Conference Race Goes Into Full Tilt This Week
Seattle Pacific leads the GNAC in five defensive statistical categories. Bryce Leavitt is ranked third in the league with 7.2 rebounds per game.
Seattle Pacific leads the GNAC in five defensive statistical categories. Bryce Leavitt is ranked third in the league with 7.2 rebounds per game.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

STREAKING: The GNAC’s two hottest teams enter the week trying to keep lengthy winning streaks alive. Both teams, however, will look to do so after lengthy breaks over the holidays.

Western Oregon enters the week with an unblemished 9-0 record. The Wolves are ranked No. 5 in the D2SIDA Division II Media Poll, last released on Dec. 22, and was No. 3 in the last NABC Division II Rankings, which was last released on Dec. 15. Western Oregon has not played since Sun., Dec. 20, beating Division III Willamette, 85-50, in an exhibition contest. The Wolves’ last counting game was a 67-63 come-from-behind win at UC San Diego on Dec. 14. The streak will be greatly challenged on Tuesday night with the Wolves playing a counting game at Division I Oregon.

Seattle Pacific is also on a nine-game win streak after having lost their first game of the season. The Falcons enter the week having not played since Dec. 12, when they beat Azusa Pacific 71-54 in their own Oak Harbor Freight Lines Classic. The Falcons enter the week ranked No. 19 in the D2SIDA Media Poll and No. 9 in the latest NABC Division II Rankings.

Both Western Oregon and Seattle Pacific are getting the job done on defense. The Falcons lead the GNAC in scoring defense (61.9 points allowed per game), field goal defense (.367 allowed), three-point defense (.215 allowed), rebounding defense (28.3 rebounds allowed per game) and rebounding margin (+11.8). The Wolves lead the GNAC in steals (10.44 per game) and turnover margin (+6.33) and are second in scoring defense (66.8 points allowed per game).

Western Oregon, however, has the offense to match. The Wolves are second in the GNAC in scoring margin (+16.0), field goal percentage (.492) and three-point percentage (.389).

AGAINST DIVISION I TEAMS: Tuesday’s game between Western Oregon and Oregon will be the 11th matchup of the season between a GNAC team and a Division I opponent. The GNAC is 1-9 against Division I teams and 1-2 in counting contests. Alaska Anchorage picked up the only win during the GCI Great Alaska Shootout, collecting a 71-65 exhibition win over Drexel on Nov. 27. The Seawolves also had the closest losses to Division I teams with a 75-72 exhibition defeat by Middle Tennessee on 71-65 on Nov. 26 and a 91-87 loss to San Jose State on Nov. 28. Western Oregon opened the season with a 76-57 loss to Oregon State in an exhibition game on Nov. 6, but played the game without GNAC Preseason Player of the Year Andy Avgi, who was finishing the football season for the Wolves.

SETTING THE PACE: Alaska Anchorage’s Sekou Wiggs continues to lead the GNAC when it comes to scoring. The junior transfer from Idaho enters the week leading the league and is 15th in Division II with an average of 23.7 points per game. Wiggs is second in Division II in free throws attempted (125) and third in free throws made (94). From the field, Wiggs is seventh in Division II in field goal attempts (207) and 11th in free throws made (95).

SPREADING THE WEALTH: Of the GNAC’s top-10 individual scorers, three of them come from Western Washington to lead an offense that enters the week fourth in the GNAC with 86.2 points per game.

Jeffrey Parker leads the way for the Vikings, ranking third in the GNAC with 18.4 points per game. Kyle Impero is fifth in the league in individual scoring, averaging 16.9 points per game, and is also sixth in rebounding with 6.8 boards per game. He is one of three GNAC players to rank in the league’s top-10 in both scoring and rebounding (Alaska Anchorage’s Sekou Wiggs and Central Washington’s Joseph Stroud are the others). Ricardo Maxwell is ninth in the league with an average of 16.3 points per game.

BLOCK PARTY: The GNAC features three players who average over 1.50 blocks per game. Central Washington’s Joseph Stroud leads the way and is third in Division II with 3.29 blocked shots per game. His total of 23 blocks ranks 23rd nationally. Saint Martin’s Joseph Kitchen is second in the GNAC with 1.90 blocks per game (15 total) and Northwest Nazarene’s Bouna N’Diaye is third with an average of 1.88 blocks per game (15 total). As a team, Central Washington is fifth in Division II with an average of 5.9 blocks per game while Northwest Nazarene is 14th at 5.0 blocks per game.

INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES OF NOTE: Alaska Anchorage’s Corey Hammell notched his eighth double-double of the season with 24 points and 12 rebounds on 7 of 8 from the field and 10 of 12 from the free throw line as the Seawolves beat Northwest Indian on Dec. 14...Northwest Nazarene’s Bouna N’Diaye scored 22 points, with 11 of 12 from the free throw line, in the Crusaders’ 70-57 loss to Cal State L.A. on Dec. 14...Western Oregon’s Jordan Wiley led four players in double figures with 15 points in the 67-63 win at UC San Diego on Dec. 14...Kyle Impero scored 23 points on 9 of 10 from the field and Jeffrey Parker scored 22 as Western Washington beat Simon Fraser 101-64 on Dec. 15...Brandon Kenilvort came off the bench to notch 20 points and seven rebounds in Saint Martin’s 93-50 win over Capilano on Dec. 16...Central Washington’s Joseph Stroud led six Wildcats in douvle figures with 24 points in a 107-60 win over Quest on Dec. 17. Gary Jacobs added 21 points...Concordia’s Drew Martin scored 19 points to lead five Cavaliers in double figures in a 108-81 win over Vancouver Island on Dec. 18.

ON TO THE CONFERENCE SEASON: The final three non-conference games for GNAC teams will take place this week, with the remainder of games this season for all schools counting on the GNAC record. Western Oregon’s game on Tuesday at Oregon is the last counting non-conference game in the league. Simon Fraser plays at Victoria in an exhibition game on Tuesday. Montana State Billings will travel to Carroll (Mont.) for an exhibition game on Sunday. The game is a make-up date from December, when the contest was postponed due to weather. The full GNAC slate returns to action with five games on New Year’s Eve, highlighted by Alaska Anchorage at Seattle Pacific.

IN THE NATIONAL POLLS: Both Western Oregon and Seattle Pacific maintained their spots in the D2SIDA Division II Media Poll through the holiday break. The Wolves retained their No. 5 national ranked and No. 1 regional ranking while the Falcons retained their No. 19 national ranking and No. 4 regional ranking. Alaska continues to be ranked No. 9 in the West Region Rankings. The NABC Division II Rankings will be released late on Tuesday, but did not arrive in time for the publication of the weekly release. In the Dec. 15 ranking, Western Oregon remained at No. 3 while Seatle Pacific moved up four spots to No. 9.

GNAC BASKETBALL GAMES TO AIR ON ROOT SPORTS, AMERICAN SPORTS NETWORK: Great Northwest Athletic Conference men’s and women’s basketball returns to ROOT SPORTS during the 2015-16 season, with a five-game telecast schedule set to open up Jan. 9 in a contest featuring defending regular season men’s conference champion Western Oregon playing host to Saint Martin’s.

In addition to the ROOT SPORTS schedule, the championship doubleheader of the GNAC’s postseason tournament on Sat., Mar. 5, will be carried live throughout the country as part of the Division II Basketball National Showcase on the American Sports Network. The men’s game tips off at 5:30 p.m. PST and will be followed by the women’s title game at 7:30 p.m. PST.

In all, the GNAC will be featured either regionally or nationally three times in January, twice in February and twice in March. The 2015-16 campaign marks the seventh consecutive season in which the GNAC will have a presence on ROOT SPORTS, the premier regional sports network in the Pacific Northwest, and the third consecutive year in which the conference has featured a “Game of the Week” series on the network.

“The GNAC is extremely pleased to continue our Game of the Week series on ROOT SPORTS,” said conference commissioner Dave Haglund. “This has been a successful and long-standing association and helps expose our great brand of basketball to fans in our conference footprint and beyond. And we are looking forward to featuring our conference tournament championship games on the DII basketball showcase and reaching an even wider audience for the GNAC.”

GNAC Men’s Basketball Games On ROOT SPORTS
Sat., Jan. 9: Saint Martin’s at Western Oregon, 9 p.m. (Pacific)
Sat., Jan. 23: Western Washington at Central Washington, 6 p.m. (Pacific)
Sat., Feb. 20: Montana State Billings at Seattle Pacific, 9 p.m. (Pacific)

GNAC PRESEASON POLL - WESTERN WASHINGTON PICKED TO WIN: 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.

PRESEASON ALL-GNAC TEAM, AVGI PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Western Oregon forward Andy Avgi, the defending GNAC Player of the Year, added another award to his preseason arsenal as he was selected by the league’s head coaches as the GNAC Preseason Player of the Year. The senior was a unanimous selection for the honor, receiving 10 first place votes in the balloting (coaches could not vote for their own players).

Avgi was one of eight unanimous selections to the squad and is the only player on the list to be selected for a third year in a row. Joining him as a repeat selection on the 15-man squad were Western Washington forward Jeffrey Parker, WWU guard Ricardo Maxwell, Alaska Anchorage guard Brian McGill and Alaska guard Joe Slocum.

Other unanimous selections to the team include Parker, Maxwell, McGill, Western Oregon guard Julian Nichols, Seattle Pacific forward Mitch Penner, Montana State Billings guard/forward Momir Gataric and Central Washington center Joseph Stroud.

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAMS: The following GNAC players have been selected to all-tournament teams during the 2015-16 season:
GNAC/PacWest Crossover (Nov. 13-14, Fairbanks): Travante Williams, UAF (Most Valuable Player).
Seawolf Jamboree (Nov. 21-22, Anchorage): Sekou Wiggs, UAA (Most Outstanding Player); Bangaly Kaba, UAF; Travante Williams, UAF.
Sodexo Classic (Nov. 21-22, Seattle): Gary Jacobs, CWU (Most Valuable Player); Joseph Storud, CWU; Bryce Leavitt, SPU.
GCI Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 25-27, Anchorage): Sekou Wiggs, UAA.
Oak Harbor Freight Lines Classic (Dec. 11-12, Seattle): Mitch Penner, SPU (Most Valuable Player); Gilles Dierickx, SPU; Preston Beverly, MSUB.

Kyle Impero
Western Washington
G • 6-4 • 175 • Sr. • Everson, Wash.
Impero averaged 22 points in two games and shot 77 percent from the floor (17-22) as the Vikings scored a GNAC win over Simon Fraser on Tuesday and a non-conference win over Quest on Friday. He scored 23 points and shot 9 of 10 from the field against Simon Fraser and added 21 points and seven rebounds against Quest. Impero enters the holiday break ranked fifth in the GNAC in scoring (16.9 points per game) and sixth in rebounding (6.8 rebounds per game).

Also Nominated: Brandon Kenilworth (Saint Martin’s).