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Horizon League preseason awards: Drew McDonald gets the Player of the Year nod

The Player of the Year race will be a battle of big men.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Kentucky at Texas A&M C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

When you look back at last year’s Horizon League awards, you’ll see a lot of names that are no longer in the conference. Player of the Year Kendrick Nunn graduated, and only two of the 10 All-League players are returning. This season will provide an opportunity for some new faces to break through while some old friends continue to reign supreme.

Let’s get to the awards.

Player of the Year: Drew McDonald, Forward, Northern Kentucky

As the lone member of last year’s First Team honorees, McDonald gets the slight edge of Loudon Love for Player of the Year honors. The senior leader for the Norse will have to carry a slightly heavier workload than Love, and he’s proven that he’s cut out for the job. He’s increased his scoring output every year from 10.5 PPG as a freshman to 17.0 PPG last year as a junior. He’ll likely be in contention for the scoring title.

McDonald is also one of the best rebounders around. He tallied 18 double-doubles last year, and his defensive rebounding percentage of 26.9 percent was in the top 25 nationally. He continues to improve as a passer, and he’s become a willing shooter from three-point range. He’s a rare do-it-all big man. Without Lavone Holland and Carson Williams, the Norse are going to have to ride McDonald some nights. If he leads the Norse to similar levels of success, it’s going to be hard to pick against him.

Newcomer of the Year: Camron Justice, Guard, IUPUI

The Jaguars lost their top three scorers from last year to either graduation or transfer. However, Camron Justice is a guy that will be able to step in immediately and pick up some of the scoring slack. The Vanderbilt transfer might be the best pure shooter that Jason Gardner has had since taking over in 2014.

Despite only seeing spot minutes with the Commodores, Justice is a former three-star recruit that almost cracked the top 150. He’s able to score from all over the court, and if he becomes the go-to guy for IUPUI, points will be plentiful.

Dark Horse Team: Green Bay Phoenix

If there’s a top tier of teams in the Horizon League, it probably consists of Wright State, Northern Kentucky and maybe UIC. Green Bay, however, would be in that next group. The Phoenix will have one of the league’s best all-around players in Sandy Cohen III, and Kam Hankerson will be a great second option.

The allure of the Phoenix rests in their playing style. They play at a breakneck pace and shoot a bunch of threes. It’s a high variance method, but when it’s rolling, it’s rolling. Linc Darner will have a more experience roster this year, which will hopefully translate to an improved record in conference play.

First Team All-League

Sandy Cohen III (Sr., G, Green Bay)
Tyree Appleby (So., G, Cleveland State)
Marcus Ottey (Jr., G, UIC)
Loudon Love (So., F, Wright State)
Drew McDonald (Sr., F, Northern Kentucky)

If McDonald isn’t the favorite for Player of the Year, then Loudon Love is. Last year’s Freshman of the Year is a bruising presence in the paint that’ll be a double-double threat on a nightly basis. He earned second-team honors last year, so making the first team seems like a natural progression.

Appleby was another freshman that burst onto the scene last year as one of the best lead guards in the league. The Vikings point guard is already a gifted scorer, but he showed he can run an offense to the tune of 4.0 APG last season. UIC’s Marcus Ottey is another guard that’s capable of filling it up. He stepped up during the Flames’ CIT run last year, and he’ll be expected to do much of the same this season.

Second Team All-League

Mark Hughes (Sr., G, Wright State)
Camron Justice (Jr., G, IUPUI)
Tarkus Ferguson (Jr., G, UIC)
Zaynah Robinson (Sr., G, Northern Kentucky)
Devin Morgan (Jr., G, Youngstown State)

The Horizon League will see an influx of transfer talent that will be expected to come in and contribute right away. Zaynah Robinson is the heir to the point guard spot at Northern Kentucky where he’ll bring his 13.5 PPG and 4.5 APG from Norfolk State to the Norse. Devin Morgan is another guard from the MEAC that brings a double-digit scoring pedigree to the Horizon League after he averaged at least 12 PPG in both seasons at Delaware State.

Marcus Ottey was mentioned above, but Tarkus Ferguson is the engine that makes UIC go. The junior point guard led the league with 5.0 APG last season, and he’ll be flanked by a pair of scoring guards that could cause that number to increase. Mark Hughes might be the league’s best defender, but he’s improved as an all-around player every year and will be called upon to step into a bigger role on the wing this season.