I’ve used this space a lot over the past few years to throw out opinions about D-II basketball, but I try to emphasize that the prediction game is an awfully tough one to play. At the Division-II level, many of the players are either total unknowns or washed-up former high-school, JC, and even D-I stars looking to get back on the right track. In both cases, it’s incredibly tough to actually know what might happen until you’ve actually seen what happens in the games.
Still, I’ve made it a habit of posting predictions each year, and I’ll do the same today. That’s just your yearly disclaimer.
Looking back to last year
Before we get into this year’s predictions, let’s quickly run down how the predictions worked out a year ago. The list is in the actual order of finish, while my predictions are in parentheses.
- Henderson State 11-3 (5th, 7-7)
- Christian Brothers 10-4 (1st, 10-4)
- Harding 9-5 (2nd, 10-4)
- Ouachita Baptist 8-6 (6th, 5-9)
- Delta State 8-6 (4th, 8-6)
- Southern Arkansas 5-9 (7th, 4-10)
- Arkansas-Monticello 4-10 (3rd, 9-5)
- Arkansas Tech 1-13 (8th, 3-11)
I missed two teams by more than three games and got four correct to within a game, so it wasn’t a bad list in retrospect. I didn’t think Henderson State could put their talent together, and I also underestimated OBU. My biggest miss was overestimating UAM by five games.
The Coaches’ list
Here’s the preseason coaches’ poll for your reference. The number of votes and first place votes are in parentheses.
- Christian Brothers (48, 6 first place)
- Harding (42, 2)
- Delta State (33)
- Ouachita Baptist (33)
- Henderson State (22)
- Arkansas-Monticello (17)
- Southern Arkansas (15)
- Arkansas Tech (14)
The coaches didn’t fare so well last year, putting CBU fourth, while they had HSU lower and UAM higher than even I did. Still, you have to figure they collectively know something about the rest of the teams.
Here we go, from the top down:
- Christian Brothers (10-4) – Expect the Bucs to be very efficient once again, but do they have the depth they need beyond the starting lineup to win night in and night out? They have Weybright, Kohs, Peyton, Couvion, and Ray all returning, and that was a pretty good group anyway. That still doesn’t mean they’ll hold up for a full season, but at the same time, we probably know more about CBU than any other GSC West team, based only on returnees. It’s hard to predict anyone but them finishing first.
- Harding (8-6) – Part of me wonders if this year’s team is even as good as last year’s, which at least had some capable guards in Sims and Rick Hamilton (while he was there). I don’t know that the Bisons have a solution there, but they have another potential impact forward in Kevin Brown, assuming he’s playing this year. I’m not very comfortable with this pick because I’m still not convinced that there will be anyone to complement Matt Hall.
- Ouachita Baptist (8-6) – The Tigers have the talent at guard and small forward to successfully play a small lineup, which is what gives me the confidence to say they’ll at least make the GSC Tournament. Jaranimo Marks and Memo Rodriguez will carry the load, and OBU has several other returnees and new players who can step in and play well.
- Delta State (8-6) – The next couple of spots give me some real trouble. DSU and several other remaining teams build primarily through transfer talent, which means they rely heavily on sometimes unreliable players. On paper, the Statesmen have plenty of talent, size, and athleticism, as they usually do, but there’s no telling if they will turn that into a productive season. And do we even know if Johnny Hodge is back? He’s on their roster, but he didn’t play a few weeks ago in their blowout exhibition loss to Ole Miss. If he’s actually gone, drop the Statesmen to #6 on this list.
- Arkansas Tech (7-7) – It looks as though the Wonder Boys finally have some decent new players. Darren Tarver and Terrance Whiters form what is probably the best backcourt in the division, and even if you discount Tarver as a proven player, they still probably have the best recruiting class. They’ve played well in three exhibition games against superior opponents, and I think they will break the program’s GSC Tournament appearance drought this year.
- Henderson State (7-7) – This is by far my toughest pick. The Reddies have talent, probably more of it than teams I’ve ranked higher, like Harding and OBU. They are also the defending division champs, even if they only return one starter in Antoine Vinson. This prediction just represents me hedging my bets against a team that hasn’t had the chance to show much on the court, and at this point I think there are five teams with more promising outlooks than theirs.
- Arkansas-Monticello (5-9) – We all know by now never to bet against Mike Newell. After all, he did win more games in his first five years of coaching than John Wooden did. Unfortunately for Newell and UAM, that’s where the comparisons end between him and the legendary coach. Newell won’t be able to ride his son’s streaky shooting to any wins this year, but he does have an interesting incoming talent in Mike Pilgrim. That is, if Pilgrim actually made it on campus. He didn’t play in tonight’s 101-44 beatdown at Tennessee, so I guess we don’t know if he’s still on the team. There are actually a few other solid newcomers, but I think the level of talent here is somewhat below what the other GSC West teams are bringing in, so I’m predicting accordingly.
- Southern Arkansas (3-11) – It’s tough to rank a team that returns so many key players this poorly, but they didn’t return any star-caliber players (even by GSC standards), and the incoming class looks pretty weak. Perhaps they’ll be an improved team, but they have a long way to go if they’re going to compete for a tourney spot.
Now, let’s play some actual games and settle this on the court. It’s much more fun that way, anyway.