by Nate Olson
At least the AP voters gave Arkansas junior guard Mason Jones some credit. The coaches appeared to pick the best player from the best team. But, they may not have even done that.
It was announced Tuesday that Jones shared the AP SEC MVP honor with Mississippi State forward Reggie Perry. The coaches went with Kentucky sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley.
It didn’t take long yesterday for Hogs fans to show their displeasure on talk radio shows statewide, and with good reason. Some mentioned that it appears that Arkansas doesn’t get the respect when it comes to SEC postseason awards along with other things. They aren’t wrong. I wholeheartedly agree. Certain programs get the benefit of the doubt in the SEC, and Arkansas isn’t in that group.
Case in point: yesterday’s announcement. It’s absurd that three different players were given this award. The coaches definitely showed they bow down to UK, also naming John Calipari the SEC Coach of the Year. AP Voters picked first-year Texas A&M Coach Buzz Williams. See the trend?
While the AP voters were less biased than the coaches, there is no reason why Jones shouldn’t be the sole honoree. His stats speak for themselves. He was the league’s leading scorer (22 ppg), averaged 5.4 rebounds per game and recorded 100 assists and 47 steals. He shot 35 percent from three-point range and over 80 percent from the three-point line. Jones scored more than 30 points nine times – the most by an SEC player since 2008-09. Jones was also a four-time SEC Player of the Week selection and the only player in the SEC to lead his team in points, rebounds and assists.
Perry, a sophomore, averaged 17.4 ppg and 10.1 rebounds per contest patrolling the paint for the Bulldogs. Quickley, who started 20 of the 31 regular-season games, averaged 16.1 ppg and 4.2 rpg. Some argue that Quickley’s teammate Nick Richards, a sophomore, is the top UK player. He started 30 of 31 games and averaged 14 ppg and 7.8 rpg. Jones’ stats and accomplishments are markedly better than those other players. Not just slightly better, but there is a dramatic difference.
To those that say that Jones’ effort is less impressive because he played on a mediocre team, I’d submit that if Arkansas didn’t have Jones, they would’ve been at the bottom of the standings. When Arkansas co-star Isaiah Joe went down with an injury for five games, Jones stepped up his game and kept the Hogs competitive. There isn’t much doubt that if Joe had been healthy and Arkansas was an NCAA Tournament team right now, Jones would have at least not shared the award by the AP. The coaches may have still kissed Kentucky’s ring, but it would have been closer. Their apprehension of Jones was the Hogs’ record. I also contend that if Joe hadn’t been injured, Arkansas first-year Coach Eric Musselman would have received the AP Coach of the Year award. The coaches probably would have still gone with Calipari, but Musselman guiding this team even close to an NCAA berth is and outstanding achievement. He also played a major role in improving every player on the roster, including Jones.
Arkansas’ record is a convenient excuse not to honor Jones unanimously. If he played for another program, maybe even other than Kentucky, he would have swept the honors. Jones proved nightly he is the best player in the league and made a team with a depleted roster very competitive.