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Auburn guard Samir Doughty (10) shoots over LSU forward Darius Days (0) and LSU guard Skylar Mays (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Julie Bennett)

When the last of Saturday's Southeastern Conference men's basketball games were completed, the league's 14 teams were officially one game past the midway point of conference play.

That figure will slide even further to the right with the conclusion of Tuesday night's SEC battles between Arkansas and Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, Missouri and LSU and Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

And while Auburn, Kentucky and LSU would appear to be the conference's top teams at the moment since they're tied for the league lead at 8-2, at least two full games clear of the rest of the field, that doesn't necessarily mean they've done the most with their potential to this point.

So without further ado, please allow your humble scribe to present his SEC midseason awards.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Auburn senior point guard Samir Doughty. Over the Tigers' last four games, all must-wins and three of them decided in overtime, Doughty has averaged 22.3 points and hit big shot after big shot for a squad that stands 21-2 overall heading into Wednesday night's visit from archrival Alabama.

BEST FIVE: Arkansas wing Mason Jones, Doughty, Kentucky center Nick Richards, LSU wing Skylar Mays and Mississippi State post player Reggie Perry.

SECOND FIVE: Alabama guard Kira Lewis, Auburn's Austin Wiley, Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley, LSU's Emmit Williams, Ole Miss guard Breein Tyree.

BEST FRESHMAN: Averaging 19.7 points and 5.5 rebounds a game for a struggling Georgia team, Anthony Edwards — all but certain to be a top-five NBA draft pick this June — is the easy choice. But the most valuable freshman may be Auburn's Isaac Okoro, whom Tigers coach Bruce Pearl often has referred to as "our best player" and who is averaging 12.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, one steal and one block.

TOP FIVE FRESHMEN: Edwards, Okoro, Kentucky's Tyrese Maxey, South Carolina's Jermaine Couisnard and LSU's Trendon Watford.

BEST COACHING JOB: Auburn's Pearl. Not many guys could lose backcourt mates Jared Harper and Bryce Brown plus gifted wing Chuma Okeke from a Final Four team and return the next season to post an even stronger resume one week into February. But this is just another example of why more than 35,000 Tennessee fans once signed an online petition to "Bring Back Bruce" after Pearl was let go by the Volunteers for lying to the NCAA about a series of fairly minor violations.

RUNNER-UP: South Carolina's Frank Martin. After being picked in the preseason poll to finish 10th, Martin has the Gamecocks tied for second in the league (6-4) with a strong chance to finish among the first seven heading into the SEC tourney.

WORST COACHING JOB: Florida coach Mike White's Gators haven't been awful, but when you're picked to finish second in the league in the preseason and your four league losses to date have come by an average of 10.5 points, well, there are strong second-place efforts in the standings and then there are shaky ones. It's hard not to think the chemistry on this team isn't what White would prefer.

BEST NONCONFERENCE WINS: Arkansas at Indiana; South Carolina at defending national champ Virginia; Ole Miss over Big Ten surprise Penn State; Mizzou over Illinois and Kentucky snapping Texas Tech's 54-game nonconference home winning streak.

WORST NONCONFERENCE LOSS: Kentucky losing to Evansville in Rupp Arena a week after toppling preseason No. 1 Michigan State. The Purple Aces aren't just bad, they're awful. After a 3-0 start they've lost 16 of their last 22, including 12 straight in the Missouri Valley Conference, where they've yet to win a game. That loss alone by the SEC's flagship program has hurt the league's image all season.

So which of the league's tri-leaders — Auburn, Kentucky and LSU — has the easiest path to win the regular-season title over the next four weeks?

If you assign a number to each of the opponents remaining on those three's schedules that corresponds to its current place in the standings — for example, a game against Florida, Mississippi State or South Carolina counts 2, while a game against cellar-dwelling Vanderbilt counts 7 (because of ties) — the team with the highest score has the easiest remaining schedule. Also, a point is deducted for every road game.

By that formula, Auburn has the easiest remaining schedule (25 points), followed by LSU (22) and Kentucky owning the toughest (20). The Wildcats not only must face both LSU and Auburn but also must play Florida twice and A&M and Tennessee once.

Because of that, Auburn would seem to be the favorite, but all that seems guaranteed moving forward is that anything could happen between now and the start of the SEC tournament in Nashville on March 11.

Or as LSU coach and former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Will Wade noted after falling at Auburn last weekend, "We just have to be a little bit better. It's an eight-game race to see who will win."

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

 

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