So as it turns out, when you go 14-2 (14-1 for all intents and purposes) with a thin bench and plenty of injuries, people take notice. The SEC announced the women's college basketball awards for the regular season today, and the Lady Vols took home some hardware.
- Bashaara Graves, Freshman of the Year. This was an utter no-brainer in my completely biased eyes, but Graves had an astounding freshman year. 14.3 ppg (in 10 shots per game, an efficiency mark we'll come back to later), 8.5 boards per game, and 5.7(!) FTA per game certainly sounds like an interior bruiser, which matches Graves' game well. After coming off the bench in the opening-season loss to Chattanooga, she started every single game the rest of the season, serving as an anchor on the inside both alongside Isabelle Harrison and on her own. In the women's game - with everyone staying four years - it's tougher for a freshman to make an impact, but Graves not only picked the right year to come in, she dominated. Graves - by the end of the year - was solid. And we have three more years of her to boot.*
- Meighan Simmons, Co-SEC Player of the Year. Yes - to some extent, we're as surprised as you are about this. Still, she led the team in scoring (17.7 PPG in 15.4 shots/game), led the team from the perimeter and interior, and played good-to-excellent defense. Here's the disconnect: I've probably seen Simmons play 100 games, and she's gotten so much better since her freshman year. I see her future, when she finally learns when to use her speed, picks her spots, and finishes her follow through on every single shot and averages something stupid like 22.5 PPG on 15.4 shots/game. She can be so much better than she is now, and that's what I see. What I don't see - and what I should - is her ability to take over games for stretches at a time. Heck, she beat North Carolina on her own (which wasn't SEC play, but whatever; UNC is a top-20 team), forced opponents to account for her on every possession, and still put up those numbers. That's impressive, and the honors are well deserved. (And yes, A'Dia Mathies is your other co-POY, which is well deserved.)
- Holly Warlick, SEC Coach of the Year. Speaking of well deserved, there were questions about Warlick in the wake of Pat Summitt stepping down - and yes, this is where we mention the Chattanooga loss for the last time (unless we do a season retrospective), since that didn't help matters. Picked 5th in the SEC, there weren't a ton of expectations for the Lady Vols, especially opposite a Vanderbilt team supposed to edge them. They ended the season with an (inexplicable) loss at Missouri and an (explicable) loss at Kentucky; Tennessee didn't lose any other SEC games the rest of the way. Warlick did a fantastic job leading this team past everyone else's expectations and juggling numerous injuries, and - quite frankly - I didn't expect this team to go 23-6 (14-2 in conference). Not this season. The Lady Vols are playing either at or above their peak that everyone expected at the beginning of the year, and that goes back to the coach.