Fri, 02/19/2010 - 15:21 — Jason Brubaker
Some SEC News & Notes, as I am trapped inside with around 18 inches of snow on the ground here in Cincinnati. (Yes, I realize other areas of the country have much more than that, but this gives me an excuse to be lazy and stay in front of the television watching college basketball). So without further ado, here's what's happening around the league.
• Wayne Chism has never been the most popular player amongst opposing fans in the SEC, but even the most ardent Tennessee opponent has to admire his play this year. Since the dismissal of forward Tyler Smith, Chism has averaged 15 points and a little over eight rebounds per game, and has piled up three-double-doubles in that time, including a monster 26-point, 12-rebound effort in a win over Ole Miss. He’s also taken on more of a leadership role, playing through numerous injuries to help the Vols stay on track for the NCAA Tournament.. His inside/outside game causes mismatches for opponents, and he's even played his way onto the NBA radar as a possible second-round pick. If the Vols make any noise this postseason, it's a certainty Chism will lead the way.
• LSU has been awful this year (0-11 in the SEC), but the play of Tasmin Mitchell shouldn't be overlooked. Mitchell is averaging 17 points and just a shade under 10 boards per game, and should surpass 2,000 career points by the end of the season. He's seen it all during his LSU career, visiting the Final Four as a freshman, suffering a season-ending injury as a junior, and now struggling to lead an undermanned team as a senior. However, his effort has always been terrific, and by all accounts, he's a terrific leader on and off the floor. I'm sure he envisioned a better senior season than this, but regardless, he deserves recognition for a great overall career.
• The SEC Weekly Awards have been finding their way to Lexington quite a bit this year. Through the first 14 weeks, Kentucky has claimed 12 awards, including ten Freshmen of the Week awards and two Player of the Week awards. John Wall alone has five FOW awards, and his sixth could be on the way after a near triple double against Mississippi State. The next best school? Vanderbilt, with four awards, including two FOW awards for guard John Jenkins.
• How different would Arkansas' record be if they had Courtney Fortson all season? Fortson was suspended the first 14 games of the season, as the Hogs went just 7-7. Since his return, he's averaged 19 points, five rebounds and six assists, and the Hogs have climbed to first in the jumbled SEC West. Fortson's energy and scoring ability has pumped life in Arkansas, and they're going to be a tough out in the SEC Tournament.
• His team is just 14-11, and he's likely to go undrafted in the upcoming draft. He doesn't have the exposure of players like John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, and, if he wasn't in uniform, he might be mistaken for a team manager. Yet South Carolina's diminutive superstar, Devan Downey, has firmly planted himself in the SEC Player of the Year argument. In conference games, Downey is averaging a shade under 29 points per game, despite being the focal point of every opposing defense. Downey's detractors will point out that his numbers have been inflated because he has taken more than twice as many shots as anyone else on his team, which is currently fifth in the SEC East. However, what he's done this year is nothing short of remarkable for an undermanned team that needs him to score - and score big - to have a chance to win. The Gamecocks' record may prevent him from taking home the award, but I'd have a hard time arguing against him.
• With five regular season games left, as well as at least a couple of postseason games, it's almost a certainty that Jarvis Varnado will end his career with more blocked shots than anyone in Division I history. The long-armed Mississippi State senior is only 14 blocks shy of tying Louisiana Monroe's Wojciech Mydra, who holds the record with 535 blocks. After Tuesday's loss to Kentucky, Varnado is averaging 4.9 blocks per game, meaning he should be in striking distance of the record during the Bulldogs' Feb. 27 match-up with South Carolina. Of course, he also has 24 career games with seven or more blocks, so he could get there even sooner. It's not every day that an NCAA career record falls, and Varnado should be congratulated on his efforts when he gets there.
• And finally, to the Mississippi State fans who threw objects on the floor following the heart-breaking loss to Kentucky...grow up. Emotion and passion are what makes college sports great, and we've all been frustrated as fans when things don't go our team's way, but there's no excuse for what happened on Tuesday night. The Bulldogs were undermanned and outclassed in talent, yet played their tails off the entire game and nearly pulled off an incredible upset. But instead of their team being congratulated for their effort, it's the fan base that is getting the headlines, and for all the wrong reasons. I realize that it only takes a few fans to make an entire stadium or arena look bad, but this unfortunately gives a black eye to the entire university. Let's hope this is something we don't see again.