Preseason #1 Spring Arbor has begun the season going 4-2 dropping 2 games against top 15 opponents. The Cougars opened the season at Indiana Wesleyan in the Crossroads League/WHAC challenge, finishing the weekend at 1-1 while beating Aquinas College 69-64 in a back and forth contest and falling to #12 Cornerstone 79-84 in overtime as the eagles pulled away late. The Cougars have pulled out a trio of close wins since the opening weekend while only dropping one contest on the road to #9 Madonna. Led by 25 points from the defending National Tournament Player of the Year Paul Marandet, SAU was able to come back from a 10-point deficit in the second against Rochester. Junior Brandon Durnell picked up where fellow classmate Marandet left off, scoring a game-high 27 points and 13 rebounds in a close 3-point win against Concordia earlier this week. This marks the key returners first double-double of the season. In their lone loss of the week the cougars dropped a close contest against the #9 Madonna Crusaders in overtime. Marandet continued his hot start to the season by pouring in 36 points on an impressive 14-21 effort from the field. The Cougars finished out on the road at Ohio Christian again pulling out a tough 2-point road win against the talented Trailblazers. The Cougars have continued their ability to pull out close games from last season. The preseason #1 will likely drop from the top spot but look for the cougars to be a consistent member of the top 25 in their defense of their 2019 National Title.
#4 Indiana Wesleyan started off this season with an uncharacteristic 76-74 opening loss to Western Ontario. This marks the first time in Coach Greg Tonagel’s tenure the Wildcats have lost a season opener. IWU has responded by going on a 5 game win streak including a pair of wins over top 20 teams. This was highlighted by an impressive 94-76 win over rival #12 Cornerstone to begin the Crossroads League/WHAC challenge. The win was highlighted by 2018 NAIA Tournament Player of the Year Kyle Mangas who went on to score a game high 29. The Wildcats got two strong wins last week in the Caleb Dimmich Memorial Classic sweeping #17 Union and a tough Lincoln College. IWU has been led by Mangas who is averaging 24 PPG on 53% from the field and hoisting a 50% effort from behind the arc to go along with a 7 rebounds per contest. While Sophomore Seth Maxwell has picked up where his brother left off averaging 20 points and 8 rebounds per game. The Wildcats will see a challenge this week at #13 IU East led by All-American Bishop Smith.
#8 Mount Vernon Nazarene has defended their top 10 ranking well going 4-0. The strong start was highlighted by a strong win at #23 Indiana Tech pulling out the win 83-77. The win marked the 100th of Coach Jared Ronai’s MVNU career. The cougars did their coach proud, having 4 players score between 16-17 points on the contest. MVNU ran into their first challenge against in state foe Lourdes pulling out the 95-87 win in overtime. The Cougars have been propelled with a group effort of 6 different players averaging double digit points per game. The duo of Jevon Knox and Jacob Paul have been as dynamic as last year averaging a combined 34.2 PPG on a 52% effort from the field. Look for the Cougars to continue their winning ways this week with a pair of games this week at Rio Grande and home against Ohio Christian.
#15 Marian opening the season late has served the Knights well coming out averaging 94 points per contest in a 2-0 start. Scott Heady’s squad has been shooting a blistering 69-130 from the field on the season while holding opponents to just 45-105. The Knights have been led by key returner Cam Wolter, a former D1 transfer, has led the team averaging 15 PPG to go along with 9.5 rebounds per contest. MU will look to continue their winning way this week with two home games. The Knights will face their first test at home this week against a resilient NAIA Thomas More.
#24 Saint Francis (Ind.) opened their season on the road in the Clarke University Classic pulling out a close game against the host Clarke 102-99 in overtime. The Cougars were tested again this past week when they traveled to Lourdes pulling out the win 72-70. The Cougars have struggled early this season averaging just 45% from the field but still finding a way to win going 4-0 to start. Look for the Cougars to continue to be tested this week on the road at an undefeated Michigan-Dearborn. SFU will host RV West Virginia Tech and East-West this weekend as a part of the Northern Lakes Insurance Classic to which they are the host.
Bethel(IN) has had nothing less than a picture perfect start to their season. 1st year Coach and Northern Indiana native Steve Drabyn has brought his winning ways with him from D1 Lipscomb. The Pilots have been the talk of the NAIA starting the season 5-0 with a trio of wins over teams noted in the preseason top 25. BU started the season on the road with an overtime win over #9 Madonna. Returning All-American senior TreVion Crews propelled the pilots with a 27 point, 8 rebound, and 7 assist effort. Drabyn’s squad went on to win the next four by no less than 10 points. This included wins over #23 Indiana Tech on the road and RV Siena Heights at home. Crews has started the season where he left off averaging 20 pts, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists while shooting 60% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc. The pilots have gotten some a boost from transfer Indiana native Grant Gelon who has had a strong start to the season averaging 20 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 95% from the charity stripe.
Taylor has started the season 2-1, their only loss coming at the hand of NAIA D1 Thomas More. The Trojans started the season with two wins against Great Lakes Christian and at Judson. Junior James McCloud and Sophomore CJ Penha have led the trojans both averaging double doubles in the two wins. TU’s lone loss on the season came in their lone game of the week at the hands of Thomas More. The Trojans struggled heavily in the contest shooting 13% from the three and giving up 17 turnovers to the Saints. TU has been led by Penha who has averaged 17 points per contest on a blistering 70% from the field as well as Senior Mason Degenkolb who’s averaging 14 PPG. Penha also leads all of NAIA DII in Rebounds per game.
Grace started the season strong with a pair of wins but has been challenged this past week dropping two games on the road. The Lancers dropped a close contest on the road at Rio Grande losing 69-70 late in the second. GC has been led by Senior Jarrett Sons who has averaged 11 points to go along with 11 boards and a perfect record from the charity stripe going 14-14. Look for the Lancers to bounce back this week with a pair of games against Holy Family and Shawnee State.
Huntington has started the season strong winning three while only dropping one. The Foresters picked up a pair of strong wins at #13 IU East in a two-point decision and a home victory versus a solid Judson squad. HU’s only loss comes at the hands of powerhouse Olivet Nazarene, losing 88-75. The Foresters have been led by Senior guard Konner Platt who has averaged 24 points on a strong 54% from the field and 54% from beyond the arc. HU holds a trio of Platt and a pair of Sophomores in Caleb Middlesworth and Spencer Ballinger all averaging 17 points or more.
Goshen has had a 3-3 effort to start the season winning a trio of tough games against some quality opponents. The Maple Leafs pulled out wins against East-West, Northwestern Ohio, and a strong Concordia team. GC has been led by strong performances from the trio of Austin Branagan, Tahj Curry, and Michael Bowers who have all averaged 11 points and 5 rebounds per game. Look for the Leafs to continue to be tested this week against Holy Cross and Wilberforce on the road.
Indiana Wesleyan – Kyle Mangas and Seth Maxwell look to be one of the best duos in the NAIA.
Mount Vernon – Has been strong so far showing depth and young talent.
Spring Arbor – Marandet and Durnell continue to lead the Cougars in close games. Only losses are to Top 15 teams. Can they consistently win close games as they did last year?
Marian – Look to be strong again, should have first big test against Thomas More this week.
Bethel(IN) – Showing off the depth and greatness of the Crossroads League is the fact that Bethel (IN) could be a Top 15 team in the country right now. Fantastic start to a new era of a historic program.
Saint Francis (IN) – Got two early wins over NAIA DI teams, and a good road win at Lourdes. Have a really good test against RV WVU Tech this week.
Taylor– Uncharacteristic slow shooting performance has hurt but will have two more chances to bounce back against #10 IU-Kokomo and RV WVU Tech.
Huntington– A good 3-1 start to the season with a win @ #13 IU-East, and only loss to #11 Olivet-Nazarene. Could be a fast riser, if they can get through some good tests coming up.
Grace – Consistency will continue to be an area crucial to the Lancers success.
Goshen – Will face strong competition as we approach conference play.
GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK
4 Indians Wesleyan @ 13 IU East – November 12th at 7:00 PM
10 IU Kokomo @ Taylor– November 12th at 7:30 PM
Thomas More @ 14 Marian – November 14th at 7:00 PM
RV WVU Tech @ 25 Saint Francis (IN) – November 15th at 8:00 PM