Hilltoppers Remain No. 1 in Atlantic Region Rankings
The West Liberty University men's basketball team is still No. 1 in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region rankings heading into the inaugural Mountain East Conference Tournament.
The final set of weekly rankings, released Wednesday afternoon by the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Ranking Committee, once again had Coach Jim Crutchfield's three-time defending Atlantic Region champs firmly entrenched at the top of the regional charts.
The regional rankings are used to select the eight teams that will participate in next month's Atlantic Region Tournament. Champions of the PSAC and CIAA Tournaments receive automatic bids with the top six remaining teams receiving at-large bids. The regional tournament will be hosted by the highest-ranking team. West Liberty has served as a regional host in each of the past four seasons.
The final set of regional rankings will be compiled on Sunday after the conclusion of the PSAC and MEC Tournaments. Pairings and host schools for the 2014 NCAA Division II Atlantic Region tournament will be announced via a live webcast on www.NCAA.com Sunday at 10:30 p.m.
The Hilltoppers (24-2), who have been ranked No. 1 in every set of regional rankings for the past four seasons, closed out the regular season in impressive fashion on Saturday with a 70-50 thumping of Ohio County rival Wheeling Jesuit to hold onto the top rung of the regional ladder.
East Stroudsburg (26-1) was a clear-cut No. 2 even before No. 3 Indiana (Pa.) was upset by Mercyhurst in a PSAC Tournament quarterfinal on Tuesday – a loss that is not reflected in this week's rankings. With the IUP loss, the fight to host this year's Atlantic Region tournament seems to have settled into a two-horse race between WLU and East Stroudsburg.
The scramble to make the 8-team field continues to rage behind the front-runners. Charleston held onto the No. 4 spot despite a 78-74 loss to West Virginia State on Saturday but Shepherd's back-to-back losses to regionally-ranked West Virginia Wesleyan and Fairmont State dropped the Rams from No. 5 to No. 7.
Gannon moved up from No. 6 to No. 5 while Fairmont thrust itself into the thick of the post-season battle by vaulting from No. 9 to No. 6. Glenville State held onto the No. 8 spot with West Virginia Wesleyan at No. 9.
Livingstone could be a fly in the ointment for teams on the regional bubble. The North Carolina school barely squeezed into the rankings at No. 10 this week but is assured of a regional tournament berth after winning the CIAA Tournament to claim that league's automatic bid.
West Liberty received a first-round bye in this week's MEC Tournament.
The Hilltoppers won't take the court in Charleston until Friday when they meet No. 9 seed Notre Dame (Ohio) in a 6 p.m. quarterfinal. Notre Dame is one of only two teams to beat West Liberty this year, hanging on for an 89-87 win at the ASRC on Jan. 30.