(Arkansas Tech University)
RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (ATU) - Coming off consecutive Great American Conference regular-season titles, Arkansas Tech emerged as the preseason favorite following a vote of the league's 11 coaches, the conference office announced on Tuesday.
The Wonder Boys shared the top spot in the GAC a season ago and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth-straight season. While they must replace their three double-digit scorers - Willie Kirkland, Jared Williamson and Will Paul - they do return the league's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Charles Mells. Mells led the GAC with 64 blocked shots.
Harding, the GAC's other NCAA Tournament participant in 2013, placed second in the poll. They too shared the regular-season crown a season ago. The Bisons bring back a pair of sophomores - Tony Cochran and Andraz Kavas - that played a major role in the Bisons success last year. Cochran, the GAC's Freshman of the Year, averaged 8.7 points and made 41.9 percent from the 3-point arc. Kavas added 7.3 points per game and shot 49.7 percent from the floor. They also return Hayden Johnson, who averaged 11.3 points per game.
Southeastern Oklahoma State and Arkansas-Monticello took third and fourth in the preseason poll. The Savage Storm welcome back Urald King. He played just one game in 2012-13 after averaging 11.3 points and 7.4 points in 2011-12. Southeastern also brings back Travis Timmons. He averaged 5.9 assists per game but missed seven games late in the season. UAM must replace GAC Player of the Year Kori Forge, and will attempt to do so with Dayton Mickens and Brandon Sims. Both averaged at least 9.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game last season.
Ouachita Baptist, the 2013 GAC Tournament champions, placed fifth in the poll, with the Tigers' Arkadelphia rival, Henderson State, picked sixth. Colt Fason, the MVP of the GAC Championships, returns for OBU after averaging 10.2 points and shooting 50.4 percent for the floor. The Reddies lose three double-figure scorers from a season ago, but do bring back Melvin Haynes. He finished second on the team in scoring at 12.8 points per game and he connected on 39.7 percent from the 3-point arc.
Northwestern Oklahoma State, who tied Harding and Arkansas Tech for the best conference record last year, finished seventh in the poll. The Rangers must replace Jonathan Freemyer, Daryl Glover and Marshall Bell - three four-year players that combined for more than 4,000 points during their time in Alva, Okla. Bruce Wright returns after averaging 8.3 points and 6.1 rebounds last season.
Southwestern Oklahoma State, Southern Nazarene, East Central and Southern Arkansas round out the poll. The Bulldogs and Tigers have brought in new coaches for the 2013-14 season. SWOSU hired Bob Battisti who has won 409 names over a 24-year career. He won 374 of those games between 1986 and 2007 at Northwestern Oklahoma State. Ja Havens takes over at East Central. Havens spent the last eight years as the assistant coach at Drury, which claimed the NCAA Division II National Championship.
Joey McWilliams and Michael Westbrook of the GAC Sports Network will preview each GAC school beginning on Wednesday with Southern Arkansas. The 2013-14 regular season tips off of Friday, November 8. For the third-straight year, the season will conclude at the Bruin Fieldhouse Bartlesville, Okla. at the GAC Championships, set for March 6-9.