published Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

University of Kentucky likely to get top SEC awards

Finishing second in a 12-team basketball league after being picked 11th in the preseason normally would make one a lock for coach of the year.

Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin just picked the wrong year to work his wonders.

The Southeastern Conference is scheduled today to announce its coach of the year and player of the year, and Kentucky's John Calipari and freshman forward Anthony Davis are expected to sweep the awards. The nationally top-ranked Wildcats, who are 30-1 overall, swept through their league season with a 16-0 record and matched an SEC standard in winning the conference by six games.

"Cuonzo has done a great job, but they didn't fire Bruce [Pearl] because he had bad players," Georgia coach Mark Fox said Monday. "I think when you go undefeated in this league and win by the margin that Kentucky has won the league by, I just don't think that you can vote against John. That's a pretty remarkable feat that his team accomplished this year."

The same school producing both the SEC coach and player of the year has occurred six times in the past decade, most recently last season with Florida's Billy Donovan and Chandler Parsons.

Kentucky also went 16-0 and won the SEC by six games under Rick Pitino in 1996, when the Wildcats won 15 league games by double digits and eight by 25 or more on the way to the program's first national championship since 1978. That team was led in minutes played by sophomore forward Antoine Walker, senior guard Tony Delk and senior forward Walter McCarty.

This year's Wildcats won 11 league games by double figures and are led in minutes by three freshmen: guard Marquis Teague and forwards Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Kentucky had five first-round NBA draft selections in 2010, which followed Calipari's first season, and could have six this summer.

"I don't think John gets enough credit for how hard those guys play and how he manages those egos," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "Nobody wants to talk about that. It's like it's the elephant in the room."

Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings voted for Calipari and believes he is deserving of national honors as well. He credited Martin and his staff for the job they did in conference play but said the preseason projection of the Volunteers was misleading.

"If they had Jarnell Stokes on their team [before the start of the season], they wouldn't have been picked to finish 11th," Stallings said. "I think that was a factor that was unforeseen by all that they were able to add."

Martin has referred to Calipari's Wildcats in recent days as the "best team in America," while Calipari is labeling the Vols as a team nobody wants to face in the NCAA tournament. Tennessee has been streaking since getting blistered 69-44 at Kentucky on Jan. 31, a loss that left the Vols 10-12 overall and 2-5 in league play.

"Cuonzo is doing an unbelievable job of setting the tone and setting the stage of what he wants that program to be about," Calipari said. "It's just happening quicker than he probably even thought."

Davis, a 6-foot-10, 220-pounder from Chicago, is averaging 14.4 points and 9.8 rebounds a game, and he is shooting 66.3 percent from the floor. His 146 blocked shots already rank sixth in SEC single-season history, and he is 25 away from eclipsing the record 170 blocks Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado amassed in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

"I don't think there is a player in the country where a team changes more when he's off the floor," Donovan said. "He is terrific. I would be hard-pressed to find any player who's been more impactful to a team than Davis has been for Kentucky."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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