Goodness Gracious Saints Alive! Saint Martin's Picked To Win
Saint Martin's is pick by coaches to win the GNAC after advancing to the GNAC Championships final and the NCAA West Regional in 2018. Photo by Skip Hickey.
Saint Martin's is pick by coaches to win the GNAC after advancing to the GNAC Championships final and the NCAA West Regional in 2018. Photo by Skip Hickey.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. – Saint Martin’s put together a banner year in 2017-18, advancing to the GNAC Championships semifinals and making the school’s first appearance in the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Championship.

With a very experienced squad returning, conference coaches expect just as good of a year, if not better, as they have picked the Saints to win the league in the annual Great Northwest Athletic Conference Preseason Men’s Basketball Poll.

Saint Martin’s received nine of a possible 11 first-place votes, leading the poll with 118 points. Seattle Pacific, which tied for fourth last year and advanced to the GNAC Championships semifinals, is picked second with 105 points. The Falcons received seven of 11 second-place votes.

Western Oregon, last year’s GNAC regular-season and tournament champion, received the remaining two first-place votes and is picked third with 94 points. Western Washington, the conference regular-season runner-up, is picked fourth with 83 points. Alaska Anchorage is picked fifth with 76 points while Montana State Billings is predicted to close out the GNAC Championships field, picked sixth with 68 points.

Northwest Nazarene is picked seventh with 55 points, followed by Central Washington (8th, 40 pts.), Alaska (9th, 37 pts.), Concordia (10th, 31 pts.) and Simon Fraser (11th, 19 pts.).

Saint Martin’s put together its finest season as a Division II program, finishing a respectable third in the GNAC standings with a 15-5 record and closing the regular season with a 25-8 mark, the second-best among GNAC teams. Ranked fifth in the conference in scoring at 77.6 points per game, the Saints made 49.4 percent of their shots from the field and were second in the GNAC with a .390 three-point percentage and 15.8 assists per game. The Saints were just as stout on defense, ranking second in three-point defense (.325) and third in scoring defense (71.3 points allowed per game).

The Saints return four of five starters from last year and 11 overall players, led by GNAC Preseason Player of the Year Luke Chavez. The senior guard was named First Team All-GNAC and the Newcomer of the Year after he finished sixth in scoring at 16 points per game, third with 1.8 steals per game and fourth with four assists per game. Chavez is a potent shooter from wherever he is on the floor, connecting on 48.5 percent from the floor and 40.9 percent from three-point range.

Senior guard EJ Boyce also earned Preseason All-GNAC honors after averaging 11.6 points per game while shooting 42.3 percent from the field, 40.3 percent from the three-point arch and 90.5 percent from the free throw line. He led the GNAC with three three-pointers made per game. Senior guard Rhett Baerlocher averaged 8.1 points per game while senior forward Jordan Kitchen averaged 8.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while blocking 43 shots.

After experiencing a rebuilding year in Grant Leep’s first season as head coach, Seattle Pacific returned to playoff form last season with a 17-12 overall record. The Falcons tied for fourth in the conference at 11-9 and secured their spot in the GNAC Championships by winning three of their final five regular-season games. Seattle Pacific finished third in the GNAC in scoring at 79.7 points per game while leading the GNAC and ranking 37th in Division II with a .391 three-point percentage.

The Falcons return 10 players and five starters from last year’s squad, but noticeably absent will be forward Tony Miller, who transferred to Division I Montana. Senior forward Coleman Wooten leads the way. The Second Team All-GNAC choice last season and Preseason All-GNAC choice this season averaged 11 points and seven rebounds per game while shooting 54.4 percent from the field. Junior guard Gavin Long was an Honorable Mention All-GNAC choice last year and also earned Preseason All-GNAC selection after averaging 11.9 points per game while shooting 52.4 percent from the field.

The returning starting five is rounded out by senior guard Nikhil Lizotte (9.8 points per game), senior center Nathan Streufert (9.2 points, 7.4 rebounds per game) and sophomore guard Gabe Colosimo (8.9 points per game).

Two years after advancing to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, Western Oregon put together another banner year in 2017-18. The Wolves tied a GNAC record with 31 wins and set conference marks with a .939 overall win percentage, 19 overall conference wins and an 18-game conference win streak that the Wolves hope to continue this season. Western Oregon won the GNAC Championships and hosted the NCAA West Regional, losing in the final to Division I-bound Cal Baptist.

While the Wolves are picked third, they will have to live up to the task without GNAC Player of the Year and All-American Tanner Omlid, GNAC Defensive Player of the Year Malik Morgan and GNAC Championships MVP Vince Boumann. Junior forward Riley Hawken is the team’s lone returning starter. A Preseason All-GNAC selection, Hawken averaged 8.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting 52.2 percent from the field as a starter in 30 of the Wolves’ 32 games. Also returning for WOU is senior guard Brandell Evans, senior forward Buster Souza and sophomore guard Darius Lubom.

Winners of the GNAC regular-season and tournament titles in 2017, Western Washington put together another impressive season with arguably the conference’s most experienced lineup. Finishing with a 21-8 overall record and a second-place finish in the GNAC at 16-4, the Vikings led the GNAC in scoring at 83.4 points per game, ranked fourth in Division II with six blocks per game and 13th nationally with a .774 free-throw percentage. Western Washington missed out on a potential return to the NCAA playoffs with a 69-68 GNAC Championships semifinal loss to Saint Martin’s.

To qualify for this year’s GNAC Championships, which will be held at Western Washington’s Carver Gym, the Vikings will have to adjust to life without First Team All-GNAC performers Trey Drechsel and Daulton Hommes, both of whom transferred in the off-season, and graduated Second Team All-GNAC forward Deandre Dickson. Junior forward Trevor Jasinsky is the Vikings’ top returning scorer. The Preseason All-GNAC selection averaged 10.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game while shooting 82.7 percent from the free-throw line. Senior guard/forward Siaan Rojas also earned Preseason All-GNAC accolades. The sixth-man for the Vikings averaged 8.9 points per game and shot 50.3 percent from the field.

Alaska Anchorage head coach Rusty Osborne essentially started over in 2017-18 after losing all but one player from the year before to graduation. The mix of freshmen and transfers who filled the void did well for themselves, amassing a better-than-expected 15-14 record and tying with Seattle Pacific for fourth in conference at 11-9 to earn a berth in the GNAC Championships at the Alaska Airlines Center. The Seawolves proved to be one of the toughest defensive teams in the league, ranking fourth in Division II with just 62.6 points allowed per game and 34th in the nation in field goal defense (.419).

The Seawolves will look to senior Brian Pearson to lead the way. The post presence in the only four-year homegrown player on the roster and averaged seven points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Junior guard Jack Macdonald also returns after having averaged 6.3 points per game. Both Pearson and Macdonald were part-time starters last year with 18 and 16 starts, respectively. Junior transfer guard/forward Tyler Brimhall was the only newcomer named to the Preseason All-GNAC team after averaging 12.9 points and 5.5 rebounds last year at North Idaho JC, leading the Cardinals to the NWAC title.

After finishing ninth last year, Montana State Billings is picked sixth in its first year under Mick Durham, who returned home to the Treasure State after seven years as head coach at Alaska. Durham leads a Yellowjackets’ squad that averaged 76.7 points and 32.8 rebounds per game. They were also among the league leaders in free throw shooting, ranked third at 73.7 percent.

The Yellowjackets are paced by senior guard/forward Zack Rollins. The Preseason All-GNAC selection was an Honorable Mention All-GNAC choice last season after finishing eighth in the league in scoring at 15.4 points per game to go along with 5.3 rebounds per contest and an .821 free throw percentage. Sophomore forward Zharon Richmond averaged 10.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game to go with 44 blocks in his freshman season. Senior Sven Jeuschede will be key on the arch after averaging 7.2 points per game last season as will sophomore guard Kobe Terashima, who averaged 7.3 points per game and led the GNAC with 4.4 assists per game.

Northwest Nazarene, picked to repeat in seventh place, kept its playoff hopes alive until the last week of the season. The Nighthawks averaged 77.1 points and were third in the league in rebounding with 37.7 boards per game and fourth with 6.9 steals per contest.

The Nighthawks landed two players on the Preseason All-GNAC Team in senior guard Obi Megwa and junior guard Jayden Bezzant. Megwa is the top returning scorer in the GNAC after averaging 17 points per game and shooting 46.1 percent from the field. Bezzant was 11th in the GNAC in scoring at 14.3 points per game. Northwest Nazarene also returns sophomore guard Sam Roth, who started in 15 of the Nighthawks’ 26 contests.

It’s a new era at Central Washington, which is picked to finish eighth. The Wildcats finished last year with a 15-13 overall record and qualified for the GNAC Championships with a 10-10 mark in a season that saw the team finish fourth in the GNAC in scoring at 78.6 points per game and second in rebounding at 37.8 rebounds per game. First-year head coach Brandon Rinta will have to replace four starters after the graduation departures of All-GNAC performers Fuquan Niles and Jawan Stepney and the transfer of GNAC Freshman of the Year Khalil Shabazz to Division I San Francisco.

The Wildcats’ lone returning starter is senior guard Malik Montoya, who averaged 7.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Senior guard Naim Ladd earned Preseason All-GNAC honors after he served as the spark plug off the bench for CWU last season, averaging five points per game and shooting 92.9 percent from the free throw line. The Wildcats also welcome back senior forward Drake Rademacher, who did not play last year.

After seeing a quarter-century career end at Central Washington, Greg Sparling takes over an Alaska squad that is picked to finish ninth after tying for seventh last year. The Nanooks averaged just 69.5 points per game last year, but were among the top outside shooting teams in the league at 37.2 percent, ranking third among GNAC teams. Senior guard Alex Baham earned Preseason All-GNAC honors as he returns from a year where he averaged 11.5 points per game while hitting on 48.1 percent from three-point range. Junior forward Michael Kluting was an Honorable Mention all-GNAC selection after averaging 11.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

Concordia wants to erase the memory of last year’s 5-23 season, which included an 18-game GNAC losing streak. The Cavaliers averaged 71.4 points and 34.3 rebounds per game. Concordia welcomes back six from last year’s team, led by Preseason All-GNAC selection Jarrett Gray. The senior guard was fifth in the GNAC in scoring at 16.3 points per game and made 85 percent of his free throws. Senior guard Jace Cates also returns after averaging 4.5 points per game in 28 games and 17 starts.

Picked to finish 11th, Simon Fraser had a much-improved season in 2017-18 as it finished at 10-18 overall with a 4-16 GNAC mark. The Clan finished the year second in the GNAC in steals at 7.9 per game and fourth in scoring defense, allowing 73 points per game. Junior guard Michael Provenzano earned Preseason All-GNAC honors after he averaged 8.9 points per game and was third in the GNAC with 4.1 assists per game. His .873 free-throw percentage was second in the league. The Clan also returns starting guard Othniel Spence, who averaged 9.5 points per game in his sophomore season.

Exhibition play for GNAC teams begins on Tues., Oct. 30, with Western Washington hosting the Seattle Mountaineers and Montana State Billings playing at Division I Grand Canyon. The official schedule commences on Fri., Nov. 2, when Alaska Anchorage hosts Antelope Valley with the bulk of teams opening on Fri., Nov. 9. Conference play begins on Tues., Nov. 28, with Alaska playing at Montana State Billings.

Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) Overall
GNAC Record
1. Saint Martin's (9) 25-8 15-5 (3rd) 118
2. Seattle Pacific 17-12 11-9 (tie 4th) 105
3. Western Oregon (2) 31-2 19-1 (1st) 94
4. Western Washington 21-8 16-4 (2nd) 83
5. Alaska Anchorage 15-14 11-9 (tie 4th) 76
6. Montana State Billings 13-18 5-15 (9th) 68
7. Northwest Nazarene 13-13 9-11 (tie 7th) 55
8. Central Washington 15-13 10-10 (6th) 40
9. Alaska 11-15 9-11 (tie 7th) 37
10. Concordia 5-23 1-19 (11th) 31
11. Simon Fraser 10-18 4-16 (10th) 19

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