ROCK ISLAND — No matter what the names are on the roster, it seems as if the name at the top of said roster must carry a lot weight in some circles.
The Augustana men's basketball team is coming off another championship season and a 26-4 Sweet 16 run. However, the Vikings graduated three All-CCIW players – All-American guards Chrishawn Orange and Nolan Ebel along with starting forward Brett Benning.
Still, the Vikings on Monday were ranked No. 9 by Street & Smith magazine in its preseason Division III poll. It was recognition that left veteran coach Grey Giovanine dumbfounded.
“I'm surprised by it,” said Giovanine, who comes into the season with an Augie record of 415-142 (74.5% winning percentage). “I think it's nothing more than a reflection of the program and the success we've had the last few years.”
Those three graduations took a chunk of Augustana's assists (57%), scoring (52%), steals (51%), and rebounding (33%).
“You look at those numbers and it's certainly hard to justify putting us up there,” admitted Giovanine. “Again, it's just a reflection of the respect the program has garnered over the last several years, which is great.”
The Vikings won't come into the season with a bare cupboard. Fifth-year senior Pierson Wofford (12.9 ppg/5.8 rebounds per game) and senior big men Micah Martin (8/1/4.5) and Donovan Ferguson (4.3/4.3) will be the center of this group that features eight players who played at least 15 games last season.
Giovanine reported that senior guard Lucas Simon is recovering well from off-season knee surgery. He has been working out, not yet allowed to participate in live contact. The coach said he could be ready to go by Thanksgiving.
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Augie, which returns nine letterwinners, also captured the program’s fifth straight CCIW championship and finished with a top-five ranking from D3hoops.com for the fifth consecutive season. Neither of those feats had ever been accomplished before.
With fall camp opening on October 20, the Vikings will be in a short window to prepare for defending national champ UW-Oshkosh in the Nov. 9 season opener at Carver Center. The Titans (29-3) were ranked No. 1 in Street & Smith's preseason poll.
“That's going to be the featured game in the country on opening night,” said Giovanine, figuring that game should get fans excited.
“Two years ago, they decided to move the start of the season up a week; it used to be we'd start Nov. 15,” said Giovanine. “Now it's up a week earlier. And, the way the calendar falls this year, typically we start practice the 15th, we can't start until the 20th.
“We have 19 days to get a bunch of newcomers ready to play the No. 1 team in the nation. It just fell that way.”
The incoming group of 11 talented recruits is headlined by Illinois Mr. Basketball candidate Jack McDonald (Geneva HS) and 10 others who earned post-season honors. The newcomers also include Geneseo junior Jacob Pauley, who transfers in from Black Hawk after earning NJCAA Division II 2nd team all-region honors by averaging a team-high 13.5 points to go along with 4.1 rebounds.
Nebraska Wesleyan (27-2 in 2018-19) was slotted second behind UW-Oshkosh (29-3) by Street & Smith’s. Saint John’s (23-5) was third, with SUNY-Oswego (24-6) and CCIW member North Central (23-6), respectively, rounding out the top five. The Top 10 was rounded out by Nichols (28-3), Trinity (Conn.) (17-8), St. Thomas (24-5), the Vikings and Monmouth (13-13).
Street & Smith’s also released its 2019-20 preseason All-America team. Augustana was the only Top 10 team not to have a player among the 30 recognized.