KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The 2019-20 MIAA men's basketball season is picking up where the 2019 postseason ended.
Defending NCAA Division II national champion Northwest Missouri and Missouri Southern, which lost 82-70 to the Bearcats in the Central Region final in Maryville, are the top two teams in the coaches and media preseason polls, it was announced Wednesday morning at the College Basketball Experience.
The Bearcats are a unanimous pick in the coaches poll with 13 first-place votes and 169 points, and the Lions are a unanimous selection for second place with a dozen No. 2 votes and the first-place vote from Bearcats coach Ben McCollum.
Northwest Missouri received 19 of 20 first-place votes in the media poll, and the Lions landed the other No. 1 ballot.
Both teams are loaded with experience. The Lions, who are ranked as high as No. 4 nationally in some preseason polls, return all five starters, led by first team all-league and all-region center Cam Martin, from last year's 25-8 team. The Bearcats have four starters back but must replace conference player of the year Joey Witthus.
But the head coaches pointed out that last year's success means nothing this year.
"Our guys have to understand that just because we made it far in the NCAA Tournament last year, it doesn't guarantee us to get back there," Lions coach Jeff Boschee said. "It doesn't guarantee us to make it to the Sweet 16. It's tough at this level to make the NCAA Tournament, and getting out of our region is even tougher. It's a shame as good as a region we have, only one team gets to come out of it."
Last season (38-0) was obviously a fun one," McCollum said. "We have quite a bit returning for this upcoming year, but it doesn't really mean a whole lot. Part of that is you have to create some hunger that's not naturally there. That will be our most difficult challenge is making sure we find that hunger to want to perform and want to be successful again. So far, so good. We've had a good preseason. We just need to keep it going from here on out."
Washburn and Fort Hays State finished third and fourth, respectively, in both polls. Last year the Ichabods were second in the conference standings and lost to Missouri Southern 101-100 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Fort Hays State was fourth in the league standings.
Fifth place in the preseason polls belongs to Northeastern State in the coaches poll and Pittsburg State in the media poll. The RiverHawks and Gorillas provided the biggest discrepancies in the polls — NSU was 12th in the media poll, and PSU was eighth in the coaches poll.
The Gorillas must replace two of the top-3 scorers in the conference last season in guards Grant Lozoya and Donovan Franklin, both 20-point scorers.
"I don't think I've ever had two guys (on the same team) who scored like they did," PSU coach Kim Anderson said. "When we started recruiting, we tried to find some scoring. I'm not sure we replaced that scoring, but hopefully we will be a more balanced team. I think we will have a little better better of an inside presence, a more predominant inside presence."
Senior forward Christian Edmondson is the lone returning starter among eight lettermen.
MIAA men's basketball polls
The MIAA coaches and media preseason men's basketball polls, with first-place votes in parentheses and total points. Coaches did not vote for their team.
Coaches Poll Media Poll
1. Northwest Missouri (13) 169 1. Northwest Missouri (19) 279
2. Missouri Southern (1) 157 2. Missouri Southern (1) 259
3. Washburn 131 3. Washburn 238
4. Fort Hays State 124 4. Fort Hays State 198
5. Northeastern State 99. 5. Pittsburg State 183
6. Central Missouri 96 6. Lincoln 156
7. Lincoln 93 7. Central Missouri 140
8. Pittsburg State 92 8. Emporia State 123
9. Rogers State 68 9. Missouri Western 120
10. Emporia State 66 10. Newman 103
11. Newman 61 11. Rogers State 102
12. Missouri Western 58 12. Northeastern State 88
13. Central Oklahoma 44 13. Nebraska-Kearney 64
14. Nebraska-Kearney 16 14. Central Oklahoma 46