It’s a new basketball season, but the Xavier men are starting in a familiar position — nationally ranked.

The Gold Rush is No. 13 in the NAIA Division I poll. It’s Xavier’s 38th straight time to be ranked, the longest streak in the nation.

However, the Rush, which opens its season at home Wednesday against Belhaven, isn’t the top team in the Gulf States Athletic Conference. That distinction belongs Talladega College, which starts at No. 5.

Senior forward Sydney Coleman and junior guard Morris Wright lead Xavier, which is seeking its fifth straight GCAC regular-season title.

Wright started 28 games last season and averaged 13.5 points per game along with 3.4 rebounds Coleman started in all 32 games and averaged 12.9 points, 6.9 rebounds.

Loyola’s outlook brighter

First-year Wolf Pack coach Stacy Hollowell expects better days ahead for a program that bottomed out in 2013-14. He’s just not ready to predict anything more than being competitive this season.

Hollowell, who spend the past four years as an assistant with the team, got the job after 10th-year coach Michael Giorlando retired in late July to return to a career in dentistry. Last year was a teeth-grinding experience for everyone associated with Loyola, as the injury-plagued Wolf Pack plummeted to 6-21 two seasons after winning 20 games for the first time since the 1940s. They should be better this time. The top four scorers return plus senior swingman Robert Lovaglio, who missed all of last season after tearing an ACL in July of 2013. He averaged 19.7 points and 6.2 rebounds two years ago.

Paired with power forward McCall Tomeny, who averaged team highs of 16.7 points and 8.1 rebounds in 2013-2014, and the Pack has a formidable duo as a building block.

Dillard to open season

The Bleu Devils were 4-15 last year, but return nine lettermen along with six incoming freshmen.

Houston Chatman (11.6 point points, 4.8 rebounds) and sophomore forward Jarrain Jenkins (9.1 points. 5.5 rebounds) are Dillard’s top players.

The Devils open Friday at Texas College.

SUNO returns eight

The Knights return eight players from a team that went 9-15 in 2013-14.

Veteran coach Dale Valdery will lead a team with six seniors, including guards Russell Hill (14.1 points) and Kevin Dukes (4.7 assists), the team leaders in those categories last season.


Loyola favored in SSAC

Coming off a quarterfinal appearance at the NAIA national tournament, the loaded Loyola women’s basketball team is the preseason favorite to win the Southern States Athletic Conference.

The Wolf Pack settled for Western Division champion last year but is primed to take the next step with nine players returning, including several key contributors. The list starts with All-Conference selections Janeicia Neely and Megan Whittaker and continues with All-Freshman picks Kylah Jones, Meghan Temple and Caroline Gonzalez.

That’s an entire lineup of 2013-14 honorees.

Neely, a senior guard who prepped at Cabrini, averaged 13.4 points, a team-high 4.3 assists and 4.4 rebounds. Whitaker, her backcourt mate, averaged 10.5 points while draining a team-best 105 3-pointers.

If the sophomores improve on their promising freshman years, coach Kellie Kennedy should have her best team since her first season in 2008-09, when Loyola swept its conference’s regular and tournament championships.

Xavier picked to win GSAC

The Gold Rush is picked to win the Gulf States Athletic Conference and is ranked No. 19 nationally in the NAIA.

Nine players return from a year ago, including junior guard Whitney Gathright, the preseason GCAC player of the year. Gathright averaged 12.3 and 3.6 rebounds as a sophomore.

The Gold Nuggets open Friday at Campbellsville, the team that knocked them out in the second round of the NAIA Nationals last season.

SUNO has nine back

The Lady Knights of Elston King have nine letterwinners back from a team that went 15-6.

Guard/forward Brandy Broome averaged 17.5 points, 9.4 rebounds and 5.2 steals last year and was an NAIA honorable mention All-America.

Dillard looks to rebound

The Lady Bleu Devils return nine players from a 3-16 team last season under first-year head coach Norbert Rome.

Rome hopes his team can gain a boost with the addition of Rashida Ademosu, a former GCAC All-Conference guard at Fisk University. Ademosu averaged 15.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.1 steals per game at Fisk before transferring.