KANSAS CITY, Mo. - West Liberty's two-time defending West Virginia Conference men's basketball team is ranked No. 6 in the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Preseason NCAA Division II Top 25 poll.
Defending national champion Bellarmine (Ky.) received all eight first-place votes to enter the 2011-12 season as the nation's No. 1-ranked team. Alabama-Huntsville is No. 2 with BYU-Hawaii, Missouri Southern and Lincoln Memorial, Tenn., rounding out the top five.
Coach Jim Crutchfield's Hilltoppers hold down the No. 6 spot with Findlay (Ohio), Tarleton State (Texas), Bowie State (Md.) and Metropolitan State (Colo.) wrapping up the top 10.
West Liberty finished the 2010-11 season as the nation's No. 1-ranked team, having received every first-place vote from the committee for the final nine weeks of the regular season while they were wrapping up the only unbeaten regular-season for any college basketball team in the country.
That 9-week run at No. 1 is the longest streak ever for a West Virginia Conference team. The Hilltoppers have now been ranked in the Top 25 for 24 consecutive weeks - the longest run by a WVIAC program since former league member Salem set an NCAA Division II record with 76 consecutive weeks in the poll from 1997 to 2003.
The 2010-11 West Liberty team swept to its second straight WVIAC Tournament championship - winning every game by double-figures - before claiming the school's first NCAA Division II Atlantic Region title with a thrilling victory against 2010 national runner-up Indiana (Pa.) at the ASRC.
That earned the Hilltoppers a trip to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight national championship tournament in Springfield, Mass. West Liberty opened the tourney with a 113-95 rout of Anderson, S.C. - the most points scored in an Elite Eight game in nearly two decades - before falling to BYU-Hawaii, 110-101, in a thrilling national semifinal shootout.
Entering his eighth season at the West Liberty helm, Crutchfield has the highest career winning percentage of any active NCAA Division II head coach at 175-40 (.814). His Hilltoppers led the nation in an NCAA Division II-record eight statistical categories, including the fifth national scoring title in the past six seasons.
Crutchfield must replace four 1,000-point scorers - including All-Americans Corey Pelle and Jordan Fortney - but the cupboard is far from bare. Junior starter Alex Falk (13.3 ppg.) leads nine returning lettermen and several impressive newcomers for the Black and Gold.
West Liberty is scheduled to tip off the 2011-12 season on Nov. 12 when the Hilltoppers take on East Stroudsburg (Pa.) in the Wolf Bus Lines Classic at Shippensburg (Pa.) University.
The much-anticipated home opener is set for Nov. 17 when No. 7-ranked Findlay comes to town. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at the ASRC.