Blue Jays Fly To Top Of SLIAC Preseason Poll

Blue Jays Fly To Top Of SLIAC Preseason Poll

After back to back SLIAC Tournament titles the Westminster Blue Jays find themselves as the SLIAC preseason favorites in men's basketball for the upcoming 2017-18 season. Westminster picked up 72 total points and half of the first-place votes this year, marking the second straight year they have been picked as the conference favorites by the coaches.

Westminster went 19-9 overall last season and head coach Matt Mitchell brings back 10 players including three starters, although they do lose their top two scorers in Sean O'Brien and Romo Tabb. Jimmy Villalobos, 12.2 points per game last year, will be expected to fill their departure. Tanner Cochran (7.0 ppg) and Carter Wands (6.3 ppg) form a playmaking backcourt, averaging a combined 5.7 assists per game last year. Collin Caywood finished second on the team in made three's last year while Stu Hollandsworth, a 6-4 forward, will be looked on to provide an inside presence. Among top newcomers will be Kobe Wands, a sophomore guard. 

After a season filled with injuries, MacMurray College is expected to bounce back in a big way this year. The Highlanders were picked 2nd in the poll with 67 points including four first-place votes after going just 5-20 last year. Head Coach Todd Creal brings back nine players and four starters, including Michael Cameron who sat out last season with an injury. The Highlanders lineup will also be bolstered by the arrival of transfer Kendall Davis, an All-Conference player last year at Eureka. Davis averaged 22.7 points per game last year and will combine with new teammate, forward, Brent Long to form potentially the most dangerous inside-outside combination in the league. Long has earned All-Conference honors in each of the last two years and averaged 19.6 points per game last season, shooting 54-percent from the field, while also leading the team with 9.4 rebounds per game. The Highlanders also return Derek Bourke, Marshall Corbin, and Riley Spencer; who all averaged at least 7.4 points per game. Joining the list of newcomers are freshmen Peyton McCubbin and Parker Weiss.

Greenville University, last year's regular-season champion, was picked 3rd in the poll with 56 points. The Panthers return just five players and one starter while bringing a full load of freshmen and transfers. The lone returning starter is guard Johari Dix. Dix averaged 8.8 points per game while finishing second in the conference in assists with 117 and fourth in steals with 54. Ethan Lieb (7.5 ppg) and Daniel Saeli (4.1 ppg) are also back for the Orange and Black. Among the top newcomers will be juniors Rakim Murphy and Isiah Price as well as freshman Marvin Bateman. 

Eureka College received 54 points to finish 4th in the poll. The Red Devils return a whopping 19 players from last year's team that finished 13-12 overall. Head Coach Chip Wilde boasts one of the top players in the league in guard Shea Feehan, who will head up a group of four returning starters. Feehan, a junior, averaged a conference-high 26.7 points per game last season while knocking down 86 three's and leading the conference with 173 free-throws made. Fellow junior guard Hank Thomas is a dual threat both scoring (14.5 ppg) and setting his teammates up (2.9 apg). Seniors Buck McElmurry and Brady Sanders will provide the experience for the team while junior Alex Wiegand, 7.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, will be an important player in the post. Among the top newcomers to the Red Devils will be a pair of freshmen centers in Jaedon Banks and Will LeGrande and junior transfer Donald Hardaway Jr. 

Spalding University picked up the remaining first-place vote and totaled 48 points for 5th place in the poll. Head Coach Kevin Gray and the Golden Eagles finished just 6-20 last season, marking the first time in four years they failed to qualify for the conference tournament. Spalding returns a pair of juniors that averaged double figures in scoring. Rylan Rowe finished second on the team with 15.6 points per game while the will have Dominique Ellis (14.5 ppg) for a full season this year, after playing just six games last year. Also back are forwards Brandon Williams (9.8 ppg and 6.3 rpg) and Keith Wallace, 5.8 ppg and 53-percent shooting from the floor. Spalding welcomes newcomers Tim Dunn, Brandon Holt, and Cornelius Watts to the team. 

Webster University was chosen 6th with 42 points. The Gorloks advanced to the SLIAC Tournament last year after going 14-12 overall. However, head coach Chris Bunch will feature a young team this year after bringing in 13 freshmen and returning just five players. Among those returning are seniors Mike Dunn and Parker Van Nest as well as a trio of sophomores in Blake Ferrell, Josh Johnson, and Enrique Tankins. 

Coming off their first tournament trip in 11 years Principia College received 36 points and are picked 7th in this year's poll. The Panthers lose their top scorer, Adaku Anumu, and their big man inside, Justin Ball, but have a good foundation returning headlined by SLIAC Newcomer of the Year TreVaughn Goodman. Goodman averaged 13.7 points per game last season as a true freshman but really came on strong down the stretch, scoring at least 20 points in six of his final nine games. Fellow returning starters include Parker Davidson and Micah Paulson. Davidson is a do-it-all type of player that averaged 13.8 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.8 steals per game while earning Third Team All-Conference and All-Defensive Team honors. Paulson was second on the team in scoring at 16.5 points per game and connected on 37-percent of his three-point attempts. Head Coach Todd Zimmerman brings in freshman forward Payton Sellers, who should see time on the court.

Iowa Wesleyan University received 34 points for 8th place. The Tigers finished last year 18-9 overall and bring back eight players but will need to replace three starters including the SLIAC Player of the Year Steven Soukup. Among the returners for head coach Alex Huisman are a pair of three-year starters though in guard Brock Butler and forward Mitchell Drey. Butler finished second on the team in scoring last year, 16.2 points per game, while knocking down 64 three-pointers. Drey averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 50-percent from the field. Also back are Jake Neubauer and Dallas Majors, two sophomores that earned valuable game time action last year in their first collegiate season. The Tigers have added junior transfer LeAndre Powell that will add to their inside game.

Blackburn College picked up 26 points for a 9th place finish. Head Coach Steve Kollar finished 12-13 overall last season, the program's best record since 2005, and returns seven players. Reed Rusten, a senior guard, is the team's top returning scorer at 5.7 points per game and showed he is dangerous from behind the arc, knocking down 42-percent of his three's. Fellow seniors Malcolm Scott (5.4 points and 4.0 rebounds per game) and Jake Lochhead (3.8 points per game) will see their playing time increase this season. Sophomores Jordan Clay and Karson Hayes will also be among looked to provide minutes for the Beavers. Among the newcomers brought in are juniors Jamaya Wyatt, Nigel Ferrell, and Duncan King as well as freshman Kyle Lynch. 

In 10th place is Fontbonne University with 15 points. The Griffins and head coach Lance Thornhill returns just two starters from last year's team but they were the team's leading scorers. The team will be led by senior center Jack Lake. Lake averaged a team-high 12.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season while shooting 58-percent from the floor. Junior guard Kris McCann averaged 11.4 points per game and finished second on the team with 29 made three-pointers. The Griffins will get Luke DeLine, a red-shirt freshman, back on the court after missing last year with an injury. 

The 2017-18 season will officially begin on Wednesday, November 15 with the first conference games being played on Wednesday, November 29. 

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