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BYUH expected to repeat in PWC


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POSTED: Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New players. New coaches.

Same old feeling about men's basketball in the Pacific West Conference.

The consensus during yesterday's media day was that it's going to be another tough season ... starting at the top, where defending champion Brigham Young-Hawaii was the unanimous choice to repeat.

The fact that the Seasiders will be without preseason player of the year Lucas Alves (ACL) until at least December didn't change the voting. Not even for new Grand Canyon coach Russ Pennell.

“;You don't have the type of record last season or the players coming back without being a very special team,”; Pennell said.

BYUH (27-2) saw last season end in the West Regional final and open this year ranked No. 1 in the Division II Bulletin preseason Top 25. Among those back for the Seasiders are the 6-foot-9 Alves, a senior All-America center who averaged 19.8 points and 7.5 rebounds, and senior point guard Virgil “;J.R.”; Buensuceso, who was a Cousy Award finalist.

Alves is expected to return in time for PacWest play and “;our other players will have to step it up and play really well early,”; BYUH coach Ken Wagner said. The leading candidates to fill in for Alves are returning 6-11 senior Garrett Sandberg and 6-6 junior transfer Rory Patterson.

Reputation also played a part in Grand Canyon being picked to finish second, despite not having a single returning coach or player. Pennell was the interim coach for Arizona last season, with the Wildcats finishing 21-14 and losing in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

The Antelopes have seven D-I transfers, including two Cameroon nationals in 6-8 junior Gaby Ngoundjo, who was at UNC Charlotte, and 6-6 junior Rony Tchatchoua, who was at New Hampshire.

Grand Canyon will be the first PWC team to see action when they compete in the Disney's Division II Tip-Off West Coast Classic in Anaheim, Calif.

Dixie State, which finished second to BYUH last season, was picked third. The Red Storm are led by preseason All-PWC senior forward Andy Palmer.

Also named to the preseason team are Chaminade junior guard Cartier Carter; Hawaii-Hilo senior guard Bryan Ngo; Hawaii Pacific senior guard Jeff Ingram; and Bennie Murray, a sophomore guard for Notre Dame de Namur.

The three remaining Hawaii schools were grouped in the middle of the preseason poll, with Chaminade fourth, Hawaii-Hilo fifth and Hawaii Pacific sixth. NDNU, first-year member Dominican and Academy of Art, in its second season of intercollegiate athletes, were the bottom three.

“;We are still pretty young,”; said NDNU coach George Puou, who led Kailua High to the 1983 state boys basketball title. “;But I think we're vastly improved.”;

On the Argos roster are sophomore guards Garrick Chock (Maryknoll) and Cheynne Lishman (Kalaheo).

Most of the teams have at least one Division I opponent, including Dominican, making the transition from the NAIA level. On the Penguins' schedule are USF and Santa Clara.

No one has it tougher, however, than Chaminade. The Silverswords host the annual EA Sports Maui Invitational and open with Maryland. Also in the field are Arizona, Cincinnati, Colorado, Gonzaga, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin.

Both Chaminade and Hawaii-Hilo expect to rely heavily on newcomers. Of the Silverswords' 14 players, 12 are new to the PacWest, and the Vulcans lost six of their seven core players, according to coach Jeff Law.

HPU coach Tony Sellitto expects improvement, adding athleticism, size and Division I experience in junior Ray Murdock (San Diego) and junior forward Norman Wells (Indiana State).

UHH and BYUH both play exhibitions against Hawaii, while Chaminade has a regular-season contest with the Rainbow Warriors.

For the complete poll and preseason teams, see Scoreboard.