RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. - East Central, ranked 24th in the Division II Bulletin national rankings, topped the Great American Conference men's basketball preseason poll following a vote of the league's 12 head coaches, the conference office announced on Wednesday.
The Tigers posted a 22-8 record last season and earned a share of the regular-season title. Braxton Reeves, a First-Team All-GAC performer, earned a spot on DII Bulletin's Preseason Honorable Mention All-America Team. He averaged 15.1 points and ranked in the top seven in both 3-point field goals made and 3-point field goal percentage. ECU also features Ishmael Donzo, an Honorable Mention All-GAC choice who led the conference in field goal percentage.
Ouachita, the 2016 GAC Tournament champions finished second in the poll. The Tigers must replace First-Team All-GAC standout and GAC Tournament MVP Tirrell Brown, but do return David Berete, the 2016 GAC Defender of the Year and Lakee Westbrook, last season's GAC Newcomer of the Year. Westbrook averaged 14.9 points and shot 38.2 percent from the 3-point arc.
Harding, who shared the regular-season title with ECU, placed third. Jacob Gibson, the GAC Player of the Year, graduated but the Bisons bring back a pair of double-figure scorers in Will Francis and Stefan Andelkovic. Francis averaged 13.6 points and 4.1 assists while shooting 50.7 percent from the field. Andelkovic averaged 10.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game
Southern Nazarene picked up three first-place votes and took fourth in the balloting. The Crimson Storm feature three of their top four scorers from season, led by LB Willis who averaged 15.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists. He also shot 41.7 percent from the 3-point arc. SNU also returns C.J. White, the team's leading rebounder and Deshon Portley, an Honorable Mention All-GAC selection.
Southern Arkansas finished fifth, three points ahead of Arkansas Tech. The Muleriders posted a 17-13 record in 2015-16 to set a record for wins during the program's Division II era. SAU returns C.J. Elkins, the GAC's Freshman of the Year. He averaged 11.5 points and 4.0 rebounds.
Southwestern Oklahoma State placed seventh with Henderson State in eighth. For the third time in five seasons, SWOSU reached the 17-win mark. The Bulldogs feature Markeise Champion, who led the conference in 3-point field goals per game while making 41.5 percent of his tries. Henderson State brings back Kevin Kozan, an Honorable Mention All-GAC pick and Zydrunas Jurgutis, who led the conference in 3-point field goal percentage.
Northwestern Oklahoma State edged out Southeastern Oklahoma State by one point for ninth. Shawn Dirden takes over as Ranger head coach for Brad Franz, who ascended to Director of Athletics. His first team features Adrian Motley, the only player in the GAC to rank inside the top five in scoring and rebounding, as well as Brandon Green, who ranked second in the GAC in assists per game.
Oklahoma Baptist and Arkansas-Monticello rounded out the poll. In their first season in the GAC, the Bison went 7-19, but they bring back all five starters. Steven Green averaged 17.9 points per game last year, most among returning players, Chandler Rickey ranked second in rebounding and Vladimir Nemcok led in assists.