Sandy Gholston's 2009 GLIAC Men's Basketball Preview

Sandy Gholston's 2009 GLIAC Men's Basketball Preview

Sandy Gholston is a special writer for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and former recipient of the GLIAC "Media Service Award."

BAY CITY, Mich. – Entering this 2009-10 college basketball season, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference can stake one claim that no other league can: it is home to the defending NCAA Division II national champion University of Findlay Oilers.

The Oilers, a team that finished 36-0 last winter, capped a college basketball season of perfection with a storybook run through the national tournament that ultimately led to UF head coach Ron Niekamp’s squad hoisting the 2009 NCAA Division II Championship trophy. Findlay has been the picture of success in the GLIAC having won seven GLIAC South Division titles in seven of the last eight seasons and four of the last six GLIAC Championship titles.

Findlay, however, must cope with the loss of five key players from last year’s title-winning squad, but does return standout point guard Marcus Parker, who is the GLIAC’s Preseason “Player of the Year,” to lead the way.

The Oilers have plenty of competition as rivals are lined up and hungry to dethrone Findlay from its perch as the premier men’s college basketball team in the GLIAC, the region and the nation. In the 2009-10 GLIAC Preseason Men’s Basketball Poll, Findlay was picked to win the South Division with 140 points and 22 of 24 first-place votes. Hillsdale College earned the other two first-place votes and a total of 109 points. Northwood University was slotted third with 86 points, Wayne State University was fourth with 81, Ashland University was fifth with 63 and Tiffin was sixth with 26.

While the Oilers were picked to win the South, the North Division preseason leader is Grand Valley State University. The Lakers were picked first with 130 points and 17 first-place votes. Ferris State University earned the second slot with two first-place votes and 107 points. Lake Superior State University was third with 94 points and four first-place votes, Michigan Technological University was fourth with one first-place vote and 84 points, Saginaw Valley State University was fifth with 51 points and Northern Michigan University was sixth with 36 points.

The following is a preview of all 12 GLIAC teams in their projected order of finish according to the 2009-10 GLIAC Preseason Men’s Basketball Media Poll:

North Division

1. Grand Valley State University

Overview: Head coach Ric Wesley’s squad is back and hopes to contend for a league title with an experienced crew that includes four returning starters and seven letterwinners. Last season, GVSU put together a solid campaign that ended with a record of 21-10 en route to a bid in the NCAA Division II Tournament for the fourth season in a row. Leading the Lakers this season will be a pair of junior players in the versatile 6-foot-4 Justin Ringler and the hard-working 6-foot-5 Toreau Brown who will be focal points of Wesley’s program. During the 2008-09 season, Ringler averaged 12.2 points and led the Lakers team by yanking down 5.8 rebounds a game. Brown, for his part, averaged 10.2 points and 5.3 boards. K’Len Morris is a talented player Wesley is hoping to work his way back from injury by the middle of the season.

Coach: Ric Wesley is in his fifth season as head men’s basketball coach at Grand Valley State University.

Coach Wesley: “We have sort of a different team this year and we have no seniors. I think it is the first time in my career I’ve been in that situation. We have quite a few guys back. Alvin Storrs, Justin Ringler, Toreau Brown and Mike Przydzial those guys have done a good job setting our tone. We’re hoping to get K’Len Morris back by mid-year.”

2008-09 Record: 21-10 overall, 14-8 GLIAC

2. F erris State University

Overview: The Bulldogs, gained much-needed experience during the 2008-09 season as its underclassmen are now upperclassmen for head coach Bill Sall’s Ferris State squad. Leading the way for the Bulldogs will be the man in the middle, 6-foot-6 junior center Justin Keenan, who is earning preseason All-America recognition and who has high expectations this season. A year ago, Keenan was the leading scorer in the GLIAC as he averaged 20.2 points and ranked fourth in rebounding at 7.3 per contest. Darien Gay also is back to provide a spark out of the backcourt as he averaged 11.1 points last season and shot the lights out from beyond the 3-point arc as he connected on 47 percent from deep. Sophomore Dontae Molden is back to run the point and Austin Randel is back as a key shooter from the perimeter should defenses sag in too much on Keenan. Freshman Daniel Sutherlin, a 6-foot-5 forward, also is expected to make an immediate impact for the Bulldogs.

Coaching: Bill Sall is entering his eighth season as the head men’s basketball coach at Ferris State University.

Coach Sall: “We’re there. We’ve got some good pieces to the puzzle. We’re still trying to figure it all out. Our consistency has been the issue. We have a very good player in Justin Keenan and with Darien Gay we have a couple of players on the first-team all-league. We have some good pieces to the puzzle and it is up to us as coaches to put it together.”

2008-09 Record: 14-14 overall, 12-10 GLIAC

3. Lake Superior State University

Overview: The Lakers lost a lot of experienced players from last season’s division title winning team that advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament. Head coach Steve Hettinga is hoping his squad has reloaded with some talented newcomers to complement some of the returning veterans who have gained experience for the Lakers during the last couple of seasons. Returning this season as the likely candidate to be the team’s top scorer is Scott Perkins, who averaged 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds. Another key returning veteran is Garrett Konuszewski, who averaged 6.9 points and 2.5 rebounds. This year, Coach Hettinga is anticipating Lake Superior State picking up the pace a little more as it tries to dictate tempo with a faster style of play.

Coaching: Steve Hettinga is entering his third year as the head men’s basketball coach at Lake Superior State University.

Coach Hettinga: “We’re going to have a lot of new guys and a lot of new faces. We lost three starters and two other seniors that saw playing time. Really love our guards with Scott Perkins and Garrett Konuszewski. Mix them in with Kyle Hunt and we really feel like we have three very good guards.”

2008-09 Record: 22-9 overall, 17-5 GLIAC

4. Michigan Technological University

Overview: Veteran head coach Kevin Luke has been the picture of success during his career at Michigan Tech. Coach Luke is hoping to sneak up on some teams this season and contend for the GLIAC North Division championship in what should be a competitive race. The Huskies finished fourth in the North Division a year ago, and has lost some experience, but recruited well in the off-season and does have a good group of returners ready to take the lead with players like Georgio Holt, Chris Baugh and Brian Olley among those leading the way. Coach Luke has a history of developing redshirts into key contributing players for his Huskies and he is hopeful that his veterans will lead the way and his younger guys will follow in what will be a tough schedule of competition for Tech.

Coaching: Kevin Luke is entering his 16th season as the head men’s basketball coach at Michigan Tech University.

Coach Luke: “We have six returning letterwinners, but only three are upperclassmen. Five of our six letterwinners do have starting experience. We have two expectations have the three upperclassmen lead vocally and by example and to have the other 12 to continue to listen and to learn our system.”

2008-09 Record: 14-15 overall, 10-12 GLIAC

5. Saginaw Valley State University

Overview: Saginaw Valley State University ended the 2008-09 season with a record that was below .500 at 9-17 overall and 9-13 in the GLIAC. This season, however, the Cardinals have higher hopes to improve upon that record and prove it can compete in what some people view as a North Division race that is up for grabs. Saginaw Valley is back this season with a solid group of returners that includes guards Greg Foster and Avery Stephenson as key contributors for SVSU head coach Frankie Smith’s club.

Coach: Frankie Smith is entering his third season as the head men’s basketball coach at Saginaw Valley State University.

Coach Smith: “We’re very excited about this year. I am very excited about my team. We have a great roster back. The team is really working hard. We’re looking forward to competing in the best league in the nation.”

2008-09 Record: 9-17 overall, 9-13 GLIAC

6. Northern Michigan University

Overview: The Wildcats hope a few more pieces added to the puzzle will help the program be a factor in the race for the GLIAC’s North Division title. Long-time head coach Dean Ellis has experienced players returning to Marquette this season in Raymont McElroy, Chris Warner, Marc Renelique and others who will carry the task of leadership for Northern Michigan on the hardwood. In the paint, NMU will look for sophomores in 6-foot-10 Jared Benson and 6-foot-8 Eric Hawley are candidates to step in for the Wildcats. Benson averaged four points and 2.7 rebounds for NMU. A potential wild card for the Wildcats is 6-foot-9 Mylan Murphy, who could make an early impact this winter.

Coaching: Dean Ellis is entering his 24th season as the head men’s basketball coach at Northern Michigan University.

Coach Ellis: “We’re looking forward to some great things. We have five seniors back in our program that had great summers, preseasons and early part of practice. They’re acting like seniors need to act to be successful. We return our top three scorers from last season in Chris Warner, Marc Renelique and Raymont McElroy.”

2008-09 Record: 11-16 overall, 6-16 GLIAC

South Division

1. University of Findlay

Overview: The University of Findlay proved it is one of the premier

programs in the nation as it won the 2008-09 NCAA Division II Championship and ended with a 36-0 record. The Oilers graduated a lot of talent from that national championship-winning team, but is back with a group led by the orchestrator on the court: talented point guard Marcus Parker, a key member of the national championship team. Parker was named the 2009-10 GLIAC Men’s Basketball Preseason “Player of the Year.” Last winter, Parker averaged 10.7 points, 4.1 assists and 2.1 rebounds for Findlay as he ran the show for head coach Ron Niekamp’s title-winning squad. Also back for the defending champions is shooting guard Nathan Hyde who started 33 of 36 games and averaged 10.4 points.

Coaching: Ron Niekamp is in his 24th season as the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Findlay.

Coach Niekamp: “Obviously we lost some players from last year’s team and I wish we had those seniors returning. Players like that can make you appear to be a smart coach. Those five guys move on. We have some guys returning who have some experience and we will rely heavily on those guys. Of course, Marcus Parker returns and it is his fourth year as a starter and Nathan Hyde, our two guard, returns as a starter.”

2008-09 Record: 36-0 overall, 22-0 GLIAC

2. Hillsdale College

Overall: The Chargers surely will be impacted by the graduation of standout center Tony Gugino, but Hillsdale’s cupboard is hardly bare for this winter. A 16-game winner last season, the Chargers are likely to be led by senior forward Luke Laser, who is one of two starters back in the lineup for head coach John Tharp. Laser was named to the Preseason All-GLIAC Team for the upcoming campaign. In addition to Laser, Brad Guinane is another key returner who is expected to become even more of a factor this season. All good teams need a guy to run the show from the point. Tyler Gerber could be the man to take over running the show for the Chargers this season.

Coaching: John Tharp returns for his third season on the bench as the head men’s basketball coach at Hillsdale College.

Coach Tharp: “Our expectations this season, if we can survive that early start, I think through the rest of the year we will get better and better. We lost some good players. These kids need to grow up relatively quickly to survive in the GLIAC. We have a chance to be a much better basketball team by the end than we are in November.”

2008-09 Record: 16-11 overall, 14-8 GLIAC

3. Northwood University

Overview: Northwood graduated some experienced players from last season, but head coach Bob Taylor is reloading this winter with some incoming players with experience at other schools to go with his returning players. It appears the strength of this season’s Northwood squad is in the paint. Senior guard Chris Johnson is back for the Timberwolves as is 6-foot-7 junior forward Alex Erickson, 6-foot-7 senior forward Lionel Sullivan and senior frontcourt player Jeremy Miles. Northwood’s newcomers include junior guard Dorian Pierce, who has relocated from nearby Saginaw Valley State University to bring his game to the Timberwolves.

Coaching: Bob Taylor is entering his 13th season as the head men’s basketball coach at Northwood University.

Coach Taylor: “We have our baseline back and we think that is the key to our team. We have Chris Johnson and Alex Erickson, Lionel Sullivan and some others. Our size and athleticism inside is a big key. If our guards can blend in with our baseline then we feel we can have some success.”

2008-09 Record: 13-15 overall, 9-13 GLIAC

4. Wayne State University

Overview: Wayne State University is entering this season with high expectations under the leadership of head coach David Greer. The Warriors are hopeful that experience will pay dividends this season as Wayne State welcomes back seven student-athletes (four of which were starters a year ago). Losing all-league center Shane Lawal and guard Reggie Stallings will have an impact, but Coach Greer has reached into the Division I ranks to help reload his roster. But, there is experience returning for WSU with guard Bryan Wright, who averaged 14.1 points last season, and Larry Edwards, a talented distributor, leading the way and frontcourt rebounding ace Jerry Oden, who averaged 10.3 points and 5.7 rebounds, back in the paint.

Coaching: David Greer is entering his ninth season as head men’s basketball coach at Wayne State University.

Coach Greer: “We return seven of our top 10. If we can find a way to close games we will be very competitive. The guys are really competing hard in practice.”

2008-09 Record: 12-15 overall, 10-12 GLIAC

5. Ashla nd University

Overview: Ashland is hopeful of big things and one of the reasons for the optimism is the return of one of the top players in the GLIAC: 6-foot-8, 250-pound Kale Richardson who averaged 17.7 points and seven rebounds. Richardson showed his soft touch as he connected on .486 from 3-point land and finished fourth in the league in blocked shots at 1.1 per contest. In addition to Richardson back in the mix, Ashland welcomes back senior guard Bylynn Hatcher, who averaged 9.7 points and junior forward Blake Saunders, who averaged 8.3. While there are a lot of new faces on the Eagles’ roster, the engine that likely will drive Ashland’s men’s basketball program is the talented and versatile Richardson.

Coaching: John Ellenwood is entering his first season as the head men’s basketball coach at Ashland University.

Coach Ellenwood: “It’s a whole-year process, not a one-month process. We open the season against some good NAIA teams that will have games under their belts. Then, we open the conference at Grand Valley and Ferris State. Our first five conference games are on the road.”

2008-09 Record: 10-16 overall, 8-14 GLIAC

6. Tiffin University

Overview: It’s the start of a new era in men’s basketball for Tiffin University as it will begin the 2009-10 season with a new head coach on its bench and an influx of newcomers hoping to turn the Dragons into a scary opponent this season. John Hill takes over as head coach of Tiffin after the resignation of Rodney Martin. In addition, Hill also will serve as Associate Vice President for Development. Tiffin returns some experienced players in experienced senior guard Alex Strok, who averaged 12 points last season, and center Rafael Cuellar, who averaged 10.4 points and five rebounds. With a new coach often comes a lot of newcomers and this is the case for the Dragons who have a number of Division I transfers coming in from the likes of Eastern Michigan, Centenary and Indiana State.

Coaching: John Hill is entering his first season as the head men’s basketball coach at Tiffin University.

Coach Hill: “This is going to be a learning year for me. I am going into this season in an unknown capacity as to what we have back, but knowing the competition is very tough. I am very excited to be back into coaching and back into Ohio. I am looking forward to getting Tiffin competitive. Our goal is to be competitive.”

2008-09 Record: 2-25 overall, 1-21 GLIAC