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Southland Conference Preseason Awards: Marlain Veal, Stephen F. Austin clean up the hardware

Veal is on the menu in 2018-19, you could say.

NCAA Basketball: Southeastern Louisiana at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Get ready for some new faces to pull down Southland hardware in 2018-19, as 70 percent of the league’s first- and second-team honorees from last season are out of eligibility. This includes a pair of point guards who had remarkable senior years in Jordan Howard and Roddy Peters.

Here’s who we think will step into the spotlight this season.

Player of the Year: Marlain Veal, Sr., G, Southeastern Louisiana

Pound-for-pound, few players in the country pack more production that Marlain Veal. The 5’9, 145-pound point guard helped propel the Lions to a share of the Southland regular season title last year with tremendous counting stats (12.8 PPG, 6.1 APG, 5.2 RPG). Optically, he’s the league’s best perimeter defender (and reigning DPOY) as well as a premier playmaker. He rarely came off the court at the end of last season, playing all but 17 minutes in the Lions final five games. He’ll be relied upon like that throughout 2018-19, and should produce at a level worthy of the Southland’s top player.

Also considered: Kevon Harris (Jr., G, Stephen F. Austin), Shannon Bogues (Sr., G, Stephen F. Austin)

Newcomer of the Year: Malik Hines, Sr., C, McNeese State

First-year Cowboys coach Heath Schroyer got an early gift when he locked up Hines (9.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG), a graduate transfer from UMass. Last season, Hines shot 70 percent from the floor in A-10 play, good for second in the conference. That was a big step up in production as his role expanded as a junior. Even with an influx of JuCo big men, Hines should be leaned on even more at McNeese State; maintaining that type of efficiency wouldn’t come as a shock.

Also considered: Dexter McClanahan (Sr., G, Nicholls), Laquarious Paige (Jr., G, Lamar)

Darkhorse Team: Central Arkansas Bears

Many will assume the Bears will be stuck in a post-Jordan Howard malaise, and that may well be the case. But the young spine that supported Howard and similarly departed senior Mathieu Kamba in an 18-win season is back. Hayden Koval could explode as the Southland’s biggest match up problem, as the 7-foot center flashed floor-spacing potential, all while posting the 11th-best block rate in the country. Fellow sophomore DeAndre Jones is equally intriguing as the point guard takes on a more central role scoring the basketball. The Bears probably don’t have the depth to truly challenge for a league title, but they could stick around longer than many will think.

Also considered: New Orleans Privateers

All-Southland Preseason First Team

Marlain Veal, Sr., G, Southeastern Louisiana

See above.

Kevon Harris, Jr., G, Stephen F. Austin

The junior wing is a well-rounded player that exploded last season. He was the Lumberjacks’ second-leading scorer (14.5 PPG) and rebounder (5.5 RPG), while contributing heavily on the defensive end. Harris can score from all three levels, and could well land on the NBA radar after this season, if he isn’t already.

Shannon Bogues, Sr., G, Stephen F. Austin

Bogues was an ace off the bench for Kyle Keller last season, leading the 28-win Lumberjacks in scoring (15.4 PPG). The athletic, bouncy senior is a highlight waiting to happen, and forms a potent one-two punch with Harris. In a slightly expanded role, more outbursts like the 33.5 points he averaged a two-game stretch in mid February are likely.

Jalone Friday, Jr., C, Abilene Christian

Last season was not the leap forward Friday likely expected (dare we say, to Saturday?). Despite a fine season (13.3 PPG, 5.1 RPG), the junior center’s efficiency dropped across the board, with lower shooting averages from the free throw line, within the arc and beyond the three-point line. Still, he has the potential to be a versatile front court weapon, and could use confidence gained from a summer spent with Larry Brown to get to the next level.

Josh Ibarra, RSr., C, Houston Baptist

There is some justice in the world, as Ibarra was granted a medical redshirt after a foot injury limited his senior season to just eight games. He put up big numbers in that short stretch (16.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 23.8 DR%) and slots in as one of the Southland’s top rebounders.

All-Southland Preseason Second Team

TJ Holyfield, Sr., F, Stephen F. Austin

A holdover from the Brad Underwood era, Holyfield enters his senior season as one of the Southland’s most consistent interior players. While he hasn’t necessarily taken a leap to stardom, he’s a top-notch defender and reliable source of production (12.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG) who has started 101 games over this three-year career.

Josh Nzeakor, Sr., C, Lamar

Nzeakor is another quality big man in a league with no shortage of them. He took somewhat of a backseat to Colton Weisbrod the past two seasons, but is now the Cardinals top option in the post after a solid year (12.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG). The double-double threat cleaned up the boards last season, posting the third-best offensive rebounding rate in Southland play.

Jaren Lewis, Sr., F, Abilene Christian

The senior forward is coming off his most efficient season (56.9% eFG), while drastically improving his work on the offensive glass. If he has another step forward in him, he could be the best big man in the Southland.

Malik Hines, Sr., C, McNeese State

See above.

Nick Garth, Sr., G, Lamar

Garth provides an outside scoring complement to Nzeakor’s interior work that should make the Cardinals a factor this season. The senior guard has connected on more three-pointers than any player in Lamar history (238), and has shot better than 40 percent from distance in each of the past two Southland campaigns.