UK Men's Basketball

Competitive balance makes for difficult voting. Here’s my All-SEC ballot.

University of Kentucky star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was selected in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft.
University of Kentucky star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was selected in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft. aslitz@herald-leader.com

With Southeastern Conference basketball being so competitive this season, it only seems right that a share-the-wealth spirit guide all-league voting.

So there’s more than one Player of the Year and Coach of the Year on my ballot.

My choices for Players of the Year are Jared Harper of Auburn, Grant Williams of Tennessee and Chris Chiozza of Florida.

The Co-Coaches of the Year are Bruce Pearl of Auburn and Rick Barnes of Tennessee. Each led their teams to surprising success.

As for All-SEC, here are the first-teamers (with comments going into this final weekend attached):

Jared Harper, Auburn. One of only 10 players in the country, and the only SEC player, to have 170 assists and shoot 80 percent or better from the free-throw line. His assist-to-turnover ratio is better than 2-to-1 (170-66). His seven assists against Kentucky marked the 14th game he’d had that many or more assists. Chiozza had the second most such games with 13. LSU freshman Tremont Waters had 10. Oh yeah, Harper also was the floor general for the SEC’s surprise team of the season.

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Point guard Jared Harper helped keep Auburn in the hunt for an SEC championship. Jeff Roberson AP

Chris Chiozza, Florida. With his first assist against Kentucky on Saturday, he’ll become Florida’s career leader. He led the SEC in assists, steals and turnover margin. This classic point guard was fun to watch and admire.

Grant Williams, Tennessee. In Tuesday’s victory at Mississippi State, Williams took only three shots and scored eight points. This was a testament to not forcing the action against double- and triple-teaming. He contributed seven rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes. His combination of fun-loving spirit and under-sized effectiveness in the low post inspired Jay Bilas to call him “Baby Barkley.”

Yante Maten, Georgia. Led the SEC in scoring in all games and league games. Only player ranked in the SEC’s top 10 in scoring, rebounding, field goal accuracy and free-throw accuracy. In the last 10 years, only eight players have finished a season ranked in the top 10 in all four of those categories. Maten can do it for the second time in his career. A model of consistency in a college season marked by ebbs and flows.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky. When Coach John Calipari declared him UK’s best player, no one objected. Hard to protest when Gilgeous-Alexander led the Cats in assists, steals, free-throw percentage, minutes and leadership.

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Florida senior Chris Chiozza is averaging 11.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game. Mark Humphrey AP

And the second teamers:

Kevin Knox, Kentucky. By expanding his game beyond the catch-and-shoot, he cemented his status as UK’s go-to guy. Entering Saturday, he had scored 20 or more points in the last three games and reached double digits in seven straight. And he can still catch-and-shoot, as evidenced by making 13 of his last 31 three-point shots.

Admiral Schofield, Tennessee. He was arguably the SEC’s most productive player the second half of the league schedule. After Schofield scored 24 points at Mississippi State on Tuesday, which was three days after a career-high 25 at Ole Miss, teammate Lamonte Turner said, “He’s been our anchor.”

Tyler Davis, Texas A&M. He has been a consistent player (14.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg) in a season where nothing seemed to come easy for the Aggies. He went into this weekend with 1,280 career points, which ranked 15th in program history and which seemed remarkable given how A&M has lacked a player who could consistently feed the post since Alex Caruso departed after 2015-16.

grant williams
Tennessee forward Grant Williams is averaging 15.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this season. Rogelio V. Solis AP

Kassius Robertson, Missouri. In league games, he led in three-point accuracy (45.2 percent), three-pointers per game (3.4) and minutes per game (38.2). He was also fifth in scoring (17.7 ppg). The former player for Canisius figures to only make the graduate transfer more trendy.

Daryl Macon-Jaylen Barford, Arkansas. They became the 42nd and 43rd players in school history to score 1,000 points in a career. They are the sixth and seventh Arkansas players to do so in two seasons. Macon had a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (119-55), and was a clutch free-throw shooter (26 of 28 in the last minute or overtime). He scored Arkansas’ final 16 points in a double-overtime victory at Georgia and a career-high 33 in an overtime victory over Tennessee.

Attendance figures

Since Rupp Arena opened in 1976, either Kentucky or Syracuse has led the nation in average home attendance every season. In all but eight seasons, UK and Syracuse finished one-two or two-one.

On average, fewer than 1,000 fans separated Kentucky and Syracuse in the attendance race going into this final weekend of the regular season.

Kentucky’s announced attendance for home games this season averaged 21,875.

Syracuse had averaged 21,062 in home attendance going into Saturday’s game against Clemson. Like Kentucky, Syracuse had no seniors. So there was no sentimental sendoff on Senior Day to potentially boost attendance for the game against Clemson.

This is time-lapse footage of 22,108 basketball fans filing in and out of the stands at Rupp Arena as Kentucky played Ole Miss.

Syracuse also figures to get home games in the NIT, which doesn’t figure to excite fans. But the final average remains in flux.

One other thing about Kentucky’s average. Open Records requests showed that the turnstile count for UK home games averaged 17,408 this season. So the announced attendance average — which is an estimate of everyone in the arena, not just ticket holders — reflected a 25.7 percent markup.

Crew change

For the first time since 1988, the stats crew that works UK home games will not be compiling official numbers at this year’s SEC Tournament.

The SEC will use the stats crew that is working the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament this week at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The crew has years of experience working Missouri Valley Conference and NCAA tournaments, the SEC said.

It was a matter of convenience to use a stats crew already in place in St. Louis, SEC spokesman Craig Pinkerton wrote in an email.

The UK stats crew hopes to resume working the SEC Tournament when the league returns the event to Nashville next year (and for six of the next seven years).

Pep rally

As is customary, the UK Alumni Association plans to play host to a pep rally in conjunction with the SEC Tournament. The Ballpark Village in downtown St. Louis is the planned site. The first rally will begin about three hours prior to UK’s opening game in the tournament.

Additional details will be announced once the SEC announces the date and time for UK’s first game.

Legislating morality

When asked Tuesday about policing college basketball, UK Coach John Calipari put it plainly. “You can’t legislate morality,” he said.

That seems especially true when trying to corral highly competitive people like college coaches.

Kevin Knox had 22 points and Quade Green added 18, including eight during a 15-5 second-half run that helped No. 23 Kentucky pull away from Mississippi for a 96-78 victory Wednesday night.

At SEC Media Day last October, Georgia Coach Mark Fox used remarkable candor in describing the competitive zeal among coaches. Perhaps the same applies to agents, shoe companies, players and their families.

“If I play cards with my kid, OK, I’m going to do everything I’ve got to do to win,” Fox said. “When competition is involved, you get people out of bounds. That’s why we have referees. When people’s greed outweighs their ethical values, you get some significant problems.”

Payback?

On his radio show Monday, John Calipari raised a question about the previous week’s game at Arkansas.

“You know what they had on the ticket?” he asked. “A picture of a player? A picture of the school? A picture of the arena? What did they have on the ticket? The words ‘This game is a payback.’ What? A payback for what?”

Answer: Arkansas put a variety of quotes on tickets for home games this season. For instance, the ticket for the Hogs’ game against Texas A&M had the words, “I’ve got to go out there and play every game like it’s my last.”

The quotes, including the one about payback, relate to the painful loss to eventual national champion North Carolina in the 2017 NCAA Tournament and Arkansas’ desire to get over the metaphorical hump.

Mike Phillips missed

Jack Givens choked back tears during a Feb. 22 news conference as he spoke of former UK teammate Mike Phillips, who died at age 59 on April 25, 2015.

“This is the first time we’ve been together without Mike,” Givens said before tears welled in his eyes.

After pausing to regain his composure, Givens added, “and we miss the big fella.”

Phillips’ widow attended the reunion ceremony at halftime of last weekend’s game against Missouri.

Sweeps

Kansas clinched its 14th straight Big 12 championship last week. That eclipsed the previous record the Jayhawks shared with UCLA, which won 13 straight conference titles in the 1960s and 1970s.

Here’s a nugget found in a USA Today story: During the 15 seasons that Bill Self has been coach, Kansas has never been swept by a Big 12 opponent.

For perspective: In that same 15-year period, Kentucky has been swept nine times: Tennessee in 2018, Florida and Arkansas in 2014, South Carolina in 2009, Florida and Vanderbilt in 2007, Florida and Vanderbilt in 2006 and Georgia in 2004.

Happy birthday

To Florida Coach Mike White. He turned 41 on Friday. . . . To former Louisville coach Denny Crum. He turned 81 on Friday. . . . To Tom Leach. The radio voice of UK basketball turns 57 on Saturday. . . . To Dale Barnstable. He turns 93 on Sunday . . . . To Shaquille O’Neal. He turns 46 on Tuesday.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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