The DII men’s basketball season is quickly approaching. With practices opening around the nation, it’s time to turn our attention to what everybody loves the most about the preseason.
Let’s take an early look at the teams most likely to occupy the NABC preseason top 10.
The first five:
2017-18 record: 29-3 | Final ranking: No. 4 | Lost to Findlay in the second round of NCAA tournament
When you have home court advantage like the Knights, you are automatically a contender. Bellarmine has won 57 straight games at Knights Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, last losing Dec. 13, 2014 to then-No. 3 Florida Southern.
But wait, there’s more.
Alex Cook needs to be put on a poster for this one. 83-45 Knights, 4:00 2H. pic.twitter.com/G6NTHKMWxj— Bellarmine Athletics (@BUKnights) January 20, 2018
Four of Bellarmine’s top five scorers return in 2018. The loss of leading scorer Brent Bach will hurt, but Adam Eberhard is a DII men’s basketball star, earning All-American, ALL-GLVC and All-Midwest Region honors last season. The senior forward led the team in assists and tied for the lead in steals while scoring more than 14 points per game.
Alex Cook, Ben Weyer and Chivarsky Corbett also are back. The three combined for 24.3 points per game and 343 rebounds on the season. The Knights are in a prime position to occupy the top 5 from start to finish in the 2018-19 season.
2017-18 record: 32-2 | Final ranking: 1 | Lost in third round of NCAA tournament to Queens (NC)
You’d be hard pressed to find a scarier trio than Trevon Shaw, Emmanuel Terry and Dorian Pinson on the court doing damage at the same time in DII basketball. All three were on the initial Bevo Francis Watch List last season. All three are also gone.
The Railsplitters finished last season with a 32-2 record and were the No. 1 team in DII basketball heading into the tournament. The loss of their Big Three won’t be easy to overcome, but they do have some returning pieces. Cornelius Taylor is the best of the bunch, averaging 14.5 points and four assists per game as a fixture in the starting lineup. Kamaran Calhoun saw action in 27 games with one start, while reserves Alex Dahling and Rhondi Hackett gained valuable experience coming off the bench. LMU has its work cut out for them, especially having to face Queens (NC) twice in their own conference, but history shows the Railsplitters should be able to compete at the highest level.
2017-18 record: 26-4 | Final ranking: 12 | Lost to Shippensburg in the first round of NCAA tournament
This is a no-brainer. West Liberty is a perennial powerhouse and top 25 team leading DII men’s basketball in scoring with a mind-boggling 105.2 points per game last season. You won’t be sold short of high-octane action in West Liberty, West Virginia, that’s for sure.
There was a changing of the guard at head coach last season and Ben Howlett showed all was still just fine in West Liberty. This season will see a changing of the guard on the court, this time, quite literally. Senior guard Dan Monteroso became a household name in DII men’s basketball and will be missed, but Dalton Bolon will make it a lot easier to move forward. Bolon had a monstrous freshman campaign with a 16.7/5.4/1.3 line. Eric Meininger also returns to help clean up the glass, as his 5.7 rebounds per game led the team.
The Hilltoppers have always been about finding the right talent to fit their style of play, which is fast, aggressive, and most importantly, fun to watch. Expect West Liberty to have all the pieces in place for another team that will put up points in bunches.
2017-18 record: 38-1 | Final ranking: No. 2 | National champions
The Bulldogs are the reigning champions, but it won’t be an easy path back to the top. Nevermind history, as there hasn’t been a repeat champion since Cal State Bakersfield in 1993-94. The Bulldogs lost the DII Player of the Year Zach Hankins to Xavier and key pieces Drew Cushingberry and Noah King to graduation.
Starter Markese Mayfield returns at forward and DeShaun Thrower is also back after averaging 7.8 points per game as the team’s key reserve. Ferris State had a very young bench, but Jaylin McFadden, Cole Walker, Greg Williams and D’Angelo Hughes gained valuable championship experience while all averaging over 10 minutes per game.
The Bulldogs will have a lot to prove but being the defending champs should earn them enough merit for a top 10 preseason appearance.
West Texas A&M
2017-18 record: 32-4 | Final ranking: No. 11 | Lost in national semifinals to Ferris State
The Buffs said goodbye to all-time leading scorer David Chavlovich after a huge run to the national semifinals. Also gone is Jordan Evans, who could also score at will during his time in Canyon.
While these losses may seem like too much to overcome, West Texas A&M has the pieces in place to recover quickly. Ryan Quaid broke out in a big way last season and will be the star to lead this team. There are plenty of returning pieces to the puzzle as well, with names like Gach Gach and Drew Evans back for another season. Brandon Hall is a huge addition for this squad. The Emporia State transfer joins the Buffs after leading the Hornet in scoring (14.1 points per game) and assists (3.6 per game) last season.
West Texas A&M will likely go through a little bit of an adjustment period early on, but this is a team that should contend come March.
The next five
Last we saw them: National runners-up
Northern State made an exciting run to the finals last season behind an incredibly balanced attack with four starters averaging at least 12.4 points per game. The Wolves lost a few pieces from that run but return two big players from the starting rotation. Ian Smith was second on the team in scoring last season with 12.6 points per game, but also led the team in assists and steals. His versatility in running the floor should be the glue that holds this team together. Gabe King started 38 games and was very effective from 3, hitting 59 3-pointers at a 41.3 percent rate.
The Wolves put themselves to the test early in the Hall of Fame Classic, facing off against Northwest Missouri State and Queens (NC) on consecutive days. Northern State will learn quickly what needs work if it wants to return to the Elite Eight in 2019, but its run to the Sanford Pentagon last March should find them a spot in the preseason top 10.
Last we saw them: Lost to Barry in the first round of NCAA tournament
The Argonauts are coming off a season to remember but lose quite a bit a firepower in their top four scorers. This team was built for the long haul, however, and with Rashaan Benson back to lead a group that learned the ropes off the bench last season, plus some interesting transfers, West Florida should compete once again.
Last we saw them: Did not make NCAA tournament; lost to Rollins in SSC tournament
One thing we know is that Jim Crutchfield knows how to coach. He created a DII men’s basketball powerhouse at West Liberty and quickly turned a 6-20 team into a 17-10 team in one year at Nova Southeastern. With three of the Sharks' five top scorers returning, including exciting point guard David Dennis, the Sharks could be the surprise team of the 2018-19 season.
Last we saw them: Lost to Saint Rose in the first round of NCAA tournament
Before the season starts, learn this name: Tim Guers. Guers averaged 21.5 points per game for the Hawks last season and leads a team that is packed with returning starters from 2017-18. Chris Paul and Gustav Suhr-Jessen had strong freshman campaigns, both starting every game of the season and should only build in their second season. This team seems like it may be ready to explode onto the scene, and we aren’t far away from finding out.
The Storm were one of the feel-good stories of 2017-18, making the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance. The top three scorers from that team — Jhonathan Dunn, Micah Speight and Noah Starkey — are all back. Last season may have just been touching the surface for what the Storm can achieve. This team had just one senior on it last season, and returns nearly everybody from its historic run. Keep them on your radar from day one.