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Handicapping the SEC Player of the Year race

Missouri has a few potential candidates, but they might be cancelling each other out.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

One of the nice things about the Missouri Tigers this season is how they’re willing to sacrifice individual stats in a trade-off for a win. Sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of inconsistency.

But the topic has come up a couple times recently (ok, like two people asked me about it on Twitter) so I figured I’d take a brief look into the race and see where we might end up. So here are my caveats... You have to be a top 3 scorer on a top half of the league team, averaging at least 11.5 points a game. On top of that, you need to have played in all of your team’s games in conference, and averaged 62.5% of minutes played (25mpg over 40), and have an Offensive Rating of over 104. Once you submit that list, you are able to eliminate a few players from contention. So here’s the list:

SEC Player of the Year Candidates

Team Record Player PPG ORtg %Min
Team Record Player PPG ORtg %Min
Alabama 11-1 Jaden Shackleford 13.9 108 73.9
Alabama 11-1 John Petty 13.1 113.8 74.2
Alabama 11-1 Herb Jones 11.9 104.3 66.7
Missouri 6-3 Dru Smith 14 108.7 81.1
Missouri 6-3 Jeremiah Tilmon 13.3 111.4 69.6
Arkansas 7-4 Moses Moody 16.4 119.2 80
Florida 6-4 Tre Mann 14.5 104 77.3
LSU 6-4 Cameron Thomas 22.3 109.7 78.5
LSU 6-4 Trendon Watford 16.8 108 79.1
LSU 6-4 Ja'Vonte Smart 15.4 111.8 80.6

Taking from only teams with a winning record removes from good players from lower ranked teams. Here’s the KenPom top five:

kenpom all sec

One of the things KenPom factors in is usage. All of the top 5 are high usage. Cameron Thomas is at 31.4%, Xavier Pinson also pulls in 31.4%, and so does Scotty Pippen, Jr... kinda weird, but ok. Tre Mann is at 25.6%, and Herb Jones is at a career high of 23.6%.

You’ll notice Pinson isn’t on the first chart, and that’s because his Offensive Efficiency is under 100. Pinson’s %min is 64.8% (about 27mpg), and his points per game is a robust 14.6, which is 11th in the league. I still think Pinson can get into the mix here because the underlying numbers are going to give him a shot. He’s high usage and takes a good amount of shots, and while he’s had huge games in league play (23 vs Arkansas, 27 vs Tennessee) he’s also disappeared in others (2 vs South Carolina, 7 vs Texas A&M). If Pinson can find a more consistent middle ground, he can find himself back in the race quickly.

Meanwhile, Dru Smith has been the opposite of Pinson. He started slow (6 points each against Tennessee and Arkansas) but has since stabilized to be a very consistent offensive player. Since then, he’s averaging 16.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.5 steals and he’s shooting over 50% from 2FG and 37.8% from 3FG. So Smith seems to be the more consistent player,

Jeremiah Tilmon has been terrific this year; he’s averaging over 13 points a game but only had 35 points against Alabama, Kentucky and both Tennessee games combined. 8.75 points a game against two top four teams and Kentucky isn’t great, but a 14.4 points per game average against the entire league is certainly notable.

Missouri has three players who still clearly have a chance at Player of the Year at this point through the season. Mizzou has played 9 games, and obviously COVID can still play a role, but I think if you’re handicapping the list to this point, all three Tigers have a shot but can also cancel each other out. The same with Alabama— Jaden Shackleford, John Petty, and Herbert Jones are all equally important to the Tide and their success.

It would seem a long shot that the player of the year would come from a lower level team, although you shouldn’t discount D.J. Stewart, Iverson Molinar, Scotty Pippen, Jr or even Devontae Shuler from their chances. But the odds are longer if your team doesn’t finish anywhere close to the top of the standings. The goal for those players is to get their team to .500 or better in league play and hope.

As it stands, there is still a long way to go. But I like Dru Smith and Herb Jones at this point. Most voters recognize their two-way ability, and they’re on the top and second ranked teams in the current league standings. But there’s a long way to go.