NAIA Hoops Report
Our second regular season poll of the season. For our process, we rank the Top 40 teams. While going through that portion of it, we try to look at not just good or quality wins, but also take a look at why teams lost. One of the hardest things about the NAIA is that it’s hard to track down injuries. We do a deep dive into losses more than we usually do with wins. Not everyone brings it every game or every half. There isn’t a single team in the country who plays 28 games of their best basketball. Knowing why a team lost is important and that is why we have a bit of a delay in this rating. There were a few teams we went back into the box scores and rewatched the games in which they lost. There is a lot more that goes into it for us, but unlike the official coaches’ poll, we try to not let the two weeks between the polls change our thoughts drastically. Obviously, what you have done lately matters, but we tend to lean on the side of talent, coaching and potential as much as we lean on overall resume. Eventually teams do have to live up to that potential and have to win games. That will all work itself out down the road. For this early in the season, we stick with our gut and eye test, and then we adjust as the season goes along as those teams either rack up wins or losses. Not everyone lives up to their potential and on the flip side, there are teams who also blow past their potential. Again, that will all play itself out as the season progresses! For now, this is what we have settled on for our Top 25:
1. Thomas More (KY) 6-0 With a 16-point win over Indiana Wesleyan and a 22-point win over Georgetown, Thomas More moves into our No. 1 spot after a ACU loss. The Saints, quite honestly, have just looked like the top team in the country. They absolutely destroyed two of the biggest NAIA powers and Reid Jolly and company have done it on both ends of the floor. Head Coach, Justin Ray, has the Saints looking like the favorites to win a NAIA Title!
2. Arizona Christian 6-1 Arizona Christian is still one of the most talented teams in the NAIA. They will only get more talented when Dennis Flowers returns. The Firestorm lost a tough GSAC road game to a good Westmont team. They responded with a good road win at The Master’s and then a big comeback win against a VERY good Montana Tech squad. Trent Hudgens, Bryce Davis and All-American, Angelo Johnson are as good of a trio as there is in the NAIA. The ranking may say 2, but this is really a 1A situation!
3. College of Idaho 5-1 The Yotes are coming off wins over Providence and Madonna in the Taco Bell Shootout. They also have an Exhibition win over rival D2, Northwest Nazarene. They are actually led by Johnny Radford, who comes off the bench for them, but this is a balanced attack the Yotes use. COI will open up CCC play hosting both Southern Oregon and Oregon Tech.
4. Grace (IN) 8-0 As balanced of a team from a top end talent perspective as you will see. The Lancers can hurt you from so many different angles. Elijah Malone is one of the best bigs in the country. Frankie Davidson continues to very quietly, be one of the best players in the NAIA and the Gibbs twins are back to being healthy and putting up good numbers as well. It’s not just their top tier guys though, the Lancers may have some of the best “role” guys in the NAIA as well. A deep, well-coached squad ready to make some noise.
5. Marian (IN) 9-0 Marian didn’t play great at NAIA ‘The Show’ this past week. However, they found way sto win despite not playing their best. Taeshon Cherry has been as good as advertised and Christian Harvey continues to be one of the most underrated guards in the country. The Knights will turn their attention back to Crossroads League play this week, with two big matchups against Bethel (IN) and Indiana Wesleyan.
6. Faulkner (AL) 8-0 CJ Hines continues to be really good as the All-American is averaging 19.4ppg, 5rpg, 5.4apg. Don’t overlook the services of Trace Hill and what he brings to this Eagle team though. Faulkner, early, has looked poised to make a return trip to Kansas City. The Eagles sit at 8-0 and are coming off a 3-0 run at the Battle at the Beach, including a win over LSU Shreveport. A sneaky team that is playing really well!
7. Oklahoma Wesleyan (OK) 7-1 Their only blemish on the year is to a really good Evangel squad on the road. They have a big week ahead though as they play three KCAC games with two of those being road games and the Saturday game, being a Top 25 showdown with Kansas Wesleyan. All-Americans, Jaden Lietzke and Kaleb Stokes have been playing like All-Americans. Derrick Talton Jr is one of the most underrated guards in the country. The Eagles are so tough defensively because they play so well together on that end of the floor. They only have about seven players playing most of the minutes right now, so we will see, especially in a 3-game week, how that affects them!
8. Jamestown (ND) 7-1 A home loss, to a 2-4 team would normally justify more of a drop, but for us, it is how they responded from that loss, with four straight wins, including a 31pt win over CUNE. The Jimmies still boast one of the best players in the NAIA in Mason Walters. Who is putting up some crazy stat lines once again!
9. Wayland Baptist (TX) 5-1 To this point, Wayland has had only one real challenge on the season, and they lost that game on the road, against a tough SAGU squad. This is more a nod at the talent and coaching then it is on their resume to this point. They do have some tough road games coming up before the break, so we will see if we were too aggressive with this rating. However, WBU has the talent to compete with anyone!
10. Southwestern (KS) 7-1 Only loss of the season was a road loss to OKWU. Still love the trio of Cevin Clark, Deng Bol and Andrew O’Brien. They have a Top 15 win over a Florida College team, which is looking better and better each week! They have a few tough road KCAC matchups before the break, but a team that, barring upset, could be a 1-loss team headed into January.
11. Langston (OK) 3-0 Coach Wright and staff have Langston as a Top 5 Net Efficiency teams in the country. Not only do they have depth and talent, but with an entire new team, they are also starting to mesh well together as well. They just won the AAUL HBCU Invitational and now get to refocus on SAC play this week. Tristan Harper continues to lead the Lions in scoring, but this is a balanced team who has multiple players who can go off for 20 every night.
12. Georgetown (KY) 8-1 Georgetown got blasted, at home, by Thomas More. They are still without the services of Jake Ohmer, who most likely is returning 2nd semester, and will add a much needed scoring punch to the Tigers. The Tigers, head to Shawnee State and then turn around and host rival, Pikeville. They play the toughest part of their schedule between now and the break. We will know a lot more in the next couple of weeks, but if Jake Ohmer is really coming back in January, this is a Tigers team that will make a lot of noise in the latter part of the season!
13. Florida College 10-1 When you don’t have a conference season to lean on, you have to go out and schedule tough games to help boost your stock. Florida College has done that and is passing some major early tests. Their only loss is to Southwestern (KS), but they responded well at the Battle at the Beach this past week sweeping their 3 games in the tournament, including wins over Loyola and LSU Shreveport.
14. LSU Shreveport 4-2 The Pilots are coming off a 1-2 showing at the Battle at the Beach, but they lost to a very good Faulkner team and then followed it up with a heart breaking tip-in loss at the buzzer vs Florida College. Shreveport will be just fine. They are still loaded with talent. They start RRAC play this week with back-to-back road games, which is a bit concerning after just getting back from traveling to Florida.
15. Montana Tech 8-1 The Orediggers were a bit of a mystery headed into their big showdown with Arizona Christian. They had taken it to a struggling Lewis-Clark State team and beat a talented Eastern Oregon team, but Arizona Christian was their toughest test of the season, and even in a loss, we think they passed the test. Tech, led by Caleb Bellach, led for almost the entirety of the game. However, a late run by ACU, handed MT their first loss of the season.
16. Indiana Tech 7-1 Only loss on the season is a road loss to their crosstown rival, Saint Francis (IN). For us, those emotional, close, road rivalry losses don’t affect our ratings much. We like this Tech team a lot as it is a veteran group with a lot of 5th year type guys in Grant Smith, Rog Stein and Josh Kline. A trio who has won a lot of games as Warriors. They have a big showdown with Cornerstone this week! They also have a six-game road trip coming up that will be a big challenge to them!
17. Evangel (MO) 6-1 The Valor handed OKWU their only loss of the season and have been rolling since a bit of a “what the heck” loss to Sterling. This is a well-coached team, who is really balanced, and has the star power in Josh Pritchett. It’s their last season in the Heart of America and at the moment, they look like a serious contender!
18. William Penn (IA) 5-2 The Statesmen, outside of vets Chanze Cruesoe, Eddie Daley and NAIA transfer, James Pennington have a bit of a youth movement going on with five Sophomores, including leading scorer, Malik Edwards, playing a lot of minutes. They have had some games where they just haven’t shot the ball well, especially on the road, but they also showed, with a big 20pt win over Bethel (IN), how good they can be as well.
19. Carroll (MT) 4-1 A Saints team, that suffered an 18pt loss to Morningside in the Small College Classic. This is a team with some new pieces though and are still figuring things out a bit. Kurt Paulson is one of the best young coaches in the NAIA though and he has proven time and time again, that his teams play their best basketball late in the season. Johnny Hillman, Andrew Cook and Brendan Temple are tough minded kids who can help the Saints make a deep run this season.
20. Cumberland (TN) 5-2 The Phoenix have a road trip to Wilberforce and then to No. 1 Thomas More waiting for them this week. They are a tough group though, despite losses to a Top 5 Marian team and a UT Southern team who just knocked off NCAA D1, Samford. They have a nice win over St. Francis (IN) who has knocked off two Top 25 teams themselves this season. We will see if they hang onto a Top 25 spot in the coaches poll this week, but this is a team we still like!
21. Indiana Wesleyan 5-3 Like William Penn, IWU is a well-coached, tradition-rich program who has some youth behind some great vets. They are going to have some growing pains, which we have seen, but ultimately, Seth Maxwell is still one of the best players in the NAIA and Spencer Piercefield is proving he is one of the top PG’s in the country. Head Coach, Greg Tonagel, is one of the absolute best coaches in the country and will get this team figured out. The Wildcats have a couple of lopsided losses, but none of the losses are to bad teams. BIG road trip to face off with Marian on Saturday.
22. Bethel (IN) 6-1 The Pilots, led by Drew Lutz, has been great to start the season. They have wins over previously ranked Oregon Tech and IU South Bend. As well as wins at Saint Francis (IN) and at home vs MVNU. With their only loss being a road loss to William Penn, the Pilots get the nod over some of the other teams in this 22-35 range that have a case to slide into these slots.
23. Concordia (NE) 6-1 They ran into a buzzsaw against a very good Jamestown team, that was motivated after a loss to Dakota Wesleyan. The Bulldogs though still remain the top defensive efficiency team in the NAIA. They have a big week ahead as they travel to Sioux City to face off with Morningside and then host Northwestern (IA) to end the week. Noah Schutte is averaging nearly 20ppg and Gage Smith is just a stat stuffer. The Bulldogs need at least a split this week to keep pace in the GPAC. It’s still early, but a big week none-the-less.
24. Oregon Tech 3-3 We knew they would be left out of the coaches poll, but since we left them in at 1-3, we aren’t going to take them out at 3-3! The Owls have played one of the toughest schedules in the NAIA. They finally got a road win this past week, against a Simpson (CA) squad who has been tough at home. They enter the opening weekend of their Cascade Collegiate Conference season with a tough road trip to Eastern Oregon and College of Idaho. Could be a defining moment of their season this week!
25. Ottawa (AZ) 5-2 This is a spot that could honestly go to about 10 different teams. However, we have been high on this OUAZ squad all year and still are. They played tough against a Top 5 College of Idaho team earlier in year and then lost in the opening weekend of GSAC play in a tough road GSAC game to Westmont, two days after a 2-overtime thrilling win @ The Master’s. We had them in our Top 25 previously and give them the nod again here. They do have a good Hope International team coming to town this week. A team that fits the bill in this range of teams that could be deserving of a Top 25 spot.