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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | January 3, 2021

DII Report: 7 men’s basketball teams we are excited to see finally take the court in 2021

No. 10 Findlay knocks off No. 23 Hillsdale on game-winning buzzer-beater

Happy New Year, DII faithful. January is finally upon us, and that means the last of the DII men's basketball tournament bound teams are finally tipping off their seasons. 

RANKINGS: What the last top-25 of 2020 taught us | December Power 10

The NSIC finally tipped off and teams like Northern State and Augustana (SD) are in action. That leaves just a few conferences left yet to play a game. 

Let's take a look at seven teams from those conferences and get you caught up on the week that was in this week's DII Report. 

7 teams we are excited to see take the court in DII men's basketball

West Liberty
The Hilltoppers were No. 2 in the Preseason Power 10 and have fallen just a bit due solely to inactivity. This is still a top-5 team in DII college basketball, and we can't wait to watch them in action when they are scheduled to begin their season Jan. 7.

Players to know (all stats from last season, per game totals where applicable):

  • Dalton Bolon: 18.5 points, 8.7 rebounds
  • Pat Robinson III: 18 points, 4.3 rebounds, 46 steals
  • Will Yoakum: 18.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 16 blocks

Why we're excited: 105.2. 100.8. 102.4. Thats the points per game the Hilltoppers have put up the past three seasons. With all the returning talent, this should easily be the top scoring team in DII men's basketball. The Big Three are as good as it gets in the region and even beyond, but it's the depth that make this team so scary. Malik McKinney, Bryce Butler, Marlon Moore, Jr. and Luke Dyer all scored more than five points per game while each contributed at least 18 minutes per game a season ago.

Fairmont State
Let's stay in the Mountain East. The Falcons take a bit of a hit with Kenzie Melko-Marshall out for the season with a shoulder injury, but Dale Bonner, Cole VonHandorf and Isaiah Sanders give Fairmont State a formidable scoring trio.

Players to know:

  • Dale Bonner: 17.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 158 assists, 69 steals
  • Cole VonHandorf: 16.3 points, 4 rebounds, 53 steals
  • Isaiah Sanders: 14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 44.3 percent from 3

Why we're excited: Like the Hilltoppers, Fairmont State has a wealth of experience returning. Four of the five starters are back from a team that scored just about 86 points per game last year. Tim Koenig is in his second season as head coach and now that he and a strong returning cast are comfortable with each other, the Falcons must be put on watch. 

Grand Valley State
The Lakers improved from a 19-13 team in 2018-19 to a 23-7 team last year. They still didn't hear their name called on the selection show and are sure to play with a chip on their shoulder in a stacked Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Players to watch:

  • Jake Van Tubbergen: 18.4 points, 10 rebounds, 54.1 percent shooting
  • Christian Negron: 11.2 points, 7.2 rebounds
  • Isaac Gassman: 10.9 points, 3.1 rebounds

Why we're excited: Van Tubbergen is a big reason. He's a legitimate player of the year candidate and should shine in the GLIAC. The Lakers were a 14-win team just three years ago and have improved every year since. Though they have to replace their starting backcourt, the man known as JVT leads a solid cast of returners poised to return to the DII men's basketball championship.

MEN'S POY WATCHLIST: 11 DII college basketball players to watch 

St. Thomas Aquinas
Head coach Tobin Anderson has created a perennial contender as the Spartans look for their seventh-straight 20-win season and sixth-straight NCAA DII tournament appearance with a veteran team.

Players to watch:

  • Osbel Caraballo: 17.5 points, 7.3 rebounds
  • Demetre Roberts: 14.3 points, 3.8 assists
  • Grant Singleton: 12.8 points, 3.0 assist-to-turnover

Why we're excited: The ECC should be a fun-to-watch battle between Daemen and St. Thomas Aquinas. Caraballo and Roberts have started every game together since they were freshmen and have continued the Spartans stronghold on the ECC as one of the top threats in the region. While Singleton is a player to watch, glue-guy Louis Griffin could be an X-factor giving the Spartans four highly-experienced returners.

Azusa Pacific
The Cougars lose two monster players in Selom Mawugbe and Jake Spurgeon but return some nice players from last season's 25-win team. Head coach Peter Bond has plenty of experience returning, however, not much of it will be in the starting lineup.

Players to watch:

  • Brennan Rymer: 11.8 points, 131 assists on the season
  • Terrence Becvar: 9.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, 77 assists
  • Ben Avera: 8.0 points per game, 2.4 rebounds

Why we're excited: Bond was impressive in his first season and now has quite the intriguing team on his hands. While he returns three of his top-five scorers from a year ago, two (Becvar and Avera) didn't start a single game. Normally a team that has to replace three starters would be in trouble, but the Cougars seem to have the right pieces in place to keep rolling. 

Daemen
The end of the Andrew Sischo era is upon us. Daemen has become an annual contender in the ECC in recent years and this is his last chance to make program history and win the Wildcats' first tourney game.

Players to watch:

  • Andrew Sischo: 24.9 points 11.7 rebounds, 35 blocked shots
  • Sean Fasoyiro: 7.8 points, 5. rebounds
  • Kyle Harris: 4.4 points, 2.8 rebounds

Why we're excited: Sischo is the primary reason, as he does things consistently not many bigs in DII have done the past two seasons. The Wildcats lose a ton, but Fasoyiro comes over from Franklin Pierce and Harris brings senior leadership to the lineup. This team has been very good the past two seasons, but what can they do now with so many new faces?

Southeastern Oklahoma State
The Savage Storm loses a couple of big pieces but returns two of their top-three scorers from a season ago. Southeastern should win its division and should be considered a threat for the Great American Conference as well.

Players to watch:

  • Adam Dworsky: 14.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, team-high 261 assists
  • Kellen Manek: 14.0 points, 6.6 rebounds
  • Bobby Johnson: 6.1 points, 2.4 rebounds

Why we're excited: Talk about consistent. The Savage Storm was a 15-win team three years ago and have gone 23-8 in each of the past two seasons. Adam Dworsky is a special player, possibly one of the best in the Division, and it will be intriguing to see how the veterans mesh with several new faces. SEOSU has been and remains the team to beat in the GAC. 

Also excited for: Charleston (WV), Florida Southern*, Nova Southeastern*, Saginaw Valley State, Southern Nazarene

* = Sunshine State Conference is postponed until at least Feb. 15 with no official schedule provided as of this publishing.

2020 ALL-STATS TEAMS: Men | Women

What you may have missed

DII college basketball's "second half" was back in action this past week. Let's get caught up, shall we?

  • A pair of top-25 matchups took center stage in men's action on Saturday. No. 2 Lincoln Memorial improved to 6-0, eclipsing the century mark for the third-straight game in handing No. 24 Tusculum its first loss of the season. Devin Whitfield (28 points) led five Railsplitters in double figures. In the G-MAC, No. 10 Findlay improved to 5-0 on a half-court, buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Tommy Schmock. The Oilers dramatic 68-65 victory handed No. 23 Hillsdale its first loss of the season. 
  • Malone's women's basketball team had themselves a day to close out 2020. The Pioneers put up 112 points in a victory over Lake Erie. They set the program record with a 40-point third quarter and tied the school record with a 62-point second half. Six players scored in double figures while all 13 players that played found the bottom of the net. 
  • The men's squad at Maryville ended the 2020 calendar with a 90-83 upset of No. 7 Truman. It was the Saints first win over a ranked team since January of 2015. Sophomore guard Owen Long led the way with 30 points and redshirt-freshman guard Ari Jackson chipped in 21. Maryville is a very young and inexperienced team, with only one senior — guard Daniel Farris — in the starting lineup. This could be a good momentum builder to bring the team together.
  • Northwest Missouri State improved to 5-0 with two commanding victories over Northeastern State and Pittsburg State. Ryan Hawkins remains red hot, combining for 39 points and 22 rebounds on the weekend. The Bearcats are now 74-1 since Trevor Hudgins and Diego Bernard added their fire to the team as freshmen in 2018-19.
  • Northeastern State gave the Ichabods a scare, but Washburn improved to 7-0 on the season with an 85-84 victory in overtime. Tyler Geiman keeps his name in the player of the year hat with a 29-point, 9-rebound, 6-assist performance.
  • Time to put the Cedarville women's basketball team on your radar. The Yellow Jackets have been a point-scoring juggernaut thus far averaging 87.3 points per game. They headed into the break ending Walsh's 26-game winning streak and resumed play in the second half with a 79-65 win over Tiffin. Ashlyn Huffman is averaging 20 points per game for 6-1 Cedarville. 
  • Speaking of Cedarville, Branden Maughmer had himself a game on Saturday. He scored 20 points with 11 rebounds and 10 assists for the first triple-double of the DII season. 
  • The NSIC began its season on Saturday. The three contenders on the men's side opened the 2021 slate victorious as Northern State, Sioux Falls and Augustana (SD) are all 1-0, but it certainly took every tick of the clock to get there. It took awhile for the Wolves to shake the rust off, trailing at the half, but they were able to escape with a 66-62 win over Wayne State (Neb.). Parker Fox had 21 points and 11 rebounds in the victory. The Vikings also had to grind out a hard-fought victory, defeating Minnesota Moorhead 74-69. Matt Todd and Michael Schaefer each had 20 points. Lastly, the Cougars held off a relentless UMary second-half comeback to win 64-60.
  • On the women's side, preseason division favorites Minnesota State and Minnesota Duluth also jumped out to a perfect start on the season. The Mavericks won 63-62 as Joey Batt, Rylee Menster and Rachel Shumski all scored in double figures. The Bulldogs had little trouble getting to 1-0, defeating Winona State 68-47. 
  • The Texas A&M-Commerce women's squad looks dangerous once again. Even without reigning LSC player of the week Dyani Robinson in the lineup, the Lions improved to 3-0 in a 69-46 victory. Next weekend's showdown with Lubbock Christian should be a fun one.
  • Valdosta State's women's team looks tough to beat. The Blazers handed Auburn Montgomery a 72-55 defeat. Both Alexandria Smith and Kwajelin Farrar posted double-doubles as Kayla Bonilla dropped 18 points in the commanding victory.
  • Emporia State ended the Fort Hays State women's team's perfect start to the season with a thrilling 62-61 victory. Tre'Zure Jobe had a big game, dropping 22 points as the Hornets captured the program's 950th victory.

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