BEAVERTON, Ore. - Fresh off its third consecutive 30-win season and NCAA Division II Atlantic Region title, the West Liberty University men's basketball team holds down the No. 2 spot in the 23rd annual Division II Bulletin men's basketball Preseason Top 25. Senior guard Cedric Harris was also honored as a Preseason All-American.
Metro State (Colo.), which handed the Hilltoppers an 83-76 loss in last year's NCAA Division II Elite Eight national semifinals at Louisville, Ky., edged out West Liberty for the top spot in this year's preseason rankings with three more perennial powers - Seattle Pacific, South Carolina-Aiken and Bellarmine (Ky.) - rounding out the top five.
With Jim Crutchfield at the helm, West Liberty's men's program has become a fixture at or near the top of every national poll in recent seasons. The Hilltoppers have appeared in 50 consecutive NABC Top 25 weekly rankings dating back to the 2009-10 campaign. The have been ranked No. 4 or higher during the past 25 polls and finished the 2010-11 and 2012-13 seasons as the nation's No. 1-ranked NCAA Division II team.
Crutchfield, who leads all NCAA men's basketball coaches in winning percentage (241-45, .843), has some holes to fill following the loss of Division II Player of the Year Alex Falk and 1,000-point scorers Chris Morrow and Tim Hausfeld. Starting with the return of Harris - one of 25 Honorable Mention All-Americans - Crutchfield's cupboard is far from bare.
Despite missing several games because of injury, the 6-foot Harris earned All-West Virginia Conference and All-Atlantic Region honors a year ago and was a third-team Division II All-America selection by Basketball Times. Already having surpassed the 1,600-point mark for his collegiate career, Harris was the team's second-leading scorer (16.8 ppg.) and ranked among the Atlantic Region leaders with 5.2 assists per game while shooting better than 52 percent from the floor and 44 percent from behind the 3-point arc.
Also back for the Black and Gold are 6-4 junior C.J. Hester (12.1 ppg., 9.2 rpg.), an Academic All-American who is on pace to become the school's career rebounding leader and is already less than 100 points away from the 1,000-point mark, along with 6-0 junior guard Shawn Dyer (11.1 ppg.), who has come off the bench to score more than 800 points over the past two seasons.
They'll be joined by a pair of tourney-tested sophomore sharpshooters in Seger Bonifant and Kelvin Goodwin along with junior forward Keene Cockburn, sophomore guard Mike Lamberti, senior guard Jeff Yunetz, redshirt freshman guards Devin Hoehn and Torin Wetzel. New to the mix this year are true freshmen Zak Kirkbride and Brandon Smith.
The Hilltoppers tip off the 2013-14 season at home on Nov. 9 when they play host to Washington Adventist (Md.) in a 7 p.m. tilt at the ASRC.