NAIA Men's Rankings - Early Race is Wide Open
The college basketball season as many know it—on their televisions or whenever their favorite Division I team starts on the road to the Final Four—seems to start earlier every year. When it comes to early starts, it still doesn’t hold a candle to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
In fact, the day NCAA schools could officially begin practice for their seasons, October 15, was the same day two NAIA schools began regular season play. Early schedules were light across the association, but by the end of October most NAIA schools had begun regular season play.
Even before they hit mid-December, many NAIA teams had played ten games or more, giving a solid sample from which learn about them.
Here’s what else we’ve learned: when it comes to national favorites, this season is wide, wide open.
Defending champion Shawnee State (OH) came in ranked as the preseason No. 1 in the NAIA’s coaches’ poll, but the Bears lost a pair of All-Americans in E.J. Onu and James Jones and few were going to be surprised by some early losses.
St. Francis (IN) who was No. 2 in the preseason poll, ascended to No. 1 after ten straight wins, and then proceeded to lose four straight. Perennial power William Penn (IA) had a number of close wins before falling in December to unranked Central Methodist (MO). LSU Shreveport was ranked sixth in the preseason, but got off to a 5-5 start. Top 10 teams seemingly went down with regularity in early December.
Seven teams stood undefeated after two weeks of December. Here’s an early ranking of the top 40 NAIA men’s teams in the 2021-22 season:
1. Loyola (LA) The Wolf Pack are undefeated, deep and talented, so much that they’ve had three different players win the Southern States Athletic Conference player of the week award.
2. Talladega (AL) The Tornadoes are off to a 12-0 start after dominating early competition, and mark Jan. 8 and Feb. 12; Talladega’s two conference matchups with Loyola.
3. Grace (IN) The Lancers have shot up the rankings led by Frankie Davidson, one of the breakout performers of the early season, leading the NAIA in scoring at nearly 25 points per game.
4. Carroll (MT) All-American Jovan Sljivancanin has taken his game up another notch this year to become an early contender for national player of the year honors.
5. Oklahoma Wesleyan (OK) The Eagles are off to a 15-0 start with a balanced team—no player averages more than 10.9 points per game.
6. William Penn (IA) The Statesmen have had some close shaves—five wins by three points or less—perhaps expected while blending some newcomers with stars Kevion Blaylock and Karmari Newman.
7. Arizona Christian (AZ) The Firestorm are ultra-balanced and don’t have a standout star—no player averages more than 11 points per game.
8. Indiana Wesleyan (IN) Transfer Dan Largey has been a revelation, averaging nearly 20 points per game and shooting better than 50 percent from three.
9. SW Assemblies of God (TX) The Lions are 8-1 and have looked good early, and few have a better duo than Nykolas Mason and Josh Kashila.
10. Xavier (LA) The Gold Rush’s only loss was in their second game to crosstown rival Loyola.
11. Jamestown (ND) Expectations were high after a run to the NAIA tourney quarterfinals last year, and the Jimmies have lived up to them so far behind last year’s breakout star Mason Walters.
12. Thomas More (KY) The Saints are off to a 9-1 start behind center Ryan Batte, who is averaging 20 points, seven rebounds and 3.6 assists a night.
13. Science & Arts (OK) The Drovers have been challenged by a tough schedule early, with wins over Evangel, MidAmerica Nazarene and LSU-Shreveport and losses to Loyola and SAGU.
14. Stillman (AL) The Tigers’ follow-up to making it to Kansas City last season has been strong so far with an 8-1 start.
15. St. Francis (IN) The Cougars were a worthy No. 1 at the time, but then hit surprising turbulence.
16. Bethel (KS) The Threshers suffered four early losses, three in regulation by a combined nine points, and the other in overtime, but still have one of the NAIA’s best in the superb Jaylon Scott.
17. Georgetown (KY) The Tigers topped 100 points five times in their first 11 games, and firepower abounds with six players scoring in double figures.
18. Marian (IN) After back-to-back Crossroads League losses early to Indiana Wesleyan and Grace, the 9-2 Knights have rebounded to win five straight.
19. LSU-Alexandria (LA) The Generals’ 8-1 start was led by A.J. Rainey averaging 24 points per game.
20. Kansas Wesleyan (KS) The Coyotes are outscoring opponents by over 18 points per game, holding teams to 39 percent shooting; their sole loss to unbeaten Oklahoma Wesleyan.
21. William Jessup (CA) The Warriors have been one of the best on the West Coast early, racing to a 12-1 start.
22. Lewis-Clark State (ID) The Warriors have often pummeled their early matchups, shooting a robust 53.6 percent from the field.
23. College of Idaho (ID) The Yotes got off to an 8-3 start, already tying their win total after an uncharacteristically mediocre 8-9 mark last season.
24. Morningside (IA) One of the nation’s most efficient offensive teams—50.4% FG through ten games—again looks in it for the long haul in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
25. Pikeville (KY) The Bears have rebounded nicely from a mediocre season last year, including an early win over Mid-South Conference rival Georgetown (KY).
26. Shawnee State (OH) The defending national champions are a different team this year after losing a pair of All-Americans, though Miles Thomas has picked up some of the scoring slack.
27. Concordia (NE) Like Morningside, another sweet-shooting team from the GPAC; knocked off the Mustangs once already on the way to an 11-2 start.
28. Hope International (CA) The Royals defeated Arizona Christian early and will be right in the thick of the race in the tough Golden State Athletic Conference.
29. Tennessee Southern (TN) The school formerly known as Martin Methodist played a vicious early schedule, and though it won’t get any easier in the always stout Mid-South Conference, the Firehawks are poised to contend.
30. Westmont (CA) With seemingly little fanfare, the Warriors won their first nine games, despite having to reload a great deal of their roster.
31. Northwestern (IA) The Red Raiders, led by All-American Alex Van Kalsbeek, started strong with seven consecutive wins before hitting some bumps in the tough GPAC with a 1-3 conference start.
32. Olivet Nazarene (IL) The Tigers picked up a solid early win over Morningside and All-American big man Alex Gross has been a nearly automatic double-double.
33. The Master’s (CA) The Mustangs won five straight to start the season, but then lost three of their first four in the Golden State Athletic Conference.
34. West Virginia Tech (WV) The Golden Bears are hot behind super-senior Tamon Scruggs, having won nine straight with the only losses to defending champs Shawnee State and red-hot Grace.
35. Florida College (FL) One of the nation’s most pleasant early surprises, the Falcons got off to a 12-1 start led by guard Matt Simpson, who is playing at an All-American level.
36. Southeastern (FL) From 12-17 a year ago, the Fire raced to a 9-2 start, including a win over then-No. 1 St. Francis (IN).
37. Central Methodist (MO) The Eagles turned some heads with a win over William Penn and outrebound opponents by nearly 13 boards per game.
38. Indiana-South Bend (IN) The Titans narrowly missed toppling William Penn early and got off to a 6-0 start in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
39. Ottawa-Arizona (AZ) A 7-4 record at first glance doesn’t wow, but the Spirit have beaten Lewis-Clark State and Westmont, and their four losses are by a combined 11 points.
40. Alice Lloyd (KY) Compared to some others the Eagles played a weaker early schedule. Still, 12-0 is 12-0.
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