VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
ROCK HILL, S.C. – For a second straight year, Carson-Newman's men's basketball program has been picked to finish third by the coaches of the South Atlantic Conference in the league's preseason poll.
The coaches selected the Eagles to wind up where they finished in 2017-18 – third place.
The Eagles will be contending with the departure of the greatest scorer in the history of the South Atlantic Conference (Charles Clark) and one of the best rebounders in program history (Shaun Jones).
"Our conference took some major hits in terms of graduation," head men's basketball coach Chuck Benson said. "Yet, LMU and Queens are still the powerhouses. I think our preseason positioning is completely unwarranted. Maybe it's a historical deal, but I don't see that in our team at this point. It doesn't mean we couldn't win the conference, but we have a lot of learning and growing to do."
The Eagles enter 2018-19 off a 23-win campaign and an at-large appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Eagles received 84 points in this year's preseason poll behind Lincoln Memorial and Queens.
The Railsplitters picked up seven first place votes and received 107 total points in the poll.
LMU went 32-2 and was a perfect 20-0 in South Atlantic Conference play last season, notching the program's fourth consecutive 30-win season and sixth straight SAC regular-season title. For the third time in four seasons, the Railsplitters finished the year ranked No. 1 in the national poll and hosted the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional at Tex Turner Arena.
They are a preseason No. 4 pick nationally in both the Division II Bulletin and Street & Smith, while the NABC Coaches' Poll has the Railsplitters ranked at No. 3.
Queens followed in second with four first place votes and 104 total points.
Queens is coming off its best season in program history. The 2017-2018 Royals went 32-4, compiling the program's best record, and won the Southeast Regional title to advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Championship for the first time since 2003. Queens made its second all-time appearance in the national semifinals tying for the deepest postseason run in program history.
The Royals are ranked No. 11 nationally in the Division II Bulletin's Preseason Poll.
"Both have done a great job of having players in the pipeline waiting their turn," Benson said. "When you consider the leadership that (Queens coach) Bart (Lundy) and (LMU coach) Josh (Schertz) provide, it's elite. Those guys have proven they're capable. Even though they lost a lot, they both know how to restructure and reload."
Wingate followed Carson-Newman in fourth with 76 points. Lenoir-Rhyne, Catawba, Newberry and Anderson completed the portion of the poll that would gain eligibility for the SAC tournament, with Tusculum, Coker and Mars Hill rounding out the bottom three.
"It speaks to the incredible parity three through 12," Benson said. "I've been excited for this year because of the parity. Any of a number of teams could jump up there and win this thing to make it a special year. There is no dead weight in this league. No team is on the downslide. It sets up to be a highly competitive 2018-19 season."
The Eagles open the season Nov. 9 at Southern Wesleyan.
2018-19 SAC Men's Basketball Preseason Poll
Team (First Place Votes)
Lincoln Memorial (7)