Sports

The SEC's best: Cousins or Wall?

DeMarcus Cousins drew a comparison to Shaquille O'Neal and caused a coach to note the historical importance of big men in basketball. John Wall sparked a reference to that special category of players with the knack for making winning plays.

So which is Kentucky's Player of the Year, which is to say who is the Southeastern Conference's Player of the Year this season?

With the league coaches' Player of the Year scheduled to be announced Tuesday, opinion was divided on the SEC teleconference Monday.

Some coaches favored Wall, who made winning plays from the start (game-winning shot against Miami) to the finish (big three-pointer against Florida) of Kentucky's return-to-the-top regular season.

"It has to be a big factor," Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo said of Wall's ability to make the big play. "The cream rises to the top in those situations.

"Look at all the great players who ever played. When it's time for them to shine ... they are fearless to make plays, and they consistently make them."

Yet, Cousins provided remarkably consistent production in the low post. He led all SEC players with 18 double-doubles.

"I don't know if there's a lot of point guards at the level of John Wall," LSU Coach Trent Johnson said. "But also there are very few post guys playing college basketball as freshmen and doing what DeMarcus Cousins does. For me, it's just a preference. But if you ask anybody at any level, would you rather have a skilled, tenacious, tough-minded big man as opposed to a perimeter (player), you look at the history of basketball. I think a lot of guys would say you take the post."

The SEC wants a secret ballot, so no coach could say who he voted for as Player of the Year.

Likening the Wall-or-Cousins question to "splitting hair," Johnson suggested Kentucky Coach John Calipari was the best person to make a decision between the two.

But Calipari preferred to be inclusive.

"I think we have a bunch of them," he said when asked to identify his team's MVP.

Calipari noted Patrick Patterson's one-for-all approach in willingly ceding center stage to the freshmen. "Our team goes 29-2 because of his attitude, because of his approach," the UK coach said.

Kentucky also needed contributions from Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, Darius Miller, Darnell Dodson and DeAndre Liggins along the way, Calipari said.

When a reporter asked for help in selecting an SEC Player of the Year, Calipari said, "I'm going to let you do that." Then he added, "I would hope it comes from our team, though."

Wall and Cousins get an advantage in any MVP discussion because of the positions they play, some coaches said.

"You recruit ones and fives," said Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl, meaning point guards and low-post players, "and wind up finding a lot of twos, threes and fours (shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards)."

When noting his preparation for Kentucky, Pearl mentioned Cousins first.

"You have to game plan on Cousins," he said. "Particularly in the half-court, you've got to stop him. And in transition, you've got to do whatever you can to stop John Wall. We've not been able to stop John Wall in transition. I don't know who's been able to."

Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey called Cousins "the closest thing" to O'Neal, who dominated the league for LSU in the early 1990s.

"Physically, one man can't play him," Pelphrey said of Cousins. "That's a problem."

Pelphrey noted that if Cousins can be contained as a low-post scorer, the UK freshman big man can affect a game as a rebounder.

South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn called point guard the most important position on any team. "No question," he said.

"If you've got a terrific point guard, what it does for you as a coach is it eliminates a lot of concerns and worries. When you don't have one becomes pretty big and hard to deal with."

For Horn, winning makes the difference. "How has winning been impacted by what that young man has done," he said of Wall. "And there's no question he's had a huge impact on a team that's won an awfully lot."

Besides saluting Wall's fearlessness and confidence, Lebo noted the UK freshman's demeanor.

"He doesn't show a lot of emotion," the Auburn coach said. "He just gets it done. Everybody knows he's going to get it done. And they're trying to stop him from getting it done. And he still does it. That's what those great ones do."

As the LSU coach suggested, choosing between Wall and Cousins comes down to a personal preference.

Pearl noted that the good news for Kentucky is that either option is a Wildcat.

"Kentucky's got the best one and five in the league," the Tennessee coach said. "That's probably the biggest reason why they're so tough to beat."

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