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Western Washington Picked Again As Men's Hoop Favorite
Guard Ricardo Maxwell is one of two Second Team All-GNAC selections returning to Western Washington's start five in 2015-16.
Guard Ricardo Maxwell is one of two Second Team All-GNAC selections returning to Western Washington's start five in 2015-16.
Senior forward Mitch Penner is one of two returning starters for Seattle Pacific. The Falcons will be looking for their 12th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
Senior forward Mitch Penner is one of two returning starters for Seattle Pacific. The Falcons will be looking for their 12th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. – For the second year in a row, Western Washington is picked as the team to beat by conference coaches in the annual Great Northwest Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll.

The Vikings received five of 11 first place votes and a total of 114 points, finishing just ahead of defending regular season champion Western Oregon. The Wolves netted four first place votes and a total of 106 points.

Seattle Pacific, who finished second in the conference last year and won the GNAC Tournament championship, is picked third with a total of 100 points. The Falcons received the remaining two first place votes.

After a successful start in their non-conference schedule, Western Washington stumbled to lose seven of their first 10 GNAC games. The Vikings rebounded to win eight straight to end the regular season, tying for fifth to claim a spot in the GNAC Tournament. The Vikings went on to beat Alaska Anchorage and Western Oregon to claim a spot in the tournament final, where they lost to Seattle Pacific. Western Washington finished the season with a 20-11 overall record.

The Vikings return nine letterwinners and four starters, led by senior guard Ricardo Maxwell. The Second Team All-GNAC selection averaged 15 points and shot nearly 52 percent from the field. Junior forward Jeffrey Parker will look to fill the hole left by First Team All-GNAC selection Anye Turner. Parker provided essential scoring both inside and outside, averaging 15.6 per game while shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 43.4 percent from three-point range. Western Washington also returns significant height in the 6-foot-6 Parker, 6-foot-8 center Mac Johnson and 6-foot-9 center Blake Bowen. The Vikings also welcome an experienced tranfer in guard Brett Kingma, who played at both Washington State and Oregon before missing 2014-15 with a knee injury, and freshman guard Trey Drechsel, who was the Washington prep 1A Player of the Year.

Western Washington will have the additional challenge of playing in a “home away from home” this season. The team will play all of its home games at Whatcom Community College while their on-campus Carver Gymnasium undergoes a two-year, $70 million renovation.

Western Oregon returns a squad loaded with 12 letterwinners, four returning starters and two First Team All-GNAC selections in Andy Avgi and Julian Nichols. The Wolves won the regular season, going 23-7 last season and advancing to the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time in program history. The Wolves, however, will look to recreate that magic with a new head coach. Jim Shaw, a former WOU All-American and longtime Division I assistant coach, took over for the departed Brady Bergeson over the summer.

Shaw will have some high expectations to live up to, but starts with a full cupboard. The defending GNAC Player of the Year and a Preseason All-America selection by both The Sporting News and Division II Bulletin, Avgi is the conference’s top returning scorer, averaging 18.5 points per game. He shot an impressive 61.2 percent from the field and 80.8 percent from free throw range. Nichols was named the GNAC’s Newcomer of the Year as he averaged 12.5 points and shot 45.4 percent from the field after transferring from Chaffee Community College in California. All four of the Wolves’ returning starters averaged 10 or more points per game.

Shaw’s initial recruiting class includes a pair of Division I transfers in guard Alex Roth, who was a walk-on at Oregon State, and Tanner Omlid, who returns to his hometown after two seasons at Army. A standout freshman for the Black Knights in 2013-14, Omlid finished second in the nation at the Division I level in steals.

Seattle Pacific finished second during the GNAC regular season and won its fifth GNAC Tournament title, earning its 11th postseason appearance, the longest current streak in Division II. The No. 7 seed in the West Regional, the Falcons upset No. 2 seed BYU-Hawaii before losing on a buzzer-beater to No. 3 Cal Baptist.

The Falcons will have major holes to fill with the departure of GNAC Defensive Player of the Year Riley Stockton and Second Team All-GNAC center Cory Hutsen, but eight returning letterwinners and a talented transfer class provides Ryan Looney a solid base to work with. Honorable Mention All-GNAC forward Mitch Penner will anchor the front court, having averaged 13.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior. Guard Bryce Leavitt is the Falcons’ other returning starter, having averaged 2.9 points per game in 17 starts.

Like Western Oregon, Seattle Pacific reloads with a pair of Division I transfers. Center Gilles Dierickx played one season for Basketball Hall of Famer Isaish Thomas at Florida International before transferring to Washington, where he averaged 1 point and 1.5 rebounds per game in an injury-shortened campaign. Guard Olivier-Paul Betu played two seasons at UC Davis, seeing action in 22 games with two starts as a sophomore.

Alaska Anchorage is picked fourth after tying with Central Washington for third during last year’s regular season. The Seawolves will also be looking to fill the hole of a graduated star with the loss of First Team All-GNAC and Second Team All-West Region guard Travis Thompson. Senior guard Brian McGill is the team’s top leading scorer. The Honorable Mention All-GNAC selection averaged 13.8 points and 5.3 assists per game last year while shooting 41.9 percent from three-point range and 79.4 percent from the charity stripe. Junior forward Travis Parrish also returns. He averaged 2.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in 21 starts.

The Seawolves also return a trio of experienced post players in senior Christian Leckband, and sophomores Sjur Berg and Brian Pearson. All three contributed in 15 or more games, with Leckband averaging seven points and 3.6 rebounds per game. A corps of seven transfers joins the five returners, led by junior guard Suki Wiggs, who played 61 games at Division I Idaho and finished third for the Vandals last year in scoring (11.5 points per game). Junior guard/forward Augustus Simmers returns home, transferring to UAA after two seasons at Division II Malone.

Central Washington is picked fifth in the poll. The Wildcats return an experienced lineup with nine letterwinners and four starters, but will have to replace the offensive output of First Team All-GNAC selection Dom Williams, who was second in the league in scoring at 20.3 points per game.

Senior center Joseph Stroud leads the Wildcats’ four returning starters. A Second Team All-GNAC selection, Stroud was the Division II’s most accurate shooter as he hit 70.5 percent from the field and averaged 12.1 points per game to go along with 5.5 rebounds per game and 79 blocks. He is surrounded by a trio of returning guards in junior Gary Jacobs (10.8 points per game), Marc Rodgers (4.2 points per game) and Marc Roppo (6.7 points per game). Head Coach Greg Sparling’s recruiting class is led by junior transfer forward Chris-Michael Garrett, who averaged 9.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last year at Green River CC, and redshirt freshman guard Naim Ladd.

Alaska is tabbed for a rise in the standings, picked sixth after finishing eighth in 2014-15. The Nanooks finished 7-19 overall last year, but return an experienced core of eight letterwinners and four starters, which include the team’s two leading scorers. Guard Ashton Edwards was an Honorable Mention All-GNAC selection in his first season after transferring from Long Beach CC, averaging 14.2 points per game. He led the GNAC in free throw shooting at 91.3 percent. Center Almir Hadzisehovic also excelled in his first season with the Nanooks, averaging 12.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

The Nanooks also return senior guards Alex Duncan and Joe Slocum and center Isaac Ladines. Duncan averaged 6.3 points per game last year. Slocum redshirted last year after starting 27 games as a junior and finishing fifth in the GNAC with 4.1 assists per game. Ladines averaged 3.8 points per game in 26 games. The returrners are joined a trio of junior transfers in forwards Travante Williams, Zach Pederson and Bangaly Kaba. Williams, a native of Anchorage, returns to his home state after one season at Division II Adams State in Denver, Colo.

Saint Martin’s and Montana State Billings are tied for seventh in the poll after the two programs tied for ninth last year. The Saints struggled throughout the conference season, ending the year with eight straight losses. First year head coach Alex Pribble will look to build around a pair of experienced guards in Trey Ingram and Tyler Copp. Ingram was the Saints’ leading scorer as a freshman, averaging 11.2 points per game while hitting 41.6 percent from three-point range. Copp averaged 7.5 points per game while starting just over half of the Saints’ contests. Guard Isaac Bianchini averaged 7.5 points per game and shot 50 percent from the field and 54.7 percent from beyond the arc as he came off the bench in 27 games. Victor Ieronymides is the lone returning post player. He played in 27 games and started 11 as a freshman.

Pribble adds a pair of Division I transfers to the roster in Fred Jorg and Kevin Henderson. The 7-foot Jorg joins the Saints after being a role-player on Eastern Washington’s Big Sky Conference championship squad, averaging 2.2 points and 1.1 rebounds in 15 games. Henderson returns to the game after two years away, having played at Montana from 2011 to 2013.

Montana State Billings hopes to move up in the standings after a rebuilding season. Honorable Mention All-GNAC guard Jace Anderson leads four starters returning. Anderson proved an offensive threat at every spot on the floor, averaging 7.8 points per game while shooting 44.8 percent from the field, 41.8 percent from three-point range and 74.2 percent from the free throw line. Forward Momir Gataric is the Yellowjackets’ top returning scorer, having averaged 11.6 points per game. Also back is forward Emmanuel Johnson and guards Kendall Durham, Marc Matthews and Jordan Perry.

Head coach Jamie Stevens is bolstering the lineup with five newcomers. Emmanuel Olufemi adds an immediate post presence with his 6-foot-9 frame. From Nigeria, Olufemi is one of three international players on the MSUB roster, joining sophomore Belgian national Kamal Tall (who is tall at 6-foot-8) and German freshman Sven Jeuschede.

Northwest Nazarene is picked ninth after losing eight players, four starters and their head coach with the retirement of Dave Daniels. The Crusaders enter the season in the able hands of the experienced Scott Flemming, who returned stateside after three years coaching the Indian National Team. Flemming will be challenged in building a suqad around lone returning starter Mike Wright. The guard averaged 7.6 points per game and dished out 91 assists in his junior season. Junior Bouna N’Diaye will challenge for a starting role after averaging 8.3 points off the bench as a sophomore, as will Pol Olivier, who averaged 3.3 points per game.

Concordia, the newcomers to the GNAC, are picked 10th and find themselves in a similar position to Northwest Nazarene. The Cavaliers amassed a 25-7 record in their final year in the NAIA’s Cascade Collegiate Conference and advanced to the second round of the NAIA Division II National Tournament, but lost all five starters following the season. Head coach Brad Barbarick returns six players from last year’s squad, led by junior guard Davis Nuaimi (4.7 points per game), sophomore guard Taylor Harris and sophomore center Tyler Gutierrez. The Cavaliers welcome one newcomer with Division II experience in forward Drew Martin, who arrives after two seasons at New Mexico Highlands.

Simon Fraser is picked 11th after finishing in seventh place in the conference last year. The Clan will also be in rebuilding mode with the departure of four starters and the arrival of new head coach Virgil Hill. Michael Harper is the squad’s lone returning starter, having averaged 8.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in 26 games and 24 starts. He is joined by sophomore guards JJ Pankratz (6.4 points per game) and Hide Vos (7.9 points per game). The Clan add one junior transfer in Max Barkeley, who returns to his hometown after two seasons at California’s Victor Valley JC.

Exhibiton play begins on Sat., Oct. 24, with Simon Fraser hosting Canadian rival Thompson Rivers. Alaska Anchorage and Western Washington will open the 2015-16 in earnest on Fri., Oct. 30, with both teams competing at the D2 CCA Tip-Off Classic in Anaheim, Calif. Conference play begins on Tues., Dec. 1, with Concordia hosting Western Oregon.

2015-16 GNAC PRESEASON MEN'S BASKETBALL COACHES POLL

Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) Overall
Record
GNAC Record
(Place)
Pts.
1. Western Washington (5) 20-11 11-7 (tie 5th) 114
2. Western Oregon (4) 23-7 15-3 (1st) 106
3. Seattle Pacific (2) 24-8 13-5 (2nd) 100
4. Alaska Anchorage 16-13 12-6 (tie 3rd) 92
5. Central Washington 17-9 12-6 (tie 3rd) 80
6. Alaska 7-19 4-14 (8th) 63
7. Saint Martin's 6-22 3-15 (tie 9th) 41
  Montana State Billings 5-23 3-15 (tie 9th) 41
9. Northwest Nazarene 14-16 11-7 (tie 5th) 37
10. Concordia 25-7 First Year In GNAC 32
11. Simon Fraser 11-15 6-12 (7th) 20

Votes awarded on 11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.
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