Princeton, WV – After a 32-3 campaign that saw West Liberty earn its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, the annual preseason poll of WVIAC coaches has installed the Hilltoppers as the favorites to win a fourth straight conference title.
West Liberty (32-3, 21-1) garnered 14 first-place votes and 224 total points to lead the field, besting No. 2 Charleston (26-7, 18-4) for the top spot. The Golden Eagles, who dropped a 93-90 overtime decision to the Hilltoppers in last year’s WVIAC Tournament championship game, received 201 points in the voting. UC also earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament a season ago.
Fairmont State (9-18, 7-15) picked up one first-place nod and 191 total points for third place in the poll. West Virginia State (14-13, 12-10) tallied 156 points for fourth while Alderson-Broaddus (18-10, 14-8) notched 146 points and is picked to finish fifth.
Shepherd (14-14, 11-11) was sixth, just ahead of Wheeling Jesuit (22-10, 16-6). The Cardinals are coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Pitt-Johnstown (15-14, 12-10), West Virginia Wesleyan (22-9, 15-7) and Concord (17-12, 12-10) rounded out the top 10. The Bobcats made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2012.
Seton Hill (11-16, 9-13) edged Glenville State (7-20, 6-16) for 11th. Davis & Elkins (8-19, 4-18) is 13th while Bluefield State (1-26, 0-22) and Ohio Valley (8-18, 8-14) rounded out the preseason poll.
West Liberty returns the top eight scorers from the first WVIAC squad ever to win back-to-back regional titles. The Hilltoppers led the nation in scoring (102.4 ppg) for the sixth time in the last seven years last winter and head coach Jim Crutchfield now leads all NCAA men’s coaches in career winning percentage (207-43, .828). Two 1,000-point scorers – senior All-American Alex Falk (18.0 ppg) and junior all-WVIAC standout Cedric Harris (15.8 ppg, 191 assists) –have plenty of help as West Liberty returns six double-figure scorers. Sophomore CJ Hester (14.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg) is the reigning WVIAC Freshman of the Year.
Charleston finished second in the conference in 2012 and earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament behind Player of the Year PJ Reyes. Although the Golden Eagles lost Reyes to graduation, the squad returns an abundance of experience. Evan Faulkner is the lone senior on the team. He poured in 11.5 points and was second on the team with 42 steals last season. Xavier Humphrey should be more of a factor this year. He accounted for 8.3 points and swatted 23 shots in 2012. Head coach Mark Downey also brought in a number of talented players.
Fairmont State is under the leadership of first-year head coach Jerrod Calhoun. He inherits a solid core and added several promising newcomers. Second-team all-conference performer Isaac Thornton (21.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg) was one of the top scorers in the nation a season ago. Melvin Rhodes (7.8 ppg) is another returning starter that should play a bigger role this year. The Falcons have an abundance of newcomers that will help the team make a push for a postseason bid.
West Virginia State head coach Bryan Poore looks to make another run at the top this season with the return of David Ford (15.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Howard Douglas, III (8.3 ppg). Ford was the team’s second-leading scorer a year ago while the versatile Douglas started 18 games, averaging 25 minutes a contest. The Yellow Jackets should also benefit from having forward Brandon Ross and guard Juan Johnson who were expected to contribute last year but sat out due to injuries.
Alderson-Broaddus head coach Greg Zimmerman returns a standout group of players that narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament in 2012. First-team all-conference honoree Kurklin Bohanon (19.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg) returns after leading the Battlers in scoring and rebounding a year ago. Roy Brown (10.0 ppg) is another returning starter and a double-figure scorer while Casey Ainslie (9.1 ppg) and Adam Kline (4.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg) gained valuable experience last season.
Shepherd features one of the most dynamic players in the conference in first-team all-WVIAC standout Chad Moore. He poured in 20.8 points and grabbed 10 rebounds a night last year. Brantley Osborne (15.3 ppg) and Sidney McCray (12.8 ppg) are the top deep threats for Coach Justin Namolik, having combined for 129 3-point field goals last season. The Rams brought in a number of talented players.
Wheeling Jesuit is coming off a 2012 NCAA Tournament appearance following a standout season and looks to reach the postseason once again. Head coach Danny Sancomb returns second-team all-conference selection Ben Seifert (10.8 ppg), who ranked among NCAA Division II leaders with 224 assists. Recardo Gaddy (14.1 ppg) drilled 101 three-point shots and Joe Prati (6.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg) saw significant playing time in all 32 games.
Pitt-Johnstown boasts some potent offensive weapons, headed by first-team all-conference selection Nick Novak (19.5 ppg), who led the team in scoring and assists (114). Another scoring threat for head coach Bob Rukavina is Jordan Miller (15.3 ppg) while standout Bill Luther (7.6 ppg) shot nearly 50 percent from downtown.
West Virginia Wesleyan is led by first-year head coach Patrick Beilein and will look to make it three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Despite heavy graduation losses, Beilein inherited one of the league’s top players in Kelsey Williams (17.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg). T.J. Thompson (4.9 ppg) played in 31 games a year ago.
Concord lost a couple of its top scorers but returns a few that should help the team continue its progress from a season ago. Mike Boyd (7.9 ppg) is back at the point for the Mountain Lions after leading the team with 116 assists last year. Coach Kent McBride also welcomed back Damien Tunstalle (5.6 ppg), who shot nearly 50 percent from the floor, but will rely heavily on several new faces with just five upperclassmen on the roster.
Seton Hill’s backcourt tandem of David Windsor and Oliver McGlade should see their roles increase this season. Part-time starters for head coach Tony Morocco a season ago, McGlade (3.6 ppg) averaged more than 16 minutes a night while dishing out 44 assists and shooting 43.5 percent from behind the 3-point arc. Windsor (3.9 ppg) saw time in 26 games, averaging nearly 20 minutes a night while shooting 44 percent from the floor.
Glenville State head coach Stephen Dye has an abundance of weapons that he can use. Kevin Gray (16.6 ppg) and WVIAC all-freshman team standout Jamel Morris (14.7) lead the way for the Pioneers. Versatile student-athlete Andy Dollman (8.9 ppg) will also solidify the backcourt.
Davis & Elkins head coach Bruce Martin will rely on a trio of seniors to move the Senators up the WVIAC ranks. D’Quan Lynch (12.6 ppg) is the top returning scorer while Shane Brown and Paolo Ivis were key contributors a year ago, combining for nearly 10 points and 5 rebounds a game.
Bluefield State boasts returners Vincent Rogers and Johnny Uhewu. Rogers played in 21 games while netting 14 points a night. He also grabbed 5.6 rebounds a contest. Uhegwu started 15 games and connected on 9.6 points a game.
Ohio Valley head coach Mike Snell is counting on returning lettermen Osvaldas Gaizauskas and Mustafa Helal. Gaizauskas saw time in 12 games, starting four while averaging 4.3 points. Helal (2.6 ppg) canned 44 percent of his shots from the floor a season ago.
The complete 2012-13 WVIAC men’s basketball coaches’ poll follows: