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2020-21 America East Award Predictions

A Way Too Early Glimpse at Who Might Take Home the Hardware

A few months ago, we looked at each team’s best chance at winning America East Player of the Year. Vermont’s Stef Smith is currently projected at as the odds-on favorite to capture the award – and rightfully so. The senior point guard will look to lead Vermont to another America East title and once again return to the NCAA Tournament. If that holds true, it’s almost a lock that Smith will find himself at the top of the America East Player of the Year list, along with numerous other awards and accolades. 

Since we’ve now covered each team’s top choice for the prestigious America East Player of the Year award, let’s move on to the rest of the America East awards as a whole. Last year, Hartford’s graduate transfers, Malik Ellison and Traci Carter both had fantastic seasons and found themselves on the first and third all-conference teams respectfully. Without first seeing incoming transfers or freshman play at the America East level it’s almost impossible to foresee how they’ll pan out. For that reason alone I’ve decided to leave them off any of the all-conference teams, though there is a good chance that a handful of the incoming transfers could ultimately play their way onto one of the America East All-Conference teams. 

These award lists are essentially a giant crapshoot and incredibly difficult to predict – nonetheless in August. For reference, here’s a look at last year’s award winners. Without any further ado, here are my incredibly way too early America East award winner predictions:

First Team

Stef Smith, SR, Guard, Vermont

Obadiah Noel, SR, Guard, UMass-Lowell

Nick Guadarrama, JR, Forward, UNH

Ryan Davis, JR, Forward, Vermont

Zach Cooks, SR, Guard, NJIT

Smith and Noel are the only returning players from last year’s America East First Team All-Conference list and should be considered locks to repeat those honors once again. As previously mentioned, Smith is the favorite for the America East Player of the Year, while Noel put up stunning averages of 18.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.7 steals a game just a season ago. He’ll be an even stronger focal point for the Riverhawks with Christian Lutete moving on.

The trio of Guadarrama, Davis and Cooks are all newcomers to America East First Team All-Conference honors. Had NJIT been a part of the America East last year, Cooks could’ve made an appearance after averaging 19.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals a game for the Highlanders. If Cooks has another year like that he’ll easily find himself on the short list for all-conference honors. While Guadarrama and Davis aren’t the type of stat sheet stuffers like Cooks or Noel are, both are tremendously skilled big men who can dominate the game from the paint. The duo of Guadarrama and Davis both possess the ability to hit from beyond the arc, giving their game an extra caveat from the perimeter. Likewise, Vermont and UNH project to be near the top of the America East standings, as team success is also accounted for come voting time.

Second Team

Hunter Marks, JR, Forward, Hartford

Sean Sutherlin, SR, Forward, UNH

Cam Healy, SR, Guard, Albany

George Tinsley, SO, Forward, Binghamton

R.J. Eytle-Rock, JR, Guard, UMBC

Hunter Marks and Sean Sutherlin are two guys who could very well play their way into First Team All-Conference honors. Marks becomes the de facto number one option for Hartford with Traci Carter and Malik Ellison both moving on. The young forward averaged 10.8 points and 6.1 boards a game just a season ago, as he prepares to take on a more significant role. Sutherlin deserves just as much praise as running mate, Guadarrama, as he was equally as dangerous for the Wildcats. Last year Sutherlin produced averages of 12.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists a game and could easily top those numbers this year, as the Wildcats look to make a run at Vermont.

The last time we saw Eytle-Rock he dropped a cool 31 points on Vermont in the America East Conference Semifinals. The combo-guard flashed his potential at times last year, while closing the season out on a high note. If he continues to grow there’s no doubt he’ll find his name brought up with all-conference honors. As a freshman, Tinsely averaged 11.7 points and 7.4 boards a game. Tinsely was named the America East Rookie of the Year just a season ago and will take on an even larger role now that Sam Sessoms has left Binghamton. Healy’s selection will depend on his consistency throughout the season, as the guard dropped 41 points against UMass-Lowell, but couldn’t reach double-figures in the last seven games before a 28 point outburst against Stony Brook. Will Brown has a great track record with developing guards, as Healy appears to be next in line now that Ahmad Clark has moved on.

Third Team

Brenton Mills, SO, Guard, Binghamton

Moses Flowers, SO, Guard, Hartford

Ben Shungu, SR, Guard, Vermont

Tyler Stephenson-Moore, JR, Guard, Stony Brook

Nedeljko Prijovic, SR, Forward, Maine

Stony Brook and Stephenson-Moore have a tall task ahead of them after arguably their top three players all transferred out (Garcia, Olaniyi and Foreman). Nonetheless, TSM is a talented guard who will ultimately fill up the stat sheet – unfortunately, there might not be too many wins along the way. The same could be said for Prijovic, who will be the Black Bears main focal point. The senior forward should be able to put up decent numbers statistically, but don’t expect much from a Maine team composed mostly of walk-on’s and JUCO prospects. On the other end of the spectrum lies Ben Shungu. The former walk-on guard always seems to be one of the most consistently overlooked Catamounts, despite earning phenomenal praise across the conference from players and coaches alike. He has dealt with his fair share of nagging injuries in the past, but if Shungu can stay healthy throughout the season there’s no doubt he’ll find himself with all-conference honors.

Mills was another great freshman for Binghamton just a season ago. The duo of Mills and Tinsley give the Bearcats a solid young core to build around (granted they don’t transfer out). With star guard Sam Sessoms departing, Mills is destined for an even larger role and could earn high praise come all-conference voting time. Moses Flowers of Hartford could be in line for a similar role, as guard Traci Carter has left a big hole in the Hawks backcourt. Flowers earned high praise as a freshman last year and should be a solid compliment to forward Hunter Marks, as Hartford tries to make another run at Vermont.

All-Defensive Team

Ben Shungu, SR, Guard, Vermont

Mouhamadou Gueye, SR, Forward, Stony Brook

Connor Withers, SO, Forward, UMass-Lowell

Stef Smith, SR, Guard, Vermont

Souleymane Diakite, JR, Forward, NJIT

Obviously the defending America East Defensive Player of the year, Ben Shungu, tops the list. Yet, outside of the rangy Shungu, no other player from last year’s list will be returning to the America East, meaning four new spots are up for grabs. Shungu’s running mate, Stef Smith is an incredible stout defender who has proven he can match up with some of the top guards in the country, yet is hardly acknowledged for his defensive accum. That should change this year, as Smith will look to showcase his defensive prowess. 

Diakite and Gueye are two big intimidating forwards who both utilize their length to help keep their opponents at bay. Last year, Diakite averaged 2 blocks a contest, while bringing down 8.5 boards a game. His inside presence was no joke a season ago, as he’ll look to bring that intensity to the America East. Like Diakite, Gueye also averaged 2 blocks a game last year, while also grabbing 6.4 boards a game. With the Seawolves losing so much this year, Gueye might be forced to use more energy on the offensive side, but realistically the big man should be quite the menace defensively. UMass-Lowell’s Connor Withers isn’t quite the same bully in the paint defensively as Diakite or Gueye, but as a freshman just a season ago Withers was able to flash plenty of potential. The young forward averaged 1.2 blocks and 1.2 steals a game just a season ago. Withers and star guard Obadiah Noel should give River Hawk fans hope for the upcoming year as they try to make an improbable run.

All-Rookie Team

Kellen Amos, FR, Guard, Binghamton

Briggs McClain, FR, Forward, Hartford

Max Brooks, FR, Forward, UMass-Lowell

Matty Fleming, FR, Forward, Maine

Matteo Picarelli, FR, Guard, UMBC

Out of all the award lists to date, this is without a doubt the biggest crapshoot. None of these kids have played at the division one level yet and no one has any certainty how their careers will pan out. There’s a chance that a few of these players might even redshirt the year due to the shroud of uncertainty in college basketball this year. That being said, in my mind these are the five players who project to have the most impact for their teams in year one out of the entire America East freshman class. Prove me wrong?

Rookie of the Year

Briggs McClain, FR, Forward, Hartford

Again, this is difficult to fully assess without seeing them play first, but for now we’ll crown McClain the winner. Side note – Briggs McClain is a dope name and he deserves the top spot for that sole reason alone.

Honorable Mention – Kellen Amos, FR, Guard, Binghamton

Can’t tell you how Amos will perform this year, but it seems almost sacrilegious to keep a Binghamton player off this list. Can’t wait to see him transfer out after the next 2-3 years.

Defensive Player of the Year

Ben Shungu, SR, Guard, Vermont

Back-to-back America East Defensive Player of the Year awards? Shungu is the reigning champ and only returning member from last year’s All-Defensive team, so it seems pretty safe to anoint the Catamount guard with the honor yet again. Shungu is a menace on the defensive end and consistently matches up against the opposing team’s best player. He might not be a lock, but he will without doubt be very much in contention yet again.

Honorable Mention – Souleymane Diakite, JR, Forward, NJIT

There are plenty of other well-suited candidates who could overthrow Shungu for Defensive Player of the Year honors. NJIT’s Diakite is one such player, as he provides the Highlanders with a fearocious inside presence defensively. Like many other of the other America East awards and accolades, the committee will undoubtedly take conference record into account, meaning Diakite and NJIT will need to finish in the top half of the standings at worst.

Sixth Man of the Year

Darnell Rogers, SR, Guard, UMBC

If you’re unfamiliar with the legend of Darnell Rogers, I highly suggest you do a little research. Officially listed at 5’2, Rogers is the shortest player to ever play division one basketball, but don’t let that fool you – this cat can ball. He only managed to play in seven games a season ago, but averaged 14 points, 4.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds a game. If Rogers can return to form, he’ll be one of the most exciting players to watch not just in the America East, but the entire country.

Honorable Mention – Aaron Deloney, SO, Guard, Vermont

Although not quite on Rogers stature, Deloney is another shorter guard who plays with a quick-twitch ability that few can contain. Deloney came into his own towards the end of the year as he averaged 8 points, 3.8 assists and 1 rebound a game as one of the first off the Catamount bench. He’ll find himself on the shortlist for Sixth Man of the Year if he continues to bring that consistent energy off the bench.

Player of the Year

Stef Smith, SR, Guard, Vermont

Without getting ahead of myself, this is Smith’s title to lose. The most talented player, on the most talented team. Widely considered the America East Player of the Year frontrunner, Smith would become the third straight Catamount to win the award and America East record fifth straight(!) Vermont player. Anything can happen, but for now Smith gets the nod.

Honorable Mention – Nick Guadarrama, JR, Forward, UNH

Besides Guadarrama, the case could be made for a number of other talented players worthy of contention. Obadiah Noel and Zach Cooks are both tremendous scorers who could parlay their play into consideration, but both UMass-Lowell and NJIT project to be middle of the pack teams for the year. UNH and Guadarrama on the other hand will likely be a much greater challenge for Vermont, so we’ll give the junior forward some well deserved praise.

Coach of the Year

John Becker, Vermont

Vermont is once again the odds-on favorite to win the America East, meaning that unless someone can dethrone the Catamounts, John Becker is likely looking at his sixth (fifth straight) America East Coach of the Year award. How in the world is John Becker not coaching for a Power Five school?!?! In all seriousness, please never leave Burlington Coach Becker.

Honorable Mention – Ryan Odom, UMBC

UMBC is one of the dark horse teams that could challenge Vermont in the America East. Ryan Odom has had success against John Becker previously and if they can somehow sweep Vermont and finish top three in the standings, Ryan Odom may very well have a chance at once again robbing John Becker and Vermont.

Top Transfer of the Year

Bernie Andre, GR, Forward, Vermont

This is a made up award, but in theory aren’t they all made up? When Andre first arrived at NAU he put up 13.8 points and 8.5 rebounds for the Lumberjacks, while being named the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year. If the Catamounts latest transfer can come close to that type of production once again, he’ll find himself on the receiving end of much more than just this faux-award.

Honorable Mention – Jarvis Doles, GR, Forward, Albany

The Great Danes have a plethora of JUCO transfers coming in and considering the recent state of Albany basketball, all of them will likely see the court at some point. Doles arrives in Albany after previously playing for Drexel, where he was primarily used coming off the bench. Checking in at 6’9, Doles gives Albany a solid inside presence who can also step out from beyond the arc. Realistically though you’d have better luck throwing a dart against a wall to guess which Great Dane transfer will be their guy.

Most Improved Player

Hunter Marks, JR, Forward, Hartford

In this scenario Hartford’s Hunter Marks takes home the second fake award for Most Improved Player of the year. The majority of this is based on Marks becoming the lead dog for Hartford now that Carter and Ellison are gone. After a lackluster freshman year, Marks exploded onto the America East scene, averaging 10.8 points and 6.1 boards a game a season ago. His production will surely see a spike, which at this point is all I can base this faux-award off of.

Honorable Mention – Ryan Davis, JR, Forward, Vermont

Last year’s America East Sixth Man of the Year award winner, Ryan Davis, would also be an excellent choice to win Most Improved Player. Davis will be taking on a larger role for the Catamounts and be one of the main focal points for the upcoming season. He continues to fine-tune his game and has even worked incredibly hard at developing a workout regime to handle the stress of the long season. If he keeps up this level of improvement, Davis will be in contention for much more than Most Improved Player.

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