Auburn sophomore F Chuma Okeke has taken a big step forward for the Tigers this season, though he likely won’t get much national attention.

While starting all 31 games for Auburn so far, Okeke has averaged 11.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks per night.

But it’s his defense that really stands out to coach Bruce Pearl. In fact, Pearl said on Monday that he’s going to plead with other SEC coaches to vote Okeke onto the All-SEC defensive team (via 247Sports):

“I’m going to ask the coaches in our league to please vote for Chuma on the all-defensive team,” Pearl said. “It’s not an inappropriate request, because he’s not going to lead the league in steals or blocked shots or statistics that will say that. I ask my respected colleagues if they trust my opinion. He is a tremendous defender. He can guard (Tennessee guard) Jordan Bone. He can guard Kira Lewis on switches, and Admiral Schofield. One of the reasons why he has a tremendous future in the NBA is he can guard any position on the floor. He has the size, the length, the foot speed to stay in front. He is always in the right place defensively. Always. Because he may not block shots or get a ton of steals, he may not be in people’s minds. I hope not. I sure hope he makes that, because he’s as good as I’ve coached defensively.”

That’s some high praise from Pearl, who has been around the game for a long time now.

Will Okeke help the Tigers cut down the nets in Nashville this week? Auburn enters the SEC Tournament as the No. 5 seed.