Nerlens Noel frustrated plenty of SEC big men this season with his defensive prowess. He was the best shot blocker in the country and brought it every single night.
With the news that Noel is out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL, Kentucky lost its best player and the SEC lost arguably the best big man in the conference. Still, the league has a solid crop of quality big men, like Florida’s Patric Young, Missouri’s Alex Oriakhi, or Ole Miss’s Murphy Holloway.
Here is how the rest of the SEC big men rank with Noel out for the year. ("Big men” defined as any player who plays the four or five position.)
Kyle Wiltjer is 6’10”, but he is not a traditional big man by any means. He is a stretch four who can bring bigger defenders away from the basket, thanks to a great stroke from beyond the arc.
On the season, Wiltjer is third on the team, averaging 11.5 points per game. He is shooting 40.8 percent from three and has certainly had some big moments throughout the year. None were bigger than his 26-point performance in an 87-74 win at Ole Miss on Jan. 29.
Reginald Buckner has been a factor down low for Ole Miss the last four years. He has always been a good rebounder and shot blocker, and that is still the case this season. Buckner is sixth in the league in rebounding (7.6 rebounds per game) and second in blocks (2.7 blocks per game).
Where Buckner has made some strides is on offense. He is shooting 60.9 percent from the field which is a career-high, and after shooting 41.7 percent from the free-throw line last year, he has upped that to 61.9 percent this season.
Johnny O’Bryant III has really started to play well in the last month. He has six double-doubles in his last seven games, and over that span, O’Bryant III is averaging 15.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. On the year, he averages 12.3 points per game and ranks fifth in the SEC with 8.5 rebounds per game.
He has improved offensively in his sophomore season, shooting 46.3 percent from the floor compared to 39.9 percent last year. O’Bryant III still needs to do a better job taking care of the ball. He averages 3.2 turnovers per game which is way too many for a post player.
Willie Cauley-Stein has the potential to finish the year near the top of this list. He has great physical ability and will get more minutes due to Noel’s injury. Cauley-Stein missed four games in January because of a knee injury, but he is starting to round back into form, scoring in double figures the last three games.
So far this season, Cauley-Stein is averaging 7.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in just 20 minutes per game. He is shooting 63.9 percent from the floor and is fifth in the SEC with 1.7 blocks per game.
Marshawn Powell is an undersized power forward at 6’7”, but he is athletic and versatile, which makes him one of the tougher matchups in the SEC. Powell can get his points inside or outside. He shoots 52.6 percent from the field, and while he doesn’t take a lot of shots from three, he is making 44.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Powell ranks eighth in the conference in scoring with 14.7 points per game, and his 1.2 blocks per game rank No. 10 in the SEC.
Simply put, Jarnell Stokes is a load to handle. At 6’8”, 280 pounds, not many players in college basketball can handle his size one-on-one.
Stokes is averaging 12.4 points per game on 56.6 percent shooting. He is an excellent rebounder, ranking fourth in the SEC with 8.5 boards per game. He is also averaging 1.1 blocks per game. He has really turned it on lately with five double-doubles in his last six games.
Erik Murphy is the best stretch four in the country, which makes it tough to figure out where he ranks in a list full of big men. Murphy was good last year, but he has taken his game to an even higher level in his senior season.
He is shooting 55 percent from the field and a staggering 49 percent from three. Murphy is averaging 12.8 points per game, and he is a big reason that Florida has had the dominating season it has to this point.
At 6’7”, Murphy Holloway is a little undersized, but the lefty is a tough matchup, thanks to his strength and athleticism. He has been one of the most productive big men in the conference during his senior year.
Holloway leads the SEC in rebounding (9.7 rebounds per game) and ranks seventh in scoring (14.7 points per game). He’s shooting 53.4 percent from the field but has struggled a little recently. After scoring in double figures in his first 17 games this season, he has only gotten there just three times in the last six games.
After transferring to Missouri from Connecticut in the offseason, Alex Oriakhi has seen his offensive game blossom. He is averaging a career-high 11.1 points per game and is shooting 58.8 percent from the floor, eight percentage points better than his next best season. He is even shooting 75 percent from the free-throw line after making just 56.9 percent from the line last year.
Defense and rebounding have always been strengths for Oriakhi. He is third in the SEC with 8.6 rebounds per game and seventh with 1.5 blocks per game.
Patric Young provides the muscle for the Gators down low, and he is why Florida is defending at an elite level. The Gators are second nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, and they are limiting their opponents to just 40.6 percent shooting from inside the three-point line. Against Kentucky Tuesday, Young had 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, making it tough for the Wildcats throughout the game.
Young is averaging 10.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He shoots 61.8 percent from the floor and blocks 1.8 shots per game, an increase of one block per game over last year.