Welcome back, DII sports fans. Another week is just about in the books, and of course the big news came surrounding the DII men's and women's basketball championships. The tournaments will have an abbreviated look in 2021, featuring just 48 teams. That certainly makes every game count in this very odd season.
And when every game counts, well, things are just more fun to watch.
There was plenty of other action that made headlines. The Gulf South and Lone Star Conference played some college basketball this past week and Fort Hays State went into the Little Apple and stunned Division I Kansas State.
Get ready, all. It's time for your DII Report.
An entirely too early look at the DII Men's Elite Eight
I was recently on the Bonafide Basketball Podcast, and host — and former DII men's basketball coach — Chris Cottrell asked who I foresaw in the DII Men's Elite Eight. So, let's whip out the crystal ball and make some predictions.
Let's be perfectly clear. There is still quite a bit unfolding in DII men's basketball. With just 48 teams heading to the tournament and several conferences — the PSAC, CCAA and much of the GNAC — already opting out of the basketball season, we may have a different regional look come March. We may also have more teams opt-out, and conferences like the Sunshine State holding off on games until February 15.
Basically, this could all change tomorrow.
That being said, let's make our guesses based on what we see right now. These are predictions based on who is or is still expected to begin play this season. And we're going to use our traditional eight regions — the Atlantic, Central, East, Midwest, South, South Central, Southeast, and West — as the basis of the eight teams.
DII MEN'S HOOPS 101: How the tournament works
Atlantic: West Liberty — We've spoken a lot about the Hilltoppers, but the bottom line is this team is stacked with experience, returning the entire starting five and several key reserves. Will Yoakum, Dalton Bolon and Pat Robinson III are as strong a Big Three as there is in DII basketball.
Contenders: Mercyhurst (more on them later), Fairmont State, Charleston (WV), Fayetteville State
Central: Northwest Missouri State — What else can you say about the Bearcats. This core doesn't know how to lose. Trevor Hudgins is one of the best in DII and Ryan Hawkins has settled in and is playing like one of the premier big men in the game.
Contenders: Northern State, Southeastern Oklahoma State, Missouri Southern, Augustana (SD), Washburn
East: Daemen — Simply put, anything and everything often happens in the East. St. Thomas Aquinas — as always — is very good, but I just think this is the year of the Wildcats. Andrew Sischo is a player of the year candidate and is the type of player that can help dictate the outcome of a game.
Contenders: St. Thomas Aquinas, Saint Anselm, Bridgeport, Stonehill, Jefferson
Midwest: Southern Indiana — This region is absolutely loaded, but we've already seen the GLVC is going to be a wild ride. Emmanuel Little and Josh Price lead a starting five that can all score and it will be curious to see what kind of impact freshman Elijah Jones can make off the bench. The Eagles in the Elite Eight at the Ford Center make for one of the best atmospheres in DII basketball.
Contenders: Truman, Grand Valley State, Missouri-St. Louis, Findlay
(UPDATED) South: Alabama-Huntsville — The Sunshine State Conference, starting on Feb. 15, will not participate in this season's tournament. That makes the race between Valdosta and UAH a big one in the GSC. Max Shulman and Sam Orf should power the lineup full of returning experience.
Contenders: Valdosta State, Miles
South Central: West Texas A&M — This is what the Buffs do. They reached the DII Elite Eight in both 2018 and 2019 and were rolling along at 32-1 when play halted last season. Qua Grant and Joel Murray are a lethal one-two punch and this team can run the floor with anyone, Northwest Missouri State included.
Contenders: St. Edward's, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado Mesa, DBU
Southeast: Lincoln Memorial — The Railsplitters were the team that I thought could threaten the Bearcats last year, and Cam Henry and Devin Whitfield make them contenders yet again. It's upsetting the first Queens (NC) showdown was put on hold, but now they take on a UAH team that was in the Preseason Power 10 not long after this is published. It will be a great first big test to gauge this team.
Contenders: Queens (NC), Augusta, Emmanuel (Ga.), UNC Pembroke
West: Azusa Pacific — The West may be wilder than ever. A week ago, I had Seattle Pacific in this slot, but Alaska Fairbanks is the most recent team from the GNAC to withdraw from the 2020-21 season. That leaves a mere eight DII games on Seattle Pacific's schedule and may not be enough. The CCAA has officially canceled all games. That leaves this the Cougars region for the taking, and they were already contenders even if every conference played.
Contenders: Literally any school that plays enough games to get in the tournament.
What you missed this past week in DII college basketball
Fort Hays State downs Kansas State, 81-68. Okay fine, if you missed this, you've been under a rock as this got ESPN and national coverage. The Tigers were 0-3 in DII play entering this one. They headed to Manhattan, Kan. without their head coach, without an assistant coach and a mere eight players and totally controlled this game from start to finish. All five starters reached double figures, as did reserve Gilbert Peters, with Jared Vitztum putting up a double-double.
North Georgia women's hoops looks strong... again. The Nighthawks are off to a 2-0 start and per usual, Julianne Sutton is dominating. The reigning Peach Belt Conference player of the year has scored 22 and 20 points in her first two games, but keep an eye on freshman guard Caroline Martin. She erupted for 23 points on Saturday while going 3-for-6 from long range.
Speaking of looking strong, Maddie Sutton continues to dominate the boards for Tusculum. Well, Sutton's streak of double-doubles came to an end this week, but she continues to be a monster down low. She has no fewer than 11 rebounds in any of her six games this season, but here's the most impressive part. Her offensive rebounding through six games: 5, 5, 6, 6, 6, 6. You give your team second chances like that and your team becomes a tough one to beat.
Speaking of rebounds, have you seen Sydney Mills? Hillsdale may be 0-3, but Mills is giving you a reason to watch. The forward set the DII season-high with a 21-board performance in her debut last week and recorded another 15 in her only game this week. On the season, she already has 52 rebounds, an astounding 17.3 per game.
Speaking of the G-MAC, have you seen Sha Carter? Walsh is good, and the Cavaliers star is one of the best in DII women's basketball. Walsh has scored 92 points in both of its games, and Carter has come out firing. She's scored 60 points while shooting 67 percent from the floor and 75 percent from 3. Yeah, that will do. Walsh has now won 25 straight.
Speaking of winning streaks, have you seen Drury? Ho-hum. The Lady Panthers are now 5-0. It's the third-straight season they have started out 5-0 and now have a DII basketball best 37-game winning streak. Drury is sure to top the first WBCA poll in January at this pace.
Mercyhurst men down No. 12 Ferris State, 78-41. There is no PSAC basketball this year, but the Lakers are making their case for an at-large bid. With much of the same team returning, Mercyhurst showed they are a force to be reckoned with if it can schedule enough games come March. MiyKah McIntosh led all scorers with 17 points and Danny Ogele double-doubled as the Lakers' clamp-down defense did what it has done best for a few years now.
Speaking of upsets, did you see No. 16 Valdosta State men narrowly escape one? The Blazers opened up the 2020-21 atop the GSC East Division coaches poll and No. 16 in the NABC poll. They opened up GSC play with a tight one but came out victorious, edging West Georgia 62-20. Imoras Agee was impressive, leading all scorers with 26 points, including two clutch 3s down the stretch to seal the game.
Rocky Mountain high, Colorado... School of Mines. The Orediggers are off to a hot start... on both the men's and women's basketball courts. Both teams are undefeated: the women sit at 3-0 and men are now 4-0. The women look to be a deep team and have four scorers in double figures. The men are shooting a combined 50 percent from the floor and nearly 40 percent from downtown while posting the top scoring defense in DII contributing to a 22.0 scoring margin through three games. We're looking at two contenders in Golden.
The Lone Star Conference debuts. While the West Texas A&M men's and women's team weren't able to make their debuts, Lubbock Christian women's and St. Edward's men represented the elite of the LSC with 2-0 starts. Allie Schulte picked up where she left off... dominating. She led the Lady Chaps in points, rebounds and assists in LCU's 20-point win on Saturday. After winning rather easily in their debut, the Hilltoppers needed overtime to get to 2-0. B.J. Maxwell, Daniel Venzant and Ryan Garza are off to hot starts.