Casting our ballots: SEC

February, 29, 2012
2/29/12
9:45
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Editor’s Note: To see our expert picks for each of the nation’s 12 top conferences, click here. To cast your vote in these races, visit SportsNation.

A quick assessment of the player and coach of the year races in the SEC:

Player of the year

No player in the SEC has altered the outcome of games more than Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. Opposing coaches have to worry about him blocking, altering and affecting shots before they’ve even been attempted.

[+] EnlargeDavis
Mark Zerof/US PresswireKentucky freshman Anthony Davis has been the most dominant player in the SEC this season.
He is now scoring facing the basket as well as on the offensive backboard, on the break or on an alley-oop. He had his most complete performance against Vanderbilt last weekend with 28 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks. Davis was seen as a huge get for John Calipari last spring because of his ability to dominate the defensive end. But his evolution as an offensive threat has made him a complete player, Kentucky a national title contender and Davis the SEC player of the year -- and possibly the national player of the year as he tussles with Thomas Robinson of Kansas.

If there was a No. 2 in the SEC race, then it might be Davis’ teammate in Lexington, fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Vanderbilt's Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins have put up great numbers, but haven't always been great in the biggest games as the Commodores vacillated between a true contender and a team that is a notch below the Wildcats.

Coach of the year

You could make a case for Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin or maybe LSU’s Trent Johnson if either of those schools finishes in the top four, which is still plausible here in the final week of the regular season. Both of those programs were picked to finish in the bottom third of the league and both coaches have done outstanding jobs surviving rough stretches of play.

But really, there is no other choice than John Calipari. Kentucky’s dominance in the SEC has been as impressive as the sport has seen in a power-six conference this season. For the third straight season, Calipari has taken a team led by freshmen and risen to the top of the league.

Calipari has managed sophomore Terrence Jones well and found a way to work around a still-developing Marquis Teague at the point. Davis has continued to become a complete player by being a much more offensive presence to match his dominance on the back line. Kidd-Gilchrist has been the most impressive offensive player with the Cats and their hardest worker. Doron Lamb, Darius Miller and Kyle Wiltjer have all had their moments.

Calipari has blended each one of them and used them effectively. The road woes of a year ago are no more. This may not be his most talented team at Kentucky (the first one still holds that distinction), but it clearly is his best shot at winning a national title.

Kentucky obviously has the most talent of any team in the SEC, but Calipari still had to manage it and win consistently. He’s done that without a hiccup. He’s the SEC Coach of the Year.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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