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Atlantic Sun awards: Florida Gulf Coast cleans up in our preseason watch

Brandon Goodwin is your preseason Atlantic Sun Player of the Year.

NCAA Basketball: Lipscomb at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlantic Sun is coming off a string of top-heavy seasons. For a while, Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast were duking it out atop the conference standings, and after Mercer left for the Southern Conference, North Florida ascended to its spot. The Ospreys have taken a tumble recently though, and this year it seems that FGCU will continue its dominance. Part of the reason is that the Eagles are returning the best player in the conference, who headlines the Atlantic Sun preseason awards list.

Player of the Year: Brandon Goodwin, Sr., G, Florida Gulf Coast

Goodwin was a transfer who made an immediate impact for last year’s A-Sun champions. He averaged over 18 points, four rebounds, and four assists per game, and came to play when the lights were brightest. Goodwin compiled 22 and 18 points respectively in two early season road tests against Baylor and Michigan State last year. Goodwin also achieved his season-high for points (29) in the Eagles’ NCAA Tournament game against 3 seed Florida State.

Freshman of the Year: San Antonio Brinson, Fr., F, NJIT

San Antonio Brinson is a bit of an under-the-radar pick, but the 6’8 true freshman out of Augusta, Georgia has the potential to be one of the best young players in the conference. He comes to NJIT after attending Thomson High School in Georgia, then the prestigious South Kent School in Connecticut. In high school, Brinson was named to the Georgia Class A All-State honorable mention team, and his work against prep teams at South Kent gave him experience against some of the best players his age. Brinson also led his AAU team in points and rebounds in the offseason.

Newcomer of the Year: Ricky Doyle, Jr., F, Florida Gulf Coast

This award has only been around for four seasons, but has already gone to Jalen Riley, Demarcus Daniels, Kendrick Ray, and Goodwin. The impact of transfer players cannot be understated in an eight-team conference like the A-Sun. Similar to the Freshman of the Year, this award can be difficult to predict, but Doyle is the transfer player with the best ability to make an immediate impact. FGCU has lost three of its core big men from a season ago, so the 6’10 Doyle, who is transferring from Michigan, will likely play important minutes. He and Antravious Simmons will anchor the front court for the Eagles.

Defensive Player of the Year: Abdul Lewis, Jr., F, NJIT

The 6’10 Lewis was a defensive force in the A-Sun last year. He came to NJIT after transferring from South Alabama, and averaged 8.7 rebounds per game. He also set the school record for most rebounds in a season with 264, highlighted by a 19-rebound effort against Stetson. In a league that isn’t home to many 7-footers, Lewis can use his tall frame to become the league’s best defender.

First Team All-Conference:

Garrison Mathews, Jr., G, Lipscomb

Mathews was one of the keys to the surprise that was last year’s hot-shooting Lipscomb Bison. He led his 20-win team in points-per-game (20.4) and had the hot hand from beyond the arc all season, finishing the year with 89 made threes. He also consistently crashed the boards and found open teammates, averaging 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Mathews was first team all-conference last year, and more of the same will be expected from him as an upperclassman this year.

Wajid Aminu, So., F, North Florida

Last year’s A-Sun rookie of the year is going to have the tough task of making North Florida competitive again after losing so many of its influential players in the last couple seasons. Can he be the next Dallas Moore? Probably not, but he won’t need to be in order to make the Ospreys a quality team. Aminu showed off his scoring and rebounding abilities last season, averaging 9.1 points and 6.7 boards per game. The 6’7 forward out of Stone Mountain, Georgia will assume a leadership role for this year’s Ospreys team, and he will need to consistently put up big numbers.

Brandon Goodwin, Sr., G, Florida Gulf Coast

(See above)

Rob Marberry, Jr., C, Lipscomb

Marberry was one of the surprise players of last season in the A-Sun. He came to the Bison after transferring from Western Kentucky, where he didn’t see much playing time as a freshman. In his 2016-17 campaign, Marberry went from averaging 2.0 points per game at Western Kentucky to 12.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game at Lipscomb. He was rewarded with a spot on last season’s all-conference first team. Look for him to continue to improve as one of the conference’s premier big men.

Zach Johnson, Jr., G, Florida Gulf Coast

In the 2016 A-Sun conference championship game against Stetson, Johnson had one of the best games of his career, finishing off an OT victory by rejecting Divine Myles’ layup at the horn. He has come to play in big games, but hasn’t quite put up great numbers overall. This will be the year that Johnson breaks through and truly becomes a star. He and Goodwin will headline one of the most talented backcourts in any mid-major conference, and his 11.9 points, 3.1 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game will all increase.

Second Team All-Conference:

Garrett Sams, So. F, North Florida

Sams sent panic into the hearts of Ospreys fans when he announced last spring that he intended to transfer to UT Martin, before changing his mind a month later. He averaged 10.4 points and 4.2 assists last season and will join Aminu as two experienced faces on an otherwise inexperienced team. His consistency as an offensive weapon is what earned him a spot on last year’s A-Sun all-freshman team, and he will be forced to provide even more production this season.

Nathan Moran, Sr., G, Lipscomb

Moran had the hot hand from deep all season in 2016-17. The Tennessee native finished with 90 made threes and a three-point field goal percentage of 41.7. In last year’s game at Kennesaw State, he went 8-for-12 from deep. You read that right. Anybody who poses that much of a shooting threat certainly deserves award consideration.

Antravious Simmons, Sr., F, Florida Gulf Coast

Simmons had sporadic success last season with the Eagles, sharing time with Kevin Mickle, Demetris Morant, and Marc-Eddy Norelia. All three of those players are gone, however, giving Simmons an opportunity to shine. He only averaged about 15.4 minutes per game last season, but now the 6’9 big man will play a more integral role in the Eagles’ gameplan, which I believe will lead him to an all-conference selection.

Divine Myles, Sr., G, Stetson

Myles was top-five in the A-Sun last year in total points, assists, and minutes played. He’ll continue to be on the floor a lot for a Hatters team still looking for a turnaround. Myles will no doubt be the go-to guy for a team with a mix of veterans and new faces. The offseason departures of former Stetson players Grant Lozoya and Derick Newton will force Myles into the role of the team’s leader and best player.

Mike Cunningham, Jr., G, USC Upstate

Cunningham played in all 33 of the Spartans’ games last season, and head coach Eddie Payne kept him on the floor as much as possible. Cunningham averaged 13.4 points and 3.1 assists per game, both good for second-most on last year’s Spartan team. More importantly though were the number of quality minutes Cunningham played. He averaged 31.7 minutes per game last year, by far the most on his team, and he was only a sophomore. As Cunningham makes the jump to an upperclassman, his veteran presence will be crucial for a Spartan team that has needed a star since Ty Greene graduated a couple years ago.