Foree’s SEC First Half Finest

Grant Foree

January 31, 2023 at 4:46 pm.

We’re not quite to the halfway point of the 2023 SEC basketball schedule, but after eight of the 18 scheduled league contests, we’re starting to get a feel for the players who could be receiving individual awards at the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn., in early March.

While I don’t have a vote for these honors and may or may not be in Nashville for some of the tournament, I’m releasing my “First Half Finest” and the players who would be getting my votes, if I had one.

SEC Player of the Year – Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky

Tshiebwe entered the season with incredibly high expectations surrounding him. After winning this award last season, Tshiebwe was picked by the media to win this award before the season started. Tshiebwe has been dominant this season, scoring 16.6 points per game and adding 13.7 rebounds per game to average a double-double. Speaking of double-doubles (the name given to a game in which a player has double figures in two categories), the Democratic Republic of the Congo native has 12. By far the most impressive of his performances this season came on January 17, when he had 37 points and 24 rebounds in a win over Georgia. Kentucky goes as Tshiebwe, so I expect the Wildcats to finish the season on a hot streak.

SEC Freshman of the Year – Brandon Miller, Alabama

I don’t think there’s much doubt that the SEC Freshman of the Year will go to one of Alabama’s two outstanding freshmen, Noah Clowney and Brandon Miller. The two combined to win the Freshman of the Week award seven times in the first 11 weeks of the season, with Miller winning the award three weeks in a row in January. Miller leads the SEC in scoring and three-point percentage, is fifth in rebounding and is third in defensive rebounding. I think Miller has a decent chance at being named the SEC Player of the Year, too, as long as he can bounce back from a tough week.

SEC Defensive Player of the Year – Zakai Zeigler, Tennessee

Tennessee has consistently been the best defensive team in the SEC this season, so to me it makes sense to give this award to the team’s best defender. The SEC has some of the best offensive guards in the country and they each have to face the best defensive guard at least once this season. Zeigler has quietly placed his name in the conversation as one of the best guards in not only the SEC but the entire country. Zeigler gets it done on the defensive side of the court, averaging over two steals per game, which is good for second in the SEC. Advanced stats say that Zeigler’s defense alone is responsible for two Volunteer wins this season. Zeigler is a lock to make the league’s “All-Defense” team for the second year in a row.

SEC Coach of the Year – Buzz Williams, Texas A&M

Texas A&M missed the NCAA tournament last season after advancing all the way to the championship game of the SEC tournament. Why? The Aggies played a sub-par non-conference schedule and lost too many SEC games to get into the tournament as an at-large team. This year started out similarly. A&M dropped early season games to Murray State, Colorado, Boise State and Wofford, and looked like a team that would once again miss the tournament. League play has been a completely different story. The Aggies are 7-1 in SEC play and are tied for second in the league with Tennessee. A&M’s schedule gets much more difficult but Buzz Williams seems to have found something that works for his guys.

All-SEC First Team

It’s really tough to pick the five best players in the league so far this season so I elected to pick the players who have been most valuable to their team’s success through eight SEC contests.

 Kobe Brown, Missouri

Missouri is a good team but it’s even better when Kobe Brown is healthy. Brown missed the game against Alabama on January 21, a game that Missouri lost by 21 points. Brown’s 18.1 points per game would’ve made it a much closer game and might’ve even been enough to upset the Crimson Tide. Brown plays 64% of the minutes for Missouri and touches the ball in over 24% of offensive possessions. Without Brown’s ability and his leadership, Missouri wouldn’t be in the position it’s in right now.

Brandon Miller, Alabama

I spoke to Brandon Miller’s general ability above but I’ll take this chance to do it again. Miller is a huge part of the reason that the Crimson Tide are atop the SEC through eight games. Miller is scoring almost 20 points per game in SEC play alone and does everything that Nate Oats needs him to do. He is highly-regarded to be one of the top picks in this year’s NBA Draft and has a great chance to win national awards when it’s all said and done this year.

 Tyrece Radford, Texas A&M

Tyrece Radford keeps coming up big for Texas A&M. In conference play alone, Radford has six games with 10 or more points, including a 30-point outburst to upset Auburn last week. He doesn’t just impact the game through scoring. Radford has racked up at least four rebounds in seven SEC games and holds one of the league’s best free throw percentages. Radford is one of the biggest reasons for A&M’s hot start and will have to continue to make a major impact if the Aggies want to make a deep run in March.

 Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky

Kentucky was desperate for a win and Tshiebwe led the Wildcats to a win in Knoxville a couple of weeks ago that completely changed the tune of fans in Lexington. Thsiebwe has been a lock to make this team all season and now he’s trying to pace himself from the rest of the field in the Player of the Year voting.

 Zakai Zeigler, Tennessee

In addition to Zeigler’s defense, the sophomore guard from Long Island, N.Y., is a big part of the Volunteers’ scoring attack. In tandem with Santiago Vescovi, Zeigler is scoring 11.1 points per game and is being used on over 20% of Tennessee’s possessions. In addition to his scoring, Zeigler adds over five assists per game, which has him firmly in second in the SEC in that category.



All-Transfer Portal Team

The SEC doesn’t release a team for this category, but I thought it might be cool to look at the best players who have transferred into the SEC this year.

Mark Sears, Alabama

Sears is originally from Muscle Shoals, Ala., but he played at Ohio University for the first two years of his collegiate career. Sears had an immediate impact on an Alabama team that was supposed to be without Jahvon Quinerly for a large portion of the season. Sears is scoring exactly 14 points per game but his 36% three-point shooting has been a large part of Alabama’s success. His most impressive performance thus far was undoubtedly his 16-point, 6-rebound, 4-assist and 6-steal performance in Alabama’s 78-52 win over Kentucky.

Ricky Council IV, Arkansas

Joining Sears in the All-Transfer Portal team backcourt is Wichita State transfer Ricky Council IV. Council has been the biggest bright spot thus far for the Razorbacks who continue to struggle to find consistency. Council, on the other hand, has been consistently great all season. Council’s offense has been great, scoring 10 or more points in all but two games for the Hogs, with an average of 17.2 points per game. Eric Musselman’s team will rely on Council to be able to make a run in March as they continue to battle the injury bug.

D’Moi Hodge, Missouri

For the most part, Missouri’s impact players are transfers that came to Columbia after Dennis Gates took the head coaching job. One of those guys is D’Moi Hodge, who followed Gates from Cleveland State to Missouri. Hodge immediately made his impact as an SEC-caliber player on the defensive side of the court as he leads the league in steals, helping Missouri’s defense have the second-best steal percentage in the country. Offensively, Hodge is eleventh in the SEC in scoring, second in made three-pointers and third in three-point percentage. The Tortuga, British Virgin Islands native is an unsung hero in Missouri’s surprising season.

KJ Williams, LSU

LSU hasn’t been great this season, but KJ Williams has been. Like much of the LSU team, Williams is a transfer from Murray State, making the jump with head coach Matt McMahon. Williams has been LSU’s go-to guy all year, attempting over 30% of the Tigers’ shots and leading the team with 17.2 points per game.

Johni Broome, Auburn

Bruce Pearl had a big task to find a replacement for the nation’s best shot blocker in Walker Kessler, who is now playing in the NBA. Pearl found that replacement in Johni Broome, a sophomore transfer from Morehead State. Broome has been the anchor to the Auburn defense, blocking over two-and-a-half shots per game. Auburn is difficult to score on in the paint, mostly because of Broome, so the Tigers force opponents to shoot outside shots. In addition to his great defense, Broome is scoring 13.4 points per game and shooting an impressive 51.4% from the floor this season.



I’m very excited to see what the final ten games of SEC play bring to offer. I think that the SEC will mostly be decided by February 18, after Alabama, Tennessee and Auburn finish playing each other for the first time. Teams at the bottom of the league will fight each other for seeding in the tournament, while teams at the top of the league will try to put the finishing touches on their NCAA tournament resumés.

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