Billy's Pick: Nick Russell
The senior from Duncanville was consistently matched up against the opposing team's best guard and in the AAC, that meant facing the likes of Russ Smith, Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Sean Kilpatrick, Joe Jackson and the list goes on. For the most part, outside of Smith playing out of his mind, Russell controlled his competition. Russell set the tone for this team's mindset early on in the season. As a senior, doing the little things like playing great defense rubbed off on most of the team and was SMU's calling card for this season.
Omar's Pick: Nick Russell
This was an easy choice for me. Nick Russell is by far the team's best defender and had the responsibility of guarding the opponents' best player in almost every game. Russell did a great job against First-Team All-Americans' Sean Kilpatrick of Cincinnati, Shabazz Napier of Connecticut, and Russ Smith of Louisville this season to name a few of the guards he had to deal with. Napier was a combined 7 for 23 against Russell in two games while Kilpatrick was just 8 for 30 with Russell on him. This was a big reason why SMU was able to pull off upsets over both the Huskies and Bearcats this season. Russell didn't expect to be a defensive stopper his senior year for Larry Brown, but he did a terrific job in the role and made a major impact all season. He averaged 3.4 rebounds to go along with one steal, 3.3 assists, and 9.8 points per game, but Russell's game isn't about the numbers. The senior deserves a lot of the credit for how quickly this SMU program has turned around.
Adam's Pick: Nick Russell
In SMU's four games against Connecticut and Cincinnati this season, the teams' premier guards (Shabazz Napier and Sean Kilpatrick, respectively) struggled to score the ball at their lofty standards. It is no surprise then that SMU won three of these four matchups. The primary defender on Napier and Kilpatrick? Senior Nick Russell. Russell's tough defense in these matchups were a big part of these big victories that put SMU on the map so I have to give him the nod as defender of the year.
Scott's Pick: Markus Kennedy
While Markus Kennedy's offensive game has brought him into the national spotlight in recent weeks, the Villanova transfer quietly put together a very strong season defensively. Kennedy led SMU with 44 blocks and 57 steals, and was constantly banging bodies with quality bigs like Montrezl Harrell (Louisville), Shaq Goodwin (Memphis) and Justin Jackson (Cincinnati). Obviously at times Kennedy was exposed and got into foul trouble, but after losing 50 pounds while sitting out last season, Kennedy's defense improved immensely.
Beionny's Pick: Ryan Manuel
Manuel was never the best player on the floor, but his defensive intensity was second to none. Off the bench, Manuel would often times guard the opposing teams best guard and his length and athleticism helped him be effective. Manuel had very little presence offensively, but worked hard as a defender. He did not accomplish his goal of being elected to the AAC defensive team but he did well enough to get more time on the floor than transfer Crandall Head who before the season was regarded as a good defender.