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SEC BASKETBALL STARS – JANUARY 29

SEC Stars of the Week

This is the time of year when a lot of freshmen either hit a wall or begin to figure things out. It's also a time of year when players who have been lurking in the shadows are asked to give their teams more production in a push for an NCAA Tournament bid or a conference championship (or both). Did the landscape of SEC stars meaningfully change this past week? Some new names cracked the list, starting with the first entry.

RILEY LACHANCE, VANDERBILT

The generally inconsistent point guard generally fits the description of a player who is great when he's on and well below average when he's off. This past week, he flipped the switch. LaChance delivered a 25-point game in a close loss at Tennessee and 24 in a close win over a TCU team likely to make the NCAAs. LaChance was 9 of 15 from the field, 4 of 8 from three-point range, in the win over TCU. He presided over a Vanderbilt offense which surrendered only seven turnovers. He could not have played much better. If he can stay hot, Vanderbilt could make a run at the NIT. Vanderbilt's win over TCU underscored the reality that even the bottom tier of the 2018 SEC has no easy outs. That's ACC-level 1-through-14 depth.

DARYL MACON, ARKANSAS

The Razorbacks won two games by a combined total of four points this past week, with one of those wins coming in overtime. Neither victory would have likely occurred without Macon, who scored 25 in the overtime win over Georgia and 22 more in the one-point win over Oklahoma State. Arkansas stabilized its season without huge scoring totals from Jaylen Barford, a sign that the Hogs can win with a more diversified array of contributions. That's exactly what Mike Anderson wanted to see as this season moved along.

DEANDRE BURNETT, OLE MISS

The Rebels could not put the pieces together against Texas, but they did hammer Alabama earlier in the week. Burnett, the heartbeat of Andy Kennedy's team, answered the call with a forceful and resolute 24-point performance. Can Ole Miss give Burnett more help? As shown with Macon helping out Barford for Arkansas and some of Tennessee's role players helping Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams, some SEC teams are giving their leading lights some assistance. Georgia, on the other hand, has not been able to help Yante Maten enough. It is little different in Oxford.

JARED HARPER, AUBURN

In contrast to SEC teams which rely on one or two players and don't get enough from their supporting casts, Auburn regularly has a different star each week. Harper took his turn last Wednesday against Missouri. The 21 points were valuable, but the more precise contribution was a collection of three triples to fuel the 20-2 second-half run which landed Missouri on the canvas. Honorable mention goes to Mustapha Heron, who didn't have his best scoring game (14 points), but pulled down 12 rebounds and showed he could contribute in other areas for Bruce Pearl. Auburn continues to exhibit the characteristics of a good team... and a Pearl-coached team.

WESLEY MYERS, SOUTH CAROLINA

Chris Silva needed help in South Carolina, and Myers emerged from the shadows to shock Florida in Gainesville last Wednesday with an entirely unexpected 22-point masterpiece. South Carolina is right in the thick of the NCAA Tournament hunt, which -- after losing Sindarius Thornwell, P.J. Dozier, and Duane Notice -- rates as a hugely impressive feat. Getting supporting-cast performances from Myers and other role players is exactly what will enable the Gamecocks to reach the finish line on Selection Sunday.

COLLIN SEXTON, ALABAMA

Trae Young came to Tuscaloosa. Sexton and his teammates defended the heck out of him in a physical, alert, sustained performance. Sexton's ability to create offense is something he and his teammates don't have to worry about. Displaying such pronounced defensive chops against an opponent of Young's caliber in the Big 12-SEC Challenge represented an eye-opening moment for the Tide's most important player.

QUINNDARY WEATHERSPOON, MISSISSIPPI STATE

The Bulldogs are behind the pace in the SEC. They need to start accumulating good wins in the upper and middle tiers of the league to make a realistic push at an NCAA bid. Right now, MSU is an NIT team, but with Weatherspoon scoring 39 points in the past week's two games -- powering a win over Missouri on Saturday in Starkville -- the Bulldogs can harbor hopes that a February surge is coming. It needs to if this team is to realize its foremost goals.

ALABAMA'S DEFENSE AND TENNESSEE'S DEFENSE

The Tide's performance against Trae Young and Tennessee's ability to lock down Iowa State represented two dominant Saturday sessions for SEC defenses. Nick Saban and Jeremy Pruitt would be proud.

KEVIN KNOX, KENTUCKY

Save the best for last.

Knox was very, very good against Mississippi State, but his 34-point, seven-rebound performance against West Virginia on Saturday was the superstar performance Big Blue had been waiting for. It might not match what Collin Sexton did 3-on-5 against Minnesota much earlier in the season, but it comes close. It might have turned around Kentucky's season, and it might also have transformed Knox's basketball career. The key point: A guy who was tossing in threes left and right did not remain content to be a shooter. Knox made hustle plays, especially on the offensive glass, and influenced the game at both ends. The superstar player is not merely the player who scores 40 or hands out 15 assists, but who makes a big impact in multiple facets of play. That's what Knox did on Saturday, and if that version of Knox sticks around, everything about UK's outlook will change dramatically for the better.

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