Even though Saint Francis has been far and away the most successful men’s basketball program on a national basis in the newly-named Crossroad League over recent years, that isn’t carrying much weight this season.
The Cougars were recently selected to finish fifth in the conference pre-season poll among the league coaches.
“Actually, that is about where I thought that we would be picked,” Saint Francis coach Chad LaCross said. “The teams that are picked ahead of us have more senior players and Scott Kohne is our only returning starter inside and he’s a junior.”
The Cougars finished 23-13 last season and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NAIA Division II National Tournament. Each of the prior two seasons, Saint Francis advanced to the national championship game, winning in 2010 and finishing second in 2011.
“I think with losing (All-American guard) Q Owens, some people would vote us lower,” LaCross said. “I’ve brought (being picked fifth) up a few times in conditioning for motivation, but it really isn’t that big of a deal.”
Saint Francis finished fourth in the Mid-Central College Conference regular season a year ago, but advanced to the conference tournament title game before losing to Grace.
LaCross’ team started practice last week and the third-year coach has been pleased with his young, but competitive group.
“These guys are young,” LaCross explained, “but they really get after it.”
Cougar guards Ethan Hussey and Kevin Bloom are the lone seniors in the backcourt, while forward Brad Sneary is the only senior up front. Kohne is the only junior on the roster, so that leaves LaCross doing a lot of teaching to a large contingent of underclassmen.
“The first three days of practice were pretty hectic,” LaCross said. “But the last two days were a lot better. I’ve been pretty happy so far.”
A pair of newcomers that have made an impression already are redshirt freshman Greg Dickey and true freshman forward Brad Hartman.
Dickey spent last year rehabilitating a knee injury, but LaCross said that the 6-0 combo guard is “awfully good.”
Hartman is a 6-foot-6 freshman from Union County High School and his effort thus far has been impressive.
“Brad does all of the little things,” LaCross said. “He’s been our best screener and he gets on the floor for loose balls. He’s pretty skilled also.”
Saint Francis will play an exhibition game at Northwood University (coached by former Cougar coach Jeff Rekeweg) on Oct. 27 before starting regular season play Nov. 2 at Concordia University at 8 p.m.
Indiana Wesleyan University, which tied with Grace for the 2011-12 regular season title, was selected to win the 2012-13 championship with 98 points.
The Wildcats finished 21-12 overall, while Grace, which finished 24-8 was the second selection with 81 points.
Expectations high for Indiana Tech
The Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC) announced the 2012-13 men’s basketball preseason poll and All-Conference team recently and Indiana Tech was selected to finish third by the league coaches in the team poll.
Individually, Warrior senior guard Jordan Hickman received All-WHAC recognition.
Last year’s conference champion, Davenport University, was picked to win the WHAC again, receiving 10 of the 12 first place votes. Cornerstone University was second followed by Indiana Tech, with each receiving one first place vote.
Warrior coach Al Grushkin begins his third year on the sideline at Indiana Tech. Grushkin guided the Warriors to a 23-8 record in 2011-12, the most wins by an Indiana Tech team since 2004-05, and capped off the season by taking his team to the NAIA Division II National Championship tournament. It was the sixth all-time appearance for the Warriors and the first since 2008.
Hickman made a huge impact in his first season with the Warriors after transferring in from Vincennes University. He took over at the point guard spot early on and ended up among the league leaders in assists. He was also the team’s top three-point shooter and was the third leading scorer averaging 9.8 points per game.
The Warriors open their season at home against Indiana Dabney University on Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m.
Here is the pre-season Crossroad League men’s basketball poll:
IWU 98 (votes) 21-12 (overall) 12-6 (in conference), (tied for 1st in 2011-12)
Grace 81 24-8 12-6, (tied for 1st)
Spring Arbor 72 18-14 9-9, (tied for 5th)
Taylor 70 20-11 9-9, (tied for 5th)
Saint Francis 59 23-13 10-8, (4th)
Marian 54 20-11 11-7, (3rd)
Bethel 41 15-14 7-11, (9th)
Huntington 34 17-14 9-9, (tied for 5th)
Mount Vernon Nazarene 25 9-21 3-15, (10th)
Goshen 16 18-13 8-10, 8th