1. Martin Luther: Last season the Knights finalized their ascent to national power, claiming the school’s first national championship and the first for the CCIW in forty-plus seasons. Three key players graduated, but everyone else is back. Four seniors plus star-in-the-making Richard Bostic will start. The biggest difference from last season is probably a weaker bench with multiple freshman slated for significant minutes. This roster is probably a half-step behind last year’s championship group. Still, another deep tourney run isn’t out of the question.
2. North Park: The Vikings have quietly built a high level program in Chicago, and have now won tourney games in back to back seasons. Donald Weiss is the headliner. He may be listed as a “guard”, but really he’s just an athletic freak who will wreak havoc in the press. There are several solid options down low. Unfortunately there’s no real PG to pair alongside of Weiss. Expect North Park’s new status quo – another NT appearance and a chance to win a game or two.
3. Millikin: It’s a transition year in Decatur, with four seniors gone from last year’s squad. Junior Bobby Gregg headlines the returnees but an early injury has kept him sidelined. Millikin will guard people, as usual, but I don’t see a true go-to scorer on the roster. Expect a solid campaign and another NT berth, but with eight underclassmen on the roster there may be some growing pains along the way.
4. North Central: Coach bdpoor made the jump to the fertile recruiting grounds of Chicago, and he should have a nice season in year one. Five seniors were left behind by the prior administration. Four will start, alongside Canadian freshman Robert Richard. Rebounding is going to be a major concern, particularly with the four guard lineup they’ve been starting early on. But overall it’s still a quick, athletic, and experienced bunch. They should see some sort of postseason play.
5. Northland: How far can two studs carry a bunch of kids? New coach next_man_up is about to find out. Seniors Elizondo and Cannon are a nice welcome gift from the old regime to the new. However, those two are the only upperclassmen on the roster. It’s hard to be a top team with that many minutes going to youngsters. This looks like a PIT team to me.
6. Illinois Wesleyan: Coming off a disappointing season, IWU graduates only one – superstar Reuben Williams. They only play nine guys this year and six of those are upperclassmen. IWU doesn’t guard like the teams above them on this list, but they do have several very nice offensive options, particularly down low. They should be on the fringes of postseason play.
7. Augustana: How do you project this team? On one hand, it’s a pretty talented roster led by a blossoming star in Eric Mohr. On the other hand, this program has now won one of their last forty CCIW games. ONE OUT OF FORTY. There still isn’t a senior on the roster and Mohr is the only one with IQ above the Bs. The Vikings should be significantly better by season’s end than they are today, but it’s hard to project any postseason success given their recent history.
8. Elmhurst: Last season was a big success, with the first NT berth for Elmhurst in fifty seasons. It’ll probably be a step back though after five graduated. There isn’t a shooter on the roster. Edwards, Adkins, and Maurin are solid talents that won’t let this program fall off the map, but I don’t see them any higher than middle of the pack.
9. Carthage: Coach dabighonu has proven his chops with back-to-back NT appearances, advancing to the second round last year. Unfortunately the core of those teams has now graduated. The Carthage blueprint should remain the same as usual. There isn’t a stud on the roster but they’ll play twelve guys and most of them can guard. But there’s too much inexperience for another NT appearance.
10. Wisconsin Lutheran: When I look at WLC, I see half of a good team. Blackshear and Jordan form a decent tandem down low. Galeano can’t guard anyone, but he’s a dominant scorer, and his buddy Brett is a solid contributor. After that it gets dicey. There isn’t a capable PG on the roster, and the bench is pretty bad other than senior Wilson. This program is improving and I expect coach zeg to post his highest conference win total yet, but there is still work to be done.
11. Wheaton: The Thunder probably have a middle of the pack roster, but coach will has decided to go young and build for the future. Three true freshmen start and lead the team in minutes. Miyashiro and Batista are solid seniors who are real difference makers defensively. We’ll have to check back in a couple of seasons to see how the kids develop.
12. Milwaukee Engineering: With the departure of national player of the year David Batiste, it’s rebuilding time in Milwaukee. Three freshmen are starting, and so is Augustana transfer Travis Davenport. There’s a lot of buzz around center Tommy Peoples. MSE fought off D-II suitors to get him, and he should be an All-American caliber big before he’s done. However, this season is going to be pretty bleak.