The first half of the DII men's college basketball season is just about in the books. We head into the new year with many familiar faces in the latest NABC poll, but quite a few surprises as well.
Let's take a look at the last rankings of 2020 and see what we learned about the season thus far. Here's the top 25:
|1||Northwest Missouri State (16)||3-0||400||1|
|3||West Texas A&M||1-0||366||3|
|4||Colorado School of Mines||6-0||346||5|
|8||Northern State (S.D.)||0-0||240||6|
|12||St. Thomas Aquinas||0-0||230||7|
No surprise at the top: Northwest Missouri State is still good
In a year where nothing was normal, Northwest provided us with a little order.
The Bearcats enter this season with a 69-1 record over the past two years. They looked to be heading for the first repeat championship in 25 years when play came to a halt last season. You can go ahead and add three more wins to that total — the Bearcats don't look like they've missed a beat.
Sure, the first game took a little while to get the engines started, but Northwest is rolling. After a rough first game, Ryan Hawkins has scored 59 points in his last two. Trevor Hudgins is coming off a 19-point performance in which he shot 86 percent from the floor including a perfect 5-for-5 from downtown. Freshmen Daniel Abreu and Byron Alexander are already contributing significant minutes, providing the Bearcats with the much needed depth to survive this season.
Lock them in at No. 1. Northwest isn't going anywhere until it loses a game.
No. 2 Lincoln Memorial, No. 3 West Texas A&M look strong
You can go ahead and file this under the "well, no kidding" category. West Texas A&M only has one game under its belt, but it was an impressive one, reaching the century mark in points. Qua Grant exploded, going for 27 points, 10 rebounds and six steals while Joel Murray ripped off 24 points while shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc.
The Railsplitters are off to a torrid start, now 5-0. They have scored 109 points in each of their past two games and have four players averaging more than 12 points per game. Devin Whitfield and Cam Henry are as good a duo you'll find, but this team is deep and showing it early.
These were arguably the two biggest threats to Northwest Missouri State heading into the season and right now, it looks like not much has changed.
Pleasant surprises look to keep it going in '21
Washburn, Truman, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado Mesa, Mercyhurst and Missouri Western are a bunch of surprise teams from the first half. Here's one takeaway from each:
- No. 4 Colorado School of Mines: The Orediggers are allowing just 55.2 points per game, second-best in DII. This is the highest they've been ranked since the 2014-15 season.
- No. 5 Washburn: The Ichabods entered the top-10 for the first time since 2013 last week. This week, they are among the five best teams in the country.
- No. 7 Truman State: The Bulldogs entered the polls this season for the first time in 15 years, when they were No. 19 way back in 2006. They are crushing that ranking on their weekly climb up the ladder.
- No. 14 Colorado Mesa: The Mavericks are 6-0 for the first time under head coach Mike DeGeorge.
- No. 17 Mercyhurst: The Lakers knocked off then top-25 Ferris State on back-to-back nights behind the best scoring defense in the nation.
- No. 22 Missouri Western: The Griffons are ranked in the top 25 for the first time in two decades. First-year head coach Will Martin had them off to a 4-0 start for the first time this millennium until they finally dropped a game.
- No. 24 Tusculum: We had a feeling the Pioneers would be good, but this is an impressive start. Trenton Gibson is officially a player to watch. It's Tusculum's first 3-0 conference start to a season since 1956-57.
The top-25 shuffle: Continue to expect new teams as the new year unfolds
The top 25 has been in constant flux as we continue to gain more clarity of the coming schedule. That opened the door for three new teams in the top 10 and three completely new teams in the top 25. Expect that to continue when more teams open their seasons in the coming weeks.
No. 7 Truman, No. 9 St. Edward's and No. 10 Findlay all jumped to the upper echelon of DII men's basketball. Findlay is no surprise here, even though they began the season receiving votes. The Oilers are seemingly always competitive and having experienced seniors Anthony Masterlasco, Tommy Schmock and Tre'Maine Gray lead the way is big in a weird season. Speaking of always competitive, no matter what adversity is thrown their way, head coach Andre Cook always seems to have a competitor in the Hilltoppers. Expect them to be a menace to West Texas A&M.
New to the top-25 this week are No. 23 Hillsdale, No. 24 Tusculum and No. 25 DBU. All three are undefeated heading into the new year.
Plenty of fun yet to come in 2021
Take a look at the top 10. No. 6 West Liberty and No. 8 Northern State are still ranked and have yet to play a game this season. That speaks volumes to how good those two teams are, and we are very excited to watch what both have in store in just about a week's time.
Outside the top 10, there are five teams ranked that should be on your radar that have yet to tip off: No. 12 St. Thomas Aquinas, No. 13 Azusa Pacific, No. 16 Augustana (SD), No. 18 Point Loma and No. 21 Fairmont State.
With no NE10 competition this year, St. Thomas Aquinas appears to be the team to beat in the East, making its showdown with Daemen more enticing. Since there is no CCAA and a majority of the GNAC has opted out, the battle between Azusa Pacific and Point Loma should decide the West. Augustana is loaded with returning talent and could really be a surprise team in a stacked Central. And don't sleep on Fairmont State. The Atlantic is wide open without the PSAC and CIAA and someone has to give West Liberty a run.