This time last year, Northeastern State was a mere after-thought among the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association's basketball realm. The same can't be said this year.
After a trip to the NCAA tournament last year, Northeastern State landed in the fourth spot in both the preseason coaches' and media polls that were released by the MIAA on Wednesday.
"I think the poll maybe is a little more valid now," NSU coach Larry Gipson said. "Polls are hard to understand early in the year, only because you can't figure out what recruits other teams have brought in."
That was certainly the consensus last year about the RiverHawks. No one knew who Bryton Hobbs and Marcus Sheppard were until NSU started the year 10-1.
"We had several players in the program that people didn't know about," Gipson said. "Like Bryton Hobbs and Marcus Sheppard."
Both Hobbs and Sheppard will return for the RiverHawks this season as the lone seniors on the roster. NSU also returns forward Landon DeMasters along with a host of junior college transfers.
Knowing that, fellow coaches and media members in the league picked NSU to regain last year's momentum. The RiverHawks garnered one first-place vote in each poll and are behind the same three teams in both polls.
"Our ranking is indicative of Bryton returning with Landon DeMasters and Marcus Sheppard," Gipson said. "The rankings are based on three starters returning and the high finish we had last year."
Fort Hays State, which finished 20-8 last season, was the consensus pick to finish No. 1 in both the coaches' and media polls. The Tigers picked up five first-place votes in the coaches' poll and 13 in the media poll.
Northwest Missouri State — six first-place votes in the coaches' poll and nine in the media poll — landed at second in both polls. The Bearcats were 21-10 last year.
Central Missouri — the only other MIAA school to make the NCAA tournament with NSU last season — is third in both polls. The Mules picked up only two more points than NSU in the coaches' poll and five more points in the media poll (in which it got two first-place votes).
Behind the RiverHawks in the coaches' poll (from fifth to 14th) is Central Oklahoma, Missouri Southern, Washburn, Pittsburg State, Emporia State, Lindenwood, Missouri Western, Southwest Baptist, Nebraska Kearney and Lincoln. Central Oklahoma and Missouri Southern also picked one first-place vote apiece.
The MIAA media have a different order for the bottom ten teams. Washburn — with one first-place vote — came in fifth with Central Oklahoma, Pittsburg State, Lindenwood, Missouri Southern and Emporia State rounding out the top 10. From there, Southwest Baptist, Missouri Western, Nebraska Kearney and Lincoln solidified the rest of the poll.
Missouri Southern was the only other team to pick up one of the 27 first-place votes handed out in the media poll.
The RiverHawks are coming off a 19-9 campaign in 2012-2013. NSU also finished 12-6 in MIAA play and lost to Winona State in the opening round of the Central Region tournament, which was held at Minnesota State-Mankato.
Graduating off of last season's NSU club was Jermaine Bransford (15.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game) and Ethan Anderson (10.8 points). But even without them, Gipson is a fan of the roster he has this season.
"I like our team," said Gipson, whose team will open up the season with an exhibition contest at the University of Arkansas on Nov. 5.
"Attitude and effort during practice have been good. They practice like a team that wants to do well."
2013-14 MIAA Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Fort Hays State (5) 153
2. Northwest Missouri (6) 149
3. Central Missouri 129
4. Northeastern State (1) 127
5. Central Oklahoma (1) 113
6. Missouri Southern (1) 104
7. Washburn 101
8. Pittsburg State 93
9. Emporia State 83
10. Lindenwood 81
11. Missouri Western 54
12. Southwest Baptist 46
13. Nebraska-Kearney 26
14. Lincoln 15
2013-14 MIAA Preseason Media Poll
1. Fort Hays State (13) 353
2. Northwest Missouri (9) 330
3. Central Missouri (2) 301
4. Northeastern State (1) 296
5. Washburn (1) 265
6. Central Oklahoma 234
7. Pittsburg State 204
8. Lindenwood 195
9. Missouri Southern (1) 194
10. Emporia State 164
11. Southwest Baptist 103
12. Missouri Western 102
13. Nebraska-Kearney 64
14. Lincoln 30