The Horizon League will announce its annual Postseason Awards on Tuesday following an exciting conference season that came to a close last weekend. There has been much debate around the league as to who the major award winners should be and I'm eager to see the results when they come out.
Here is my ballot that I submitted on Monday afternoon...
Horizon League Postseason Awards
Player of the Year: Kay Felder (Oakland) -- The kid is simply putting up video game numbers. Felder averaged 22.6 points and 9.9 assists per game in conference. His 178 assists in conference play would be the third highest all-time at Valparaiso for a single season. He is simply the most dynamic player in the league.
Alec Peters (Valparaiso) -- If Felder is the most dynamic, Peters is clearly the most efficient. In any other year Peters would be the unanimous pick for Player of the Year. His work down the stretch of the season, particularly the last five games, proves just how good he is. If there is one knock on Peters its that he isn't aggressive in demanding the ball. I think he's proven his style works just fine.
Vashil Fernandez (Valparaiso) -- This where I'll differ from a lot of people. Fernandez may not have the offense (let's be real, he doesn't have the offense), but his defensive presence is a game-changer. Blocks and rebounds aren't sexy, so I'll understand if people leave him off their list, but I've watched Fernandez for 20 games in person this season. He is one of the three most important players in the league.
Paris Bass (Detroit) -- Is there a player with a higher upside in the league than Bass? This kid has a motor that, when on, is outstanding. He's clearly got some issues off the court (suspension at the beginning of the season), but Bass might be the one player from this group that gets a chance at the next level.
Jalen Hayes (Oakland) -- Hayes is sneaky good. He's a lunchbox type player that does all the little things to help Oakland win. Grossly overshadowed by Felder, all Hayes did this season was average 15.7 points and lead the conference with 9.4 rebounds.
Carrington Love (Green Bay) -- Flip a coin between Hayes and Love for the last spot on the First Team. (Actually throw Tiby in there as well) Love took over for Keifer Sykes as the face of the Green Bay program this year and he flourished in the role, averaging 17.7 points in league play to go along with 4.1 assists and a league-leading 2.4 steals. Great player.
Matt Tiby (Milwaukee) -- If he's on your team you love him. If he's not on your team you love to hate him. Tiby may be my favorite player to watch in the league outside of Felder and Peters. He's a bull in a china shop. He's great in interviews. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. He's a class act according to people close to the program. I'll truly be sad to see this guy graduate.
Jordan Johnson (Milwaukee) -- The Felder effect is in place with Johnson as well. Were it not for Kay, we'd be hearing a lot more about Jordy in Milwaukee. Just a fantastic debut season from the JUCO transfer and a big reason why the Panthers finished in the top half of the league. I'm predicting a big Horizon League tournament for Johnson.
Keith Carter (Valparaiso) -- Carter surged up my "leaderboard" down the stretch of the season. If you spend any time watching Valparaiso play then you realize just how important he is to the team. Carter came to Valpo with the highest, and essentially unrealistic expectations. There are a handful of people around the league that are voting Carter on the First Team and I assume there are a handful who won't vote him period. Take him off the court and then see where Valpo's at. That's how you know he deserves the recognition.
Cameron Morse (Youngstown State) -- My final spot could've gone to any number of players. I find it criminal that J.T. Yoho and Jordan Fouse might not get recognition, but how do you ignore the top scorer in conference? Morse is capable of going off on any given night and he's held his own against Valpo in both games I've seen. Morse scored 420 points in conference play. That's impressive and worthy of consideration.
Coach of the Year
Bryce Drew (Valparaiso) -- I flip flopped on this one at the 11th hour. I still think Wright State's Billy Donlon is every bit as deserving of the award, particularly given that he led the Raiders to an eight-win conference turnaround and he beat Valparaiso twice. (Now I want to go back and change my vote! Haha) But how can you argue with Bryce Drew? The Crusaders set numerous records during conference play including scoring margin, rebounding average and rebounding margin. Did the Crusaders come in with high expectations? Were the expected to win the league? Of course...but who recruited the players that made that happen? Valparaiso won 16 of 18 games and did with a huge bullseye on its back the entire conference season. While I certainly won't be shocked if Donlon wins, and he'd be completely deserving, I think this award goes to Drew.
FOY: Dikembe Dixson (UIC)
Rob Edwards (Cleveland State)
Drew McDonald (Northern Kentucky)
Josh McFolley (Detroit)
Michael Kolawole (UIC)
* This was pretty difficult as there is a big drop off after the top three and then a bigger drop off after McFolley. I put Kolawole on the team really just based on the strength of his 16-point outing against Valparaiso at the UIC Pavilion. He looked like a player that was starting to figure it out and I think he could make a nice impact next season. Dixson is by far the best freshman in the league and if he gets his shooting percentages up then he'll be All-League next season.
Things I don't get to vote on
The Horizon League doesn't ask the media to vote on the Defensive awards or on Sixth Man of the Year. In terms of the latter, take your pick among Valparaiso players once again. Jubril Adekoya, Darien Walker and Shane Hammink would all be starters at other programs. Hammink has played so well down the stretch but this award really could go back to Adekoya this season. Walker started all of the non-conference games and then came out of the starting lineup the first conference game of the season. I don't know the rules on this (probably why I don't get to vote!).
As for Defensive Player of the Year, with all due respect to Green Bay's Jordan Fouse and UIC's Tai Odiase, this award belongs to Vashil Fernandez running away. He is such a presence on the court and he impacts the other nine players at all times. He impacts what kind of shots the offense takes and what kind of gambles the defense can take. I'd likely put Keith Carter and Carrington Love on my team or perhaps a handful of players from Wright State. Given that I don't vote for this, I didn't spend a lot of time looking at it.
Here is an absurd random fact that was pointed out to me earlier on Monday. Only twice in the last decade has the Horizon League Player of the Year not come from the regular season champion or co-champion. That happened in 2013 when Detroit's Ray McCallum edged out Ryan Broekhoff and it happened last year when Green Bay's Keifer Sykes beat out Kay Felder and Alec Peters.
It very much appears Felder is going to win POY again, which will mark just the third time in last decade that a league champ hasn't had the top player. All three years it's been Valparaiso. Crazy.