St. Mary's City, Md. – The 2011-12 St. Mary's College of Maryland men's basketball team is just days away – four to be exact – from opening their season at NCAA Division I St. John's University in Queens, New York. The Seahawks will enter the November 1st exhibition contest ranked in the Top 15 in two national polls with the release of the D3hoops.com Top 25 preseason poll on Monday.
Earlier in the month, St. Mary's was ranked fifth by Basketball Times' Chuck Mistovich in his annual NCAA Division III preview in the Sporting News College Basketball edition. D3hoops.com has the Seahawks listed at No. 15 in their preseason poll as St. Mary's lost four-year starter Alex Franz as well as two-year starter Sam Burum to graduation.
After taking on St. John's, the Seahawks will kick off the regular season at Washington College on November 15 in the Pride of Maryland Championship Tournament. St. Mary's claimed the Pride of Maryland title in 2008 and 2009 before finishing as the runner-up last season.
The top five teams in the D3hoops.com preseason poll are No. 1 Virginia Wesleyan College (2006 national champion), No. 2 Augustana (Ill.) College (1981 and 1993 national runner-up), No. 3 Williams College (2003 national champion), No. 4 Amherst College (2007 national champion), and No. 5 Middlebury College (2011 NCAA Final Four team).
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 seventh-year head coach Chris 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. Eleven lettermen 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.
The Seahawks will face two teams on the D3hoops.com preseason poll in No. 9 The College of Wooster and No. 17 Franklin & Marshall College. St. Mary's will square off against Franklin & Marshall in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on November 26 before taking on last year's national runner-up, Wooster, on December 19 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
St. Mary's first home game will be on November 22 as the Seahawks welcome Kean University to the Michael P. O'Brien Athletics & Recreation Center Arena, where they own a 32-0 regular-season home record. The two-time defending CAC champions will open their title defense on December 3 against Stevenson University.