Williams Repeats as SEC Player of the Year, Trio Named All SEC
This has been an interesting few days for the Tennessee Men’s Basketball team and their fans. While all of Vol Nation is still stinging from a loss in the regular season finale at Auburn that cost Tennessee a share of the SEC Regular Season Title, Tennessee is still listed as the favorite to win the SEC Tournament. The first round of the SEC Tournament begins on Wednesday, 3/13, but having earned a double-bye on the strength of an impressive regular season, the Vols won’t play until Friday 3/15. The Vols have been grinding through a tough stretch of schedule over the last month, sputtering at times such as frustrating, close losses at Auburn and LSU. This is the longest that the Vols have had off in months, and their focus is on resting, recovering, getting back to the mentality they played with earlier in the season, and trying to win an SEC Tournament Championship. Well, that, and after today, finding space on shelves for individual awards.
For the second season in a row, the Associated Press has voted Tennessee Forward Grant Williams as the SEC Player of the Year. No one has repeated as SEC Player of the Year since the 1994-1995 season. As impressive as this accomplishment is for the Tennessee Junior, Williams may not be done accumulating hardware just yet. A finalist for the National Player of the Year, Williams has a real shot at the award and has already been named an All-American by Sporting News. A glance at the season statistics show why Williams has accumulated the accolades that he has already. In the 2018-2019 campaign, Williams has improved across the board on his numbers from his 2017-2018 SEC Player of the Year Campaign. Williams ended the regular season averaging 19.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 31.9 minutes per game, while shooting 56% from the field and an exceptional 83% from the free throw line. Beyond the statistics, Williams has consistently shown on the floor what makes him an elite player in the nation. Those statistics he accumulates have a knack for being logged when his team needs them the most, and the Vols are unquestionably at their best when they run the offense through Williams in the low post. From a block on Petty against Alabama to save that game, to a game winning shot at Ole Miss, to his 43-point game at Vanderbilt where he willed his team to a victory, Grant Williams hasn’t padded stats, he has led his team, his numbers elevating them to wins.
Joining Peanut Butter on the All SEC First Team is, who else, Jelly, Volunteer Senior wing Admiral Schofield. It has been so hard to talk about one Tennessee star without the other, though Admiral seems to have expanded his game in the 2018-2019 season. After testing the waters of the NBA Draft following his Junior season, Schofield elected to return to Tennessee for his Senior year after he kept hearing at the NBA Combine that he needed to develop a three-point shot. As a senior, Schofield averaged a career best 16.3 points per game while hitting at over 40% from three for the season. Schofield also averaged 6.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 31.4 minutes per game over this year. Something that needs to be noted about Schofield, who like Williams seems to put up his numbers when the Vols need them the most, is that he posted these numbers playing in a different role this season that the last three years in Knoxville. Until his Senior year, Schofield played primarily through the post, and while he was capable of playing in space, he typically played closer to the basket. This season, Schofield has stepped back, playing more as a wing player for the Vols, though still able to crash the boards and post defenders up when asked to do so. The versatility and team first mentality that Admiral demonstrates shows why he is a leader for these Vols. He is capable of handling so many assignments for the Vols, able to help in multiple areas that they may have a need, and is happy to rise to meet the need if it will help his team to victory. A finalist for the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award, Schofield has a shot at some national awards himself. While the easiest play to point to for Admiral is the game winning three over number one Gonzaga, there are so many instances where he showed the caliber of player that he is. Perhaps the most impressive stretch of the season that Admiral had as a senior was during a stretch in the middle of the season that he was slumping as a shooter. While he struggled to hit his shot, Schofield’s minutes didn’t come down because he found a way to contribute all over the rest of the floor, rebounding, getting assists, and playing good defense. That a, “Slumping,” Schofield posted multiple double-doubles during that stretch should illustrate the caliber of player the senior is.
If Williams is Peanut Butter and Admiral Schofield is Jelly, then Jordan Bone might just be the Bread that keeps everything together. The Junior Point Guard was rewarded for his superb year by being named to the All SEC Second Team. That Bone wasn’t named to the First Team with Williams and Schofield is a bit baffling, as many, myself included, feel that Bone is the best, most complete Point Guard in the country. Still, in his Junior year, Bone took a leap forward on the stat sheet and on the hardwood, nearly doubling his production as a sophomore in most categories. Bone put up 13.4 points, 6.1 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 32.5 minutes per game in 2018-2019, all career highs. These numbers are even more impressive when the fact that Bone only averaged a pair of turnovers per game is thrown into the mix. The combination of excellent scoring, elite facilitation, an understanding of what his coach wants on both ends of the floor, good defense, and exceptional efficiency allowed Bone to earn his spot in the discussion for the best point guards in America, not just the SEC. Bone often uses his breathtaking speed to set the tone for the Vols, driving the lane when they are desperate for a bucket, leading a break to feed another of his teammates, or denying easy drives to opposing guards. Rick Barnes is notoriously hard on his point guards, and he has publicly stated his confidence in Bone throughout the year. If Tennessee wants to cut down the nets in Nashville and perhaps even Minneapolis, then Jordan Bone will have to continue the play that has earned him these accolades.
Along with Jordan Bone not being named to the All SEC First Team, Rick Barnes not winning SEC Coach of the Year, awarded to Mississippi State head coach Kermit Davis, was a surprise. What Barnes has accomplished this season with a team that he has assembled and developed has been impressive to watch this season. Still, as pleased as the Vols are for the awards that they earned, they would trade them and the ones that they were passed over for in exchange for an SEC Tournament Title. Tennessee comes into Nashville as the favorite to win the Title, though the road will not be easy. Still, the Vols have a strong shot at the SEC Tournament Title, and if they were to win it, a compelling case for an NCAA Tournament one seed. The Vols have a deep roster that they rely on, but their trio of All-SEC players will be the catalysts that propel them in both the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.