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Sun Belt Preseason Awards: No surprise, Hervey leads the way

NCAA Basketball: Texas-Arlington at St. Mary's Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, things are easy to understand.

For one, the Sun Belt figures to be loaded in 2017-18 because so much talent returns to the league. Of the 15 players named to the All-Sun Belt first, second or third teams last season, 11 were non-seniors and all are back. In this age of transfers, that’s almost impressive.

Here’s who we see taking home the hardware this season:

Player of the Year

Kevin Hervey, UT-Arlington

Hervey returned from a torn ACL and didn’t miss a beat in 2016-17. His junior season was right on par with his breakout, cut-short sophomore campaign, as he averaged 17.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and took home the league POY award. His pro stock also rose as he flashed something he hadn’t before: a reliable three-point shot. He also came through in the biggest moments, like in UTA’s wins at Texas (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Saint Mary’s (15 points, 7 rebounds), as well as the three-game run in the NIT (16.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG).

A year further removed from major surgery, there’s no reason Hervey can’t once again win the league’s highest honor. He’s a mobile, versatile forward that is perfect for Scott Cross’ up-tempo system, and one the Sun Belt’s best defensive rebounders. And as good as it was last season, his production could spike in 2017-18 as the Mavericks replace three starters.

Newcomer of the Year

Jordan Andrews, South Alabama

Matthew Graves is in a pivotal, contract year at South Alabama. Like many coaches, he expects big things in 2017-18.

“We’ve changed some things, both offensively and defensively, that I think will enable us to really soar with our strengths that we have on our team,” said head coach Matthew Graves, whose team was 14-18 overall and 7-11 in league play last year.

If the Jaguars do soar, it’ll likely be due in large part to Andrews, a Youngstown State transfer that landed on the Horizon League All-Freshman team in 2015-16. He’s a dangerous shooter (7.9 PPG, 36.8% on 136 3PA) on a team with plenty of opportunity available. USA loses five of its top-six scorers from last season, and Andrews should be a prime candidate to step into that void.

All-Sun Belt First Team

Tookie Brown, Georgia Southern (Jr., Guard)

Physical lead guard that can facilitate and score at all three levels.

Ike Smith, Georgia Southern (Jr., Guard)

Often playing the four in a four-guard lineup, Smith led the league in scoring in 2016-17 with 19.6 points per game.

Erick Neal, UT-Arlington (Sr., Guard)

One of the nation’s best playmakers, Neal finished fifth in the country in assists per game last season (6.6 APG).

Kevin Hervey, UT-Arlington (Sr., Forward)

See above, the senior is awesome.

Bryce Washington, Louisiana (Sr., Forward)

Well-rounded big that led the conference in field goal percentage (60.3) and rebounds per game (11.2 RPG) in 2016-17.

All-Sun Belt Second Team

D’Marcus Simonds, Georgia State (Soph., Guard)

Slashing guard exploded onto the scene as a freshman and could take a big step forward with an improved jump shot.

Frank Bartley, Louisiana (Sr., Guard)

BYU transfer finally got minutes (32.4 MPG), and made the most of them in his first season in Lafayette (15.3 PPG).

Jaylen Shaw, Coastal Carolina (Sr., Guard)

Efficient scorer and lead guard (14.3 PPG, 3.8 APG) that headlined a solid Sun Belt debut for CCU.

Ronshad Shabazz, Appalachian State (Jr., Guard)

Mountaineers go-to guy averaged 16.7 points per game last year, and will be relied upon heavily in 2017-18.

Jordon Varnado, Troy (Jr., Forward)

Versatile forward (16.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG) is on pace to be one of the most productive players in program history.

All Sun-Belt Third Team

Wesley Person, Troy (Sr., Guard)

Long-range bomber has hit 38.2 percent of 691 career three-point attempts and is another Troy all-timer.

Deven Simms, Arkansas State (Sr., Guard)

Slashing guard was the Redwolves’ second-leading scorer (13.4 PPG) in 2016-17, all while coming off the bench.

Nijal Pearson, Texas State (Soph., Guard/Forward)

After a tremendous freshman season (13.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.4 APG), the athletic wing is the main attraction for Texas State.

Travis Munnings, Louisiana Monroe (Jr., Forward)

Bahamian junior is a solid rebounder, efficient scorer and three-point threat, and will be the focal point for the Warhawks.

Demario Beck, Coastal Carolina (Sr., Forward)

Interior threat that starred in CCU’s run to the CBI finals.

All-Sun Belt Newcomer/Rookie Team

Marcus Stroman, Louisiana (Jr., Guard)

South Carolina transfer should take over for Jay Wright as the Ragin’ Cajuns’ lead guard.

Jordan Andrews, South Alabama (Soph., Guard)

See above.

Camron Reedus, Little Rock (Jr., Guard)

Elite JuCo scorer that will have plenty of minutes to play with on a rebuilding Trojans team.

JaKeenan Gant, Louisiana (Jr., Forward)

Athletic Missouri transfer will be turned to shore up the Ragin’ Cajuns interior defense alongside Washington.

Josh Linder, Georgia State (Fr., Forward)

Highly-regarded Georgia prep product that the Panthers may rely on immediately in the frontcourt.