O26 Superlatives, Part I: AmEast, ASun, Big South, Horizon, MAAC, NEC, OVC & Patriot…Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 5th, 2014
In Part I of our three-part series, we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from eight different O26 conferences: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Horizon, MAAC, NEC, OVC, and Patriot. In alphabetical order:
- Team of the Year – Vermont (21-9, 15-1). After starting the season 4-8, the Catamounts won 17 of their final 18 games, walloping nearly everyone in the league and capturing the America East title. The veteran team now looks poised to reach the NCAA Tournament, where it will be a serious upset threat.
- Player of the Year – Brian Voelkel – Vermont. Voelkel is one of the most fascinating players in college basketball. At 6’6’’, the senior is a small forward who rebounds like a true big man and distributes like pass-first point guard. His numbers are both strange and excellent: 6.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists a game, with a free throw rate that ranks first in the country.
- Coach of the Year – Pat Duquette – UMass Lowell. The River Hawks began their first year in D-I hoops 1-11 before winning nine of their final 16 games, finishing the season 10-18 overall and 8-8 in league play. Duquette is trying to build a program from the ground up, and 2013-14 was a great first step.
- Upset of the Year – Duke over Vermont, 91-90. Okay, so this wasn’t actually an upset – Duke won! – but for a few minutes on a Sunday night in November, the Catamounts captured the imagination of the sports world, NFL fans included. Some Cameron home cooking, er, I mean a late foul on Clancy Rugg ended the bid, but it was one mighty effort.
- Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Ahmad Walker – Stony Brook. An athletic freshman, the 6’4’’ Walker made the SportsCenter Top 10 with an awesome (and important) ‘oop against Binghamton.
- Team of the Year – Mercer (23-8, 14-4). Sure, the Bears lost a couple games down the stretch and wound up sharing the A-Sun title with Florida Gulf Coast instead of winning it outright, but their 23 overall wins – including non-conference victories over Seton Hall, Denver and Ole Miss – was unmatched in the league.
- Player of the Year – Langston Hall – Mercer. The 6’4’’ senior was a key scorer and superb distributor for the league’s best team, averaging 15 points per game and sporting a top-40 assist rate of 33.1 percent, just ahead of Shabazz Napier. Hall scored at least 24 points six different times and notched four games of 10-plus assists.
- Coach of the Year – Bob Hoffman – Mercer. Hoffman will likely set his career mark at Mercer for wins in a season and is guaranteed a third-straight postseason appearance, perhaps this time in the NCAA Tournament.
- Upset of the Year – East Tennessee State over Stephen F. Austin, 66-58. On November 23, Murry Bartow’s Buccanneers topped Stephen F. Austin at home. Guess how many games the Lumberjacks have lost since then? You got it – zero.
- Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – FGCU’s Bernard Thompson is probably the Dunker of the Year, but check out this alley-oop by USC-Upstate’s Torrey Craig. Woah.
- Team of the Year – High Point (16-13, 12-4). In a crazy, parity-driven league, we’ll go with the team that finished strongest as our Team of the Year. The Panthers won 12 of their final 14 games to clinch the outright Big South title — an impressive feat considering that seven of the conference’s 12 teams finished 10-6 or better.
- Player of the Year – John Brown – High Point. This dude is highly athletic and highly productive, averaging nearly 20 points and eight rebounds a game to go along with a hearty amount of steals (1.6) and blocks (1.7). Not to mention a bunch of highlight-reel moments [see dunks below].
- Coach of the Year – Scott Cherry – High Point. Cherry’s team is young — among the 50 most inexperienced teams in the country — and he led them to a conference title. Must be doing something right.
- Upset of the Year – Charleston Southern over Delaware, 95-93. In the first of two meetings with the Blue Hens, Barclay Radebaugh’s club was at its up-tempo best in early November, shooting 12-for-24 from behind the arc and knocking off the eventual CAA champs on the road.
- Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – John Brown – High Point. His ridiculous one-handed alley-oop jam against UNC-Greensboro last year seemed unbeatable, yet Brown somehow managed to one-up himself against UNC-Asheville this season.
- Team of the Year – Green Bay (24-5, 14-2). The Phoenix beat Virginia (currently ranked fifth in the latest AP poll) back in December before rolling to a 14-2 conference record and a Horizon League championship. They have the league’s best one-two punch in Keifer Sykes and Alec Brown and look like one of the best mid-majors in college basketball.
- Player of the Year – Keifer Sykes – Green Bay. The junior is lightning-quick, incredibly explosive and among the best point guards in the nation. Sykes averaged 20.4 points, 5.0 assists and 4.4 rebounds this season, helped by the combined 79 points he put up against top-tier opponents Wisconsin, Harvard and Virginia.
- Coach of the Year – Brian Wardle – Green Bay. Wardle overcame some offseason controversy to lead his group one of the greatest seasons in program history.
- Upset of the Year – Green Bay over Virginia, 75-72. The Phoenix smacked the Cavaliers in the mouth early in the second half and never relented, even when the visitors made a late charge. Few teams, regardless of league, notched a more impressive non-conference win. But props to Tony Bennett for playing his alma mater on the road — that’s pretty cool.
- Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Keifer Sykes – Green Bay. There are actually some really good dunkers in this league – Wright State’s Jerran Young destroyed Alec Brown earlier in the season – but Sykes takes the cake. His jam against UIC might be the best we’ve seen all season.
Metro Atlantic Athletic Association
- Team of the Year – Iona (20-9, 17-3). Iona was picked to finish second behind Manhattan in the MAAC preseason poll. Instead, the Gaels’ efficient, up-tempo offensive attack enabled them to finish two games ahead of the Jaspers and capture a second conference title in three years.
- Player of the Year – Billy Baron – Canisius. Baron played over 95 percent of his team’s minutes this year, and he made the most of it: The coach’s son scored 30-plus points eight different times, averaged 24 points, five boards and five assists a game, and nailed several buzzer-beaters. That production helped lead the Griffins to their second-straight 20-win season.
- Coach of the Year – Tim Cluess – Iona. In four-plus season as Iona head coach, Cluess has won 90 games and taken the Gaels to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances. He’ll make it a third trip to the Big Dance if his top-seeded club can take care of business in the upcoming MAAC Tournament.
- Upset of the Year- Saint Peter’s over Seton Hall, 83-80. The Peacocks would go on to finish eighth in the MAAC, but not before Desi Washington nailed a three-pointer at the end of overtime – a perfect ending to his 34-point performance – and the visitors from Jersey City knocked off the Pirates at home. Seton Hall is not great, but it’s still a Big East school ranked within the KenPom top-100.
- Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Chavaughn Lewis – Marist. I don’t know if Lewis is the MAAC’s Dunker of the Year or not, but his throw-down against Monmouth was just… well… better luck next time, Collin Stewart.
- Team of the Year – Robert Morris (19-12, 14-2). Robert Morris has played in some crazy games and made some wild comebacks this season (last week against Fairleigh Dickinson, for example), and it’s all added up to a second-straight NEC title for the Colonials. This year, Andy Toole’s club hopes to parlay that into an NCAA Tournament berth… although another NIT victory over a college basketball blue-blood wouldn’t be bad, either (*cough* Kentucky *cough*).
- Player of the Year – Karvel Anderson – Robert Morris. FDU’s Sidney Sanders Jr. also deserves recognition, but Anderson has been undeniably outstanding. The senior terrorized opponents from long range all season long, scoring just shy of 20 points per game and shooting an incredible 46.4 percent from three… on a whopping 222 attempts.
- Coach of the Year – Bashir Mason – Wagner. The Seahawks were 6-4 in conference play when the spry coach turned 30 on February 11; since then, they’ve won six in a row and finished the regular season 12-4. Coincidence? Probably, but the point is this: Mason is young, energetic and doing great things on Staten Island.
- Upset of the Year – Central Connecticut State over Robert Morris, 74-73. The Blue Devils trailed the NEC’s best team by 18 points, on the road, with fewer than eight minutes to play. And they were without their best player, Kyle Vinales. And yet they still came back and won. Insanity.
- Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Dwaun Anderson. Back in January, the Michigan State transfer took off from about the ‘NEC’ logo and threw down a monstrous, off-the-backboard alley-oop against LIU-Brooklyn.
- Team of the Year – Belmont (23-8, 14-2). The Bruins were the best team all season in the OVC, further validating the excellent work they did in non-conference play. Their offensive prowess – Belmont’s 58.2 percent effective field goal rate ranks second nationally – enabled them to knock off Indiana State, Middle Tennessee State and, of course, North Carolina, earlier in the year.
- Player of the Year – J.J. Mann – Belmont. The 6’6’’ sharpshooting senior was the best player on the league’s best team, shooting 39 percent from three-point range (very impressive, considering he took 187 of them) and scoring 20 or more points in half of Belmont’s conference games.
- Coach of the Year – Rick Byrd – Belmont. Towards the end of the Bruins’ upset in Chapel Hill, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said of Byrd’s management, “You’ve seen a coaching clinic in the final two minutes of this game.” Pretty much sums it up – Byrd is one of the best.
- Upset of the Year – Belmont over North Carolina, 83-80. With fewer than three minutes to play, the Bruins trailed by eight and their win probability had dipped below one percent. Then Mann scored 11 points in just over two minutes, including three clutch triples, and Belmont pulled off the shocker in the Dean Dome. The Heels beat Michigan State, Louisville, Kentucky and Duke this season. They did not beat Byrd’s bunch.
- Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – T.J. Sapp – Murray State. Belmont may have defeated the Racers earlier this year, but not before Sapp freakin’ posterized Evan Bradds.
- Team of the Year – American (17-12, 13-5). American may have faded over the last month of the season, but to start 10-0 in league play and finish second in the conference — considering the expectations — is truly remarkable; with a new coach in tow, the Eagles were pegged to finish ninth out of 10 teams before the year began.
- Player of the Year – Maurice Watson Jr. – Boston University. Watson is one of the best pure point guards in mid-major basketball, and perhaps the entire country. His 47.6 percent assist rate is good for second in the land, while the sophomore’s quick hands have enabled him to tally at least four steals on seven different occasions.
- Coach of the Year – Mike Brennan – American. This is Brennan’s first year as American head coach since coming over from John Thompson III’s staff at Georgetown. All he’s done is completely defy expectations, orchestrating a seven-plus win turnaround and a likely postseason berth for the Eagles.
- Upset of the Year – Boston University over Maryland, 83-77. The Terriers have talent, so beating a high-major opponent seemed reasonable. But to handle Maryland in the Comcast Center, staring down a narrow 13.5 percent win probability, is pretty darn impressive.
- Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Malcolm Miller – Holy Cross. Check out Miller’s aggressive, well-timed tip-slam against Loyola (MD). The guy can really get off the ground.