St. Mary's City, Md. – Two days. That's all that remains before the 2011-12 edition of the St. Mary's College of Maryland men's basketball team hits the hardwood for preseason. Expectations are high as the Seahawks gear up for the new campaign after a trip to the Elite Eight last season.
With those high expectations has come the program's highest national ranking ever received. Chuck Mistovich of Basketball Times released his annual NCAA Division III preview in the 2011-12 Sporting News College Basketball edition and ranked the Seahawks as the fifth-best basketball team in all of Division III.
St. Mary's will test out its new ranking with an exhibition contest at NCAA Division I St. John's University on November 1 at 7:00 pm at the newly constructed Taffner Fieldhouse in Queens, New York before opening up the regular season at Washington College on November 15 in the Pride of Maryland Championship Tournament.
St. Mary's is in good company as the four teams ahead of the Seahawks are No. 1 Virginia Wesleyan College (2006 national champion), No. 2 Marietta College, No. 3 Augustana (Ill.) College (1981 and 1993 national runner-up), and No. 4 Williams College (2003 national champion).
Seventh-year head coach Chris Harney stated, "[I'm] proud of our program being considered in the preseason top 10! It's a great recognition of what we've accomplished in the past and what our team expects and is working to achieve in the future. However, our primary goal right now is to develop into the best team we can be, and things like rankings will take care of themselves."
For the second straight year, the Seahawks had one of their members named as a preseason honorable mention All-America as sophomore Christian MacAuley (Silver Spring, Md./Paint Branch) was selected to Mistovich's preseason All-America list.
MacAuley was tabbed the Rookie of the Year by both the conference and D3hoops.com after finishing 13th in Division III in blocked shots with a 2.8 average. The conference leader in blocks, he set the school's single-season record with 88 blocks as a rookie. The 6-8 forward started all but one game this season and led the team in rebounding with a 6.4 average.
The Seahawks have been successful of late with three Sweet 16 appearances in the last four years, including an Elite Eight showing last season. Since Harney took over the reins in 2005, St. Mary's success has been unprecedented in the program's 45-year history – three Capital Athletic Conference tournament championship crowns and three consecutive CAC regular-season titles in addition to three NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Championship Tournament trips.
With that said, the Seahawk coaching staff is expecting to compete for a Division III national title this season. Gone are last year's top two scorers but St. Mary's brings back a solid veteran corps. MacAuley returns as the team's leading scorer and rebounder after finishing third with an 8.9 scoring average last season as a first-year. Eleven returners from last season's Elite Eight squad will be joined by a talented recruiting class that includes size and all-region potential. Seven first-years will look to infuse the experienced Seahawk squad and make immediate contributions.
Three of the newcomers - John David Garris (Covenant Life School), Dakota Hinely (National Christian Academy), and Willis Turnipseed (Baltimore City College) - will provide height and strong post play as they are listed at 6-8 and taller. Brian Grashof and MacGyver Biniak return to the team after sitting out last year and both are bruising forwards that will help the Seahawks control the boards.
Juniors Chris Hutchinson (Owings Mills, Md./New Town) and Devin Spencer (Baltimore, Md./Towson Catholic) and sophomore Kyle Wise (Baltimore, Md./Calvert Hall College) will look to strengthen the guard position while rookies Nick LaGuerre (Lansdowne HS), Joe Cabrera (Bishop O'Connell [Va.] HS) and Jerome Tolson (Riverdale Baptist HS) will provide depth in the backcourt. Eric Greer (Baltimore City College) should complement Spencer's (37.0 3FG%) three-point shooting.
Besides opening up with St. John's on November 1, the Seahawks will take on last year's national runner-up, The College of Wooster, on December 19 in San Juan, Puerto Rico before facing preseason No. 7 Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on November 26.
St. Mary's first home game will be on November 22 as the Seahawks welcome Kean University to Michael P. O'Brien Athletics & Recreation Center Arena, where they own a 32-0 regular season home record. Their CAC title defense will begin on December 3 against Stevenson University.
Click here for the complete 2011-12 Seahawk Men's Basketball Schedule