By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Washburn, which returns all five starters from last year’s team that reached the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament, is a near-unanimous pick in the MIAA preseason basketball polls, released Tuesday morning by the league office.
The Ichabods received 11 of a possible 14 first-place votes in the coaches’ poll and 17 of 18 No. 1 ballots in the media poll.
Central Missouri and Northwest Missouri State, which shared the regular-season title with the Ichabods, are second and third, respectively, in both polls. The Mules had three first-place votes from coaches and the Bearcats one.
Missouri Southern, which finished one game behind the tri-champs, was fourth in the media poll and had one first-place vote. The Lions were sixth in the coaches poll.
The Lions must replace two of the league’s top scorers in center Keane Thomann and guard Jason Adams. They also lost T.J. Williams and Patrick Hester, two guards who provided a spark off the bench, and guard Christian Salecich, who lost a year of eligibility because of an NCAA ruling.
“I didn’t have any idea. I figured we’d be in the middle of the pack,” said Lions coach Robert Corn. Obviously the fact we’ve had success the last couple of years causes a big sway in how some people vote. Most of them look at what you did, not necessarily at what you lost.
“The three teams ahead of us are very deserving. They shared the title last year and until somebody proves they can take it away from them, they deserve to be there. Pittsburg State and Fort Hays State were picked ahead of us in the coaches poll, and they have good basketball teams as well.”
Guard Marquis Addison and forward Jason Talbert, both starters the last two seasons, are among six returning players, and four freshmen, three junior college transfers and one four-year transfer comprise the eight newcomers.
Pittsburg State, which finished second in the postseason tournament last year as the No. 7 seed, tied Fort Hays State for fourth place in the coaches poll and was fifth in the media poll.
“Preseason polls are exactly what they are,” Gorillas coach Kevin Muff said. “I don’t put a lot of stock in them. For you (media) guys it’s important, and the fans like to see them. It always seems there is someone who is picked to start at the top finishes at the bottom and someone picked at the bottom finishes toward the top.
“It’s nice to be recognized ... but there are a lot of games ahead of all of us. We’ll see how it plays out.”
The Gorillas return four seniors — JaVon McGee, Rico Pierrevilus, Courtney Ingram and Marky Nolen — along with Sam Pugh, who saw considerable minutes last season as a freshman.
“The conference tournament helped our confidence,” Muff said. “We had a new approach to the preseason. You talk about not wanting to forget that and finding a way to fix it. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but it motivates you when you’re not going hard.”
Nebraska-Kearney, Lindenwood, Central Oklahoma and Northeastern State join the MIAA basketball scene this year.
“I don’t think there is a lot of difference between the MIAA and the Lone Star (where UCO and NSU played until the 2010-11 season),” Northeastern State coach Larry Gipson said. “I coached for nine years in Miami, Okla., at Northeastern A&M, and I would go watch a game at Pittsburg State or Missouri Southern. And we’ve played those schools the last several years.
“My impression of the MIAA has always been that it is a very good basketball conference. The knowledge of the fans ... Kansas and Missouri are much more basketball states than Texas, and the (MIAA) crowds are more intense and into the games, a much better road atmosphere.
“The MIAA and Lone Star at the top end, there is not a lot of difference, but there is greater disparity from top to bottom in the Lone Star than there is in the MIAA. It’s also my impression there are more four-year players in the MIAA than in the Lone Star.”
“We know it will be a tremendous step up for us to come into the MIAA,” Nebraska-Kearney co-head coach Tom Kropp said. “We’re very sure it’s going to be a tough road for us because the competition in the MIAA is much better than the RMAC.”
“I think we’ll see styles of playing coming in that are different from what we’ve seen in the MIAA,” Missouri Western coach Tom Smith said. “Central Oklahoma will come in and throw a zone at you, and they will throw a press at you. Other than Missouri Southern, this has not been what I call a pressing league very often.
“And you have a Northeastern State team coming in that will be very ball control, and I’m sure Nebraska-Kearney will be very uptempo, like back in the CSIC days when they scored a lot of points.”
Gipson health report
About one year ago Gipson was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but he gave a favorable medical report on Tuesday.
“After hearing the news from the doctor, like everyone else I spent about a month in shock, not understanding what was happening,” he said. “But the surgery went well, the recovery went well, the checkups have been good.
“In a strange way, not being able to coach last year may have helped me in the long road. I think the fact that I didn’t coach last year for a majority of the year has energized me. It’s made me more appreciative of my job and having the opportunity to work with young men.”
What long trips?
Nebraska-Kearney’s decision to join the MIAA will force the Lopers to make some long road trips.
But even the longest of trips don’t compare to some of their jaunts in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
“One trip was to Silver City, N.M. (to play Western New Mexico),” Kropp said. “It was 1,050 miles one way. We could fly down there, and it took us 17 hours by the time we bussed to Omaha or Denver, then flew to Albuquerque, then bussed from Albuquerque. Or we could take a bus from Kearney and it was 18 hours. We took a bus most of the time so we didn’t have the hassle of going through airports.
“Another trip to New Mexico Highlands was 13 hours, and we would leave right after the game. We know there are some long trips in the MIAA, but they don’t compare to those bus rides in the RMAC.”
The MIAA basketball preseason polls, with first-place votes in parentheses and total points (14 points for 1st-place vote through 1 point for 14th place in coaches poll, 15 points through 1 point in media poll; coaches did not vote for their team):
1. Washburn (11) 188
2. Central Missouri (3) 180
3. Northwest Missouri (1) 170
4. Pittsburg State 137
(tie) Fort Hays State 137
6. Missouri Southern 131
7. Central Oklahoma 119
8. Lindenwood 107
9. Southwest Baptist 89
10. Emporia State 73
11. Nebraska-Kearney 70
12. Missouri Western 65
13. Truman State 54
14. Northeastern State 39
15. Lincoln 16
1. Washburn (17) 267
2. Central Missouri 243
3. Northwest Missouri 236
4. Missouri Southern (1) 204
5. Pittsburg State 173
6. Fort Hays State 171
(tie) Lindenwood 171
8. Southwest Baptist 146
9. Central Oklahoma 132
10. Emporia State 96
11. Nebraska-Kearney 94
12. Truman State 89
13. Missouri Western 74
14. Northeastern State 43
15. Lincoln 21