Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis, LSU’s Ben Simmons earn CBS Sports SEC honors

Now that the college basketball regular season has ended, it’s time to hand out some conference awards. At CBS Sports, we had our group of college basketball writers (Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander, Sam Vecenie, Chip Patterson, Jon Rothstein, Doug Gottlieb, and Jerry Palm) vote on honors for each of the six major conferences. The awards handed out are Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and two all-conference teams.

Here are our SEC award winners.

SEC Player of the Year: Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

This was assumed coming into the year that it would be a no-brainer in favor of LSU forward Ben Simmons. Instead though, it’s the diminutive Ulis who closed out this race early. The 5-9 point guard was a unanimous selection by our panel in leading Kentucky to an SEC title.

In SEC play, Ulis averaged 18.8 points and 8.4 assists per game while basically dictating and dominating the action night after night for the Wildcats. Everything Ulis does is efficient, from the way he doesn’t turn the ball over to the way he creates open, intelligent shots for his team. He was also the most important defensive player for the Wildcats’ No. 2 defense in the league, pressuring the ball in the backcourt and knocking teams out of their rhythm on offense. Ulis should be a first team All-American when the teams are announced.

Tyler Ulis had 20 points and 10 assists in Kentucky’s win vs. Ole Miss. (USATSI)

SEC Coach of the Year: John Calipari, Kentucky

Quite a few coaches have an argument for this award. Frank Martin is on his way to leading South Carolina back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in over a decade. Billy Kennedy led Texas A&M to its first (shared) conference title in 30 years. But in the end, it’s tough to overlook Calipari, and you only have to point to one thing to make this argument.

Has any coach ever lost seven players to early entry to the NBA draft then turned around and won his conference the next year? It seems implausible to turn that kind of situation around, but that’s exactly what Calipari did in 2016. Despite early struggles with his young team, the Hall of Famer brought his guys together and created a contender that no one will want to play in March. The Wildcats have the No. 1 offense and the No. 2 defense in the league, and seem to be peaking at the right time as Kentucky so often has under his tutelage.

SEC Defensive Player of the Year: Alex Caruso, Texas A&M

This is probably the weakest award race of the season, overall. Unlike last year in the SEC, there is no standout defensive star like Willie Cauley-Stein. Or even a Jordan Mickey. Heck, Josh Richardson at Tennessee even probably wins this award this year.

In the end, it came down to two guys. The aforementioned Ulis does a great job of pressuring the ball at the point of attack and knocking offenses out of their rhythm. But he can get overpowered at times once teams get into their sets and he’s forced to struggle through screens at his size or defend bigger players on switches. That’s why Caruso wins this award at Texas A&M. The Aggies have the No. 1 defense in the league and a top-20 unit nationally, and he’s a major part of that due to his versatility. At 6-5, he can guard just about anyone 1 through 3, and can handle switches onto even bigger players. He’s also an excellent help defender who can close gaps quickly and cut off penetration when needed. Throw in the fact that he’s in the top-10 nationally in steal rate as well as a solid shot-blocker of jump shots, and Caruso is a worthy winner here.

SEC Freshman of the Year: Ben Simmons, LSU

This was not a unanimous win for Simmons due to the way Kentucky guard Jamal Murray came on down the stretch while the LSU star faltered. But in the end, it’s tough to overlook what the 6-9 forward was able to do this season. Heck, he’s putting up numbers that nobody has put together in a long time.

LSU's Ben Simmons has lived up to the hype in his freshman season. (USATSI)
LSU’s Ben Simmons has lived up to the hype in his freshman season. (USATSI)

Simmons is averaging 19.6 points, 11.9 rebounds and five assists per game. Nobody has done that in college basketball since at least the 1994-95 season. Heck, nobody has put up 10 rebounds and five assists per game in that stretch before Simmons, let alone with the scoring. Even if his team and his defense hasn’t always been what we’ve wanted it to be this season, his offense has been everything that was expected and more. Even with LSU’s record, Simmons should be at the very least on an All-American team this season when they’re announced.

CBS SPORTS ALL-SEC TEAM

Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

Jamal Murray, Kentucky

Stefan Moody, Mississippi

Ben Simmons, LSU

Damian Jones, Vanderbilt

Second Team

Wade Baldwin, Vanderbilt

Kevin Punter, Tennessee

Michael Carrera, South Carolina

Jalen Jones, Texas A&M

Moses Kingsley, Arkansas

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