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UAA men's basketball team ranks No. 3 in national preseason poll

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: September 29, 2016
  • Published September 29, 2016

Diante Mitchell of UAA (center) battles for the ball with a pair of Middle Tennessee players at last year’s Great Alaska Shootout. Mitchell is one of top players who return this season for UAA, which is ranked No. 3 in a national preseason poll. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

They missed the playoffs last season and they lost a top player to graduation, but things don't look at all bleak for the Seawolves as the basketball season approaches.

A national publication this week put the UAA men in the No. 3 spot in its Division II preseason poll and singled out scoring sensation Suki Wiggs as one of five first-team preseason All-America candidates.

"Surprised at being No. 3? Probably. Surprised we're ranked? Not so much," UAA coach Rusty Osborne said Thursday afternoon.

"… We're excited about our team. We've got a lot of guys back who played a lot of minutes. I felt we had a really good team (last season) until we had injuries late in the year."

The Sporting News preseason rankings were released the same day UAA shared some other good news.

The Great Northwest Athletic Conference announced Thursday that UAA will host the men's and women's GNAC basketball tournaments in March 2018.

The Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament will feature six men's teams and six women's teams in a three-day, 10-game tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center.

UAA was one of three schools to bid for the tournament, and it "won that vote handily," GNAC commissioner Dave Haglund said Thursday.

"Certainly the Alaska Airlines Center was the big carrot," Haglund said of UAA's three-year-old arena. "People in our conference are really impressed with the venue, and there's a lot of excitement about it around athletic directors and coaches and student-athletes. In short, everyone thought this would be a fantastic place to hold a tournament."

Haglund said that once every three years, the 11-school GNAC holds the basketball tournament at one of its farther-flung schools — UAA or UAF in Alaska, Northwest Nazarene in Idaho, or Montana State-Billings.

The rest of the GNAC schools are located on or near I-5 — Seattle Pacific, Western Washington, Simon Fraser, Saint Martin's, Western Oregon, Central Washington and Concordia. Saint Martin's has hosted the bulk of GNAC tournaments since the conference initiated a single-site tournament for both men and women in 2012, with Billings hosting in 2015.

UAA won't get any revenue from the tournament, Haglund said.

"Revenue goes back to the traveling institutions," he said. "They split it to offset travel costs."

But UAA, which has sent both of its teams to the GNAC tournament every year, will save money by not having to travel to the 2018 tournament.

"Plus we get a chance to play on our home floor," Osborne said. "We're excited to host the whole week here in our building in front of our fans."

UAA lost two players from last season's 21-11 team – second-team all-conference guard Brian McGill and forward Christian Leckband.

But the Seawolves are highly regarded because of Wiggs, a great creator who averaged 24.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals last season, and a big group of returning talent.

Among those coming back are GNAC second-team pick Corey Hammell and honorable-mention pick Spencer Svejcar.

Svejcar was one of three UAA starters who grappled with injuries last season. Post player Sjur Berg broke his elbow in early November and was lost for the entire season, point guard Diante Mitchell went down with a broken foot with 10 games left and Svejcar missed a couple of games and played hurt in several others with a back injury.

All three are healthy now, Osborne said.

Six other players return from last season, and the Seawolves added a promising big man in Connor Devine, a 6-foot-10 center from Wasilla who decided to come home – with a wife and new baby — after three seasons at Division I South Dakota State.

Ranked ahead of the Seawolves in the Sporting News' top 10 are No. 1 West Liberty of West Virginia and St. Thomas Aquinas of New York. In last season's Division II tournament, West Liberty was a national semifinalist and St. Thomas Aquinas made it to the second round.

UAA opens the season Nov. 4 with a game against Portland Bible at the Alaska Airlines Center.

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