Led by a preseason All-American, coaches around the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference expect the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team to take a big leap during the 2020-21 schedule after a tough season a year ago.
Riddled by injuries, including to the team’s top-two point guards, FLC limped to a 13-15 overall finish and 7-15 record in the RMAC last season. That led the Skyhawks to finish 13th in the conference and miss out on the RMAC tournament.
But, when the preseason coaches poll was released Tuesday, FLC earned 128 points to come in fifth place in the 15-team conference.
“I think we were a lot better than our record last year,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said. “If we had avoided injuries, especially to that point guard position, it’s a whole different season. With that said, the players who are here now have a lot of RMAC experience, led by Riley Farris.”
Farris, a 6-foot-9 senior forward, was named a Preseason All-American by Basketball Times magazine last month. As a junior, he averaged 23.9 points per game, which was the 12th-best mark in the all of NCAA Division II. Farris did it while shooting 55.7% from the field and 80.4% from the foul line. He also averaged six rebounds per game.
Farris was named an RMAC preseason “player to watch” on Tuesday.
“We wouldn’t trade Farris for anybody,” Pietrack said. “We know the teammate he is and what he brings to the table. There are a lot of great players in our league, but there isn’t one we would trade Riley for.”
Colorado School of Mines was picked to win the RMAC. Led by Mason Baker and Michael Glen, the Orediggers earned 13 first-place votes and 195 points as the clear favorite. Black Hills State, led by sophomore sensation Joel Scott of Monument, received two first-place votes and 172 points.
Though University of Colorado at Colorado Springs lost star Padiet Wang to graduation, the Mountain Lions came in third in the preseason poll with 163 points. Colorado Mesa, anchored by Division I transfer center Ethan Richardson and talented guards Georgie Dancer and Jared Small, was picked fourth 159 points.
Behind FLC was Metro State University-Denver with 117 points, New Mexico Highlands with 109 points and Regis with 105 points to round out the top eight.
Mines was ranked 13th in the nation in the NABC Division II poll released Tuesday. Black Hills State and Colorado Mesa both received votes, as did Fort Lewis.
FLC was not ranked a season ago but was in the NABC Top 25 every year from 2016-18.
“I think people in Division II basketball know what our team is capable of and the type of teams we’ve had through coach (Bob) Hofman’s time here and myself and this era of teams we have had. I don’t know if we are quite at that level yet, but we have the pieces in place to get to a level in which we can compete to be in that poll.”
FLC went to work through recruiting to build around Farris. Returners Will Wittman, a senior wing, and Akuel Kot, a sophomore guard, also were named RMAC preseason players to watch for the Skyhawks.
Wittman averaged 10.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last year. Kot started 15 games and averaged 11.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and two assists per game.
“We have so many guys who got a lot of minutes and are capable of being good players in this league,” Pietrack said. “People recognize we have also recruited well. We have a group of hard working guys, and we are all excited for this season.”
FLC is slated to play Dec. 4-5 against Chadron State and Black Hills State. Those games are scheduled at home inside Whalen Gymnasium. FLC’s original season opener Saturday was postponed because of COVID-19, as South Dakota Mines will not travel.
“We look forward to this group playing this year if COVID permits us to play,” Pietrack said. “If not, we will have this group again next year. There is a real positive buzz around our program after a good preseason and a group of guys who are all together embracing the culture of this program. This is one of our favorite groups we’ve had, and we are excited to climb back to the top where we’ve been.”