEC’s top offensive efficiency rating, effective field goal percentage and three point percentage since conference play began. One of the big reasons it is operating so efficiently is because of the emergence of Kingsley. The junior’s breakout year has given Arkansas a true target on the low block. Kingsley averaged 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds per game a season ago, but his leap to 17.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game is impressive. Furthermore, his 2.7 blocks per game separates him from several of the other candidates for this award. Historically speaking, Kingsley’s ability to rebound and block shots puts him in elite SEC company.

Kingsley's block % and defensive rebounding numbers put him in a class with Karl-Anthony Towns, Nerlens Noel, and Anthony Davis, among others.

Kingsley’s block % and defensive rebounding numbers put him in a class with Karl-Anthony Towns, Nerlens Noel, and Anthony Davis, among others (data compiled from KenPom).

So while it’s entirely possible that this discussion will not need to venture past Simmons’ name come March, there are a handful of talented SEC stars ready and waiting to push him for postseason accolades. At a minimum, this quintet of players could round out a well-deserving all-SEC first team in just a couple months.

Brian Joyce (333 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.

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3 responses to “Freeze Frame: Evaluating SEC Player of the Year Candidates”

  1. Fascinating article, as always. The SEC POY is definitely on this page. Kevin Punter might be in the running too if Tennessee had won a few of those close games in the non-con.

  2. Brian Joyce says:

    Yeah, if the SEC goes with eight players on its first team All-SEC (as it likes to do), then Punter, Jamal Murray, Danuel House, Wade Baldwin, and Kareem Canty all have a pretty good stake at finding themselves on that list.

  3. Brian Joyce says:

    There is a mistake in the last chart (the one paired with Moses Kingsley). Karl-Anthony Towns had a defensive rebounding percentage of 22.3%, not 52.2% (which would be pretty incredible). My apologies…

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