BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – Fresh off their sixth NCAA Division II Atlantic Region championship in the last 11 seasons, Coach Ben Howlett’s West Liberty University men’s basketball team has once again been ranked No. 1 in the Mountain East Conference’s annual preseason coaches’ poll.
“We’re glad to be back playing under somewhat normal circumstances again and we’re really looking forward to seeing our fans back in the stands when we tip it off here Friday night,” Howlett said. “We’ve had a very productive fall with great competition at a number of positions and that’s resulted in some pretty spirited practice sessions.”
The veteran-laden Hilltoppers, ranked No. 7 nationally in the D2SIDA Top 25 and No. 14 in the NABC national coaches’ poll, received six of the 12 first-place votes and 116 points to lead the MEC’s preseason balloting.
“We have several key guys returning,” Howlett said. “(1,000-point scorers) Pat Robinson and Will Yoakum have had great success here on and off the court. We’ll lean on them along with several other guys who have played plenty of minutes in Bryce Butler, Marlon Moore and Malik McKinney. Those guys have had terrific preseasons, as well.”
The University of Charleston, which lost to the Black and Gold in an Atlantic Region tournament semifinal in March, are No. 2 in the poll with four first-place votes and 110 points while Fairmont State checked in at No. 3 with the two remaining first-place votes and 105 points.
Fairmont, the defending MEC Tournament champion, was the third MEC squad to earn an NCAA Tournament bid this past spring and is ranked No. 23 in the NABC preseason coaches’ poll. Charleston is No. 25.
West Virginia State (86) and Glenville State (85), two teams who were in and out of the regional rankings in the spring, aren’t far behind the top three in what shapes up as another highly-competitive year for the MEC.
Concord (60) rounds out the top six in the 12-team league with Wheeling (55), Notre Dame (52), Davis & Elkins (45), Alderson Broaddus (41), Frostburg State (26) and West Virginia Wesleyan (11) completing the preseason voting.
“We’ve brought in several new guys we think will make their presence felt over the course of the season and we’re pretty fired up about our freshman recruiting class,” Howlett said. “We beefed up our non-conference schedule to prepare us for Mountain East play. This league gets better and better every year. It’s exciting, high-level basketball and our guys can’t wait to get started.”
The Hilltoppers are hosting an Atlantic Region Crossover event on Friday and Saturday inside the ASRC. West Liberty takes on Winston-Salem State (N.C.) in a 5:30 p.m. game on Friday with Wheeling and East Stroudsburg (Pa.) tipping off at 7:30. Wheeling and Winston-Salem get things started on Saturday with a 4 p.m. game before WLU and East Stroudsburg close up shop at 6 p.m.
2021-22 MEC Preseason Poll
1. WEST LIBERTY (6) 116
2. Charleston (4) 110
3. Fairmont State (2) 105
4. W.Va. State 86
5. Glenville State 85
6. Concord 60
7. Wheeling 55
8. Notre Dame 52
9. Davis & Elkins 45
10. Alderson Broaddus 41
11. Frostburg State 26
12. W.Va. Wesleyan 11