The Demons, who won the Southland Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament last season, have three starters and 12 lettermen back. Preseason first-team All-Southland selections Jalan West, a sophomore point guard, and senior forward DeQuan Hicks top the lineup for NSU, which was an overwhelming pick by the 12 league coaches, drawing first place votes from all but two - one being McConathy, who could not rank his own team.
The league’s official polls, released Wednesday, had the same four teams atop the projections by coaches and sports information directors: Northwestern followed by Oral Roberts, Sam Houston State and defending regular-season champion Stephen F. Austin. McNeese State and Southeastern Louisiana swapped around the 5-6 spots in the two polls.
McConathy, beginning his 15th year hoping to record a fourth 20-win season in the last 10 campaigns, wasn’t surprised by NSU drawing the favorite’s role. Nearly all the preseason college basketball publications and analysts already have installed the Demons as the Southland’s team to beat.
“It’s a great place to be, but a bad place to be. You’re going to get everybody’s best shot. We’ve been in this position before as favorites, and sometimes we’ve responded, sometimes not,” said McConathy. “Our players need to understand you can’t be complacent. You have to compete as hard as you can each game. When we hear these type things, we have to work hard to not be full of ourselves, but instead continue to improve and be better than we were last season.”
Last year’s squad led the nation in scoring during the regular season and finished second after postseason play, while ranking sixth nationally in steals. NSU graduated seniors Shamir Davis, O.J. Evans, James Hulbin and Gary Roberson, all among McConathy’s trademark 10-man rotation. Comparing this year’s squad to that one, McConathy sees pros and cons.
“We shoot the ball better and we’re more athletic, but the one factor that continues to concern me is that last year we had more length to us, and O.J. Evans and James Hulbin have graduated, and we won’t look as good walking through airports or filling up the lane,” he said. “I do think we have added players who will play bigger than they are and hopefully that compensates to some degree. We have more pieces to play with, and our athleticism could be better than what it was.
“This group can be a special group. It’s important that we get over ourselves and just go to do the things we need to do, and time will tell if we accomplish that,” he said. “I think we will.
“I think this group will be able to run and score the basketball maybe as well as any team we’ve ever had. A year ago, it was really fun to watch us play, and it could be even more so this season in a best-case scenario,” said McConathy. “We have a tough non-conference schedule as usual, and it’s all about preparing us to be as good as we can in March. We’re excited about the opportunity to compete at the highest level if we do what it takes to get there.”
The Demons tip off the season Friday, Nov. 8 at home against LeTourneau in Prather Coliseum. The non-conference schedule includes visits to No. 13 Memphis, Baylor, LSU, UTEP, Auburn and contests against in-state rivals Louisiana Tech, ULL and ULM among others.