KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Two-time defending NCAA Division II Atlantic Region champion West Liberty has been tabbed as the nation's No. 1 team heading into the 2012-13 season in the National Association of Basketball Coaches' annual pr-season men's basketball rankings.
Coach Jim Crutchfield's Hilltoppers, who have reeled off three straight West Virginia Conference titles and return the top eight scorers from a 32-3 team that led the nation in scoring for the sixth time in the last seven years, received 12 of the 16 first-place votes from the Division II ranking committee.
West Liberty, which was ranked No. 3 in last year's final poll after finishing the 2011 season as a unanimous No. 1 pick, has now appeared in 39 consecutive NABC Top 25 polls dating back to the 2009-10 season. That's the longest run in the national rankings for a WVIAC school since former league member Salem was ranked for an NCAA Division II record 76 consecutive weeks from 1997 to 2003.
Washburn (Kan.) didn't receive any first-place votes but the Ichabods - preseason favorites in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association - had enough broad-based support to squeeze past Alabama-Huntsville for the No. 2 spot. The Blazers, who have joined West Liberty in the last two Elite Eight tournaments and are preseason favorites to win the Gulf South Conference, received one first-place vote.
Bellarmine (Ky.), the 2011 national champion, got two first-place votes to hold down the No. 4 spot with Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference power Metropolitan State (Colo.) at No. 5.
Defending national champion Western Washington slotted in at No. 6 with Winona State (Minn.), Findlay (Ohio), Seattle Pacific and Franklin Pierce (N.H.) rounding out the top 10.
West Liberty was the only WVIAC squad to crack the Top 25 but Charleston, which lost an overtime thriller to the Hilltoppers in last year's WVIAC Tournament title game, is on the coaches' committee radar with 11 votes.
Crutchfield and his Hilltoppers open the season on Friday with a 5 p.m. game against Urbana (Ohio) in the opening game of the Don Callan Invitational, hosted by Cedarville (Ohio) University.