DII basketball: What stands out about the Top 25 heading into the new year
The holidays are over and that means Division II basketball is set to resume. The final poll of the year had plenty of familiar faces, but quite a few surprises as well.
RELATED: NABC Top 25
As the heart of conference play is ready to get underway, here's a few things that stood out from the final poll of 2017.
Northwest Missouri State is still the No. 1 team in the country. The Bearcats are a perfect 11-0, and sent a statement to the DII basketball world with a commanding 14-point win over then-No. 4 Lincoln Memorial before the break. With reigning DII player of the year Justin Pitts (22.8 points per game, 5.4 assists per game) rolling, there is little reason to think the Bearcat train will slow down anytime soon. They have won 22 in a row dating back to a February 18th loss to Missouri Southern.
Queens (NC), Bellarmine and West Liberty come in at No. 2, 3 and 4 respectively. There really aren’t any surprises there as the three teams have combined for a 33-0 record thus far. Bellarmine is riding an unthinkable 49-game home winning streak, the best in college basketball. West Liberty is doing it with a new head coach, but Dan Monteroso (19.4 points per game) leads the top scoring attack in DII with the Hilltoppers dropping 113.0 points per night.
When college basketball's longest home winning streak is extended to 49 straight games. Knights are 10-0 this year. pic.twitter.com/LsLh2glPpH— Bellarmine Athletics (@BUKnights) December 19, 2017
Christian Brothers entered the year receiving votes in the preseason poll, but they were quickly tabbed one of NCAA.com's five teams to watch. Thus far, the Bucs have delivered, sitting at 11-0 and are now the No. 5 team in DII basketball. This is only the second time that CBU has been ranked a Top 5 team, the last coming in 2004 when it reached No. 4. There is no star of this team, as both Jeff Larkin (20.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists per game) and Adam Dieball (17.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists per game) are making strong cases for Gulf South Conference player of the year. The Bucs have already begun GSC play, opening with a 13-point win on the road against a Delta State team that was ranked in the Top 25 earlier in the season.
Lincoln Memorial, Barry, UT-Permian Basin, Arkansas-Fort Smith and Ferris State round out the Top 10. Arkansas-Fort Smith is the real surprise here, rising from unranked in the preseason all the way to No. 9 heading into 2018. Off to the best start of the program’s DII era, the Lions are coming off a big regional win over No. 20 Texas A&M-Commerce.
Lake Superior State continues its surprise run up the rankings, coming in at No. 15. The Lakers already had signature wins against two teams (Findlay and Delta State) that have found themselves in the Top 25, but the biggest was a 79-74 victory over Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foe Ferris State. Led by Akaemji Williams (18.8 points, 6.5 assists per game), the Lakers are tied atop the GLIAC entering the heart of conference play.
West Florida, Dallas Baptist, Virginia State, Southern New Hampshire and Texas A&M-Commerce come in at No. 16 through 20. Why is that so interesting, you ask? None were in the preseason Top 25. Three were amongst the biggest risers between the last two polls. No. 17 Dallas Baptist led the way, jumping seven spots, Southern New Hampshire rose six spots to No. 19, while West Florida jumped five to No. 16.
NEWS: Golden Rams Launch Into NABC/Division II National Rankings. https://t.co/towYZ0cigk— WCU Athletics (@WCUAthletics) December 26, 2017
Making their season debuts, Eckerd and West Chester round out the Top 25. No. 24 Eckerd is 11-1, its lone loss a come from behind 93-89 victory by Barry, who is arguably the top team in the region. West Chester is a perfect 9-0, the last of nine undefeated teams remaining, and the lone representative from the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. Tyrell Long (20.6 points per game) leads a balanced attack that sees five Golden Rams in double-figures on a nightly basis. With a key victory over Indiana (Pa.) already, the PSAC may very well be theirs for the taking.