Mike Siroky's SEC Tourney: Early Winners and Coaches' Awards
By Mike Siroky
The Southeastern Conference coaches offered few variations from its pre-season to post-season awards. The play-in games of the post-season conference tournament settled nothing.
The All-conference team is led by two-time Player of The Year A’Ja Wilson. South Carolina teammate Alaina Coates also made the first team. Victoria Vivians of Mississippi State also repeated, as did Diamond DeShields of Tennessee. Ronni Williams of Florida and Makayla Epps of Kentucky are in the first group. Epps, Coates and Williams are seniors. The rest are part of a magnificent junior class.
Missouri sharpshooter Sophie Cunningham leads the next level. Kentucky senior Evelyn Akhator was also elevated from second team to first team.
Wilson is the only legitimate All-American, but the others will also get votes.
The second team: Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell (Tennessee); Khaalia Hillsman, Curtyce Knox and Danni Williams (Texas A&M)[ Morgan William (Mississippi State); Raigyne Moncrief (LSU); Katie Frerking (Auburn) and Pachis Roberts (Georgia).
Coach of the Year: Robin Pingeton (Missouri).
Sixth Player: Teaira McCown (Mississippi State).
Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Katie Frerking (Auburn)
All-Rookie: Ashley Knight and Jordan Lewis (Alabama); Kayla Overbeck and Erin Whalen (Vanderbilt); Jailyn Mason (Arkansas); Delicia Washington (Florida); Amber Smith (Missouri); Tyasha Harris (South Carolina).
Co-Freshmen of the Year: Delicia Washington (Florida) and Amber Smith (Missouri).
All-Defensive: Alaina Coates and A'ja Wilson (South Carolina); Dominique Dillingham (Mississippi State); Katie Frerking (Auburn); Caliya Robinson (Georgia); and Raigyne Moncrief (LSU).
Defensive Player of the Year: Raigyne Moncrief (LSU).
No. 6 Mississippi State will have Victoria Vivians win the third straight state college Player of the Year award. Morgan William was also a finalist.
The four nationally ranked teams are the four seeded teams in the tournament. All have at least 20 wins, as does No. 5.
One has a realistic chance at a program record 30, with that coming at home in the opening of the NCAA eliminations. Two more could get 20 with their first win in the league tournament.
That’s the seven locks for the NCAA. Every SEC team that has ever won 20 had gotten into the national tournament.
The better seeds won which is proper in what amounts to play-in games among the four worst league teams.
Alabama 77, Vanderbilt 57: The first game was fun, a further endorsement of the strides Alabama made this season, without any seniors. They obviously return the most players next season.
The Tide (18-12) have the eighth-most wins in conference and have a chance at 20 – each is a program record for this century – even if they have to wait for NIT play.
Alabama had not won a conference tournament game since 2013; the 77 points are the most it has scored in the tournament in this century.
An 18-4 run early on established the trend of this one. All-SEC Freshman Jordan Lewis had back-to-back 3s in the spree. The difference was a dozen at halftime. Then Alabama pushed it with the first six points of the third.
“I’m just really proud of our team today,” said Tide coach Kristy Curry. “The consistent energy and effort for 40 minutes is something we’ve been looking to do. We’ve had moments where we’ve been in nearly every basketball game and have been so close. It was a little thing here or there. I thought today the little things we really took care of, or big things, and impacted the game. It was a great effort from our entire team.”
Sophomore Shaquera Wade led Alabama with 21 points and was joined in double figures by junior Hannah Cook (15), Lewis (13) and junior Meoshonti Knight (10). Junior Ashley Williams finished had a team-best eight rebounds, while Lewis had a game-high six assists.
“We had great balance today,” added Curry. “I thought our point guard (Lewis) really controlled the game. To have six assists and no turnovers and 13 points, there's been no freshman in the country that has been more valuable to her team than Jordan Lewis.
“I thought Shaquera (Wade) really grew up an awful lot today and has been working hard.”
Wade said that Curry told them to focus on rebounds.
“It’s a new season,” Wade said. “We have to find our matchups and see what happens.”
Vanderbilt (14-16) had upset Alabama in the regular season. Vanderbilt was led by a non-starter, junior Rachel Bell, who scored a career-best 31.
The rookie coaching season of Stephanie White foretells good things to come, as they won three of the final five regular-season games.
“Everything that we do needs to be about being stronger -- physically, mentally and emotionally,” White said. “Everything that we do has to be about paying attention to the details.”
Marqu'es Webb and Minta Spears were the holdover seniors.
Spears, especially said she will miss more than the end of her college career.
“We were talking in the locker room about how I’ve obviously had a lot of experience with different coaches,” Spears said. “But this coaching staff is so great. I believe in what they’re doing wholeheartedly.”
Florida completed the season sweep, 71-61, eliminating Arkansas, and it was not that close.
The Gators (15-15) finally pulled even on a rocky year. All-conference senior Ronnie Williams, the league’s top scorer, had 23 with 12 rebounds for the double/double debut. Ten of her rebounds were defensive which led to a team advantage, 50-32.
“The second half was an example of us doing our right things,” she said. It had been tied at the half.
“Now, we have to come out sharp and -- we take pride in our defense – turn our defense into offense. We can’t come out slow and our defense needs to be sharp. Rebound. I can keep going all day.”
Arkansas (13-17) said farewell to seniors Tatiyana Smith and Alecia Cooley.
Thursday’s Games in Round 2
Georgia 15-14 vs. Auburn 17-13
Tennessee 19-10 vs. Alabama (18-12).
LSU 19-10 vs. Ole Miss (17-12)
Texas A&M 19-10 vs. Florida (15-15)
All the winners Thursday plus three of the defeated are likely to represent the league in either the NCAA or the NIT.
The latter will also earn home games in that tournament on campus sites.
As far as past performances predicting current success: Georgia, LSU, Alabama and A&M all won the regular-season games. Six of the eight – neither Georgia nor Ole Miss -- were ranked at some point this season.