With the start of the basketball season just over three weeks out, the Great American Conference men’s head coaches overwhelmingly selected Arkansas-Monticello as the preseason favorite, the conference office announced.
Southern Arkansas has been tapped to finish seventh in the 12-team league.
This time a year ago, the Weevils entered the season picked last in the preseason following an 8-20 season. They became the most improved team in Division II, winning 15 more games and producing a 23-7 record, as well as the only team last season in DII to win a regular title after being picked last in their conference’s preseason poll.
Last season, the Muleriders tied for fifth in the GAC and were the No. 6-seed in the tournament after posting an 11-11 record in league play. In their sixth-consecutive trip to the Great American Conference Tournament, SAU fell to the No. 3-seed Arkansas Tech in the opening round, finishing the 2016-17 season with an overall record of 13-16.
This year, sixth-year head coach Andy Sharpe and the Muleriders return five potent players including four upperclassmen that played in 23 or more games last season, and two of those four appearing in all 29.
Of the returnees, the Muleriders benefit from the return of a vital starting guard, redshirt junior C.J. Elkins. Elkins played and started in 27 games last season. Elkins was the league’s “Freshman of the Year” as a redshirt freshman, followed by an All-GAC Second-Team selection last season.
In his sophomore campaign, Elkins ranked in several of the league's offensive and defensive categories while leading the Muleriders in many similar categories such as: scoring (458 | 17 ppg), field goals made (165 | 6.1 pg), free throws (99 | 3.7 pg), assists (76 | 2.8 apg), and steals (36 | 1.3 pg), as well as appearing in the team's top three in 3-point field goals (29), rebounds (146), and blocks (7).
Other standout returnees are seniors Snyder Cenecharles (23 gp | 23 gs), Keeton Tennison (29 gp | 8 gs), and K.J. Collins (25 gp | 0 gs). Alongside Elkins, Cenecharles and Tennison proved to be crucial assets to the Mulerider basketball team as the duo ranked top-five in numerous statistical categories last season including: scoring, field goals made, 3-point field goals made, free throws made and rebounds, with Tennison owning a team-best 3-point FG percentage of .381. Joining the returners is Charlie Thomas who will make his first debut this season as a redshirt freshman forward.
New additions to the 2017-18 roster are five junior college transfers: point guard Draylan Perkins (McCook CC | Jennings, LA), guards Quinton Gillette(Jacksonville College | Dallas, TX) and Lukas Hart (Jackson St. CC | Murfreesboro, TN), and forwards Braydon Powell (Connors St. CC | Moore, OK.) and Wesley Nosakhare (Southeast Nebraska CC | Kansas City, MO); accompanied by seven true freshmen: point guards Aaron Lucas (Booker T. Washington HS | Tulsa, OK), Andrew Hollaway (Little Rock Flames | Maumelle, AR), and Semaj Flugence (Catholic HS | New Iberia, LA), guards Gabe Gilliam (Huntington HS | Shreveport, LA), Jonah Greathouse (Black Forest Academy | Kandern, Germany), and Trey Davis (Magnolia HS | Magnolia, AR), and forward Devante Brooks (Woodlawn HS | Shreveport, LA).
The Muleriders will open their 2017-18 season on the road as they will travel to Lancaster, Texas to take part in the GAC/NSIC crossover. Opponents for the Muleriders at the regional crossover will be Minot State University on Friday, November 10 and Minnesota State University Moorhead on Saturday, November 11 at noon.
UAM returns its top four scorers, paced by Derylton Hill. He led the team in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage. He earned All-Region honors last year and recently garnered a spot on the preseason DII Bulletin All-American Team. The Weevils also bring back Second-Team All-GAC guards Cobe Goosby and Karim Mawuenyega. Goosby ranked to Hill in scoring and rebounding and also led the team in assists. Mawuenyega averaged 14.6 points and shot 39.4 percent from the 3-point arc.
Arkansas Tech edged out East Central by one point for second place. Both schools joined UAM in the NCAA Central Region Tournament. The Wonder Boys led the conference in scoring despite not having an individual rank in the top 10. They bring back three starters – Alex Brown, Montrell Williams and Freddy Lee. Brown and Williams both averaged double figures while Lee averaged more than 5.0 assists per game.
The Tigers shared the regular-season title with the Weevils and claimed the GAC Tournament title and a first-round win at the NCAA Tournament. They must replace GAC Player of the Year and All-American Braxton Reeves plus Second-Team All-GAC forward Ishmael Donzo. They return Camron Talley, who averaged 9.8 points and shot 51.2 percent from the 3-point stripe as a freshman, along with Brett Cannon, the team’s leader in assists.
Southern Nazarene finished fourth, followed by Harding. The Crimson Storm produced their best season in the GAC, posting a 15-7 league record. They return Jhonathan Dunn, the GAC’s Freshman of the Year. He led the team in scoring and 3-point percentage. The Bisons bring back Tim Wagner, who averaged 17.1 points in his first season in Searcy and welcome back Reggie Anthony. He averaged 11.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 2015-16.
Henderson State, Southern Arkansas and Ouachita took the sixth, seventh and eighth spots, separated by a total of three points. The Reddies and Muleriders both return their top scorers in Kaylon Tappin for HSU and Elkins for SAU.
Southwestern Oklahoma State placed ninth with Southeastern Oklahoma State in 10th. The Bulldogs bring back five players that combined for 80 starts. Devin Pugh ranked second on the team with 13.1 points and third with 4.1 rebounds. The Savage Storm’s Jett Jobe ranked second in the GAC with 5.3 assists per game.
Northwestern Oklahoma State and Oklahoma Baptist rounded out the poll. The Rangers return three starters headlined by Brandon Green, who led the conference in assists and Cody Halvorson, the GAC’s top returner in made 3-pointers. The Bison, eligible for GAC and NCAA postseason for the first time bring back Chandler Rickey and Vladimir Nemcok who combined to lead the team in scoring, rebounding, blocks, assists and field-goal percentage.