Predicting the 2015-16 Player of the Year in Every College Basketball Conference

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystSeptember 18, 2015

Predicting the 2015-16 Player of the Year in Every College Basketball Conference

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    There's no better way to sum up a regular season of college basketball than with the Conference Player of the Year awards, so predicting studs like Utah's Jakob Poeltl, Oklahoma's Buddy Hield and Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer to earn some of those honors in 2015-16 seems like a great way to bridge the gap from offseason to preseason.

    For each of the 32 conferences, we projected a winner and a biggest challenger for the Player of the Year award. In the six major conferences, we also added a third player strongly considered, because there are just way too many immensely talented players on those teams to not at least award a bronze prediction.

    Three major things went into consideration for these calculated guesses:

    1) No freshmen. Jahlil Okafor was the only freshman in the past two seasons to earn a conference Player of the Year award, and he was a once in a blue moon, immediately ready to dominate type of big man. We love a lot of the new guys, but there are plenty of veterans to choose from.

    2) Must play on a team projected to finish near the top of the conference standings. Every single 2015 conference Player of the Year played for a team that won at least 50 percent of its conference games, and 20 of the 32 awards went to a member of the team that won the regular-season title. No one cares if you score 20 points per game for a 20-loss team.

    3) Must score a ton of points. Only three of the 32 conferences awarded their POY to someone who scored fewer than 14 points per game, and Kevin Pangos, Kenneth Smith and Kendall Gray filled up the stat sheets in other ways. On average, the 32 POYs scored 17.0 points per game.

    Upperclassmen who should score a ton of points for tournament-bound teams, here we come!

America East

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    Projected winner: Jameel Warney, Stony Brook

    2014-15 stats: 16.4 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 2.5 BPG, 2.1 APG, 0.7 SPG

    When the two-time reigning conference Player of the Year still has one season of eligibility remaining, he's kind of a no-brainer favorite to win it again. Such is the case for Jameel Warney, who recorded 25 double-doubles last season with the Seawolves.

    Warney actually struggled a bit in the middle of the season, failing to record a double-double for a span of six games in January, but he made up for it by finishing the year on a six-game rampage, averaging 20.7 points and 14.2 rebounds in six consecutive double-doubles.

    Expect more of the same out of the senior as he attempts to finally get Stony Brook into the NCAA tournament.

    Biggest challenger: Dre Wills, Vermont

    2014-15 stats: 9.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.9 SPG, 1.0 BPG

    Vermont has won at least 68 percent of its conference games in seven consecutive seasons, so it's probably safe to assume the Catamounts will at least be in the running for the America East crown.

    Perhaps leading scorer and shot-blocker Ethan O'Day is a better candidate for team MVP, but it's hard not to like the versatility that Dre Wills brings to the table. He isn't much of a shooter, but for a 6'1" guard, he records an extraordinary amount of rebounds and blocks.

American Athletic

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    Projected winner: Markus Kennedy, SMU

    2014-15 stats: 11.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.1 APG, 0.8 BPG

    Nic Moore took home the AAC POY crown last year and has to be considered one of the top candidates to do so again in 2015-16. However, if the Mustangs can finally get a full season out of Markus Kennedy, he could be one of the most important players in the entire nation.

    Academically ineligible for the team's first 10 games, Kennedy didn't really get going until mid-January, but it wasn't long before he was an indispensable piece of SMU's puzzle. He had at least 15 points and six rebounds in each of the Mustangs' final six games, and his importance in the paint should only increase this season with Yanick Moreira and Cannen Cunningham both out of the picture.

    Texas Tech transfer Jordan Tolbert and Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye will play key roles in SMU's frontcourt, but there's no question that Kennedy is the big man on campus. If healthy, in shape and academically eligible, look for Kennedy to play close to 30 minutes per game, racking up a good number of double-doubles.

    Biggest challenger: Octavius Ellis, Cincinnati

    2014-15 stats: 9.9 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 1.3 APG, 0.8 SPG

    It's a real testament to how much stronger the AAC is going to be this season that this was perhaps the most difficult projected runner-up to choose. Temple still has Quenton DeCosey, Memphis has a pair of studs in Trahson Burrell and Shaq Goodwin, and pretty much any one of Connecticut's top six players could very conceivably be this conference's best player.

    But we've got our sights set on Octavius Ellis. Yes, that's the same guy who got ejected for throwing a punch in the NCAA tournament game against Purdue, but Cincinnati never gets to that point in the first place without a great year from Ellis. He led the Bearcats in points, but much more important were the blocks and steals he tallied for one of the best defensive units in the country.

Atlantic 10

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    Projected winner: Jack Gibbs, Davidson

    2014-15 stats: 16.2 PPG, 4.8 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.5 SPG

    Tough to say whether Davidson, Dayton or Rhode Island is the favorite to win the A-10, but it's not very tough to argue that Jack Gibbs is this conference's best player.

    Teammate Tyler Kalinoski was named A-10 Player of the Year this past season, but that might have been a different story if Gibbs hadn't missed seven games with a torn meniscus. The now-junior guard scored in double figures in 21 of his 25 games, including all nine games after his return from the injury. He showed no signs of rust whatsoever, shooting 53.7 percent from beyond the arc in his first seven games backall wins for the Wildcats.

    With Kalinoski graduating, it will be up to Gibbs and Brian Sullivan (12.7 PPG, 3.9 APG, 35.5 3P%) to continue pacing one of the most efficient offenses in the country. It's not quite a Stephen Curry and Jason Richards backcourt duo, but Gibbs and Sullivan are plenty good enough to keep the Wildcats at or near the top of the A-10 standings.

    Biggest challenger: E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island

    2014-15 stats: 16.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.8 SPG

    Even if Gibbs has a statistically better season, don't be surprised if either E.C. Matthews or Hassan Martin is named A-10 Player of the Year if Rhode Island plays well enough to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. It's simply human nature to assign a little more value to a guy who leads his team to new heights.

    Same goes for DeAndre Bembry if Saint Joseph's is able to bounce back from a woeful 13-18 season. Bembry led the conference in scoring average last year and is regarded by most as the A-10's top NBA prospect.

Atlantic Coast

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Projected winner: Anthony Gill, Virginia

    2014-15 stats: 11.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.9 SPG

    Most star players have "quiet" games throughout the course of the season. It feels like they aren't doing much of anything, but then you look at the box score late in the second half and they somehow have 18 points and six dimes.

    For Anthony Gill, it's usually the opposite. He has such an impact on everything when he's in the game that you expect to see 20 points, 12 rebounds and a few blocks next to his name at the final buzzer, but he rarely puts up big conventional numbers.

    Good thing there are advanced statistics at and to show just how insanely valuable Gill is. He ranked seventh in the Player of the Year rankings. By Sports-Reference's metrics, Gill was one of just seven players in the country to tally at least five win shares with both an offensive and defensive box plus/minus of 5.0 or better. Most of those words may mean nothing to you, but the other six players were Frank Kaminsky, Karl-Anthony Towns, Justise Winslow, Delon Wright, Seth Tuttle and T.J. McConnell, so it was pretty great company.

    With Darion Atkins out of the equation, look for Gill to play more minutes and become an even more pivotal part of an incredible defensive unit.

    Biggest challenger: Marcus Paige, North Carolina

    2014-15 stats: 14.1 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.7 SPG

    Considering the plantar fasciitis and sprained ankles, Marcus Paige had a pretty impressive junior year. He drove the lane less often, but his overall impact was pretty similar to the outstanding sophomore season that had nearly everyone listing Paige as a first-team All-American last November. If he's healthy this year, we could be talking about much more than just the ACC POY.

    Also strongly considered: Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame

    2014-15 stats: 12.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.6 SPG

    Draft Express currently has Demetrius Jackson projected for the first non-lottery pick of the 2016 NBA draft. I don't envision Notre Dame finishing top five in the ACC this year, but it's certainly a possibility with Jackson at lead guard.

Atlantic Sun

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    Projected winner: Damon Lynn, NJIT

    2014-15 stats: 17.5 PPG, 3.7 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.8 SPG

    This will be NJIT's first year in the Atlantic Sun, and the Highlanders could make an immediate splash with Damon Lynn winning the conference Player of the Year award.

    Lynn wasn't the most accurate three-point shooter in the country, but that certainly didn't stop him from shooting. He averaged 10.6 attempts per game, sinking 36.0 percent of them. He's more than just a minor conference clone of Marshall Henderson, though, as Lynn led NJIT in both assists and steals by a sizable margin.

    He now enters into a conference where defense was optional on good days and apparently forbidden on others. According to, Florida Gulf Coast had the most efficient defense in the Atlantic Sun in 2014-15, ranking 169th in the nation. Five of the eight teams ranked in the bottom 50 nationally. Let's just say there's an outside chance that Lynn leads the nation in scoring.

    Biggest challenger: Dallas Moore, North Florida

    2014-15 stats: 15.8 PPG, 3.7 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.0 SPG

    Fun as it may be to watch Lynn rack up 20 or more points per night, Dallas Moore won't be far behind him on the conference leaderboards while playing for a team that may well go undefeated in conference play.

    However, the Atlantic Sun was one of the few conferences that didn't much care about the standings when naming its 2015 Player of the Year. USC Upstate went 8-6 and finished four games behind North Florida but produced the Atlantic Sun POY in the form of Ty Greene. Conference title or not, Moore might need to really bring his individual A-game to keep Lynn from the crown.

Big 12

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    Projected winner: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

    2014-15 stats: 17.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.3 SPG

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Buddy Hield was the Big 12 Player of the Year last season and certainly seems like a fine choice to win the award again this season.

    This is particularly true if he can rediscover his offensive efficiency from the 2013-14 season. Hield scored slightly more as a junior but was much more accurate as a sophomore. If we combine his sophomore year percentages with his junior year attempt per game, Hield would be putting up 19.2 points per game.

    Moreover, Oklahoma isn't sneaking up on anyone this year. The Sooners flew a bit under the radar heading into last season, but this is a legitimate top 10 team that should contend for the Big 12 title. It would be great if Hield could demonstrate some improvement in the efficiency department, but if he merely has a repeat of last season, it might take a Herculean effort from someone else to keep him from going back-to-back.

    Biggest challenger: Georges Niang, Iowa State

    2014-15 stats: 15.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.4 APG

    Monte Morris and Jameel McKay could also get into this mix for the Cyclones, but Georges Niang is certainly the favorite among those not named Hield. Niang's defense is nothing to brag about, but he's such an excellent scorer and passer that he does more than enough on offense to be a substantial net benefit for the team.

    Frankly, it's surprising he only averaged 15.3 points per game last season, considering he scored at least 26 in three of Iowa State's first six games. After losing Dustin Hogue and Bryce Dejean-Jones, though, Niang becomes more imperative to Iowa State's success than ever before.

    Also strongly considered: Taurean Prince, Baylor

    2014-15 stats: 13.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.3 APG, 0.9 BPG

    Just about any starter for the Jayhawks in an obvious, serious candidate for Big 12 POY, but as a sucker for stat-sheet stuffers, I had to throw a bone to Taurean Prince. Despite playing just 26.3 minutes per game, Prince was one of only nine players to record at least 450 points, 175 rebounds, 40 assists, 40 steals and 25 blocks, according to's play index. Add in the 39.5 percent three-point stroke and he was some kind of Swiss army knife.

Big East

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    Projected winner: Josh Hart, Villanova

    2014-15 stats: 10.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.1 SPG

    This projection will come as a surprise to some, but not anyone who has watched a few Villanova games in the past two years. Josh Hart is one of those guys who is just in on every play. It doesn't matter if he's on offense or defense, with the ball or away from it, he hustles like a madman.

    In addition to a nightly "A" for effort, Hart gets an A-plus in offense efficiency. According to, Hart led the Wildcats in O-rating in each of the past two seasons, ranking 35th nationally as a freshman and 27th in the country as a sophomore.

    The only reason he hasn't gotten more national attention is because he has been the team's sixth man, averaging just 23.5 minutes per game in his college career. But with JayVaughn Pinkston, Darrun Hilliard and Dylan Ennis all gone, look for Hart to become Villanova's primary starting forward and a household name around the country.

    Biggest challenger: Kris Dunn, Providence

    2014-15 stats: 15.6 PPG, 7.5 APG, 5.5 RPG, 2.7 SPG

    Probably the most glaring example of projected standings meaning more than projected stats, Kris Dunn was one of the most unstoppable forces in the country last season. I have yet to dip a toe into the "daily fantasy sports" realm of college basketball, but I would imagine that Dunn was the type of guy who cost an outlandish percentage of one's budget, yet was worth every penny on most nights.

    Why he decided to come back for another year is a total mystery, but he is going to put up some crazy numbers for a Friars squad that doesn't have many other options.

    Also strongly considered: D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown

    2014-15 stats: 16.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.6 SPG

    D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera was our pick for Big East POY last year, and he didn't exactly disappoint. He didn't win the award, but he had his most efficient season to date, improved as both a ball-handler and defender and helped lead the Hoyas to a No. 4 seed. With Smith-Rivera back for another year, do not sleep on Georgetown as a potential Big East champ.

Big Sky

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    Projected winner: Venky Jois, Eastern Washington

    2014-15 stats: 16.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 2.0 APG, 1.2 SPG

    Over the past decade, the Big Sky has become the wild card of conference POYs.

    Last year, Tyler Harvey led the nation in scoring for an Eastern Washington team that won the conference, but Sacramento State's Mikh McKinney was named the Big Sky POY. McKinney did average 19.2 points per game for a team that improved from 14-16 to 21-12, but, come on, Harvey was a monster. A similar phenomenon occurred in 2006-07 when EWU's Rodney Stuckey averaged 24.6 points per game, only to see David Patten (14.2 PPG) win the award as part of a Weber State team that improved from 10-17 to 20-12.

    If the trick for this conference is to pick the best player from the most improved team, perhaps Weber State's Joel Bolomboy should be the favorite. Never mind the fact that he averaged 13.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per game for a Weber State team that went 13-17 last year; if the Wildcats manage to finish top four in the conference this year, the Big Sky voters will find a way to say that he is the conference's most valuable player.

    But, if we're sticking with the best player from one of the best teams notion, it's hard to argue against Venky Jois, who could put up even more ridiculous numbers this year with Harvey out of the picture.

    Biggest challenger: Martin Breunig, Montana

    2014-15 stats: 16.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.8 BPG

    Basically dead even with Jois in both points and rebounds per game last season is another big man who should benefit from the departure of the team's top scorer. And, actually, Martin Breunig is in an arguably better position for success than Jois, because Breunig retains starting point guard Mario Dunn while Jois loses his best passer in the form of Drew Brandon.

    If it comes down to a head-to-head battle between the two, advantage Breunig. He averaged 19.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in three games against the Eagles last season.

Big South

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    Projected winner: John Brown, High Point

    2014-15 stats: 19.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG

    John Brown was the Big South Player of the Year in 2013-14, but he took a slight step backward in every single category as a junior. He still put up very strong numbers, but it more than opened the door for Saah Nimley to take the crown from him.

    Nimley is out of years of eligibility, though, and Brown is back to try to lead High Point to a fourth consecutive Big South title.

    Despite a startlingly uncharacteristic two-point outing against Gardner-Webb in mid-February, Brown averaged 21.6 points per game in High Point's final 11 contests last season. The Panthers turned to their star over and over again and should be expected to do so even more often after losing Devante Wallace and Brian Richardson to graduation.

    Biggest challenger: Elijah Wilson, Coastal Carolina

    2014-15 stats: 11.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG

    Unlike other conferences that have no clear-cut projected runner-up because there are so many quality options, it's hard to find any Big South player in the same zip code as Brown. The conference was simply ravaged by graduations and transfers.

    Despite losing its top two scorers, Coastal Carolina might be the best bet to challenge High Point for the title. The Chanticleers do retain Shivaughn Wiggins and Elijah Wilson, and the latter is their top returning scorer after a season spent shooting 39.1 percent from three-point range. With fellow guards Warren Gillis and Josh Cameron graduating, look for Wilson to shoot like there's no tomorrow.

Big Ten

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    Projected winner: Melo Trimble, Maryland

    2014-15 stats: 16.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.3 SPG

    With all the hoopla in the Big Ten over Frank Kaminsky and D'Angelo Russell, Melo Trimble's phenomenal freshman season really fell by the wayside. His first year wasn't anywhere near as nationally underappreciated as those of Oregon's Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks, but it's hard to believe that Trimble wasn't even one of the 15 finalists for the Wooden Award, given the numbers he put up while revitalizing a program that had missed the NCAA tournament in four straight seasons.

    Well, here's your chance for redemption, America. Nobody's sleeping on the Terrapins this year, as they will certainly open the season ranked in the top five of the AP poll.

    There's little question that Trimble is and should be regarded as their MVP. Our guess is that his scoring average will decrease a little bit, but that he'll more than make up for it in the assists department with the addition of Rasheed Sulaimon and Diamond Stone. Look for something in the vicinity of 15 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals per game for your projected B1G POY. 

    Biggest challenger: Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

    2014-15 stats: 16.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.2 RPG

    Yogi Ferrell's decision to return for one final season had a pretty huge impact on the Big Ten landscape. Without him, the Hoosiers probably would have been in trouble, a very young roster without an established point guard. With him, they're arguably the second-best team in the conference and should be a legitimate player on the national stage.

    In a nutshell, Ferrell is the linchpin of the best three-point assault in the country. Not only is he one of the team's best shooters, but he does such a great job of setting up teammates with open looks that he is a nightmare for opposing defenses. 

    Also strongly considered: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

    2014-15 stats: 14.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, 0.9 SPG

    There were a lot of great candidates for this spot. In no particular order, Caris LeVert, Nigel Hayes, A.J. Hammons, Jarrod Uthoff and Malcolm Hill were all strong options. As was the case in the Big 12, though, we're going with the stat-sheet stuffer as our most honorable mention.

    Denzel Valentine had a fantastic junior year, nearly doubling his scoring average from the previous year while becoming a three-point assassin. Travis Trice got all of the attention, but Valentine was every bit as crucial to Michigan State's success in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. If the Spartans are going to get back to the Final Four again this year, it starts with Valentine.

Big West

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    Projected winner: Mamadou Ndiaye, UC Irvine

    2014-15 stats: 10.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.7 BPG

    When healthy, few players make a bigger impact on the court than Mamadou Ndiaye. The 7'6" giant only managed to play 15 games last seasonand logged less than 20 minutes per contestbut he was out there at the end of the year when the Anteaters needed him most. According to KenPom, they held opponents to 58.0 points per game and 0.93 points per possession in their four games between the Big West and NCAA tournaments, and that was thanks in large part to Ndiaye's presence in the paint.

    With UC Davis losing its entire three-point shooting arsenal and UC Santa Barbara forced to move on without Alan Williams, UC Irvine is pretty clearly the favorite to win the conference. Perhaps Luke Nelson plays more games and comes to be regarded as the team's MVP, but let's assume Ndiaye's knees and ankles hold up well enough to win Big West POY.

    Biggest challenger: Nick Faust, Long Beach State

    2014-15 stats: N/A (Transfer)

    With Mike Caffey, Tyler Lamb, David Samuels and McKay LaSalle all graduating, Long Beach State has some serious holes to fill. Branford Jones and and Travis Hammonds are the only returning players who averaged better than 3.5 points per game, and neither one put up more than seven per night.

    As a result, it's a new guy who could well lead the team in points, assists and steals.

    One of quite a few players to transfer out of Maryland last summer, Nick Faust landed at Long Beach State, where he should get substantially more playing time this year than he would have gotten with Dez Wells and Melo Trimble leading the way for the Terrapins. It might not be quite the splash that Kyle Wiltjer had in going from Kentucky to Gonzaga, but some sort of upgrade has to be in order as Faust transitions from the ACC to the Big West.

Colonial Athletic Association

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    Projected winner: Juan'ya Green, Hofstra

    2014-15 stats: 17.1 PPG, 6.5 APG, 4.3 RPG, 1.4 SPG

    Juan'ya Green recorded 76 more assists than any other player in the entire Colonial Athletic Association in 2014-15. Despite all that passing, he also ranked second in the conference in total points scored, trailing only William & Mary's Marcus Thornton in that category.

    Green was arguably already the best player in the conference, but it's not even an argument anymore after Thornton graduated and Damion Lee transferred to Louisville. About the only injury-free way Green could fail to be named CAA POY is if teammate Ameen Tanksley (16.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.4 SPG in 2014-15) jumps ahead of him to steal the crown.

    Biggest challenger: Terry Tarpey, William & Mary

    2014-15 stats: 11.8 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.3 BPG

    The Tribe may have lost their top scorer, but they retained their top everything else in Terry Tarpey. He and Sir'Dominic Pointer of St. John's were the only players in the country to record at least 40 blocks and 50 steals last year. Tarpey led William & Mary in both categories, as well as assists and rebounds. He also shot 34.3 percent from three-point range, so you could say he has the most well-rounded game in the country.

    The above averages are even a bit deceptively low, as he didn't start hitting his stride until the 11th game of the season. Tarpey averaged 13.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game over his final 22 contests, and should play an even bigger role in the offense without Thornton.

Conference USA

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    Projected winner: Trey Freeman, Old Dominion

    2014-15 stats: 16.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.3 SPG

    Like the Big South conference, Conference USA simply doesn't have many high-scoring returnees. Aside from Trey Freeman, the only returning player who scored as least 15 points per game was Southern Mississippi's Chip Armelin, and he did so for a team that lost 14 conference games.

    As a result, Freeman is the runaway favorite for CUSA POY as a member of what should be the runaway favorite to win the conference title. Old Dominion retains its entire backcourt from a roster that went 27-8 last year, led by Freeman's 591 points248 more than any other Monarch scored.

    Biggest challenger: Alex Hamilton, Louisiana Tech

    2014-15 stats: 14.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.7 SPG

    One of the biggest overhauls in the country, Louisiana Tech lost three starters to graduation, sixth man Xavian Stapleton to transfer and head coach Mike White to Florida.

    Basically, if Alex Hamilton doesn't have a monstrous senior year, the Bulldogs will be lucky to win a dozen games. Though not much of a three-point shooterhis 28.6 percent mark in 2014-15 was the highest of his careerthe 6'4" Hamilton mastered the art of getting to the charity stripe, making more than twice as many free throws as any other player on the roster. He was also one of their better defenders and should transition nicely to the role of full-time ball-handler with Kenneth Smith out of the picture.

Horizon League

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    Projected winner: Alec Peters, Valparaiso

    2014-15 stats: 16.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.7 SPG

    Who doesn't love a 6'9" forward who shoots 46.6 percent from three-point range? In terms of the contrast between height and skill set combination, it's like a 5'9" wide receiver who excels at fade routes or a 6'7" shortstop with a golden glove. There simply aren't many players at that height who can do what Alec Peters does.

    Defensive stalwart Vashil Fernandez is arguably Valparaiso's most valuable player, but when is the last time a shot-blocker who averages seven points per game was named a conference POY? Peters should get all of the glory as the leading scorer and rebounder for a Crusaders team that might go undefeated in conference play.

    Biggest challenger: Kahlil Felder, Oakland

    2014-15 stats: 18.1 PPG, 7.6 APG, 4.8 RPG, 2.0 SPG

    Should the voters decide to shy away from a player on the best team, Kahlil Felder is the obvious next-best candidate. He is one of just four returning players to average at least 15.0 points, 5.0 assists and 1.5 steals per gameclearing each of those thresholds by at least a 20 percent marginand each of the other three (Kris Dunn, Jalan West and Chris Fowler) appears elsewhere on this list as either the projected winner or biggest challenger in his respective conference.

    Winning enough games will be Felder's biggest hurdle. Oakland has finished below .500 in three consecutive seasons, and the Golden Grizzlies lost their second- and third-leading scorers in Corey Petros and Dante Williams. Conference POYs don't always go to the conference champion, but they certainly tend to be awarded to players on teams that win at least 20 games.

Ivy League

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    Projected winner: Maodo Lo, Columbia

    2014-15 stats: 18.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.5 SPG

    If you're not buying stock in Columbia as the 2015-16 Ivy League champions, there's still a little bit of time left to rectify that mistake. The Lions weren't very good last year (13-15 overall, 5-9 in conference), but they were playing without two of their most important players: Alex Rosenberg and Grant Mullins. The former missed the entire season with a fractured foot while the latter missed the entire year due to the after effects of a nasty concussion suffered 20 months ago.

    Who knows if and how well Mullins will play this year, but expect a fully healthy Rosenberg to complement the current star of the team, Maodo Lo. The shooting guard has hit 43.8 percent of his three-point attempts over the past two seasons. He's no slouch from inside the arc, either, having made 53.0 percent of his two-point attempts during that same time.

    With primary running mate Rosenberg back in the mix and Kyle Castlin well established as Columbia's small forward after a strong freshman season, this is going to be a very difficult team to beat.

    Biggest challenger: Justin Sears, Yale

    2014-15 stats: 14.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 1.5 APG, 1.1 SPG

    If Columbia falls short of winning its first Ivy League title since 1968, Yale is the most likely benefactor.

    The Bulldogs lose four of their seven leading scorers from last season but do retain the reigning Ivy League POY. Justin Sears led the team in scoring average, rebounds and blocked shots. He actually ranked second in the entire conference in blocked shots, fourth in rebounds, fifth in points and 10th in steals so it's no wonder he won the award while nearly leading Yale to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1962.

Metro Atlantic Athletic

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    Projected winner: A.J. English, Iona

    2014-15 stats: 20.1 PPG, 5.1 APG, 5.1 RPG, 1.4 SPG

    Iona has been running an uptempo, high-efficiency offense in each of Tim Cluess' five seasons, but it has really evolved into an art form with A.J. English running the show. The Gaels have developed a nasty habit of losing to Manhattan in the MAAC finals, but they are 34-6 against conference foes during the past two regular seasons.

    Say what you will about the tempo and the sheer number of minutes he plays, but English was one of just two players in the country to record at least 19 points, five rebounds and five assists per game in 2014-15the other being some guy named D'Angelo Russell, per the play index. Without teammate and reigning MAAC POY David Laury, look for English's assist total to decrease a little bit while his points and rebounds improve.

    Biggest challenger: Justin Robinson, Monmouth

    2014-15 stats: 13.4 PPG, 3.6 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.7 SPG

    From 2008-14, Monmouth had an overall record of 69-149, failing to record a 39.0 or better winning percentage in any of those seven seasons, so it was a pretty big surprise that the Hawks went 18-15 and nearly won a road game against Maryland this past year.

    Sophomore point guard Justin Robinson was almost entirely to blame for their success, as he led the team in points, assists, steals and three-point shooting. They lost three crucial players in Max DiLeo, Brice Kofane and Andrew Nicholas but should be in pretty good shape with Robinson, Deon Jones and Oklahoma transfer Je'lon Hornbeak.

    We wouldn't bet on Monmouth winning the conference, but winning enough games to get some MAAC POY respect is definitely a possibility.


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    Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected winner: Chris Fowler, Central Michigan

    2014-15 stats: 16.2 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.1 RPG, 1.5 SPG

    Six months ago, Buffalo's Justin Moss would have been a no-brainer pick to repeat as MAC POY. But Bobby Hurley left for Arizona State, followed by Shannon Evans and Torian Graham. And then Moss was dismissed from the team as a result of on-campus thefts. Not only does that kick the door wide open for another team to win the conference, but it means we're guaranteed to have a new MAC Player of the Year.

    The smart money is on someone from Central Michigan taking home the title. With all seven of their leading scorers back for another year, the Chippewas almost have to be the favorites to represent the conference in the NCAA tournament.

    Whether that's primarily because of senior point guard Chris Fowler or senior power forward John Simons is what the voters will have to decide. Simons is their best rebounder and three-point shooter, but Fowler is their best everything else. If he has another season of at least 15 points, five assists and 1.5 steals per game, he should win the battle comfortably.

    Biggest challenger: Jimmy Hall, Kent State

    2014-15 stats: 15.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 BPG

    Kent State probably isn't much of a threat to win the MAC after losing three of its four players that averaged at least 10 points per game, but leading scorer Jimmy Hall is definitely a threat to become "MAC leading scorer Jimmy Hall."

    He averaged 22.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per 40 minutes in 2014-15, but the Golden Flashes will really need to lean on their power forward this year without their entire starting backcourt.

Mid-Eastern Athletic

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Projected winner: Jeffrey Short, Norfolk State

    2014-15 stats: 19.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.9 SPG

    Norfolk State was dealt a pretty massive blow when Rashid Gaston elected to transfer, but that should just mean more buckets for the guy who already ranked second in the MEAC in scoring average.

    Hardly your typical MEAC shooting guard, Short shot 57.0 percent from two-point range and 39.4 percent beyond the arc, resulting in a very impressive 1.52 points per field-goal attempt. Expect opposing defenses to really focus on himD'Shon Taylor is the only other returning Spartan who scored so much as 86 points last seasonbut also expect it not to matter very much, as he is pretty lethal from everywhere on the court.

    Biggest challenger: Dante Holmes, North Carolina Central

    2014-15 stats: 10.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.3 SPG

    NC Central has absolutely owned the MEAC over the past few seasons but is likely headed for a down year while trying to replace four of its five leading scorers from last season.

    The only one still standing is Dante Holmes, which means he pretty much automatically becomes the go-to guy for the Eagles in 2015-16.

    Despite losing a plethora of key players, NC Central was so far ahead of the pack that it's hard to envision this team suddenly finishing outside of the top four. If Holmes racks up 20 points per game in the process, he's got a shot at the award.

Missouri Valley

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    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected winner: Ron Baker, Wichita State

    2014-15 stats: 14.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG

    It feels like Ron Baker has been playing college basketball for most of my life, but he still has one year of eligibility remaining to really make his mark on the sport.

    Baker isn't anything close to the best in the country at any individual thing that he does, but he is a jack-of-all-trades who does so many things at a high enough level that he ends up being about as valuable as they come. An excellent three-point shooter, defender, rebounder and passer, Baker is the type of player who opposing teams need to keep track of at all times.

    The combined force of he and Fred VanVleet makes arguably the best and most experienced backcourt in the country.

    Biggest challenger: D.J. Balentine, Evansville

    2014-15 stats: 20.1 PPG, 3.2 APG, 3.2 RPG, 0.8 SPG

    D.J. Balentine is not a great defender by any stretch of the imagination, but he has been one of the best offensive weapons in the country over the past two seasons. Though one of the nation's best scorers, the 2014-15 season was actually a disappointment compared to the 22.8 points per game he averaged the previous year.

    It's highly unlikely that Evansville will finish ahead of Wichita State in the conference standings, but Balentine just might score so many point as to become impossible to ignore in the Missouri Valley POY discussion.

Mountain West

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    Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected winner: James Webb III, Boise State

    2014-15 stats: 11.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.1 SPG

    One of the most efficient scorers in the nation, James Webb III shot 40.9 percent from three-point range and 67.7 percent from inside the arc. He rarely got to the free-throw line (2.6 attempts per 40 minutes) and still averaged 1.45 points per field-goal attempt.

    A rare breed of finesse and ferocity, Webb ranked eighth in the nation in effective field-goal percentage and 14th in defensive rebounding percentage. He is the only player to appear in the top 50 of both lists.

    However, it was tough for him to rack up points with Derrick Marks taking nearly twice as many shots as any other Bronco. Boise State does get Anthony Drmic back in the mix this year, but there should still be plenty of room for Webb to shine this season without Marks to do all the scoring.

    Biggest challenger: Malik Pope, San Diego State

    2014-15 stats: 5.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 0.8 BPG

    There were a surprising number of great options hereCullen Neal, Jalen Moore, Josh Adams, A.J. West and Marvelle Harris, to name a few of the non-Boise State and non-San Diego State choicesbut we're going with the guy that pretty much everyone has penciled in for a monster sophomore season.

    Despite the pedestrian numbers above, more than a few people thought Malik Pope would go pro after just one season. Multiple leg injuries kept him from playing much in high school and kept him limited at the start of last year, but he is an athletic freak of nature who should be expected to do some ridiculous things this season. The sky is the limit for Pope, and he may fly even higher than that.


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    Lance King/Getty Images

    Projected winner: Rodney Pryor, Robert Morris

    2014-15 stats: 15.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.2 SPG

    Andrew Toole has won 73.9 percent of Northeast Conference games in his five-year career, so even though I think a different team wins the title this year, we can probably count on Robert Morris winning at least 11 or 12 games, remaining close enough to first place for a shot at the conference Player of the Year award.

    If we can agree to that premise, then we should also be able to agree that Rodney Pryor is the favorite for said POY.

    Pryor was already Bobby Mo's primary scorer but only by a slight margin over Marcquise Reed and Lucky Jones. Well, the former transferred to Clemson and the latter graduated, meaning Pryor and his 42.9 percent three-point stroke should be getting a ton of action this season. A prediction of 20 points per game would hardly be a bold one.

    Biggest challenger: Byron Ashe, Mount St. Mary's

    2014-15 stats: 11.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.1 SPG

    With the exception of Pryor, all 13 of last year's leading scorers in the NEC either graduated, transferred or played for a team with a sub-.500 record. Maybe Matt Mobley helps bring Central Connecticut State back from a 5-26 record, but we're not exactly holding our breath.

    Thus, last year's 14th-best scorer seems like a pretty solid projected runner-up.

    Not only are the Mountaineers my pick to win the conference, but I think they'll do so pretty comfortably. As noted in that link, Byron Ashe came on strong at the end of the season, averaging 15.3 points per game in his final 15 contests. If he can keep that going in 2015-16 while Mount St. Mary's wins the NEC title, he's a near shoo-in for the POY.

Ohio Valley

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    Lance King/Getty Images

    Projected winner: Craig Bradshaw, Belmont

    2014-15 stats: 18.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.6 SPG

    Mount St. Mary's was No. 10 on our list of teams most likely to run away with conference titles, but Belmont was No. 2. Craig Bradshaw and Evan Bradds are almost unarguably the two best returning players in the Ohio Valley Conference, and they both play for the Bruins.

    Advantage, Bradshaw, though, because he's the senior, he's the primary shooter and he's the best defender on the team. Even a repeat of last year's numbers should be enough for OVC POY without Cameron Payne around to steal Bradshaw's thunder.

    Biggest challenger: Jeffrey Moss, Murray State

    2014-15 stats: 11.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.1 SPG

    As was the argument for Alex Hamilton at Louisiana Tech, Jeffrey Moss is the best remaining player in what could be a rebuilding situation. Murray State lost its head coach and four of the top scorers from last year's roster, leaving Moss and Justin Seymour as the only proven pieces.

    The Racers do have a ton of noteworthy incoming transfers, though, so it's probably not all doom and gloom. If Moss is able to serve as the leading scorer for a team that defies expectations by remaining atop the conference standings, it would be an incredibly strong case for the OVC POY.


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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected winner: Jakob Poeltl, Utah

    2014-15 stats: 9.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 0.7 APG

    One of the few instances where I'm shying away from taking the best player on the projected conference winner, Jakob Poeltl is just too talented to ignore.

    Unless he literally shoots himself in the foot, Poeltl is a near lock for a lottery pick in 2016. Despite playing with a bad wheel for much of the season, he nearly led the nation in field-goal percentage at 68.1 percent. He had a total rebound percentage of 18.2 and a block percentage of 8.6, leading the Utes in both categories by a mile and a half, according to Sports Reference.

    This year will be all about finding out if he can put it all together for close to 30 minutes per game as one of the primary offensive options. Assuming he does so, expect a strong candidacy for the Wooden Award.

    Biggest challenger: Tyrone Wallace, California

    2014-15 stats: 17.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.3 SPG

    California's biggest problem in this race could be figuring out who the team's MVP actually is. Tyrone Wallace was the king of the Golden Bears last year, but Jabari Bird missed more than a month with an injury and Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown are two of the best recruits that California has landed in more than a decade.

    A lot of people are understandably sick of hearing us talk up the Golden Bears as a potential Final Four team, but the sheer amount of talent in this starting five is impossible not to get excited about. It's just a question of whether they can make it work as a cohesive unit.

    Also strongly considered: Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona

    2014-15 stats: 9.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG

    Arizona is our pick to win the Pac-12, but the Wildcats lack an obvious Pac-12 POY candidate. They are loaded with above-average talent, but who's the superstar?

    Kaleb Tarczewski is the only returning starter from last year's roster, so he's probably their best option. But don't sleep on Ryan Anderson, Mark Tollefsen, Gabe York, Kadeem Allen, Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan get the idea.

Patriot League

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected winner: Tim Kempton, Lehigh

    2014-15 stats: 15.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.0 APG

    The Patriot League was a giant cluster of mediocrity in 2014-15. Lafayette was the only team in the conference with 20 wins or losses, compiling a 20-13 record in the process of winning the conference tournament.

    Without anything close to a clear hierarchy in the standings, Tim Kempton was able to be named the Patriot League POY while putting up strong numbers for the third-place Mountain Hawks of Lehigh. Beginning with the season opener against Villanova, he recorded 14 double-doubles as a sophomore and scored at least 10 points in each of his final 21 games.

    Each of Lehigh's six leading scorers is back for at least one more season, so there's a better than reasonable chance that Kempton will be the top dog for the top team in the conference.

    Biggest challenger: Kyle Wilson, Army

    2014-15 stats: 17.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.8 SPG

    Over the past four yearsthanks in large part to American Universitythe Patriot League has been one of the slowest-paced conferences in the country. As a result, 20-point scorers have been few and far between.

    But Kyle Wilson has come fairly close, averaging 18.4 points per game as a sophomore and 17.5 as a junior. Unfortunately, Army hasn't been very good during that stretch, compiling an overall record of 30-31 and finishing dead last in the conference this past season.

    Every player of consequence from last year's roster is back, though, so the Black Knights have to be considered a candidate for a 20-win season. If Wilson can get in the vicinity of 20 points per game in the process, it might be enough.


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    Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected winner: Damian Jones, Vanderbilt

    2014-15 stats: 14.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 0.7 APG

    Like Utah's Delon Wright one summer ago, the Damian Jones bandwagon has gradually gained steam over the past several months, as people began to realize and appreciate how well he played for a team on the verge of a breakout year.

    Jones put up strong numbers in 2014-15, but expect much more this year. James Siakam did a lot in the paint for Vanderbilt last season before graduating, but Jones is unquestionably the best and pretty much only interior option for the Commodores. He should lead the team in points, rebounds and blocks once again, and by even greater margins.

    Biggest challenger: Danuel House, Texas A&M

    2014-15 stats: 14.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.7 SPG

    Like Vanderbilt, Texas A&M is one of the top candidates in the country to reach the 2016 Sweet 16 after failing to dance in 2015. Some of that is due to top recruits Tyler Davis, Elijah Thomas and D.J. Hogg, but it's mostly because the Aggies are getting one more year out of former Houston transfer Danuel House.

    A microcosm of the entire team, House had a rough finish to the season. He shot 2-of-18 from three-point range in his final two games and missed the team's final four games with an injury. Prior to that, though, he was a 43.8 percent three-point shooter and one of the most unstoppable scorers in the conference.

    Also strongly considered: Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

    2014-15 stats: 5.6 PPG, 3.6 APG, 1.8 RPG, 1.0 SPG

    Between Ben Simmons, Skal Labissiere, Malik Newman and Perry Dozier, it was tempting to break our no-freshman rule for the SEC. Instead, we're basically repeating our "Pick a Wildcat, any Wildcat will do" suggestion from last season.

    Alex Poythress could bounce back from the torn ACL to win SEC POY. Maybe Marcus Lee finally delivers on some of that McDonald's All-American potential and has a dominant season. But if you're picking a returning Kentucky player, Tyler Ulis is the safest bet. Ulis led the Wildcats in three-point percentage and assist percentage last season and could have an incredible season, presumably playing at least 30 minutes per game.


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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected winner: Spencer Collins, Wofford

    2014-15 stats: 11.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.7 SPG

    Despite losing reigning SoCon Player of the Year Karl Cochran, Wofford remains the slight favorite to win the conference because everyone else is back.

    The only question is: Who becomes the Terriers' MVP? Cochran led the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

    Second-leading scorer and 38.4 percent three-point shooter Spencer Collins is probably the best guess. Someone has to inherit the 7.7 three-point shots per game that Cochran took, and it might as well be the projected starting shooting guard.

    Biggest challenger: Casey Jones, Chattanooga

    2014-15 stats: 14.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.2 BPG

    If Wofford slips a bit without Cochran, Chattanooga is definitely the most likely candidate to take the SoCon crown. The Mocs went 15-3 in conference last year and bring back pretty much everyone other than Ronrico White.

    Most crucial of those returnees is leading scorer and rebounder Casey Jones. Something of a minor conference version of Roosevelt Jones, Casey finished last season with 225 rebounds, 37 blocks and 12 three-point attempts despite standing just 6'5". 


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    Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected winner: Thomas Walkup, Stephen F. Austin

    2014-15 stats: 15.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.2 SPG

    It's pretty incredible that Stephen F. Austin has gone 51-3 in Southland Conference play over the past three years and is still in great shape for at least one more regular-season title. That type of minor-conference domination is usually reserved for Gonzaga, but the Lumberjacks are certainly closing in on that level of prolonged consistent success.

    Despite losing an outstanding player in Jacob Parker, the Lumberjacks still have reigning Southland POY Thomas Walkup among their six returning players who averaged at least 4.9 points per game in 2014-15. Beginning with a 34-point game against Houston Baptist, Walkup scored at least 12 points in each of his final 13 games, averaging 19.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game in February and March.

    Biggest challenger: Jalan West, Northwestern State

    2014-15 stats: 20.0 PPG, 7.7 APG, 4.4 RPG, 2.1 SPG

    Northwestern State was pretty much the worst defense in the nation last season, but the Demons still won 19 games because they have two of the best offensive weapons in the country in Jalan West and Zeek Woodley.

    Woodley scored more last season (22.2 PPG), but West is a sensational passer and defender in addition to being a great scorer. If anyone from this roster is going to win the POY, it's most likely going to be the senior point guard who should comfortably eclipse 2,000 carer points this year.

Southwestern Atlantic

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    Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected winner: Ladarius Tabb, Alabama A&M

    2014-15 stats: 17.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.7 APG

    Elite players are few and far between in the SWAC, but Ladarius Tabb is a pretty darn good one. After a somewhat mediocre first seven weeks of D-I basketball, he averaged 21.1 points and 8.9 rebounds over his final 17 games of the season.

    Even by SWAC standards, Alabama A&M was pretty bad, posting an 8-10 conference record. However, things can turn on a dime in this conference, and the Bulldogs should be in great shape for a quick turnaround with virtually the entire 2014-15 roster returning for another season.

    Biggest challenger: Chris Thomas, Texas Southern

    2014-15 stats: 12.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.2 SPG

    Texas Southern lost quite a few seniors, but the Tigers have been the SWAC team to beat over the past five years, compiling a 72-18 record.

    Assuming they'll be right back in the thick of things this season, it's hard not to like Chris Thomas' shot at POY.

    He leads all returning Tigers in points, assists, steals and blocks and is their second-best rebounder. Hopefully he cuts back on the three-point attempts, though. He has averaged 2.5 tries per game in his D-I career but has connected on only 26.2 percent of them. Better to stay inside the arc where he's a 51.7 percent shooter.

Summit League

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    Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected winner: Obi Emegano, Oral Roberts

    2014-15 stats: 18.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.7 SPG

    The Golden Eagles probably won't win very many games in 2015-16. They had four players average at least 6.2 points per game last season.

    One graduated. Two transferred.

    The one who did stay, though, was the one who led the team in scoring and might be a threat to lead the nation in scoring this year. Obi Emegano only averaged 12.8 field-goal attempts per game, but the 7.6 free-throw attempts per night helped him rack up more than 600 points on the year. Look for him to eclipse 700 with room to spare as the clear-cut, go-to guy for an Oral Roberts team that fights and claws for a .500 record.

    Biggest challenger: George Marshall, South Dakota State

    2014-15 stats: 13.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.7 SPG

    Despite sitting out the first semester, Wisconsin transfer George Marshall was one of those rare midseason additions who actually made a huge, positive impact. He scored at least 15 points in 11 of his 26 games, connecting on 42.1 percent of his 5.5 three-point attempts per game.

    Now fully implemented into the offense, look for Marshall to be the key cog of one of the nation's top three-point machines. South Dakota State averaged 20.9 attempts per game last season, and that was before losing primary big man Cody Larson. The Jackrabbits are now one of the smallest teams in the country, and will need to lean heavily on Marshall's shooting ability.

Sun Belt

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    Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected winner: Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette

    2014-15 stats: 16.4 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 1.5 APG

    Good luck finding something Shawn Long can't do. He has averaged a double-double in each of his three seasons, has a career average of 2.1 blocks per game and is a 36.0 percent three-point shooter who attempts 2.6 triples per game.

    The only reason he hasn't gotten more national attention or even Sun Belt attention is because the Ragin' Cajuns were pretty bad his freshman year, teammate Elfrid Payton got all the love his sophomore year and Georgia State stole the show his junior year.

    This should finally be his time to shine as the singular star of the conference's best team.

    Biggest challenger: Anthony Livingston, Arkansas State

    2014-15 stats: 15.9 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 0.8 APG

    There are only nine returning players in the country who averaged a double-double, but two of them just so happen to play in the Sun Belt.

    In completely related news, the conference ranked 27th in efficiency and 28th in effective field-goal percentage, according to It was also one of the shortest conferences in the country, with nine of the 11 schools recording a negative effective height.

    As a result, the 6'8" Anthony Livingston had little difficulty recording 15 doubles-doubles12 of them against Sun Belt Conference foes. He also had a 20-point, 20-rebound game against Marshall and connected on 32.1 percent of his 84 three-point attempts, so he's more than just some tall guy taking advantage of small fries.

West Coast

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    Beck Diefenbach/Associated Press

    Projected winner: Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga

    2014-15 stats: 16.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.7 BPG

    Dating back to the 2000-01 season, a Gonzaga player has earned at least a share of 11 of the past 15 West Coast Conference Player of the Year awards, including Kevin Pangos last year.

    Don't expect that trend to change, as the Bulldogs should be one of the 10 best teams in the country. It's just a matter of deciding which frontcourt phenom is most deserving of the honor.

    Domantas Sabonis is the better NBA prospect, but Kyle Wiltjer has and should continue to put up the most impressive collegiate numbers. Heralded by most for his three-point stroke (46.6 percent), Wiltjer actually became an extremely solid weapon in the paint compared to his two years with Kentucky. If he increases from 27.6 minutes per game to something in the low 30s, he could really put up some ridiculous numbers this year.

    Biggest challenger: Kyle Collinsworth, BYU

    2014-15 stats: 13.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.8 SPG

    Speaking of ridiculous numbers, remember this guy? The one who recorded six triple-doubles in a season that started less than nine months after he tore an ACL?

    Kyle Collinsworth is back for one more year, and this time he won't have to share the spotlight with Tyler Haws. Unfortunately, that also means Haws isn't around to help shoulder the load. If new guys Nick Emery and Kyle Davis (I swear, not everyone in the WCC is named Kyle) are able to pick up some of that slack while Collinsworth has another unbelievable individual season, it might be enough for BYU to get back to the tournament and keep the POY trophy out of Spokane for a change.

Western Athletic

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Projected winner: Martez Harrison, UMKC

    2014-15 stats: 17.5 PPG, 3.9 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1.8 SPG

    Ladies and gentlemen, meet the only player in the country who was named a conference POY while playing for a sub-.500 team in 2014-15.

    There certainly weren't many options. Three WAC players averaged better than 14.2 points per game. One (Isaiah Umipig) played substantially better as a junior than he did as a senior. One (Janari Joesaar) played for a team that finished in a tie for last place in the conference. And the other was Martez Harrison, who led the conference in total points, assists and steals.

    Save for a game against Chicago State in which he only played 21 minutes, Harrison scored in double figures in every game last season, accounting for 26.7 percent of the total points the Kangaroos scored.

    Biggest challenger: Pascal Siakam, New Mexico State

    2014-15 stats: 12.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 1.3 APG, 0.8 SPG

    Pascal Siakam had a very impressive freshman season. He was one of just three freshmen to record at least 12.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game. The other two were Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow. You may have heard of them.

    Siakam was one of six Aggies to score at least eight per game, but four of those players graduated. That should be good news for his individual stats, but not so much for New Mexico State's quest for a sixth tournament appearance in seven years.

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @kerrancejames.


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