Vikings Picked To Repeat As Men's Hoop Champs
Under head coach Tony Dominguez, Western Washington rebounded from just making the GNAC Championships in 2016 to winning it all in 2017.
Under head coach Tony Dominguez, Western Washington rebounded from just making the GNAC Championships in 2016 to winning it all in 2017.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. – After winning both the conference’s regular season and tournament titles a year ago, Western Washington is picked to win it all again in the 2017-18 edition of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s Preseason Men’s Basketball Poll.

The Vikings, who finished with a 25-6 record and a 17-3 GNAC mark, received seven of 11 first-place votes from conference coaches for a total of 116 points. Western Oregon, the 2016 GNAC regular season and tournament champion, is picked second with 108 points. The Wolves picked up three first-place votes.

Central Washington, which finished tied for seventh last year, received the final first-place vote and is projected third with 91 points. Alaska Anchorage, despite the loss of 12 players from last year’s squad, is picked fourth with 90 points while Seattle Pacific is picked fifth with 85 points.

Saint Martin’s is selected sixth with 53 points followed by Alaska (48 pts.), Northwest Nazarene (42 pts.), Concordia (41 pts.), Montana State Billings (34 pts.) and Simon Fraser (18 pts.).

The Vikings, who barely made the GNAC Championships in 2016 as the No. 6 seed, was the most dominant offensive team in the league last season. Western Washington led the GNAC and finished 15th in Division II with 88.1 points per game. The Vikings led the conference in field goal percentage (.493), three-point percentage (.401) and free throw percentage (.783), ranking in the top-25 nationally in all three categories.

While the loss of GNAC Player of the Year and First Team All-American Taylor Stafford will be felt, the Vikings return four other starters and three of their top five scorers. Senior forward Deandre Dickson, sophomore forward Daulton Hommes and junior guard Trey Drechsel all earned GNAC Preseason All-Conference honors. Dickson is the Vikings’ top returning scorer having averaged 14.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game and led the Vikings with a .620 field goal percentage. Hommes, named Honorable Mention All-GNAC as a freshman, led the GNAC in three-point shooting (.479) and averaged 12.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Drechsel also earned Honorable Mention All-GNAC honors after averaging 9.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

Senior guard Blake Fernandez also returns at point guard after a junior campaign that saw him average 4.7 points per game. The Vikings welcome a pair of transfers from California’s Cerritos Community College. Junior Tyler Payne averaged 7.7 points per game last year and was a two-time First Team All-South Coast Conference selection. Junior guard Micah Winn was also a First Team All-South Coast Conference selection in 2015 and returns to the court after two years away from organized basketball. The Vikings also welcome junior guard/forward Siaan Rojas after a redshirt season.

Western Oregon struggled through the first two months of the season, going 6-7 through November and December before hitting their stride in conference play. The Wolves went 6-2 in the month of January en route to a third-place GNAC finish. They advanced to the finals of the GNAC Championships for the third consecutive season and finished with an 18-13 overall record.

Senior forward Tanner Omlid, the GNAC Preseason Player of the Year, leads nine returners back for a team that features 10 seniors and 13 total upperclassmen. The GNAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2016-17, Omlid led WOU with averages of 15.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and set GNAC single-season records with 97 steals and 3.21 steals per game. His steals per game was second-best among all Division II players. Omlid became the first GNAC player to finish with a triple-double in three seasons with 18 points, 15 rebounds and a GNAC single-game record 11 steals against Seattle Pacific on Feb. 4.

Senior guard Ali Faruq-Bey, a Preseason All-GNAC selection, was right behind Omlid with averages of 15 points and four rebounds per game. Senior forward JJ Chirnside provides the Wolves a solid inside presence with five rebounds per game and 41 blocks while junior guard Demetrius Trammell scored 9.9 points per game last year. Western Oregon also adds a Division I transfer in senior guard Dustin Triano from Gonzaga and a pair of Division II transfers in senior guard Malik Morgan from Humboldt State and senior forward Vince Boumann from Point Loma. Morgan averaged 11.7 points per game for the Lumberjacks last year while Boumann averaged 13.9 points and nine rebounds per game for the Sea Lions.

After starting the season on a roll, Central Washington hit upon hard times over the final month of the season. The Wildcats started the conference season with a 7-2 record before losing eight of their final 11 to finish in a tie for seventh place despite the production of First Team All-GNAC guard Dom Hunter, who finished 12th in Division II in scoring.

Despite the struggles, conference coaches have confidence that Central Washington will rebound to a third-place finish behind a pair of Preseason All-GNAC selections in senior center Fuquan Niles and junior guard Naim Ladd. A force for the Wildcats at both ends of the floor, Niles earned Honorable Mention All-GNAC honors after finishing fifth in the GNAC with 8.3 rebounds per game and 2.8 blocks per game. In addition, Niles led the GNAC with a .637 field goal percentage (100-157). Ladd is the Wildcats’ top returning scorer, averaging 13.5 points per game in his sophomore campaign.

Central also welcomes back senior guard Marc Rodgers, who averaged 5.3 points per game, and junior forward Drake Rademacher, who sat out the 2016-17 season due to injury. The Wildcats also add a Division I transfer in junior guard Malik Montoya, who played the last two seasons at Seattle University.

Pick to finish a close fourth behind Central Washington, Alaska Anchorage faces the challenge of rebuilding essentially from the ground up. The Seawolves had 12 players depart after the last season and the team’s only returner, sophomore forward Curtis Ryan, played sparingly in 14 games.

Head coach Rusty Osborne is reloading with a combination of freshmen and transfers, led by a trio of senior transfers from Division I Pacific (Calif.). Two of those players, forward Jacob Lampkin and guard DJ Ursery, were named to the GNAC Preseason All-Conference Team. Lampkin was the Tigers’ fifth-leading scorer last year, averaging 6.4 points per game in 24 contests before a broken foot cut his season short. He was a high school teammate of UAA All-American Suki Wiggs. Ursery was UOP’s sixth-leading scorer, averaging six points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. The duo is joined by guard Maleke Haynes, who averaged 2.5 points and 1.9 assists per game in Stockton and started five of his final six games for the Tigers.

The Seawolves also add junior guard Malik Clements from North Dakota State, junior guard Josiah Wood from Butte Junior College in California and freshman Eric Jenkins, a prep first team all-state selection in Alaska last year.

Picked fifth, Seattle Pacific saw its streak of 12 consecutive NCAA playoff appearances snapped after a ninth-place finish under first-year head coach Grant Leep. This season’s edition of the Falcons returns a year wiser and more experienced with eight returners and three starters back.

Sophomore guard Tony Miller established himself as the Falcons’ next big star. The GNAC Freshman of the Year, Miller finished fourth in the GNAC with 19 points per game and third with 9.7 rebounds per game. He also finished 19th in Division II with 7.2 defensive rebounds per game and had 15 double-doubles. Junior forward Coleman Wooten joined Miller on the GNAC Preseason All-Conference Team, earning Honorable Mention All-GNAC honors last year with averages of 17 points and eight rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Gavin Long is the Falcons’ third returning starter and averaged 10.7 points and shot 77.3 percent from the free throw line.

Seattle Pacific adds a solid performer in junior transfer guard Nikhil Lizotte, who started all 29 games for Humboldt State last season, He averaged 13.8 points per game and led the Lumberjacks with 75 three-pointers made. The team also adds redshirt freshman transfer Christian Russell from Oregon State.

Saint Martin’s, picked sixth, earned its first GNAC Championships berth since 2011 last year with a fourth-place finish and advanced to the tournament’s semifinals. In his two seasons, head coach Alex Pribble has coached the Saints to back-to-back winning seasons (first winning season since 2009-10). There will be some rebuilding to do, though, with the loss of eight players and three starters that helped Pribble build the program.

Junior guard/forward Jordan Kitchen earned GNAC Preseason All-Conference honors. He started all but three games for the Saints last year, averaging 8.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Junior guard Rhett Baerlocher started 21 games, averaging 7.7 points per game and was second on the team with 5.8 rebounds per game. A trio of transfers will buoy the Saints. Senior forward Matt Dahlen played in 30 games for Oregon State last year, starting 10. Junior transfer guard EJ Boyce, from San Jose State, averaged 3.9 points per game and shot 39 percent from three-point range. Junior forward Jared Mathews was a second team all-league selection in the NWAC for Blue Mountain CC, averaging 15.8 points and 10.7 rebounds per contest.

Much like their counterparts in Anchorage, Alaska finds itself replacing much of its lineup. The Nanooks, picked seventh after finishing 10th in 2016-17, return just five players from last season and one starter in forward LaDonovan Wilder. The senior started 15 of 28 games, averaging 8.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Michael Kluting also returns after averaging six points and shooting 48.4 percent from the floor in 28 games off the bench.

Also like the Seawolves, the Nanooks will rebuild around a corps of transfers. Sophomore Jalon McCullough returns to his hometown after averaging 11.9 points per game last season and earning NWAC North Region Freshman of the Year honors for Peninsula CC. Junior guard Tre Eisenhut played two seasons for Portland CC, averaging 7.9 points and three assists per game. Junior guard Amenofis Mitchell averaged 11 points and five rebounds per game and earned Honorable Mention All-Coast Conference South Region honors at Cabrillo JC while sophomore guard Austin Bryant averaged 20.4 points per game for MiraCosta College.

Northwest Nazarene, picked seventh, begins its first season under head coach Paul Rush after Scott Flemming left Nampa to work for NBA India. The Nighthawks finished in a three-way tie for sixth place in the GNAC and return seven players, but just two starters from last year. Senior forward Maurice Jones, a Second Team All-GNAC selection, leads the returners. The Preseason All-Conference selection was the only GNAC player to average a double-double last year, finishing with 16 points per game while ranking 15th in Division II with a GNAC-leading 10.4 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Jayden Bezzant started 19 games as a freshman, averaging 9.3 points per game.

Among the returners bolstering the Nighthawks’ roster is junior transfer guard Khalil Thompson, who set the school scoring record in two seasons at Tacoma CC. He averaged 21 points per game while leading the Tigers to the NWAC championship game. Junior guard Owi Megwa joins the program after two standout seasons at Mesa CC in Arizona.

Concordia finished tied for fourth with Saint Martin’s last year and is picked to finish ninth in 2017-18. The Cavaliers made its first GNAC Championships performance and finished the season at 14-14 overall. The Cavaliers return eight players and three starters, but lose their top two scorers in Drew Martin and Latrell Wilson. Concordia will be led by senior forward Christopher Edward, who made a great impact in his junior transfer season. An Honorable Mention All-GNAC pick in 2017 and a Preseason All-Conference selection, Edward averaged 11.7 points and was fourth in the GNAC with 8.6 rebounds per game. Junior guard Jarrett Gray averaged 11 points per game and shot 85.5 percent from the free throw line.

Montana State Billings was also part of last year’s three-way tie for sixth, but are picked 10th this season with the departure of a pair of key contributors. Guard Jace Anderson was lost to graduation while First Team All-GNAC forward Preston Beverly transferred to Point Loma. Senior forward Kamal Tall leads the two returners, having averaged 6.9 points and five rebounds per game as a junior while shooting 60.4 percent from the field. Junior guard Sven Jeuschede averaged 5.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. The Yellowjackets added a number of transfers, including junior guard Tyler Green from Humboldt State and junior guard Zack Rollins from San Bernardino Valley CC.

Simon Fraser is picked 11th after finishing 4-24 a year ago, but return all five starters. The Clan is led by junior guard/forward JJ Pankratz, who was named to the Preseason All-Conference Team, averaged 12.4 points per game and shot 46 percent from three-point range. Senior guard Kedar (Wright) Salam was Honorable Mention All-GNAC last season after he led the Clan with 13.5 points and 2.4 assists per game. Also back is sophomore guard Michael Provenzano, senior guard/forward Iziah Sherman-Newsome and junior forward Tyrell Lewin.

The GNAC season begins on Fri., Nov. 10, with all 11 conference teams in action. The schedule includes home tournaments at Alaska Anchorage, Concordia, Western Oregon and Western Washington along with Northwest Nazarene’s opener against Multnomah. Conference play begins on Tues., Nov. 28, with Alaska at Alaska Anchorage.

Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) Overall
GNAC Record
1. Western Washington (7) 25-6 17-3 (1st) 116
2. Western Oregon (3) 18-13 13-7 (3rd) 108
3. Central Washington (1) 14-12 9-11 (tie 6th) 91
4. Alaska Anchorage 21-8 15-5 (2nd) 90
5. Seattle Pacific 12-16 8-12 (9th) 85
6. Saint Martin's 17-13 10-10 (tie 4th) 53
7. Alaska 13-16 8-12 (10th) 48
8. Northwest Nazarene 12-16 9-11 (tie 6th) 42
9. Concordia 14-14 10-10 (tie 4th) 41
10. Montana State Billings 14-15 9-11 (tie 6th) 34
11. Simon Fraser 4-24 2-18 (11th) 18

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