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Sun Belt Preseason Awards: D’Marcus Simonds looks to become second Panther to repeat as league’s best player

This one was easy.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Cincinnati vs Georgia State Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

In a league like the Sun Belt where scoring is such a hot commodity, there is no shortage of players who can fill the bucket and rack up incredible stats. So who will rise to the top among all that talent?

Here are our picks for the Sun Belt preseason awards:

Player of the Year: D’Marcus Simonds, Jr., G, Georgia State

Last year was supposed to belong to Kevin Hervey and UT-Arlington. With such an experienced squad returning from a school-record 27-win team, the Mavericks were the odds on favorite to win the league with Hervey leading the way. While things didn’t work out for UTA, Hervey did go on to be selected in the NBA Draft, becoming the first Sun Belt selection since R.J. Hunter in 2015.

Simonds was the league POY instead, and is projected to become the Sun Belt’s latest draft pick should he choose to leave school following his junior season, and could even be picked in the first round. As he strives toward that goal, he will need to improve his three-point shooting (29 percent in 2017-18) and turnover rate (3.6 per game). But there are few mid-major players as skilled as Simonds at getting into the paint and finishing through contact at the rim. Simonds set a single season record with 742 points a year ago, and he needs 689 points to surpass R.J. Hunter as the school’s all-time leading scorer.

Newcomer of the Year: Kory Holden, Sr., G, South Alabama

After averaging 17.7 points per game in the CAA as a sophomore at Delaware, Holden made the decision to transfer to South Carolina two years ago. That didn’t go so well for him as his season was cut short by injury after just 14 games last year. Now, Holden is back with a mid-major program and will look to help lead the Jaguars into the upper echelon of the conference.

Darkhorse Team: South Alabama Jaguars

There has been plenty of hype surrounding first-year coach Richie Riley as he takes over the Jaguars following a two-year stint at Nichols State. Riley made a big splash on the recruiting trail by landing Holden, as well as a handful of other potential impact transfers. If the performance matches the excitement level, then the Jaguars could be in for a special season.

All-Sun Belt First Team

D’Marcus Simonds, Jr., G, Georgia State

See above.

Tookie Brown, Sr., G, Georgia Southern

Brown is a another Sun Belt draft hopeful who should join the 2,000 career-point club this season. He will lead the Eagles as they attempt to end a 26-year NCAA Tournament drought.

Rodrick Sikes, Sr., G, South Alabama

Another key to the Jaguars’ darkhorse potential will be the play of their leading scorer from a year ago. Sikes averaged 18.7 points per game and could combine with Holden to form one of the more formidable backcourt duos in the league this season.

Travis Munnings, Sr., F, Louisiana-Monroe

Munnings’ game has steadily evolved each season for the Warhawks, and with ULM looking to replace Sam McDaniel’s scoring production, look for him to expand his offensive game even more this year.

Jordan Varnado, Sr., F, Troy

Varnado was one of the best big men in the league last season along with Louisiana’s Bryce Washington. Look for Varnado to claim that title all to himself this season as he leads a Troy team which must replace its all-time leading scorer in Wesley Person.

All-Sun Belt Second Team

Ronshad Shabazz, Sr., G, Appalachian State

Shabbazz is one of the best scorers in the league as he averaged 18.5 points per game last year. He could be the catalyst that helps the Mountaineers prove their own darkhorse status.

Devin Mitchell, Sr., G, Georgia State

Mitchell came up just two three pointers shy of R.J. Hunter’s single season record a year ago. Look for him to break that record this year as he spots up for kick outs from Simonds yet again.

Michael Ertel, So., G, Louisiana-Monroe

The reigning Freshman of the Year will be asked to take on a larger role in scoring this year as the Warhawks lose three of their top-five scorers.

Jakeenan Gant, Sr., F, Louisiana

Gant is part of a three-man senior core that will look to keep the Ragin’ Cajuns locked in as one of the top teams in the conference.

Alex Hicks, Jr., F, Troy

Hicks combines with Varnado to form arguably the best front court combination in the conference.

All-Sun Belt Third Team

Kory Holden, Sr., G, South Alabama

Marcus Stroman, Sr., G, Louisiana

Nijal Pearson, Jr., G, Texas State

Malik Benlevi, Sr., F, Georgia State

Montae Glenn, Sr., F Georgia Southern