The SEC ranked 32nd out of 32 conferences in KenPom’s experience rankings this season. So, there was a reason why you heard a lot about all the youth in the league.
But inexperience didn’t equal bad play, as there were plenty of outstanding freshmen in the conference this season.
Let’s dive into my All-Freshman Team for the year.
De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky)
Fox finished eighth in the SEC in scoring (15.5 points per game), but his value is more than just scoring.
He led the league in the assists with five per game, and his ability to create shots for his teammates has been a huge asset for this Kentucky team.
When fully healthy, he’s one of the best players in college basketball, and his ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor will certainly be big for the Wildcats heading into the NCAA tournament.
Bam Adebayo (Kentucky)
The 6-foot-10 phenom has made significant strides over the past month or so.
After hitting double-digits in rebounding in only three of Kentucky’s first 25 games, Adebayo has done it three times in the past six games.
He has proven that he’s able to step up in big games when Kentucky’s main two scorers aren’t hitting shots, and his presence in the paint is undeniable. He finished fourth in the SEC in rebounding (7.6 RPG) and sixth in blocked shots (1.6 BPG).
Mustapha Heron (Auburn)
Heron was the best of Auburn’s talented freshmen class this season.
He led the Tigers in scoring with 15.2 PPG, which was good enough for ninth in the conference. But perhaps the thing that most people forget is that he was also the team’s leading rebounder (5.8 RPG) and has the ability to make plays in so many ways.
He scored in double-figures in every game this season except for one (vs. Florida on February 14), and he will be the driving force for what Auburn hopes to be a breakthrough 2017-18 season.
Braxton Key (Alabama)
When I talked to Avery Johnson at SEC Tipoff in October the thing that impressed him most about Key’s skill set was his versatility. Johnson talked about Key’s ability to play several positions, and that’s exactly what we saw during the regular season.
Key finished at Alabama’s leading scorer (12.3 PPG) and played more minutes than any other Crimson Tide player.
Getting that type of experience in year one will allow him to once again play a pivotal role next season on what should be Alabama’s most talented team in a while.
Robert Williams (Texas A&M)
Although the Aggies had their struggles in finishing 10th in the league, Williams’ incredible talent was on full display.
He blocked a shot in all 30 games, which is the longest blocked shot streak in the nation. But his game was about more than just blocked shots, as his tremendous athleticism helped him finish second in the SEC in rebounding (8.1 RPG).
There’s is no doubt that Williams will be a lottery pick in the 2017 NBA draft in June.
Grant Williams (Tennessee)
Williams was the leader of Tennessee’s young nucleus this season.
He is similar to Key in that his versatility will allow him to play multiple positions on the court, and finding a way to produce two 30-point scoring games during his freshman season (which hadn’t been done by a Tennessee player since Allan Houston did it 27 years ago) was an impressive feat.
Rick Barnes will continue to help him develop into a more well-rounded player, but based on what we saw from Williams this season, he has a bright future ahead.
Freshman of the Year: Malik Monk (Kentucky)
What more can be said about Monk’s ability to make plays when his team needs it most?
His ability to score points in such a quick way makes him one of the most exciting players to watch in all of college basketball, and few people can stop him when he’s at his best.
He finished tied at the top with Sindarius Thornwell in points per game (21.2), but there’s no other player in the SEC that can produce the kind of quick offense that Monk does.
Honorable Mention: Jared Harper (Auburn), Dazon Ingram (Alabama), Lamar Peters (Mississippi State), Mario Kegler (Mississippi State), Danjel Purifoy (Auburn)
Lovell’s Other SEC Awards: