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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | October 18, 2022

Northwest Missouri State tops the preseason DII men's basketball Power 10 rankings

Northwest Missouri State wins DII National Championship

The 2022 DII men’s basketball season is quickly approaching. Northwest Missouri State will begin its title defense as it seemingly always does when it takes on a loaded field at the 2022 Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic beginning Nov. 5.

If you count the 2020 season, when the Bearcats were 31-1 and COVID-19 forced the cancelation of the tournament, we have not seen a new DII men’s basketball champion since 2018. The top spot has been owned by Northwest Missouri State, winners of the last three in a row and often in dominating fashion.

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There’s not much reason to think things change in 2022-23. And that’s why Northwest Missouri State enters the season as the No. 1 team in the country.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. How does a team that loses Trevor Hudgins even compete? Because the Bearcats have been doing this for years. Whether it was Justin Pitts, Joey Witthus, Ryan Hawkins, or Hudgins, Northwest seems to reload very easily. With Diego Bernard back in Maryville, along with cohorts like Wes Dreamer, Luke Waters, Mitch Mascari, and Isaiah Jackson, there is plenty of fuel to fire yet another run to Evansville, Indiana.

RECAP: Northwest Missouri State wins third-straight national championship

So, who at this early stage of the 2022-23 DII men’s basketball season are other contenders to dethrone the kings? I’m glad you asked.

The 2022-23 DII men’s basketball preseason Power 10 rankings

No. 1 Northwest Missouri State: Anyone remember last year, when the Bearcats had a whopping five losses and were ranked No. 10 in the nation heading into the tournament? We saw how that turned out. Head coach Ben McCollum has created a beast, and it is one that is still hungry for more. His Bearcats have gone 193-13 with four titles since 2016-17.

No. 2 Indiana (Pa): There is a lot of talent returning from last year’s national semifinalists' squad. That includes Shawndale Jones, who was leading DII in scoring when he was lost for the season to injury early on — and this team still went that far. The Crimson Hawks should score a lot and run the PSAC.

No. 3 Augusta: The Jaguars return eight players from the 2022 national runners-up and should be able to make another run in the Peach Belt. Four players who logged 30-plus minutes in the championship game are back in the starting rotation and will clearly be thirsty for more. Tyshaun Crawford, standing at an enormous 7-foot-1, should be considered a player-of-the-year contender and could easily lead the nation in blocks and rebounds.

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No. 4 Minnesota Duluth: You may think I’m nuts having the Bulldogs ranked so highly, but this team is scary good. Last year was a season that ended with a large “what if?” What if Austin Andrews was healthy in that tournament game? There is no denying this team had the talent to make a run, and this year, we will get to see. Eleven players return, including Andrews and the rest of the starting rotation. Last year this team was very good as a bunch of young and hungry ballers. Now that they are experienced, watch out.

No. 5 Nova Southeastern: This team made an undefeated run to the national semifinals but lost two very large pieces of that team in Nick Smith and Sekou Sylla. That said, RJ Sunahara is back and so are a slew of players with experience. Head coach Jim Crutchfield will have another high-octane offense and this team will win, especially with the addition of West Liberty’s Will Yoakum who, if he stays healthy, is my pick for Sunshine State Conference newcomer of the year.

No. 6 West Texas A&M: Head coach Tom Brown simply doesn’t know how to lose. Last year was another big season, reeling off 29 wins before running into the Cinderella Yellow Jackets in the tournament. The top three scorers from last season — Julius Brown, Larry Wise and Zach Toussaint — are back as well as some potential impact transfers. Lubbock Christian came on strong last year, so the Lone Star will be a battle, but the Buffs have the experience to rise among the top once again.

No. 7 Black Hills State: The Yellow Jackets were one of the best stories of 2022. They won the RMAC tournament to advance to their first-ever DII men’s basketball championship tournament where they caught fire and made a run to the national semifinals. Five players that played more than 20 minutes in that loss to Northwest Missouri State are back, as is Joel Scott who is an instant player-of-the-year candidate coming off a season in which he averaged 23.1 points per game last year.

No. 8 Lincoln Memorial: The Railsplitters were in a transition year last season. Jeremiah Samarrippas took over as head coach with many new faces and as it turned out… there wasn’t much transition. The Railsplitters won 26 games, including one in the tournament and now with Queens (NC) jumping to DI, they could very well be the team to beat in the Southeast. Eight of the nine top scorers are back for a fun offense, including Jordan Guest, Chase Rankin, and Me’Kell Burries who are three of the best in the region at their positions.

No. 9 West Liberty: Honestly, what’s a preseason Power 10 without the Hilltoppers? I will admit the typical returning depth isn’t there as it has been, but with Bryce Butler and Malik McKinney, this offense should continue to be one of the most fun in DII. Three transfers — Stephen Cannady from Mercyhurst, Alek West from Ohio Dominican, and Michael Sampson from Notre Dame (OH) — all averaged double-digits in scoring and are very familiar with the DII landscape. The trio could make this team very strong very quickly.

No. 10 Cal State San Bernardino: The CCAA was wild last year, with three teams looking like title contenders… and honestly, not much has changed. I picked the Coyotes as the best of the bunch because three of the top four scorers are back, including All-American Brandon Knapper. Three big Division I transfers step in to fill the depth lost to graduation.

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First five out (in alphabetical order)

  • Augustana (SD): Some see this as a rebuilding year, but does Tom Billeter ever really rebuild, or simply reload? Some of the best scorers in the NSIC are gone from this team, but there's still plenty to watch.
  • Central Oklahoma: Part of an absolutely stacked Central Region, there’s a lot to like about the Bronchos. They lost their top scorer, but just about everyone else returns with a trio of impact transfers waiting in the wings.
  • Cal State San Marcos: The Cougars lose a significant amount of their top scorers but have plenty of experience from the 2022 tournament team back.
  • Fairmont State: The Falcons have nine returners, one of which is Isaiah Sanders, a name you will know by the end of the season. Add in five more of the top seven scorers from last year and three big-time transfers, and the MEC is going to be a fun fight between West Liberty and Fairmont State.
  • Northern State: It says something when a 20-win season is a “down year” for your program. If we were ranking by number, the Wolves are my No. 11 and may be too low. They return all of their top scorers for a very experienced team.

Also considered (in alphabetical order): Azusa Pacific, Barry, Bentley, Chico State, Mercyhurst, Miles, MSU Moorhead, Upper Iowa

Interesting teams to watch: Below is a list of teams that were very strong last year, but lost a tremendous amount of talent. These schools traditionally perform very well, but have some question marks surrounding the coming season with a lot of new faces. Each one can easily find their way into the top 25 this year.

  • Daemen
  • Embry-Riddle
  • Findlay
  • Hillsdale
  • Lubbock Christian
  • St. Thomas Aquinas
  • UNC Pembroke
     

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