It’s Still Early, But Who’s Stood Out So Far?
It’s waaaaaay too early to dub the America East Player of the Year – let alone even have a proper discussion about it. But, since every team in the America East has officially commenced their season it’s worth mentioning who might be moving up the ladder or in some cases, moving down.
Before the start of the season it was Vermont’s Stef Smith who was penciled in as the presumed favorite – and rightfully so. The Catamounts were coming off yet another America East title and Smith was projected to take on a much larger role with the departure of former America East Player of the Year, Anthony Lamb.
Smith has only played in two games thus far and while he had to fight through foul trouble in both games, he didn’t exactly separate himself from the rest of the pack. The abbreviated season is going to make it incredibly tough on the committee to properly evaluate which player has made the biggest impact in league play. It could very well come down to whoever gets hot late and makes that final push.
It’s been less than a week since America East play began and there’s still a small handful of teams that have yet to even do that (NJIT, UNH). There’s no telling where these players will ultimately end up, but for now here’s a look at who might hear their name discussed come America East award time and those who are unfortunately trending in the wrong direction.
Stock Up | Week One
Brandon Horvath | Forward | UMBC Retrievers
No doubt about it, UMBC is the hottest team in the America East right now and forward Brandon Horvath is a huge reason behind the Retrievers early success. UMBC sits atop the America East standings (2-0) and is 6-1 on the season thus far. This might be the deepest and most talented team Ryan Odom has been able to put together in his tenure at the helm and Horvath is really starting to separate himself as their go-to guy.
Horvath has paced the Retrievers in scoring in 6 of their 8 games and currenting leads the team in both scoring (15.9) and rebounding (8.4). The senior big man has also showcased his passing abilities with 2.4 assists a game. All of those statistics are career bests for Horvath, as he looks to have taken that leap to the next level.
Against Albany, Horvath averaged 22.5 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block, while being named the America East Player of the Week. If Horvath can continue this level of play throughout the year you’re likely looking at the next AE PoY.
Ron Mitchell | Guard | UMass-Lowell River Hawks
When you think of UMass-Lowell guards who are in the running for America East Player of the Year you instantly think of Obadiah Noel. While Noel has been fantastic in his own right, it was Mitchell who was the leading force behind the River Hawks upset win over Vermont. Full transparency, I don’t expect Mitchell to be a favorite for the award, as there are many more deserving players, but we’ll give him some much deserved recognition for the week he had.
Even with Vermont struggling to shake off the cobwebs early on, Mitchell was still often pitted against arguably the best defender in the conference, Ben Shungu. The task of taking down Goliath became even harder, as Noel was forced to bench early due to foul trouble. How would Mitchell respond? The sophomore guard dropped a career high 24 points and 10 rebounds, including 6-8 from deep to help secure only their third win over Vermont since 2013.
UMass-Lowell couldn’t quite complete the sweep over their conference foes, but Mitchell still finished with a solid 15 points and 5 rebounds in their second outing. Mitchell likely won’t find his name in AE PoY contention, but if he keeps stroking it deep he may very well find himself near the top of the list in the years to come.
Dan Akin | Forward | UMBC Retrievers
Dan Akin is another guy similar to Mitchell in that he likely won’t be in the final consideration, but again he deserves recognition for his early season accomplishments. The senior big man is off to a very solid start, averaging 10.6 points, 8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks a game for the Retrievers. Fun fact, Akin actually started for the Retrievers during their magical upset over #1 seed Virginia in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
Akin has provided the Retrievers with a solid post presence and could be arguably the best “glue-guy” in the America East. Now there’s an award the America East needs to add. While the senior big man has yet to lead the team outright in scoring in any of their contests thus far, he is one of four different Retrievers to be averaging over double-figures to this point.
Before teammate Brandon Horvath took home the honors, Akin was also on the receiving end of earning America East Player of the Week recognition. Who knows if Akin can repeat those honors once again before the season ends, but for now it’s the Retrievers and Akin who are trending the right direction.
Frankie Policelli | Forward | Stony Brook
In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a quick refresher of how Stony Brook’s offseason went; Elijah Olaniyi (best player) transferred. Makale Foreman (second best player) transferred. Andrew Garcia (third best player) transferred. I was actually in the midst of putting together a list of each team’s best chance at winning AE PoY when the transfer news came through and it got so bad that I essentially just picked a name out of a hat. Tyler Stephenson-Moore was my choice, but he has not looked the part.
Stony Brook’s expectations dropped significantly with those transfers and so far their record of 4-4 is borderline where they expected to be. Sophomore Frankie Policelli has been a big part of the Seawolves new identity and looks to be a significant contributor in the years to come. Policelli currently leads the team in scoring with 12.9 points a game. That might seem fairly pedestrian, but it’s quite the increase from his 0.9 average just a season ago.
Against Binghamton, Policelli averaged 15.5 points and 5 rebounds to help secure the two-game sweep for Stony Brook. Like a few of the names mentioned, Policelli might not find himself in America East Player of the Year contention at the end of the year, but so far the future is looking pretty for this young Seawolf.
Stock Down | Week One
*Only players who are considered one of their teams better players are listed.
Cam Healy | Guard | Albany Great Danes
Let me start by saying that I love the new flow Healy. Dude’s mop-top brings back shades of the late Pete Maravich. Sadly, his game is nowhere near that of Maravich’s and he’s also off to a tough start to begin the season. To be fair this analysis is based off a two-game sample in which Healy and the Danes were pitted against the hottest team in the America East and were also trying to shake off the long offseason rust.
Albany dropped their two opening games to UMBC and although they stuck with the Retrievers down to the wire in both affairs, Healy wasn’t much of a factor. The Aussie guard dropped 13 points in game one, but only shot 4-11 from the field and didn’t contribute much elsewhere, finishing with only one assist. Game two was even worse, as Healy finished with just 3 points on 1-9 from the field.
Again, this is an early sample size and there’s still plenty of time for Healy to pick it up, but for someone who was voted as a preseason AE First-Team selection you’d expect more. Healy is a very good player, but the biggest knock against him was he was too streaky. You never knew which Healy you were going to get night-in and night-out. It looks like that still might be the case for the Aussie.
Hunter Marks | Forward | Hartford Hawks
Hartford went 2-0 against Maine, is 5-2 on the year and looks to be in the thick of the America East title race. So why is Hunter Marks on the stock down list? Marks has been solid, yet unspectacular thus far for the Hawks. Maybe it’s a bit harsh to include him on this list, but for the hype he received heading into the season I expected more from the junior big man.
Unlike Healy, Marks and Hartford have already played seven games, so while it’s not a perfect projection size, it’s a bit more to go off. Last year, Marks averaged 34.9 minutes a game. Through seven games, Marks is averaging just a hair under that at 33 minutes a game. Despite almost identical floor minutes, Marks appears to have regressed, as all his numbers are down from a season ago.
Oftentimes you’ll see a player make that leap going into their junior or senior year. A 6’9” with a long Kevin Durant-esque body Marks should be a mismatch nightmare. Many pundits (myself included) thought this was the year Marks would really be able to take over games. So far, Marks has only shown rare glimpses. If Hartford is to truly contend this year Marks will have to step it up.
Stef Smith | Guard | Vermont Catamounts
Stef Smith is similar to Healy in that he’s only played in two games and had to essentially shake off the cobwebs on the fly. In the two games against UMass-Lowell Smith also dealt with foul trouble, picking up 9(!) fouls in those two affairs. I fully expect Smith to bounce back in a big way, but the fouls, rust and even overall flow of the game (too many whistles) seriously hindered Smith’s ability to make much of an impact.
Within the first two minutes of game one, Smith was 2-2 from deep and looked ready to pick up exactly where he left off a season ago. Unfortunately the rest of the game didn’t go as swimmingly for Smith and the Cats. Smith still reached double-figures in each game (18 and 10) and leads the Cats in scoring, but the real concern is his play elsewhere.
Again, this is a two-game sample and will likely correct itself as the season progresses, but Smith is averaging an absurd 4.5 fouls and 3.5 turnovers a game. Don’t expect that to be the case all season, though for Smith and the Cats that’s not the start they had envisioned for their potentially fifth straight AE PoY. Smith has a chance to redeem himself against NJIT, which should be an excellent match-up between two of the best guards in the America East.