Although flattered that his fellow coaches have picked Milligan College to repeat as Appalachian Athletic Conference champions, Buffs head coach Bill Robinson believes his team doesn’t yet warrant such recognition.
“I picked us fourth,” Robinson said at Tuesday’s AAC Media Day at Holiday Inn. “I really believe that’s where we should be. I think we should be in the top half, but I don’t think first is where we should be right now considering what we’ve lost.”
What the Buffs have lost are three of their top four scorers from last year’s team which finished 12-2 in the AAC and 17-12 overall.
Gone is leading scorer Hudson Fricke, the University of Florida transfer, who led the nation with 117 made 3-point shots, and second leading scorer Justin Sylvester, who transferred to ETSU to concentrate on his studies.
There is also Tim Harper whom Robinson called the heart and soul on the defensive end.
Milligan received five first-place votes and 69 points overall. Reinhardt tied the Buffs with 69 points and had two first-place votes. Third-place Union and fifth-place Bluefield received the other first-place votes.
“That’s just preseason,” Reinhardt coach Jeffrey Pourchier said about the coaches’ poll. “I can’t remember the last time a preseason No. 1 won this league.”
According to Pourchier, his Eagles are bigger and stronger than a season ago, while Milligan returns a strong core of players including Cordero Seymour, Marshall Hardy and last year’s AAC Freshman of the Year, point guard Kyle Grisby.
Tennessee Wesleyan, coached by former Science Hill High School head coach Mike Poe, was picked sixth out of nine teams following last year’s 12-20 campaign. Poe, who has most of his roster back, looks at the upcoming season as an unknown.
“Team-wise I didn’t know where we are,” Poe said. “The question is whether we can score on a consistent basis. Last year, Milligan was hands-on the most consistent team night in and night out.”
On the women’s side, Tennessee Wesleyan, coached by former David Crockett standout Jeff Rice, is a heavy favorite, getting eight of 10 first-place votes and 97 points overall.
Milligan placed second with 85 points, followed by Montreat with 80 points and one first-place vote.
The other first-place vote went to Virginia Intermont, sixth out of 10 women’s teams.
At the top is Wesleyan who went 14-0 in league play last season and 30-4 overall, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen of the NAIA National Championship tournament.
“I don’t think anyone picked No. 1 in our league has won it since Tennessee Wesleyan in ‘03 or ‘04,” Rice said. “That’s a motivational tool.”
Rice said the Lady Bulldogs’ success will depend on their offense.
“I don’t know how good we can be,” Rice said. “The nights we shoot it well, we will be tough. We don’t spend a lot of time working on defense. Either you can score or you can’t.”
Milligan has four of five starters returning, but loses All-American Heather Mandela, at least in uniform. The Lady Buffs’ leading scorer and rebounder from last season, will move from the court to the sideline as an assistant coach.
Her abscence will mean former Unicoi County star Alisha Mainer, who averaged 10.2 points and seven rebounds last season, and former Science Hill star Johneshia Good, who averaged 9.8 points last season, will be counted on for more scoring.
Both were All-AAC selections a year ago when the Buffs finished 10-4 (second in the league) and 24-9 overall.
The season gets underway later this month for the men’s teams, as well as the Bryan and Montreat women’s teams. The rest of the women’s teams start play the first week of November.
AAC preseason polls
(First place votes in parentheses)
1. Milligan College (5) 69
(tie) Reinhardt University (2) 69
3. Union (Ky.) College (1) 65
4. Virginia Intermont 51
5. Bluefield College (1) 45
6. Tennessee Wesleyan 40
7. Bryan College 34
8. Montreat College 21
9. Point University 11
1. Tennessee Wesleyan (8) 97
2. Milligan College 85
3. Montreat College (1) 80
4. Union College 68
5. Reinhardt University 53
6. Virginia Intermont (1) 52
7. Bluefield College 50
8. Bryan College 29
9. Columbia College 22
10. Point University 14