The Dillard Bleu Devils have won two consecutive Gulf Coast Athletic Conference regular-season championships, tying with Xavier last season, and three conference tournament titles in a row.

So even with a roster of just three returning players, the GCAC's coaches tabbed Dillard to win this season's crown. Bleu Devils coach Mike Newell said he's not surprised. Dillard, which finished at No. 18 in last season's final NAIA top 25 poll, opened this season at No. 11.

“Give me talent over experience any day,” said Newell, laughing. “We've got two seniors, (guard) Jessie Ward, who could coach the team, and (6-foot-9 center) Rick Curry, who has lost a lot of weight and looks good. I actually have five back when you count guys who redshirted last season and missed with an injury.”

Like last year's Bleu Devils, who reached the Elite Eight in the NAIA Championships, Newell said the team's guard play again will be good. Jeffery Drake-Todd, a point guard from Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College, and Malik Amoss, a shooting guard from Coastal Bend Junior College, join Ward in the starting lineup.

“This team can really shoot the ball,” Newell said. “The guards can shoot, and they can go get their shots. We have big men who can shoot it, too.

“Defensively, we have a ways to go. With all the new guys, they have to learn a lot.”

Jeron Rogers, a 6-7 transfer, joins Curry in the frontcourt. Guard Xavier McKay, a 6-2 sophomore from Holy Cross, and Jamerson Roberts are two key players off the bench.

Xavier, which had a 14-game turnaround in snatching a share of the regular-season championship last season, may have a lot to say about Dillard continuing its run of titles. The Gold Rush, ranked No. 23, is picked to finish second in the GCAC, and coach Alfred Williams went big in his quest to win the conference title outright.

Haji Jawara, a 6-11 transfer from Bossier Parish CC, and Ahmed Coulib, 6-8, head the newcomers along with Ed Carter, a combo guard who transferred from NCAA Division I Detroit Mercy. Breshaun Delpit, a 6-7 freshman from Landry-Walker High School, also is expected to boost the frontcourt.

In the backcourt, Rayshawn Mart was GCAC Freshman of the Year last season. Point guard Jeff Dixon, who led the conference in assists, will sit out the first semester and return in the spring. Backup point guard Donovan Armstrong also is back. However, the Rush lost graduated All-GCAC guard Jalen David.

“We have a lot more size and flexibility,” Williams said. “We can play fast or slow. We can play well in the half court.”

Loyola was picked to finish sixth in the Southern States Athletic Conference. However, Coach Stacy Hollowell says three newcomers will help the Wolf Pack be competitive.

Senior forward Sammis Reyes, 6-7, 240, graduated from Tulane with eligibility remaining and is pursuing a master's degree at Loyola. He is expected to provide strength, toughness and scoring under the boards. However, Hollowell is excited about the prospects of freshmen Myles Burns, a 6-5 guard from Houston, and Zach Wrightsil, 6-6, from Prosper, Texas, who was Class 5A All-State and can play all five positions.

“They are both long and very athletic,” Hollowell said. “We want to play with intensity and pace. If we can put it all together, the sky is the limit.”

Key returnees are outside shooter Ethan Turner, a senior guard who prepped at Mandeville High School, and sophomore forward Terry Smith Jr. Guard Trey Jasmine is expected to return from injury in two weeks, Hollowell said.

Southern-New Orleans is beginning its second season under coach Brian Gibson, who led Landry-Walker High School to four state titles. The Knights were sixth in the GCAC last season, up from seventh in 2017. They will be led by their frontcourt of Qyrique Dabon, 6-9, Darryl Jacobs, 6-8 and Joshua Rhone, 6-7, along with guard Marcel Daniels, 6-4.