The 2019 DII men's basketball season is officially underway. There was plenty on display after two days in St. Joseph, Missouri this past weekend at the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic. Five nationally-ranked teams battled in the eight-team field, with two of those teams coming out a perfect 2-0.
Oh, and Northwest Missouri State is still really good.
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Let's take a look at what we learned from an action-packed opening weekend.
Northwest Missouri State is still the team to beat
Of course they are: no one has beat them in 40-straight games. The Bearcats opened a perfect 2-0, and are now 17 games shy of the DII men's basketball longest winning streak: Winona State won 57-straight games from 2006 to 2007.
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Northwest Missouri State beat two ranked teams over the weekend, taking down No. 22 Daemen 85-65 on opening night and then No. 9 Southern Nazarene 100-88 on Saturday. The Bearcats "Big Three" may be the best in the land. Trevor Hudgins — who was the MVP of last year's tournament — scored 43 points with 16 assists over the two days. Ryan Hawkins earned MVP honors this year, and deservingly so with a 44-point, nine-rebound performance against Southern Nazarene. And Diego Bernard simply does everything well with 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists on the weekend.
This team is fast, deep, and makes you play their style of basketball. It should be another exciting season for the Bearcats.
West Texas A&M impresses with 2-0 start
The only other team to leave St. Joseph perfect was the Buffs. They needed overtime to take down No. 6 Lincoln Memorial before a double-digit victory over a USC Aiken team receiving votes. The No. 7 team in the nation is off and running once again.
Perhaps what is most impressive is how head coach Tom Brown continues to lose star players every year and refuels without missing a beat. West Texas A&M has made the last two Elite Eights. In 2018 they were helped by Lone Star Conference all-time leading scorer David Chavlovich. The Buffs lost their superstar senior but made it back in 2019, with big senior finales from Ryan Quaid and Gach Gach.
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All three are gone, but the Buffs are once again strong. Last season, freshmen guards Joel Murray and Qua Grant grew up quickly, blossoming into stars. Now the team is theirs to lead and both showed out this weekend. Murray scored 27 points on both nights, nearly pulling off a triple-double on Saturday, while Grant scored 41 points on the weekend, pulling down 17 rebounds. I didn't have Joel Murray in the preseason player of the year conversation simply because he was a sophomore in a field of juniors and seniors but judging by the way he played, that may have been a mistake.
DII men's basketball stars on display
We already mentioned the Bearcats' Ryan Hawkins was the MVP of the tournament. Bernard and Hudgins joined him on the All-Tournament team, as did West Texas A&M's sophomore duo. But there were others that shined that cannot be overlooked.
Andrew Sischo was a player to watch entering the season. The Daemen big man was certainly one to watch this weekend as well. Sischo dropped two double-doubles in as many games, scoring 11 points and ripping down 12 boards in the Wildcats' first victory of the season on Saturday.
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Jhonathan Dunn and Micah Speight are going to be a nightmare for opposing defenses this season. The Southern Nazarene duo went off this weekend, scoring 108 of the Crimson Storm's 184 points this weekend. Dunn scored 32 and 30 in both of his games and you will hear his name in the scoring leaders all season long.
Lincoln Memorial opened the season back in the top 10 with a young nucleus returning. Courvoisier McCauley led the way, leading the Railsplitters with two 20-point performances on the weekend. He and teammate Anthony Brown both earned All-Tournament team nods.
Missouri Western may have left opening weekend without a win, but Tyrell Carroll turned some heads making the All-Tournament team. The sophomore guard scored 34 points on the weekend to go with eight rebounds and nine assists.
Tafari Beckford has a big opening night for Davenport. He was one of two Panthers to record a double-double in their victory, leading the team with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Chris Pearl added 10 points and 13 boards as well.