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Dalton State Tops SSAC Men's Basketball Coaches' Preseason Poll

By: Sam Knehans, Assistant Commissioner

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Despite graduating seven seniors, defending national champion Dalton State (Ga.) was selected as the favorite to capture this year's Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) crown in the 2015 SSAC Men's Basketball Coaches' Preseason Poll, the conference office announced Friday. The Roadrunners accumulated 128 points and six first-place votes to top the preseason conference ranking. 


In its first year of NAIA postseason eligibility, No. 6-seeded Dalton State rattled off five wins in seven days—including 4-of-5 by double-digit margins—to bring home the red banner from college basketball's oldest tournament.


Though Dalton State boasts a 58-8 combined record through two seasons of NAIA competition, there are many question marks surrounding this year's team. Paramount among these is the fact that this year's Roadrunner squad will have a much different look from the one that cut down the nets in Kansas City, Mo., a year ago.


Dalton State graduated 4-of-5 starters from last year's national championship team—including NAIA First-Team All-American and SSAC Player of the Year Ladaris Green, NAIA Third-Team All-American and First-Team All-SSAC point guard Sean Tate, and NAIA National Championship All-Tournament Team member and Second-Team All-SSAC performer Preston Earle.


This year's rendition centers on NAIA National Championship Most Valuable Player and Second-Team All-SSAC honoree Jordan Bowling, but also features 12 players than have yet to don a Roadrunner uniform.


Because of the turnover on his roster, Tony Ingle—who was named the SSAC Men's Basketball Coach of the Year and the Rawlings-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball Coach of the Year following the Roadrunners' 2014-15 campaign—was incredibly surprised by the SSAC preseason nod.


"I'm shocked that other coaches in our league that compete nationally, year in and year out, with the majority of their starters coming back and solid winning traditions would rank us so highly," said Ingle. "It is not fair to our current players that are striving to learn about their coaches, teammates and a new system to be tagged and targeted to carry the extra burden of everyone wanting to beat a national championship team. But we will stay positive, work hard and embrace it. We hope we can make our administration, faculty, boosters and fans proud."


The Roadrunners were one of three programs to represent the SSAC in the 2015 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship, along with Martin Methodist (Tenn.) and Bethel (Tenn.).


Despite the respect given to Dalton State as the defending national champion, a trio of SSAC challengers fell just short of the Roadrunners in preseason polling.


William Carey (Miss.), which was ranked No. 5 in the Sporting News NAIA Division I Men's Basketball Preseason Top 10 after graduating just one senior from its 2014-15 rotation, fell two points shy of the defending national champion. The Crusaders, who are led by NAIA All-America Honorable Mention and First-Team All-SSAC honoree Donta Pittman, amassed 126 points and two first-place votes to earn the No. 2 position in the SSAC Men's Basketball Coaches' Preseason Poll.


Barring a buzzer-beating transition three-pointer by Martin Methodist's Darius Woods in the SSAC tournament final, William Carey would have made its third consecutive trip to Kansas City in 2015. Instead, the Crusaders concluded the year 20-11 and will have plenty to prove when they return to the court on Nov. 3.


Defending SSAC tournament champion Martin Methodist accrued 125 points and two first-place votes to earn the No. 3 slot in the preseason poll.


The RedHawks will rely heavily on a pair of NCAA Division I transfers—Caleb Chowbay from Belmont (Tenn.) and Oskar Reinfelds from Troy (Ala.)—to replace the 39 points per game scored by key departures Josh Watson, Monte Burney and Woods. Watson and Burney were NAIA All-America Honorable Mentions and First-Team All-SSAC performers last season, while Woods was a Second-Team All-SSAC selection. Burney was also the SSAC Newcomer of the Year.


Last year, No. 8-seeded Martin Methodist advanced to the NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship quarterfinals, before falling to No. 1-seeded Hope International (Calif.), 74-62. The RedHawks concluded the campaign 15-3 in league play and 30-5 overall—a record that is second only to the 34-3 mark of Martin Methodist's 2011 team that advanced to the national championship semifinals.


Rounding out the quartet of SSAC heavyweights is Faulkner (Ala.), which received 121 points and two first-place nods in the preseason voting. The Eagles, who return NAIA All-America Honorable Mention and First-Team All-SSAC selection Nick Drake, went 12-6 in the SSAC and 21-10 overall in 2014-15.


Faulkner graduated just three seniors a year ago and returns its top two scorers in Drake and Second-Team All-SSAC performer Di'mar Hill.


Bethel, a 2015 NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship qualifier, rounds out the SSAC's top five programs. The Wildcats collected 94 points in the preseason poll.


As one of the NAIA's largest conferences, the SSAC has produced three-or-more NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship qualifiers in each of the past five seasons. Over that span, the SSAC has had four national quarterfinalists, three national semifinalists, one national runner-up and one national champion.


Loyola (La.) (70 points), Auburn Montgomery (Ala.) (61 points), Mobile (Ala.) (59 points), Middle Georgia State (55 points), Brewton-Parker (Ga.) (41 points), Blue Mountain (Miss.) (36 points) and Coastal Georgia (20 points) complete the 12-team poll. 


Rank School (First-Place Votes) Total Points
1. Dalton State (Ga.) (6) 128
2. William Carey (Miss.) (2) 126
3. Martin Methodist (Tenn.) (2) 125
4. Faulkner (Ala.) (2) 121
5. Bethel (Tenn.) 94
6. Loyola (La.) 70
7. Auburn Montgomery (Ala.) 61
8. Mobile (Ala.) 59
9.  Middle Georgia State 55
10.  Brewton-Parker (Ga.) 41
11. Blue Mountain (Miss.) 36
12. Coastal Georgia 20

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