Northwest Missouri State opens the Division II basketball season at No. 1, a familiar spot considering that is where the Bearcats finished their season last March.
RELATED: NABC Preseason Poll
The Bearcats start counting wins and losses on Friday, November 10. They are just one of a few teams who stood out in the DII basketball preseason poll.
Bearcats back for more
Talk about a historic season. Northwest Missouri State set Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association records with a 35-1 overall record and an 18-1 conference record. They also became the first school to win the football and basketball national championship in the same season. DII was certainly Bearcat Country in 2016-17.
The Bearcats open at No. 1 after ending at No. 1, the first team in six years to do so. That team is still very much intact, with three starters returning. Justin Pitts is one of the best players in DII basketball, and the reigning Player of the Year returns in search of a repeat. He's averaging 20.1 points per game over his stellar three-year career that has seen two MIAA Player of the Year honors as well. Forwards Chris-Edou Ndow and Brett Dougherty also return.
It seems like the pieces are in place, but keep one thing in mind. No team has won back-to-back DII basketball national championships since Cal State Bakersfield did it in 1993 and 1994. If there's a program to chase history, however, the Bearcats have proven its them.
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Nine teams that weren't in the final poll of the 2016-17 season jumped into the preseason rankings. The highest comes in at No. 5, with the honor going to St. Thomas Aquinas. The Spartans won the program's first East Region title last year, and return seven of the players that made it happen. None is more than important than Justin Reyes, who is the two-time East Coast Conference Player of the Year.
Joining St. Thomas Aquinas is No. 7 Chico State, No. 12 Barry, No. 13 Rollins, No. 18 Merrimack, No. 19 Wheeling Jesuit, No. 21 West Texas A&M, No. 23 Arkansas-Monticello and No. 25 Delta State. Of those, Chico State ended the season in the Elite Eight just as the Spartans did. With four returning starters, the Wildcats are a team to watch.
Fairmont State receives 44 votes
The first team out of the Top 25 is last season's national runner-up. The Fighting Falcons lost their two top scorers from that magical run, but do return two starters and several of their leading scorers. Jerrod Calhoun led this team to great heights, capturing the program's first-ever No. 1 ranking as a DII program, as well as its first ever Mountain East title. Calhoun, the MEC Coach of the Year, is now on to Youngstown State, leaving Joe Mazzulla in charge. Wheeling Jesuit may be the team to beat in the MEC, but don't forget about Fairmont State.
Lincoln Memorial back for morePerhaps no preseason ranking is more appropriate than the Railsplitters at No. 4. Lincoln Memorial has ended its last two seasons amongst the last four teams in the tournament. With four returning starters, the Railsplitters have every reason to expect to get back there. If they do, it will behind another 30-win season, which would be the fourth year in a row acheiving that mark.
Dorian Pinson will be the man that leads them there. He is coming off a monster 2016-17 campaign avergaing 12.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.8 points per game. The preseason All-American is one to watch as the season gets rolling. Mark you calendars. The Railsplitters host the Bearcats on December 19.
Speaking of Lincoln Memorial, the South Atlantic Conference dominates the Top 5. Joining the Railsplitters is Queens (N.C.) at No. 2. Bart Lundy not only has four returners from his 2017 squad, they are all seniors. Joined by a bevy of returning role players, this team is a force to be reckoned with.
The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference has two representatives in the Top 10. Indiana (Pa.) and Shippensburg come in at No. 6 and No. 8 respectively.
Another interesting team in the mix is Merrimack. The Warriors are the only team in the preseason poll not to win 20 games last season. They did pull off the upset of No. 1 Le Moyne in the first round of the East Regionals, so they left a lasting impression. With all five starters from that upset back in North Andover, Massachusettes, Merrimack can make some noise this season.