Brian Mull

D2 Saginaw Valley Off To Best Start In 30 Yrs

Author: Brian Mull
D2 Saginaw Valley Off To Best Start In 30 Yrs

Conference play is underway in Division II college basketball. Strong teams lurk from coast-to-coast. Entering action Thursday, six of the top 10 teams in each poll were unbeaten. Their dreams land on Sioux Falls, SD, site of the Elite 8 in March.

 

Saginaw Valley (Mich.) State made a brief stop at the Elite 8 last season, losing to Western Oregon in the quarterfinals. The Cardinals return a veteran group that’s hungry to stick around longer in the tournament. With four seniors and a junior in the starting lineup, they are off to the program’s best start in more than 30 years and ranked No. 1 in the NABC Coaches Poll. C.J. Turnage has been terrific for the Cardinals, who are 8-0 heading into a two-game Thursday-Saturday road trip against GLIAC foes Ashland and Tiffin. Turnage has three double-doubles and is averaging 16.5 points and 7.9 rebounds, while shooting 64 percent from the field. Garrett Hall adds 15 ppg and drains 45 percent beyond-the-arc.

 

Players like Turnage, a four-year starter, are helping coach Randy Baruth revive the program. After posting a 21-30 record in his first two seasons, the Cardinals are 54-17 since the start of the 2014-15 campaign.

 

Northwest Missouri State ended last season also thinking “what if?” The Bearcats lost to Augustana (SD) 80-78 in the NCAA Central Regional championship. Augustana, of course, went on to win the national championship.

 

NW Missouri State – No. 1 in the national media poll – opened the season on a tear, reeling off eight consecutive victories and plays host to Central Missouri on Sunday afternoon. Justin Pitts is an elite point guard. He’s averaging 21 points, shooting 50 percent on 3-pointers with a 3:1 assist-turnover ratio. Anthony Woods and Chris Ebou-Ndow are also double figure scorers. The defense has been stingy, allowing 64 points per game. The Bearcats have won three consecutive MIAA titles and finished 27-6 last season.

 

California Baptist climbed to No. 3 in this week’s NABC Coaches Poll, giving the Lancers the highest ranking in school history. Sensational shooting guard Michael Smith intends to keep his squad near the top throughout. The 6-4 senior ended last season as the Pacific West Player of the Year and Tournament MVP, yet has elevated his game further to start 2016-17. Smith is averaging 25.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. He’s crushing opponents from every corner of the court, knocking down 13 3-pointers and attacking the basket with ruthless determination. Smith has made 68 of 76 free throws through eight games.

 

Cal Baptist was 28-7 last season and lost to UC-San Diego 71-69 in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

 

Fairmont State and West Liberty, the West Virginia powers who battled throughout last season, are joined by Wheeling Jesuit in the early top 10. Points are never a problem when these teams get together. All three average at least 89.6 ppg, which is top 25 in the nation.

 

Queens (NC) is unbeaten and appears primed to dethrone last year’s national runner-up Lincoln Memorial (Tenn.) in the South Atlantic Conference. Queens scored one for the underdogs when it stunned Division I power VCU in an early November exhibition game.

 

Author Brian Mull is a freelance writer who covers Div. II basketball for NCAA.com.

 

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