Freeland, Mich. - The Alma College men's basketball team is slated to finish fifth in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association preseason coaches poll, as announced by the conference on Tuesday (Nov. 6).
"Getting picked fifth does surprise me a little," said Head Coach Sam Hargraves. "I thought we'd be sixth or seventh. But as with almost every year, the preseason poll doesn't necessarily mean much. I think, just like last year, the league will be so competitive from top to bottom. All eight teams will have a chance to win every night."
The Scots finished the 2017-18 season with an 8-17 overall record and a 5-9 conference record, finishing in seventh place. It swept Albion and Kalamazoo and took one game from Adrian. Olivet was the No. 1 seed in last year's postseason tournament, though it shared a 10-4 conference record with Hope. Adrian and Trine each finished 8-6 in the MIAA and rounded out the four-team playoff field.
Trine leads the preseason poll with 44 points, just one point ahead of Hope and two more than Olivet. Both the Thunder and Flying Dutchmen received three first-place votes, the Comets got the last two. Calvin is slotted fourth with 30 points, nine more than the Scots.
Alma will return five players that saw action from last year's team, including starting point guard Ryan Stevens (Lowell, Mich. / Lowell) and big man Kevin Gamble (Mt. Pleasant, Mich. / Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart). Stevens led the Scots with 31.9 minutes played per game last year and was second with 11.3 points per game. Gamble averaged 9.4 points and 4.5 rebounds. Both players shot nearly 50-percent from the field.
The program graduated five seniors last year, including Rob Holmes and Kevin Scheibert, both of whom started over half of Alma's games. It has added ten newcomers, including guards Kyle Woodruff (Grand Blanc, Mich. / Holly), a transfer, and Cole Kleiver (Williamston, Mich. / Williamston), a freshman.
Other returners include guard Steven Harvey (Grand Rapids, Mich. / Forest Hills Eastern), Scott Maki (Grand Blanc, Mich. / Holly) and Zach Sinke (Grand Haven, Mich. / Grand Haven). Harvey led the team in three-point field goal percentage at 43.9-percent and Maki could see an increased role following the departures of Holmes and Scheibert.
Alma has an exceptionally difficult non-conference schedule to begin the year: six of the Scots' 11 opponents are currently nationally ranked while two others are receiving votes. Among those teams are No. 2 Univ. of Wisconsin Oshkosh, No. 3 Augustana College (IL) and No. 4 Whitman College (WA).
Alma begins its season on Friday, Nov. 16 when it hosts Augustana at Art Smith Arena at 7:30 p.m. as part of a back-to-back weekend opener. It will host No. 19 Illinois Wesleyan the following day at 3:00 p.m. The Scots' next nine games, including all seven in December, are on the road. Alma will travel to St. Louis and Phoenix to take part in various tournaments before returning home for its first conference game on January 2 against Kalamazoo. The Scots play at home every Wednesday in January and the first two Wednesdays in February. The MIAA Postseason will take place at the No. 1 seed on Friday, Feb. 22 and Saturday, Feb. 23.
MIAA Men's Basketball Preseason Poll
1. Trine 44 points (3 first-place votes)
2. Hope 43 points (3 first-place votes)
3. Olivet 41 points (2 first-place votes)
4. Calvin 30 points
5. Alma 21 points
T6. Adrian 18 points
T6. Albion 18 points
8. Kalamazoo 9 points