By Eric Spresser, Student Assistant Athletics Communications Director
SALEM, Ore. -- The 2015-16 Northwest Conference Men's Basketball Preaseon Poll has been released and Willamette University is predicted to achieve a fourth place finish. Defending NWC champion Whitworth University, which #3 ranking in the D3hoops.com Preseason Top 25, was picked to win the conference again.
The poll was the result of voting by the NWC head coaches. Whitworth received seven first place votes to lead all NWC teams with 70 points. Whitworth won last year's conference title at 15-1 and earned a 25-4 overall record on its way to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Following Whitworth in the poll was Whitman College (14-2 NWC, 20-6 overall) in second place with 57 points. The Missionaries, who gave Whitworth its only NWC defeat last season, received one first place vote.
The Pioneers from Lewis & Clark College (10-6 NWC, 16-11) were picked to finish third with 53 points after losing to Whitworth in the championship game of the NWC Tournament last season.
Following L&C in the poll was Willamette (8-8, NWC, 10-16) in fourth with 38 points. The University of Puget Sound (7-9 NWC, 12-12) was fifth with 33 points. Coming in at sixth was Pacific University (7-9 NWC, 12-13) with 29 points.
Rounding out the poll, Pacific Lutheran University (6-10 NWC, 8-17) and George Fox University (3-13 NWC, 5-20) were tied for seventh with 18 points apiece, while Linfield (2-14 NWC, 4-21) received 17 points and was picked to finish ninth.
Willamette finished last season with its best record since 2008-09. The Bearcats will look to continue to improve in 2015-16 as they return their top four scorers from last year's squad. WU went 8-6 in its final 14 regular season games a year ago. The Bearcats defeated Pacific, 70-63, on the last day of the season to clinch the fourth and final NWC Tournament berth.
Among the key returning players for the Bearcats is leading scorer Brandon Luedtke (Sr., F, Meridian, ID/Mountain View HS), who garnered First Team All-NWC and Second Team All-West Region accolades last year. Luedtke averaged 14.1 points, 9.4 rebounds and a school record 2.6 steals per game. He led the NWC in rebounding and steals, and ranked 12th in NCAA Division III in steals per game and was 37th in rebounds per game.
Leading the way in the backcourt will be sophomore guards Brendon McCullough (So., G, San Antonio, TX/Home Schooled) and Nico Troplent (So., W, Los Angeles, CA/Cathedral HS). McCullough averaged 10.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game, while making 22 starts. Troplent added 9.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game last season, while appearing in all 26 games with 19 games starts.
Bridger Harlington (Sr., W, Lake Tapps, WA/Auburn Riverside HS), the team's second leading scorer last season, will return on the wing as a senior this year. Harlington averaged 10.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game last season. He led the team with 42 made 3-point shots.
Also returning for the Bearcats after sittting out nearly all of last season with an injury is forward Alex Brown (Sr., F, Happy Valley, OR/Clackamas HS). Brown was the team's second leading scorer in 2013-14 when he averaged 11.1 points per game. He will provide a veteran presence in the front court this yer.
Head Coach Kip Ioane begins his seventh year leading the Bearcats. He has been at Willamette as a player and coach since 1997. He played for the Bearcats for four seasons, and served as an assistant coach from 2001-02 through 2008-09. He was named head coasch prior ot the 2009-10 season.
Willamette begins the regular season at home this weekend with a pair of games in Cone Field House. The Bearcats will play the season opener on Friday, Nov. 13 against Macalaster College from Minnesota at 7 p.m. (PST). On Saturday, Nov. 14, Willamette will battle Southern Oregon University with tip-off scheduled for 7 p.m.
After six non-conference match-ups, the Bearcats will begin NWC play at Pacific University on Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. (PST).
The 2015-16 NWC Men's Basketball Preseason Poll with first place votes, total points received, last season's conference record and last season's overall record:
|3||Lewis & Clark College||1||53||10-6||16-11|
|5||University of Puget Sound||
|7||George Fox University||
|Pacific Lutheran University||
Note: Points were awarded on an 9-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. The coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.