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NAIA hoops has a new look


Last updated 11/4/2020 at 9:39am

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

The Montana State University-Northern men's and women's basketball teams have more company in the NAIA this upcoming season, as the NAIA merged from two divisions into one for men's and women's basketball.

Though there have already been a few games, NAIA basketball is about to ramp up in November and December, albeit with COVID-19 protocols and restrictions in place. In accordance with the start of the season, the NAIA recently released its Preseason Men's and Women's Coaches Polls.

Neither the Montana State University-Northern Lights, or Skylights made the first Top 25 of the year, and in actuality, very few Frontier Conference teams made the cut. And it's not because the Frontier is expected to be down this season. To the contrary, the league is going to once again be very good on both sides, even with the departure of Lewis-Clark State.

No, the NAIA Top 25 will look much different this winter, and is likely to feature fewer Frontier teams for a different reason. And that reason is, the NAIA is now all one division in basketball. For many years, the NAIA had a Division I and a Division II, with separate polls and separate postseason. Of course, the two divisions often inter-mingled every season, as was especially the case for Northern and other Frontier schools, which have long-standing non-conference traditions against schools for the North Star Athletic Conference in the Dakotas, as well as the Cascade Conference, which LC State just rejoined this season. However, those two leagues were NAIA DII, so, once the non-conference season was over, the likes of Northern no longer competed against squads from Dickinson State, College of Idaho and others.

Those days, however, are over. And because of the merger of the divisons, the NAIA Top 25 will be much more crowded. On the flip side though, the NAIA national tournaments will feature 64 teams, instead of 32, so there is another drastic change fans will notice when we reach the postseason.

As for current Frontier teams ranked in the Top 25, The University of Providence men are No. 11, and Carroll College is No. 21. LC State is No. 5. To make the point of how different things are, nine teams in the men's Top 25 come from the former DII, including Indiana Wesleyan all the way up at No. 3.

In the women's poll, only league favorite Carroll is ranked in the Top 25, as the Saints come in at No. 17. Providence and Rocky Mountain College also received votes. A total of 10 former DII teams are in the top 25, including Marian of Indiana, ranked up at No. 3.

For the Frontier Conference, the new season kicks off in December. The Lights and Skylights play at RMC Dec. 5-6.

For the complete Preseason Coaches Polls, see Thursday's Havre Daily News sports section.


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