BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – West Liberty University's nationally-ranked men's basketball team was the overwhelming choice to win the first Mountain East Conference title during Monday's inaugural MEC Basketball Media Day at the Bridgeport Convention Center.
Coach Jim Crutchfield's Hilltoppers received 11 of the 12 first-place votes from the MEC men's coaches for 143 points. That easily outdistanced Fairmont State, which had 132 points after picking up the lone remaining first-place vote. Wheeling Jesuit was a distant third at 114 with Concord and Shepherd each receiving 90 points to tie for fourth place.
Charleston was sixth with 89 points, followed by West Virginia State (75), Glenville State (65) and West Virginia Wesleyan (53). Urbana (31), UVA-Wise (28) and Notre Dame, Ohio (26) rounded out the poll.
West Liberty, which won the last four West Virginia Conference championships, is coming off its third straight 30-win season and NCAA Division II Elite Eight appearance under Crutchfield – who leads all NCAA men's coaches in winning percentage (241-45, .843) heading into his 10th year at the reins.
After finishing the 2012-13 season as the nation's No. 1-ranked team, the Hilltoppers open this year ranked No. 2 in the NCAA Division II Bulletin Preseason Top 25, No. 3 in the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Preseason NCAA Division II Top 25 and No. 6 in The Sporting News' NCAA Division II Preseason Top 10.
Fairmont, under second-year coach Jarrod Calhoun, is also coming off an NCAA Division II tournament run. The Falcons went 23-9 a year ago with four of those losses coming at the hands of the Hilltoppers – including a 92-78 setback in the WVIAC Tournament championship game and a 100-77 rout in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional.
The Hilltoppers open their 2013-14 season at home Saturday night when they welcome Washington Adventist (Md.) to the ASRC for a 7 p.m. tipoff.