Make Your Bets as to Who Will Walk Away With the Hardware
The America East Player of the Year award will once again be up for grabs come 2020-21. The Vermont Catamounts have had stranglehold on the award for the past four years with Anthony Lamb and Trae Bell-Haynes each collecting two apiece. But, with Lamb now out of the picture, the race for AE Player of the Year is set to be a wide open affair.
The Catamounts sit perched atop the leaderboard with 12 AE Player of the Year awards, followed by Stony Brook and former conference rivals Boston University and Northeastern who each hold five apiece. On the other end of the spectrum, UMBC, UMass Lowell and Binghamton have never been able to produce a player worthy enough of the illustrious AE Player of the Year award.
Before anointing the top candidates from each school, there are a few other interesting tidbits to take note of. First, since its inaugural season in 1979, no freshman has ever won the AE Player of the year and only nine sophomores have been able to capture the prize, with Stony Brook forward Jameel Warney (2013-14) the last to accomplish such a feat. Likewise, no incoming transfer has ever won either. Hartford’s Malik Ellison was in contention last year and arguably should have won, but the AE committee seems to steer away from crowning players who have recently transferred in.
Lastly, the AE Player of the Year award has typically been awarded to a player on the best team. This might seem like common sense, as overall wins will always be an underlying factor in a players resume. From 2009-10 through 2019-20, only three times would a player be named the AE Player of the Year and not finish with either the regular season or conference tournament crown. This type of handicap has made it extremely difficult for teams like Maine, Binghamton and UMass Lowell to field a player who could win America East Player of the year.
We’re still months away from the opening tip and by no means are these names set in stone, but as of this moment here’s a look at each team’s best chance at winning the 2020-21 America East Player of the Year award.
*The +(number) is my own guess on how Vegas would set these players odds at.
Stef Smith, Guard – Vermont +400
As previously mentioned, Vermont has managed to capture the previous four AE Player of the Year nods through the likes of Trae Bell-Haynes (2) and Anthony Lamb (2). No team in America East history has ever won the award in five straight years, but guard Stef Smith will look to continue the Catamount’s run of dominance.
Although other players on this list may have produced stronger statistical numbers, the Vermont guard earns the best odds due in-large to the Catamounts success. Stony Brook’s Elijah Olaniyi was widely considered the betting favorite, who along with Smith was one of three players on this list to be selected to the America East First Team All-Conference squad just a season ago. There’s always a slim possibility that Olaniyi could reconsider and return to the Seawolves, but until that happens Smith will earn the nod.
With Olaniyi now moving on to greener pastures, it once again establishes the Catamounts as the clear favorites to secure their fifth straight league title. If that happens, Smith will no doubt be in contention to earn his first AE Player of the Year award and fifth straight for the Catamounts. Here’s how Burlington’s agent zero looked last year:
- 28.4 minutes per game
- 14.2 points per game
- 2.8 rebounds per game
- 2.6 assists per game
- 42.3% from beyond the arc
The Ajax, Ontario native would finish second on the team in scoring behind only AE Player of the Year winner Anthony Lamb. Smith was a consistent threat for the Catamounts, as he would score over double-digits in 26 games, while also breaking the 20+ point margin seven times on the year. Smith shot an incredible 42.3% from beyond the arc and an even more astonishing 49.4% during conference play. The combo-guard would also earn his first appearance on the America East First Team All-Conference squad for his efforts.
Out of all the candidates listed, Smith is the only one to average under 30 minutes a game. With Lamb set to depart, Smith should not only see an increase in his minutes, but also in touches. The soon to be senior guard will become the de facto number one option for Vermont in the upcoming 2020-21 season.
While Lamb was undoubtedly the best player for Catamounts, Vermont’s success has in large part been due to their great depth and unselfish play. Emerging star forward Ryan Davis could challenge Smith for that leading scorer spot, or even one of their incoming transfers. Smith recently declared his intentions to enter the NBA draft, but much like former Catamounts TBH and Lamb, expect to see Smith back in Burlington come November.
The combination of Smith and Davis, along with the rest of the already deep Vermont roster should once again have the Catamounts controlling conference play as they look to add another tally on their regular season champions banner. Stony Brook, UMBC and others could still threaten, but this will be the Catamounts to lose. To be the man, you gotta beat the man. Woooo!
Honorable Mention – Ryan Davis – 19.9 mpg, 9.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.5 apg (2019-20)
Nick Guadarrama, Forward – New Hampshire +900
Here’s where things start to get interesting. Smith and what would’ve been Olaniyi represented the two best options. Now, Smith sits alone as the leading candidate to claim AE Player of the Year. But, there are still a few dark horses who with the right breaks could find themselves in contention for the AE Player of the Year race. New Hampshire’s Nick Guadarrama is one of those players.
In order for Guadarrama to even have a horse in this race, UNH is going to need to play lights out come conference play. The good news for Guadarrama is that even with a rocky team performance, the Wildcats still managed to finish fourth in the conference standings for the 2019-20 season. If UNH can continue to build off last year’s surprise 4th place finish, Guadarrama should find himself closer to the likes of Smith come voting time.
It’s definitely a big time if, but outside of Vermont, the America East conference is wide open. Guadarrama will look to lead the Wildcats to their first conference title and become the first Wildcat since Scott Drapeau (1994) to win the AE Player of the Year. Here’s how Guadarrama capped his sophomore season:
- 31.6 minutes per game
- 12.9 points per game
- 7.1 rebounds per game
- 2.4 assists per game
- 37.2% from beyond the arc
Guadarrama is the classic America East undersized forward (6’5) who wins plays with his strength and all out hustle. The Newington, CT native paced the Wildcats in scoring, while also finishing second in rebounding. Even with his bullish figure, Guadarrama was a threat from beyond the arc as the forward finished second on the team in three-pointers made and overall three-point percentage.
The big-bodied Guadarrama broke the 20+ scoring mark four times, the 10+ rebound mark seven times and double-double mark six times throughout the season. Guadarrama would land on the America East Third Team All-Conference after his breakout sophomore year.
Along with Guadarrama, junior forward Sean Sutherlin should help push the Wildcats as America East possible contenders for the 2020-21 season. The two big men form arguably the strongest frontcourt duo in the conference and will look to continue their dominant post play. It’ll take a lot of hard work and some potentially lucky breaks, but if that happens, Nick Guadarrama has a shot at joining Scott Drapeau as the only Wildcats to ever win the America East Player of the Year.
Honorable Mention – Sean Sutherlin – 33.9 mpg, 12. ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.6 apg (2019-20)
*Makale Foreman, Guard – Stony Brook +1100
Before Vermont swept the last four AE Player of the Year awards, Stony Brook had managed to collect a four-peat of their own from 2013-16, with Jammel Warney (3) and Tommy Brenton (1) each collecting the hardware. Until recently, Stony Brook’s Elijah Olaniyi presented the best chance of capturing the AE Player of the Year award and would’ve been a key cog in Stony Brook stealing the conference title away from Vermont.
Unfortunately, when news suddenly broke that Olaniyi would be leaving Stony Brook to pursue the NBA draft or transfer, the Seawolves AE Player of the Year chances and conference title hopes took a huge plunge. Sadly this trend of losing star players has become an on-going issue for Stony Brook, as this news comes just one year after star Akwasi Yeboah left the program.
Despite the loss of Olaniyi, Stony Brook has more than enough talent to remain in the upper half of the America East standings. While their ultimate goal of dethroning Vermont and taking back the conference title took a significant blow, now senior guard Makale Foreman will look to carry the Seawolves in the upcoming season. Foreman will now be the focal point of a Stony Brook team that needs all the support it can get. Here’s how Foreman’s junior year numbers stacked up:
- 35 minutes per game
- 15.6 points per game
- 2.8 rebounds per game
- 2.0 assists per game
- 36% from beyond the arc
Olaniyi is without a doubt the better player, but make no mistake about it, Foreman is no slouch. The sharpshooter from Kingsport, TN is deadly from beyond the arc, as the sensational guard would break the program record for most threes in a season with 105. Foreman also tied the school record of eight three-point makes against UMBC.
Foreman would finish second on the team in scoring and assists behind only Olaniyi on the season. The soon-to-be senior guard broke the double-digit scoring mark in 29 out of the 33 games he played in, while also exceeding the 20+ mark seven times. Foreman was a true model of consistency throughout the year and will look to take another next step forward with full control of the offense.
Besides Foreman, Stony Brook will lean on freshman standout guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore to help carry to the team. TSM saw limited action on the year, but should see an expanded role next season as minutes have opened up for the young guard to flourish. Along with Olaniyi, forward Andrew Garcia has also opted out of Stony Brook. Hopefully the mass exodus isn’t a sign of things to come, as the Seawolves could be hanging on by a thread if any more players walk out the door. For now, Foreman is a Seawolve and he’ll look to become the first Stony Brook player since the great Jameel Warney to win AE player of the year.
*Well, that didn’t take long. Foreman has apparently seen the writing on the wall and followed suit with the likes of Olaniyi and Garcia and entered the transfer pool. Incredibly tough blow for Stony Brook, who has gone from America East title contenders to now potentially falling to the bottom third of the league. TSM will hopefully provide some stability, but Stony Brook is most likely going to be in for a less-than-memorable season ahead of them.
Honorable Mention – Tyler Stephenson-Moore – 16.4 mpg, 4.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.4 apg (2019-20)
R.J. Eytle-Rock, Guard – UMBC +1400
Much like UNH’s Nick Guadarrama, UMBC’s R.J. Eytle-Rock is another dark horse candidate who could find himself in AE Player of the Year contention if all goes according to plan. Eytle-Rock would help the Retrievers tie with UNH for fourth place in the America East conference standings last year, while reaching the semi-finals of the conference tournament before succumbing to eventual champions Vermont.
Despite the loss to Vermont, UMBC battled the Catamounts to the very end, as Eytle-Rock would drop a career high 31 points in what many Retriever fans believe to be his coming out party. If that’s truly the case, then Eytle-Rock will surely find himself at the top list come AE Player of the Year voting time.
Before that can happen Eytle-Rock has to prove that his performance against Vermont wasn’t just a fluke. The sophomore guard still has plenty of work to do and will need to improve his overall consistency before he can be mentioned with the likes of Smith or even Foreman. Here’s how the combo-guard would finish his sophomore campaign:
- 31.4 minutes per game
- 11.2 points per game
- 4.4 rebounds per game
- 3.3 assists per game
- 36.3% from beyond the arc
The London, England native ventured across the pond to join UMBC, where he quickly asserted himself as their lead guard. Eytle-Rock would finish the year second on the team in scoring and assists behind only senior K.J. Jackson. His 36.3% three-point field-goal percentage was also second on the team, just a hair behind forward Brandon Horvath’s 36.8% mark.
Eytle-Rock would break the double-digit scoring mark 13 times throughout the season and would finish the final three games of the season with 15, 15 and 31, guiding UMBC to a 2-1 record. This late season push is what has Retriever fans giddy about the potential emergence of the next great UMBC guard.
Along with Binghamton and UMass Lowell, no player to come through UMBC has ever taken home the AE Player of the Year award. Likewise, UMBC hasn’t won a regular season title since 2008 despite constantly being a thorn in the side for teams like Vermont, Stony Brook and Albany. In order for Eytle-Rock to have a serious shot of becoming the first Retriever to win this award, UMBC is going to need to prove they can win consistently throughout the season.
Brandon Horvath and a healthy Darnell Rogers should help UMBC’s chances. If those two, along with Eytle-Rock can play at a strong consistent level, then UMBC should finish no worse than third. But, if once again they cannot put it all together, you’re looking at another .500 Retriever team and second or third team honors for Eytle-Rock.
Honorable Mention – Brandon Horvath – 29.9 mpg, 11 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.0 apg (2019-20)
Obadiah Noel, Guard – UMass Lowell +1800
With Vermont penciled in as the running favorite, UNH, Stony Brook and UMBC are all represented as potential dark horse challengers. The next tier of players will largely be viewed as long-shots, who are going to need a lot to go their way in order to find themselves even remotely in contention. The first name on this third-tier list is UMass-Lowell’s Obadiah Noel.
UMass-Lowell officially joined the America East and division one basketball at the start of the 2013-14 season, so their history is pretty bare. Still, the River Hawks have yet to produce an AE Player of the Year, nor have they managed to win a regular season conference title. Noel was forced to carry the team throughout the year, but despite his best efforts the team could only manage a sixth place tie with Albany and an opening round loss to Hartford in the conference tournament.
Without a doubt Noel is the best player on a sub-par UMass-Lowell team. Former River Hawk Jahad Thomas faced the same challenges despite putting up gaudy numbers on a nightly performance. If Noel can continue to produce at a high-rate while somehow guiding the River Hawks into contention, he’ll find himself in serious discussion for the AE Player of the Year race. Here’s how Noel would finish the 2019-20 season:
- 35.1 minutes per game
- 18.2 points per game
- 5.2 rebounds per game
- 2.7 assists per game
- 40% from beyond the arc
Along with Noel, the River Hawks relied heavily on senior guard Christian Lutete to produce any sort of offense. Noel would finish just a hair behind Lutete for the team’s scoring title, while also finishing second and third respectively in assists and rebounds for last year’s UMass-Lowell team. The junior guard also paced the team in both steals and three-point field goal percentage for the season.
Unlike some of the other names on the list, Noel has been a model of consistency. The Frederick, MD native surpassed the double-digit scoring margin in 31 out of the 32 games he played in, while also breaking the 20+ mark 11 times on the season. Noel was also a menace on the defensive end, recording at least one steal in 26 of the 32 contests from a year ago. The America East recognized Noel’s efforts, as he earned his first career nod on the AE First Team All-Conference honors.
With UMass-Lowell set to lose Noel’s running mate in Lutete, it could make for even tougher sledding for the soon-to-be senior guard. Opposing teams will force the River Hawks to beat them by double and even triple teaming Noel. Former freshman standout Connor Withers will try to help Noel shoulder the load, but UMass-Lowell is going to need much more than just Noel and Withers if they hope to find themselves in America East contention. It’s an uphill battle, but Noel will be hoping to add more than just an AE First Team All-Conference tally to his resume next year.
Honorable Mention – Connor Withers – 29.3 mpg, 9.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.1 apg (2019-20)
Cam Healy, Guard – Albany +1900
There’s no questioning that Albany has taken a step back in recent years. The Great Danes used to be perennial America East title contenders, but now the former top program has been a .500 at best team. Ever since the departures of David Nichols and Joe Cremo, Albany hasn’t been the same. In order for the Great Danes to get back to their winning ways they’ll need someone to emerge and ideally that player will be guard Cam Healy.
Coach Will Brown likes to run a guard heavy line-up most nights, as five different guards would average over 24 minutes a game just a season ago. Unfortunately for Albany, Coach Brown has yet to field a guard who can replace the type of production of a Nichols or Cremo. Along with Healy, Ahmad Clark would lead the way out of the backcourt, but the duo could only manage a 7-9 conference record before falling to Stony Brook in the opening conference tournament round.
If Albany is to make the jump back up to conference title contention it’s not going to happen over night. Healy was able to string together a solid, albeit unspectacular sophomore campaign, but in order to have a horse in the AE Player of the Year race, Healy is going to need to take his game to the next level. Here’s how the Sydney, Australian native would cap his sophomore year:
- 30.4 minutes per game
- 14.2 points per game
- 4 rebounds per game
- 2.2 assists per game
- 35.6% from beyond the arc
The Aussie guard would finish the year second on the team in scoring, assists and steals, just behind senior running mate Clark. Healy would reach the double-figure scoring mark 21 times and break the 20+ mark seven times on the season. Healy also dropped a career high 41 points against UMass-Lowell enroute to being named the America East Player of the Week (01/27). Healy’s best asset without a doubt is his free throw shooting. He was esstentially automatic from the stripe last year, shooting at 91% clip, leading all players in the America East and finishing fifth in the country.
Despite some big time performances, Healy would disappear at times throughout the season. The guard would finish the year with seven straight games without reaching double-figures before dropping 28 against Stony Brook in the conference tournament. Albany hasn’t taken home an AE Player of the Year award since Jamar Wilson won it back-to-back in 2006 and 2007. If Healy can up his play at a stronger and more consistent level over the course of a full season he’ll have a chance to be in contention.
With Ahmad Clark’s departure Healy will have to shoulder more of the load for the Great Danes come 2020-21. The guard heavy Great Danes will try to supplement Clark with Antonio Rizzuto, pairing Healy with another sharpshooting guard. The two should pair well together in Albany’s starting backcourt, but they’ve got quite a bit of work ahead of them before the Nichols and Cremo comparisons start getting thrown around. Healy’s chances are slim at best, but even with an unstable team you should never count out a Will Brown coached team.
Honorable Mention – Antonio Rizzuto – 25 mpg, 7.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.2 apg (2019-20)
Hunter Marks, Forward – Hartford +2200
Seeing Hartford so low on this list might come as a surprise to some, but after coming oh-so-close last year and now losing oh-so-much talent this year, it’ll be difficult for any Hawks player to have much of a chance in the AE Player of the Year race. Led by Malik Ellison and Traci Carter, Hartford was set to square off against Vermont in the America East Title game for a chance to make their first ever trip to the NCAA tournament.
Unfortunately the game was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Vermont was awarded the title by virtue of their number one seeding. Likewise, Ellison would come up just short against Anthony Lamb in the race for AE Player of the Year. Ellison would have been the first Hartford Hawk to take home the hardware since the great Vin Baker in 1993.
Hartford could be in for a regression of sorts next year. The classic “Super Bowl Hangover” is quite real and the Hawks could be feeling it after losing their two best players in Ellison and Carter. The Hawks will be searching for a new identity for the upcoming season. One player who should help ease that transition is Hunter Marks.
The sophomore big man from Phillip Island, Australia was able to string together a solid second year campaign for the Hawks, becoming a reliable second or third option in most games. Here’s how Marks would finish off the year:
- 34.9 minutes per game
- 10.8 points per game
- 6.1 rebounds per game
- 1.6 assists per game
- 33.3% from beyond the arc
After hardly seeing the court his freshman year, Marks would jumpstart his career during his sophomore campaign. The Aussie big man would finish second on the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots, just behind star Ellison. Although the offense would run through Ellison, Marks assisted the Hawks as a dependable second-fiddle option when defenses would swarm Ellison.
Despite averaging almost 35 minutes a game, Marks statistical numbers were rather pedestrian. The big man would break the double-digit scoring mark 18 times on the season, but only score at least 20 points once. Likewise, Marks only produced two double-doubles all season and would finish with 5 or less rebounds in 14 contests throughout the year.
For Hartford to even come close to sniffing another America East Title game Marks is going to have to see serious improvement and even that might not be enough. Luckily guard Moses Flowers should help Marks shoulder the load. Flowers looks poised to fill the void left by Carter and should provide another reliable scoring option for the Hawks. It’s unlikely we’ll be discussing Marks as an AE Player of the Year contender come voting time, but stranger things have happened.
Honorable Mention – Moses Flowers – 28 mpg, 10.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.4 apg (2019-20)
George Tinsley, Forward – Binghamton +2800
Moving on to the fourth and final tier of players, these guys have about a snowball’s chance in hell of capturing an America East Player of the Year award. While these young men are largely considered the best player on their respective teams, it’s going to take some sort of glitch in the matrix to hear their names brought up for the AE Player of the Year race. First up is Binghamton’s George Tinsley.
Binghamton actually had a legit AE Player of the Year contender in guard Sam Sessoms, but after two straight years of finishing near the bottom of the league and a severely lacking core around him, Sessoms flew the coop and transferred to Penn State. Sessoms was arguably one of the best guards in the America East and could’ve started for every team in the conference. For Binghamton to lose such a talented and highly respected player is a huge blow to the program.
Even with an already young nucleus of players, Binghamgton will once again be hitting the reset button. George Tinsley and Brenton Mills both made the America East All-Rookie team, so there is some silver lining. Hopefully Binghamton will be able to surround these two with more talent and keep them in New York for the next three years. Tinsley was able to put together a fairly impressive freshman year, here’s how his numbers stacked up:
- 38.5 minutes per game
- 11.7 points per game
- 7.4 rebounds per game
- 1.8 assists per game
- 32.5% from beyond the arc
By all accounts Tinsley had a great opening campaign. The freshman forward from Clarks Summit, PA would lead the Bearcats in rebounding and blocked shots, while also finishing second on the team in points, assists and steals behind only the aforementioned Sessoms. Along with being selected to the AE All-Rookie team, Tinsley was named the America East Rookie of the Year for his all around efforts on the court. Tinsley became the second straight Bearcat to take home the award after Sessoms won it the previous year.
Like most freshmen Tinsley would struggle at times, but the young forward was able to close out the year on a strong note, reaching the double figure mark in nine of the last eleven games while averaging 13.5 points per contest. Tinsley would lead all America East freshmen in both scoring and rebounding, while picking up AE Rookie of the Week honors three times throughout the season.
Unfortunately, Binghamton would finish last in conference standings and miss out on qualifying for the conference tournament. No player in Binghamton history has ever taken home the AE Player of Year award and Binghamton hasn’t won a regular season title since 2009. Tinsley and fellow freshman standout Mills will look to change Binghamton’s fortune, but the talented duo can only do so much. Look for Tinsley and Mills to receive the lion’s share of touches next year especially with Sessoms moving on. Nonetheless, it’ll be quite the shock to hear either of these names mentioned in the same sentence of AE Player of the Year.
Honorable Mention – Brenton Mills – 31.4 mpg, 9.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.2 apg (2019-20)
Nedeljko Prijovic, Forward – Maine +3500
Locked in the final spot is Maine’s Nedeljko Prijovic. Sadly the Maine Black Bears are one of the worst teams in the country and the upcoming 2020-21 seasons looks to bring more of the same results. The Black Bears would finish the year with a 5-11 America East conference record, but two late season wins would help catapult them ahead of rival Binghamton for the final conference tournament spot.
Maine has a long and storied program history, but has never made an NCAA Tournament appearance dating back to their inaugural season back in 1904-05. Likewise, not since Jeff Cross in the 1982-83 season has a Black Bear been named the AE Player of the Year. Looking ahead to the 2020-21 season and there’s a good chance Mr. Cross holds on to that title for at least another year.
As if things weren’t already bad enough up in Orono, the Black Bears are set to lose their two best players in Andrew Fleming and Sergio El-Darwich. Both Fleming and Darwich would earn America East Third Team All-Conference nods in their final seasons with Maine. The cupboards are looking mighty bare for the Black Bears, but forward Nedeljko Prijovic will be taking over the reigns and looking to right the ship. Here’s how Prijovic would finish the year:
- 30.6 minutes per game
- 10.7 points per game
- 5.5 rebounds per game
- 1.6 assists per game
- 32.6% from beyond the arc
With Fleming and Darwich handling the majority of offense for the Black Bears, Prijovic was often the third or fourth option, but took advantage of his opportunities whenever he could. Prijovic would finish second on the team in rebounding and blocks, and third on the team in points, assists and steals behind only Fleming and Darwich. With the duo of Fleming and Darwich departing, Prijovic should be first in line to pick up the slack.
Prijovic was pretty inconsistent throughout the year, but at the tail end of the season when Maine needed him most, Prijovic stepped up. Prijovic broke the double-digit scoring mark in five of the last six games, averaging 16.3 points a contest, while helping Maine sneak into the conference playoffs.
In all likelihood Maine will once again be competing with Binghamton in the America East basement for that final conference tournament spot come 2020-21. Maine should strongly consider changing their name from the Black Bears to the Bleak Bears. In all seriousness, it’s going to take a miracle-esque performance from Prijovic to even be considered for the AE Player of the year. At least the Red Claws will be fun to watch.
Honorable Mention – Mykhailo Yagodin – 14 mpg, 4.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.0 apg (2019-20)