While Oral Roberts’ Obi Emgano and Fort Wayne’s Max Landis battled it out last year for the Summit League Player of the Year, a host of underclassmen stepped up to carry their teams. Three non-seniors were featured on the all-league first team, including two redshirt freshmen, making the 2016-17 player of the year race wide open.
Here are the top contenders, for now at least:
Mike Daum: South Dakota State (sophomore forward)
Daum piled up the awards in his freshman season for the Jackrabbits, earning conference Freshman of the Year and first-team all-Summit League.
Daum was also the MVP of the Summit League Tournament, scoring 18 points and pulling down nine rebounds in the title game against North Dakota State.
But his title-game performance was just one of many impressive showings. Daum led his team in points and rebounds last season as the Jackrabbits earned an NCAA Tournament bid.
Daum figures to be in the Player of the Year conversation all year, especially if the Jackrabbits find themselves near the top of the Summit League standings.
Darrell Combs: IUPUI (senior guard)
Combs was not mentioned in most of last season’s Player of the Year discussions, as the Jaguars managed just a 13-19 overall record and 9-7 league record. But fans and opponents know all about him.
Combs averaged 16.3 points per game last year and scored nearly a quarter of his team’s points, making him one of the most valuable players to his team in the league.
The senior from Chicago finished last year strong, averaging nearly 22 points per game in his final five games, including a 31-point performance in the final game against Fort Wayne.
The Jaguars might need to improve on their performance from last season for Combs to get the recognition he deserves, but the senior guard is certainly expected to put up POY-quality numbers.
Mo Evans: Fort Wayne (senior guard)
Evans is an interesting case in the Player of the Year conversation, having spent nearly half of last season sitting out with an academic issue.
At the time of the suspension, Evans was leading the Mastodons in scoring. He wound up as the team’s fifth-leading scorer, despite playing 16 fewer games than everybody else.
Evans can both score, having averaged 16.9 points per game in 18 games, and distribute, averaging 5.1 assists per game.
Evans played in just three conference games last season, but looked stellar in two of them. He posted a double-double against Oral Roberts, with 15 points and 11 rebounds to go along with seven assists. He also scored 20 and dished out nine assists against South Dakota.
Fort Wayne’s senior guard may have work to do to get back into the good graces of his team and coaches, but if he is able to take care of business in the classroom, he has more than enough talent to be one of the Summit League’s best players.