As we once again review the week that was in SEC basketball through the prism of the best players of the week, we offer the reminder that these players are selected from games of interest and importance, not from buy games against small-conference tomato cans. The past week wasn't jam-packed with huge contests, but it offered enough showcase situations to unearth several embodiments of excellence:
TYLER DAVIS, TEXAS A&M
The Aggies did not beat Arizona in Phoenix last Tuesday, but Davis went head-to-head against elite Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton and held his own. An array of post moves and a persistent presence in the paint enabled Davis to score 21 points against a long, athletic, big-bodied true center. A lot of NBA Draft-centric analysis from last Tuesday's game focused on how Ayton's defense is not where it could or should be in his evolution as a young player. That might be true, but Davis had a lot to do with the formulation of that conclusion. Texas A&M is still enjoying a very strong start to its season, WITHOUT some of its top players (chiefly Robert Williams) hitting their stride. Davis has been relatively dependable in a larger context for head coach Billy Kennedy. He did his fair share against an opponent (Arizona) which is beginning to resemble the team many expected it to be when the season began.
DONTA HALL, ALABAMA
Hall gets this recognition for Alabama's narrow win earlier in the week against a Rhode Island side likely to make the NCAA Tournament from the Atlantic 10. URI engaged the Tide in a very even contest in Tuscaloosa, and while Hall's 13 points didn't hurt, his 14 rebounds were the more important and impressive part of his stat line and overall performance. Rhode Island took 71 field goal attempts in that game, while Alabama managed only 47. (The Crimson Tide got to the foul line a lot more often, explaining the disparity.) Yet, even though the Rams totaled 24 more shot attempts than Bama, the Tide collected more offensive rebounds, 13-11. No player on the court was more effective in working for rebounds than Hall, and his ability to secure added possessions for Alabama made a significant difference on a night when the Tide had little margin for error.
COLLIN SEXTON, ALABAMA
This spot on the SEC star list was earned not in Bama's close-shave win over Rhode Island, but in Saturday's narrow loss in Tucson against Arizona, a team which went 2-0 against high-profile SEC teams almost certainly headed for the NCAA Tournament. Sexton is a very good player, and more than that, he KNOWS he's a good player. He is cocky, but in the best possible way -- he breathes confidence into himself and his teammates and does not show up opponents. His body language was always positive in a daunting road environment against an Arizona squad which has found itself after going 0-3 in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament over Thanksgiving weekend in the Bahamas.
The signature aspect of Sexton's performance Saturday night was that he got to the foul line at will. He earned 16 foul shots, many of them down the stretch, when Alabama had to keep pace with Arizona's offense. Sexton's first step as a dribble penetrator is lethal, and when he gets a defender a half-step off balance, he is already practiced and polished in terms of being able to draw and then sell contact. Getting foul shots on demand in the final minutes of a close game, and then hitting 15 of those 16 foul shots he earned, stamp Sexton as an elite "takeover" player who will find a solution in late-game situations.
One way or another, he's gonna getcha... and he'll get Alabama a high seed in the NCAAs, from the looks of things.
DANIEL GAFFORD, ARKANSAS
Jaylen Barford did score a team-high 22 points in Arkansas' win over Minnesota on Saturday, and he did so on efficient 9-of-15 field goal shooting, a quality performance from one of the Hogs' foremost stars.
Reserve guard C.J. Jones put on his Al Dillard cap (older Arkansas fans will instantly get that reference) and pumped in 5 of 7 three-point shots for 15 instant-rice points off the bench. Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson needs contributions throughout his roster... and is getting them.
Nevertheless, the star of the show in the victory over Richard Pitino's pupils was Gafford. Beyond his 16 points lies the fact that he didn't miss a shot -- 8-for-8 from the field. Beyond his supremely effective offensive performance, Gafford contributed seven rebounds and six blocked shots. Within the Anderson "40 Minutes of Hell" template inspired by Arkansas basketball godfather Nolan Richardson, no one embodied that more on Saturday than Gafford. He was a two-way terror the Golden Gophers could not solve at either end of the floor. He was magnificent.
EGOR KOULECHOV, FLORIDA
The Gators -- reeling in the face of a three-game losing streak -- badly needed a win this past Saturday in Newark, N.J., against Cincinnati. Florida was flat as a tortilla in ugly home-court losses to Florida State and Loyola of Illinois. Mike White's team had to have a spark, and Koulechov was the man who answered the call more than anyone else. His 21 points and seven rebounds gave the Gators a resume-bolstering win and, just as importantly, a sense that their season is back on the right track. Koulechov's offense also enabled his teammates to focus more on the defensive end of the floor, which was apparent in the latter stages of the victory over Cincinnati.
P.J. WASHINGTON, KENTUCKY
Okay, so Monmouth-Kentucky isn't as significant as the other games on this list, but Washington didn't miss a single shot (free throws or field goals) in the first half of this game. He enjoyed what was widely acknowledged as his breakout for UK. It's a notable forward step in the Wildcats' attempted evolution this season.