It’s always fun monitoring the conference player of the year races in College Hoops. Oftentimes, those who win the awards the prior year aren’t in school to reclaim their honor the ensuing season, but there’s a ton of returning players in College Hoops this season worthy of winning these awards.
ACC: Paolo Banchero, Duke
2020-21 winner: Moses Wright, Georgia Tech
Last season was weird for so many reasons. One being that Moses Wright blossomed into the ACC Player of the year, and if Wright didn’t win, it would’ve been his teammate Jose Alvarado. We’ll return to some sense of normalcy with a Duke top-five recruit hauling in the award as the physical forward Paolo Banchero, wins the award. The strength of Banchero could allow him to play in the NBA tomorrow if the NBA’s one-and-done rule wasn’t in place. Banchero becomes the top freshman in Durham since Zion Williamson notched every award imaginable.
American: Tyson Etienne, Wichita State
2020-21 winner: Quentin Grimes
Etienne stayed at Wichita State after the mass exodus Wichita endured last offseason — staying paid dividends for Etienne as he erupted during his sophomore campaign to average 16.3 points. Adding a complimentary combo guard in Qua Grant to the mix allows Isaac Brown to use Etienne in different roles could help his overall production. Etienne showing improvement from inside the three-point arc could help boost his 16 point average from last season, aiming to notch a second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid in the process.
Atlantic Sun: Kevin Samuel, Florida Gulf Coast
2020-21 winner: Darius McGhee, Liberty
The Atlantic Sun returns their conference player of the year from last season, with the sharpshooting Darius McGhee returning for his senior season. I would’ve confidentially said McGhee wins the award again until late June when TCU transfer Kevin Samuel joined Mike Fly’s Eagles program. The 6-foot-11, 255 pound center from Antigua should dominate the Atlantic Sun, considering he averaged 8 points and eight rebounds in the Big 12 last season. There aren’t many players in the conference that can contain Samuel’s immense strength inside — if he ends up leading the country in rebounding, that wouldn’t be surprising. The Eagles are poised to make vast improvements from the past couple of seasons, and Samuel’s addition is at the head of it.
Atlantic 10: Kyle Lofton, St Bonaventure
2020-21 winner: Bones Hyland, VCU
The outgoing winner Bones Hyland became the second consecutive first-rounder selected in the NBA Draft after Obi Toppin did the same two years ago. Now, I don’t imagine that trend continues with Lofton, but there aren’t many point guards in the country. I’d rather have to lead my team than Mark Schmidt’s senior showrunner. Lofton averaged 14.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists in the Bonnies A10 title-winning season.
America East: Elijah Olaniyi, Stony Brook
2020-21 winner: Ryan Davis, Vermont
Olaniyi appeared on the America East first-team list in 2019-20 before transferring to Miami in what would’ve been his final season of eligibility had the eligibility freeze not existed. The Canes’ Olaniyi became one of Jim Larranaga’s most reliable pieces on a team decimated by injury, averaging 10.3 points last season. Olaniyi’s return helps propel the Seawolves to being my selection for America East’s top team in the preseason.
Big Sky: John Knight III, Southern Utah
2020-21 winner: Tanner Groves, Eastern Washington
The past two Big Sky player of the year winners resided in Cheney, Washington, with Mason Peatling in 2019-20 and Tanner Groves last season. Next season, the Eagles team will look different, leaving Todd Simon’s Thunderbirds as the preseason top team in the Big Sky. The uber-athletic John Knight will lead the charge for Southern Utah’s tournament aspirations after averaging 14.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.4 assists in Southern Utah’s conference regular-season title-winning season.
Big East: Collin Gillespie, Villanova
2020-21 winners: Sandro Mamukelashvili, Seton Hall, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Collin Gillespie, Villanova
Firstly, I still cannot believe the Big East selected three conference player of the year winners. Frankly, my pick would’ve been Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, but that’s neither here nor there. One of the three winners from last season wins the award again, as Collin Gillespie returns healthy after tearing his meniscus late last season. Gillespie isn’t flashy, isn’t the most physically gifted player on Jay Wright’s roster, but helps win games in a myriad of ways.
Big South: Rayshon Harrison, Presbyterian
2020-21 winner: Chandler Vaudrin, Winthrop
This pick wasn’t easy by any means — Winthrop’s D.J. Burns is the best player in the conference in my mind, the caveat being Burns won’t be on the floor for more than 20 minutes per game. That led to me selecting Presbyterian’s Rayshon Harrison, who posted 17.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists in his freshman campaign. This season, the 6-foot-4 guard should show off his elite scoring prowess by scoring in the ballpark of 20 PPG.
Big West: Zyon Pullin, UC Riverside
2020-21 winner: JaQuori McLaughin, UC Santa Barbara
Out goes the Big West’s top point guard from last season with JaQuori McLaughlin moving onto the NBA — that left an opening for Mike Magpayo’s stat-sheet stuffing guard to claim as the conference’s best guard. Pullin posted 12.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists in 22 games played during his breakout sophomore season. There’s a clear top-three atop the Big West standings with Riverside, UCSB, and UC Irvine, which should help in Pullin’s quest of notching conference player of the year.
Big Ten: Jaden Ivey, Purdue
2020-21 winner: Luka Garza, Iowa
Last season the Big Ten player of the year race ended before the season started — Iowa’s legendary center Luka Garza wasn’t letting up last season in the award he had secured. There’s no shortage of options in the nation’s top conference this season, but I’ll go with the explosive sophomore guard Jaden Ivey from Purdue. Ivey’s efficiency numbers need improvement if he is in contention for an award of this caliber — however, the talent is abundantly clear when he plays. The real key is figuring out consistency from deep.
Big 12: David McCormack, Kansas
2020-21 winner: Jared Butler, Baylor
Take your choice between Jayhawks that could win conference player of the year in 2021-22. My pick is senior David McCormack, who flourished under lofty expectations replacing program mainstay Udoka Azubuike. While McCormack is an antithesis of Azubuike playstyle-wise, the impact felt from the center spot in Lawrence feels the same way. During his breakout junior season, the 6-11 center posted 13.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and most impressively finished top-five among Big 12 players in Free-throw percentage at 79.4 percent.
Conference USA: Kenneth Lofton Jr, Louisiana Tech
2020-21 winner: Charles Bassey, Western Kentucky
Lofton might be the most physical player in College Basketball. Louisiana Tech’s star forward searches for contact down-low and can finish against much bigger defenders, as showcased in the FIBA U19 tournament against France’s 7-foot-3 Victor Wenbanyama and Canada’s 7-foot-4 Zach Edey. In that tournament, the Texas native topped all his teammates in scoring with 13.1 points — those teammates include several players that’ll be top NBA Draft Picks next season. Lofton is scratching the surface of his potential and should flourish in his second season of College Basketball.
CAA: Cam Wynter, Drexel
2020-21 winner: Matt Lewis, James Madison
The NYC native played a pivotal role in Drexel’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 25 years, leading the team with 16.3 points and 5.2 assists. Once again, the Dragons should be content in the wide-open CAA, while Wynter continues dropping massive numbers nightly.
Horizon League: Pat Baldwin Jr, Milwaukee
2020-21 winner: Loudon Love, Wright State
The outgoing Loudon Love won consecutive Horizon League player of the year awards during his elite run at Wright State. With Love no longer playing collegiately, the pick here is top-ten recruit Pat Baldwin Jr, who chose Milwaukee over Duke to play under his father, Pat Sr, the Panthers head coach. Thanks to his shooting and athleticism mixture, the slender 6-foot-9 wing figures to score at an elite level in the Horizon League.
Ivy League: Jaelin Llewellyn, Princeton
2020-21 winner: No season was played
There’s three players in contention for preseason Ivy League player of the year — between Llewellyn, Harvard’s Noah Kirkwood, and Yale’s Azar Swain. Not playing last season makes the Ivy an impossible league to figure out, but a few notable program mainstays didn’t end up transferring. Llewellyn finished his high-school career as a top-100 prospect per 247sports, the first in Tigers history to be ranked above the three-star recruit marking. The Ontario native averaged 15.5 points in Princeton’s 2019-20 season — the last time basketball played in the Ivies.
MAC: Jeenathan Williams, Buffalo
2020-21 winner: Marreon Jackson, Toledo
The development throughout the first three seasons of Williams’s career for the Bulls is remarkable. In year one, Williams sat behind proven wings such as Jeremy Harris and Dontay Carruthers while watching the Bulls steamroll through the MAC. Playing bigger minutes in his sophomore season allowed Williams to find better consistency across the board and showing flashes of his capabilities. At the Mid-Major level, Williams flourished into a bonafide star, averaging 17.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and shot 38.6 percent from three-point-land, showing off his vastly improved outside jumper. The Bulls have an abundance of athleticism and are the MAC favorites, as Williams should be their top-scoring option once more, especially with Jayvon Graves playing professionally.
MAAC: KC Ndefo, Saint Peter’s.
2020-21 winner: Manny Camper, Siena
The MAAC lost their entire first-team all-conference list except for the nation’s top-shot-blocker KC Ndefo. Similar to several other players in the conference, Ndefo hit the transfer portal before heading back to school for his senior season. Ndefo swatted away 3.6 shots last season and should be in that conversation again. Iona’s the clear team to knock off in the MAAC this season, but the Peacocks will be the biggest threat to Pitino’s Gaels.
MEAC: De’Torrian Ware, Morgan State
2020-21 winner: Anthony Tarke, Coppin State
Ware transformed Morgan State into legitimate contender status in the MEAC, donning the Bears uniforms following his transfer from Jacksonville State. Ware played in a Jamal Crawford-Esque sixth-man role, playing starter minutes despite only starting two games. Even without starting, Ware led the Bears points-wise, scoring 17.2 points, with impressive shooting splits, finishing just shy of 40 percent from deep and 83 percent from the charity stripe.
Missouri Valley: Gaige Prim, Missouri State
2020-21 winner: Cameron Krutwig, Loyola-Chicago
The former JUCO standout posted a team-best eight double-doubles in his first senior season, compared to only posting two in 2019-20. With Cameron Krutwig no longer playing for Loyola-Chicago, Prim becomes the conference top-big-man. Prim’s dominance on the glass, paired with improvements to his offensive skillset, should prompt him to a big farewell season.
Mountain West: Grant Sherfield, Nevada
2020-21 winner: Matt Mitchell, San Diego State
If you want to see the detailed rapid rise of Nevada’s superstar guard, check out this in-depth piece on Grant. The Wolf Pack are legitimate contenders in the Mountain West, and having an elite game-changing point guard backing you up never hurts.
NEC: Peter Kiss, Bryant
2020-21 winner: Alex Morales, Wagner
The NEC player of the year race will be between incumbent winner Alex Morales from Wagner and Peter Kiss from conference-favorite Bryant. Kiss boasted big numbers of 16.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists while drilling 42 percent from deep after transferring from Rutgers last season. With lead guard, Mike Green no longer with the program, expect more scoring opportunities to come Kiss’s way.
Ohio Valley: Johni Broome, Morehead State
2020-21 winner: Terry Taylor, Austin Peay
Entering his freshman season, it wasn’t a guarantee Broome would find his way into the starting lineup with incumbent five-man Tyzhaun Claude in the fold. However, plans drastically changed when Claude suffered a season-ending injury before the season began, putting the true freshman in prevalent minutes from the jump. Broome’s performance propelled the Eagles to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since the Kenneth Faried days… and Broome might be the program’s best player since Faried.
PAC-12: Jaime Jaquez, UCLA
2020-21 winner: Evan Mobley, USC
I’m sure many expected a UCLA player with the initials J.J. to occupy this spot, but not the one I picked. While I believe Johnny Juzang is an incredible player, there aren’t many players in the country that bring more value to a team than UCLA’s dynamic wing/stretch four Jaime Jaquez Jr.
The LA native is the consummate jack-of-all-trades player — between his versatile skill set of posting up, creating shots for himself, switchability on defense, and ball-handling, there aren’t any glaring weaknesses in the forwards game. Two bonafide superstars are residing in Westwood for a Bruins team coming off a final four appearance.
Patriot League: Jack Ferguson, Colgate
2020-21 winner: Jordan Burns, Colgate
Two of the past three Patriot League POY recipients — Jordan Burns and Rapolas Ivanuskas won conference player of the year awards. Here’s a third in recent times with the sharpshooting senior Jack Ferguson, who’s played vast roles in both Raiders NCAA Tournament teams in his career. Many of the conference’s top players from last year depart, with Burns, Santi Aldama, Cam Davis, Jamir Harris, John Meeks, Justin Jaworski, among others aren’t in the program anymore. Matt Langel’s Raiders need scoring punch without Burns in the mix, allowing Ferguson to step into stardom.
SEC: Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky
2020-21 winner: Herbert Jones, Alabama
I’ve pondered who I thought wins this award an unlimited amount of times during the past few months, and Allen Flanigan’s injury clouds the process up even further. I’m going a tad off the trail here by selecting former WVU forward Oscar Tshiebwe. There’s no question Tshiebwe was disappointed in his ten games prior to entering the transfer portal. Still, there was a legitimate buzz around potential All-American status heading into last year. Playing under Coach Cal should bring out the best of Tshiebwe’s post-oriented skillset. If Tshiebwe posts around 13 points, 10 rebounds per-game, his name should garner consideration when the actual award is selected.
SWAC: John Walker III, Texas Southern
2020-21 winner: Tristan Jarrett, Jackson State
The athletic forward from Texas Southern returns as the team’s top-scorer, as Marcus Weathers transferred to SMU. Walker paired alongside Houston transfer Brison Gresham combines for an athletic duo that’ll overwhelm opposing SWAC teams on the defensive end.
Southland: Troy Green, New Orleans
2020-21 winner: Zach Nutall, Sam Houston State
The Southland looks entirely different as Stephen F. Austin, Abilene Christian, Lamar, and Sam Houston State realigned to the WAC. That leaves a depleted conference, but New Orleans guard Troy Green is back for one more season after leading the Privateers in scoring last season.
SoCon: Malachi Smith, Chattanooga
2020-21 winner: Isaiah Miller, UNC Greensboro
The burly guard began his career at Wright State but redshirted in compliance with the old-transfer rule in 2019-20. Smith seemingly came out of nowhere and became a top player in the SoCon, averaging 16.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in Smith’s first season with the Mocs. There’s an endless amount of turnover in the SoCon this off-season, which makes Smith the top player on the conference’s best team in the preseason.
Summit: Max Abmas, Oral Roberts
2020-21 winner: Max Abmas, Oral Roberts
Here’s the most predictable selection out of all the 32 leagues. The nation’s reigning scoring king makes his return to Oral Roberts off-the-heels of making history, becoming the second 15-seed to win multiple games in the NCAA Tournament Mid-Court-Max averaged 24.5 points on elite efficiency for Paul Mills last season. The Golden Eagles will contend in the top-three of Summit League that always provides a barrage of three-point-attempts. The opening season matchup against the rampant paced Colorado State Rams is a must-watch.
Sun Belt: Theo Akwuba, Louisiana
2020-21 winner: DeVante Jones, Coastal Carolina
Nobody foresaw Theo Akwuba flourishing into a top player in the Sun Belt, and potential NBA prospect. Akwuba posted relatively small numbers for Portland in 2019-20 — which made his 11.3 points, 9.3 rebound, and 2.6 blocks per-game effort incredibly impressive. The Ragin Cajuns are my Sun Belt favorites in 2021-22, and Arizona transfer Jordan Brown joining the mix will help Akwuba’s offensive game thrive.
WAC: Fardaws Aimaq, Utah Valley
2020-21 winner: Fardaws Aimaq, Utah Valley
Aimaq was the nation’s top rebounder in his first WAC player of the year season, hauling in 15.0 rebounds per contest last season, the most a single player averaged in one season since Alcorn State’s Larry Smith had 15.1 rebounds in 1979-80. Aimaq flirted with the professional waters before announcing his return to Orem, where Mark Madsen will have a contending team in the newly-renovated WAC.
WCC: Drew Timme, Gonzaga
2020-21 winner: Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
This one is pretty cut and dry — Timme could’ve realistically won WCC player of the year last season had Corey Kispert not been a senior. Kispert being the leader of an undefeated team, played pivotal in his well-deserved win of conference player of the year — now Timme’s is the elder statesmen of the program in his third season in Spokane after averaging team-leading 19 points and 7.3 rebounds in the Zags 31-1 season.