With conference play just around the corner, the Southeastern Conference is poised to have a great year. Four teams from the SEC started the season in the top 25; currently there are three teams in the top 25, with Vanderbilt and Alabama flirting just outside of being ranked.
The conference, like the rest of the nation, is experiencing a luxurious amount of talent. Great athletes abound across the SEC, and there should be great games.
This article will shed light on the most important players in the conference—players that are vital to their team winning games.
It should be noted that importance is not skill. Importance in the SEC is the quality of dictating whether or not your team wins on any given night. For example, the Kentucky Wildcats may have more talent than any other team in the SEC, but their roster is so balanced that any player can have an off night and they could still win.
Night in and night out, these are the players that are the most important to their team's success.
Key Stats: 13.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 5.7 APG
Tennessee is experiencing a very underwhelming year so far. After their tumultuous 2010-2011 campaign, this was to be expected. Trae Golden is their best player, leading Tennessee and the SEC in assists per game.
Tennessee fans won't have much to look forward to during conference play, aside from Golden. His play is pivotal if the Volunteers expect to remain relevant in the SEC.
Key Stats: 9.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 53.8% FG
Ole Miss is another program that, like Tennessee, will most likely have a rough year in the SEC.
However, the Rebels are an above-average rebounding team, and that is in large part due to the third-best rebounder in the SEC, Murphy Holloway. With Holloway commanding the boards, his importance is vital to Mississippi's success.
Key Stats: 14.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.6 SPG
The freshman from Georgia, besides having one of the most colorful names in the conference, leads a young team that has solid wins over Notre Dame and USC. In those games, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 16 and 21, respectively, leading the team.
If Georgia hopes to pull off similar upsets in the SEC, Caldwell-Pope's play will be key.
Key Stats: 13.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 2.0 SPG
Malik Cooke does it all for the Gamecocks, filling the stat sheet almost every night.
South Carolina played Ohio State tough in their Dec. 17 meeting, and Cooke played a large role in keeping that game close with his 21 points.
In SEC play, don't be surprised to see Cooke doing the same.
Key Stats: 11.9 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 62% FG
Florida is a run-and-gun team, averaging 85.9 points per game, good for fourth in the country.
Their sophomore big man, Patric Young, plays an important role in both their offense and defense. He is the best pure frontcourt player on Florida's team, and is a key part in Florida's success.
The preseason All-SEC Second-Team big man will be a very important asset in Florida's games down the stretch.
Key Stats: 15.9 PPG, 4.4 APG, 2.3 SPG
Sixth in the SEC in points, fourth in assists, second in steals, Dee Bost is the senior leader of this upstart Mississippi State basketball team.
He sets the pace for the Bulldogs, and has shown he is well-deserving of his First-Team All-SEC preseason honor.
Key Stats: 10.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.5 APG
The SEC Tournament MVP from just a year ago is one of the most intriguing players on Kentucky's roster. There are no glaring flaws in his game, aside from his assertiveness.
Miller is one of the better outside shooters for Kentucky, and they need him to be a threat if they expect to continue their run towards a number one seed.
Key Stats (Hood): 12.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.1 APG
Key Stats (Sidney): 10.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 59.3% FG
These two players from Mississippi State have polar opposite personalities: Rodney Hood is a freshman that has a relentless motor and is very efficient on the offensive end. Renardo Sidney, on the other hand, is talented but doesn't show effort every play and has behavioral issues.
Hood will be another exciting freshman to watch in the SEC, and should only continue to improve. Sidney could really help the Bulldogs down low, but mentally he's not there yet.
Both players play a huge role in Mississippi State's game.
Key Stats: 9.0 PPG, 5.7 APG, 1.0 BPG
Although Festus Ezeli has only played in three games this year, he is a very important part of Vanderbilt's game. His stats may not show it, but he is a key component.
The Commodores need his inside presence to help against teams scoring in the lane. Ezeli made First-Team All-SEC in the preseason for a reason, and I expect him to show why in conference play.
Key Stats: 12.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 4.6 BPG
Anthony Davis is valuable to Kentucky for one main reason: defense presence.
Davis blocks and alters shots so well, Kentucky can't afford to lose him to foul trouble. He changes the way every player on the court plays. Kentucky can play swarming defense because they know they have a prolific shot-blocker behind them if they get beat.
Key Stats: 16.8 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 55.1% FG
Arnett Moultrie is a relative unknown in the SEC because he transferred from UTEP after the 2008-2009 season. Needless to say, he has made his presence known.
If his statistics don't speak for themselves (fourth in the SEC in scoring, first in rebounds), then his play will. He makes plays on offense and drives the Mississippi State defense.
Moultrie's best statistic may be that he doesn't get in foul trouble often. He averages under two per game, and has yet to foul out this year.
In Mississippi State's two losses this year, Moultrie scored a combined 16 points. The Bulldogs need him to perform if they expect to win.
Key Stats: 15.9 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 3.2 Fouls Per Game
JaMychal Green is efficient. He hits 55.8 percent of his shots and makes free throws. He is one of the few scoring threats for Alabama's offense.
Alabama is awful at shooting three-pointers, shooting 27.4 percent. Their defense is solid, but if you can't score, you can't win.
Green needs to score for the Crimson Tide to win ball games. Without his scoring, Alabama doesn't win many games.
Key Stats: 14.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.1 APG
This freshman for Kentucky has shown it all. His Dwight Howard-like numbers (24 points, 19 boards) in Kentucky's New Year's Eve win over Louisville proved he can carry this team.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the epitome of a leader. He works hard, plays hard and his results speak for themselves. He is the heart and soul of this Kentucky team, and he is the most important reason why they will win games this year.
Key Stats (Jenkins): 20.1 PPG, 47.9% FG, 44.2% 3P%
Key Stats (Taylor): 18.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.1 APG
John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor are the highest-scoring duo in the SEC. Jenkins shoots almost nine threes per game, and if he goes cold, Vanderbilt's chances of winning plummet.
Taylor shoots well from the outside as well, at 40.4 percent.
If the opposing team shuts down these two wingmen, Vanderbilt will have a tough time winning.
Key Stats (Walker): 13.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 5.2 APG
Key Stats (Boynton): 19.4 PPG, 50.6% FG, 3.0 APG
If Vanderbilt's duo is good, these two are great. Erving Walker is a speedy point guard that can break down a defense with ease, and Kenny Boynton's shooting ability is the perfect complement.
As these two players go, so goes Florida's offense. Boynton has scored over 13 points in every game but one this year. Walker has struggled shooting the ball so far this year, but his 5.2 assists per game is good for second in the conference.
These two players are the most important to their team. Their versatility causes matchup nightmares. Without them, Florida would lose the depth that makes them so formidable.