There’s a reason we don’t pick preseason awards…
Before we get going, I’m not going to commit to this being a yearly thing going forward. Picking Horizon League Preseason Awards is going to quickly turn into a mess, and the only reason I’m doing it this year is that a number of the choices are either already voted on or extremely obvious. Others are really strange to try to pick, and I’m not going to try to run off our writers by asking them to vote in this nonsense.
So with that disclaimer out of the way, here are the HoriZone Roundtable Preseason Men’s Basketball awards picks:
Player of the Year: Antoine Davis, G, Detroit Mercy
The first award is the only one that our staff deliberately votes on. Davis was selected as our overwhelming pick for Player of the Year in the preseason poll voted on by our writers and podcast staff. The 6-foot-1 senior guard finished his junior year second in the nation behind March Madness darling Max Abmas of Oral Roberts with 24.0 points per game. In addition to his scoring, Davis led the Titans in assists (4.8 per game) and steals (1.5 per game) last season. He bounced back beautifully after his 3-point shooting slumped into inefficient territory as a sophomore by knocking down 37.2 percent of his 3-pointers while attempting over 10 per game.
The main thing holding Davis back last year was overall team success. The Titans went just 10-6 in Horizon League play, starting 0-4 before figuring things out late in the season. The Wright State team that Loudon Love – Horizon League Player of the Year as picked both HoriZone Roundtable and the league itself – played for didn’t lose its fourth league game until the final weekend of the regular season.
Coach of the Year: Pat Baldwin Sr., Milwaukee
We’ve already arrived at the part of this article where I’ll have to make a compelling argument, and the reason that doing preseason awards is so weird. Normally, Coach of the Year would either be the coach of the league champion or the one who overachieved the most. Last year, both of those boxes were arguably checked when Dennis Gates led Cleveland State to a share of the Horizon League Regular Season Championship. The year before, both boxes were checked when Gates’ CSU team drastically overachieved and got him a share of the award alongside Scott Nagy of Horizon League Regular Season Champion Wright State.
In this situation, we obviously don’t have access to end-of-season results. With every other team projected for the top half of the league being picked right around where they finished last year, there isn’t an obvious pick among them. In order to pull off the three-peat, Gates might need to go nearly undefeated in Horizon League play, or at least to win the league by a wide margin. As much as our voters liked the Vikings, I don’t think many of us would project that level of dominance for them.
With that in mind, Milwaukee would be the only team we project for a finish in the top half of the league to make a significant jump from last season’s results. Regardless of the extenuating circumstances that his son is a projected one-and-done recruit who chose to play for Milwaukee, Baldwin has the best Coach of the Year argument if things play out the way we project them to.
Freshman of the Year: Patrick Baldwin Jr., Milwaukee
While Freshman of the Year isn’t technically an award that’s voted on by our staff, Baldwin Jr. may as well have been a staff pick. The composite seventh ranked recruit on 247 Sports was a unanimous pick to our Preseason All-League First Team, while no other freshman appeared on a single ballot. Baldwin Jr. finished second overall in the vote behind Davis, and if he lives up to the hype he could easily claim Player of the Year honors at the end of the season.
Baldwin Jr. was selected as a McDonald’s All-American even after his senior season was cut short by injury. Over the offseason, he was selected to participate for Team USA in the FIBA U-19 World Cup. Team USA went 7-0 to secure the gold medal, with Baldwin Jr. averaging 7.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
Defensive Player of the Year: Tre Gomillion, Cleveland State
At the end of the year, defensive recognition tends to be the hardest to figure out. I’ll generally try not to lean too heavily on statistics — particularly counting stats like steals and blocks — when I’m making my selections. It results in a lot of re-watches and a lot of extra work.
Fortunately, this isn’t an end-of-year vote and I can make the obvious pick. Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year is returning to the Horizon League, and with no new information since he last won the award I’ll be selecting him to repeat. Gomillion wasn’t the HoriZone Roundtable pick for 2021 Defensive Player of the Year, but he was one of several players — including our pick Torrey Patton and another Viking — who were in consideration right until the final votes were cast. Gomillion’s defense likely played a role in our voters selecting him to our Preseason Third Team All-Horizon League.
Sixth Player of the Year: Deonte Billups, Purdue Fort Wayne
Following Demetric Horton’s decision to transfer to North Carolina A&T, it looked like Deonte Billups had a great shot to earn an unquestioned starting spot for Purdue Fort Wayne. Billups was a memeber of the 2020 Summit League All-Newcomer team and last year averaged 8.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. After the Mastodons added Mount Saint Mary’s transfer Damian Chong Qui, it seems like the most likely outcome is that Billups will slide to the bench as the 2021 All-NEC first teamer joins PFW’s starting lineup. The 6-foot-4 guard should still have ample opportunity to continue to produce for the Mastodons, so don’t be surprised if he’s taking home some hardware at the end of the season.
Miss anything from Preview Week? Check it all out below:
Cleveland State • Wright State • Milwaukee • Detroit Mercy
Northern Kentucky • Oakland • Purdue Fort Wayne • Youngstown State
UIC • Robert Morris • Green Bay • IUPUI
Green Bay (WBB) • Cleveland State (WBB)