By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Nov 07, 2006 at 5:07 AM
The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks just can’t avoid the pressure of pre-season favoritism.

The Warhawks were picked to repeat as basketball champs of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in the annual pre-season poll. Whitewater is ranked fourth in the poll and eighth by Street & Smith.

Whitewater’s football team also was a pre-season favorite in the WIAC. So, expectations are high overall for athletics at Whitewater.

The Warhawks’ selection in basketball seems justified. Coach Pat Miller needs to replace Jeremy Manchester, the WIAC player of the year, but otherwise his squad looks loaded again.

"We have a lot of depth," Miller said. "One of our biggest problems is going to be finding minutes for the number of guys we have."

Fifteen lettermen return from last year's team, which finished 23-6 and made it to the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament. Top scorers include 6-foot 8-inch Andy Freund (9.6 points, 5.7 rebounds), 6-4 Rob Perry (8.9 ppg) and 6-2 Anthony Mlachnik (8.4 ppg).

Last season's team set several school records, including the most free throw attempts in a season with 770 and made free throws with 575. The Warhawks ended their season ranked first in the WIAC in points per game (76.2), scoring margin (+11.1), field goal shooting percentage (.474), three point field goal defense (.317) and turnover margin (+2.90).

The Warhawks will not have a waltz in the WIAC. Oshkosh was picked to finish second in the conference.

Oshkosh returns four starters from last year’s squad and that quartet has combined to start a total of 250 games.  Head coach Ted Van Dellen is the longest-tenured coach in the conference with his 16 seasons resulting in 278 victories, the sixth-highest total in league history.  Senior Kerry Gibson has 248 career blocked shots and needs 27 more to set the WIAC all-time record.

"Last year I thought we certainly underachieved," Van Dellen said of a 17-9 finish. "I think a lot of times on the heels of an underachieving year you have a good year."

Stevens Point was picked third in the WIAC. Point returns 78.1 percent of its scoring from the 2005-‘06 squad that led all of NCAA Division III in free throw percentage at 79.2 percent and in fewest turnovers at 10.6 per game.  Senior Jon Krull made more free throws than any other WIAC player attempted last season.

Stout received two first-place votes in the conference predictions and is expected to place fourth in the nine-team league derby.  The Blue Devils are coming off the first NCAA tournament appearance in school history and the most wins since the 1968-‘69 campaign.

Stout’s 12-4 WIAC mark and second-place standing represented the best finish for the program since a 13-3 conference championship season in 1974-‘75.  Head coach Ed Andrist, in his 18th season of collegiate coaching, needs 11 wins to reach 350 in his career.

La Crosse is coming off a 20-win season and its first NCAA Division III tournament appearance. "We like the fact we’re in this situation. We like being in the position of building on what we’ve accomplished instead of talking about rebuilding," La Crosse coach Ken Koelbl said. "We look at the attention as a good thing, and we enjoy it."

The La Crosse program also is recovering from the drowning of Luke Homan, a guard on last season’s team. Homan drowned last month in the Mississippi River in what has been ruled an alcohol-related accident.

Some teams in other college conferences in the state are picked to do well. Lawrence, a three-time defending conference champ, is picked to win the Midwest Conference again.

Lawrence head coach John Tharp will be forced to replace All-MWC first teamers Chris Braier and Kyle MacGillis, two of the top players in the program’s history, in 2006. Sophomore guard Ryan Kroeger was third on the team in scoring last season despite coming off the bench.

The Vikings are ranked 13th in the poll. Carroll, ranked 17th, should provide the biggest challenge in the MWC.

Parkside is picked to finish second in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. The Rangers opened some eyes with a 77-71 upset over UWM on Wednesday night. Junior guard Tyron Deacon, who had 20 points in that win, is expected to pace UWP this season.

Lakeland is picked to finish second to Aurora in the Northern Athletics Conference.

"We are excited that the coaches in our conference recognize that we have a solid core group of returning players," said Lakeland head coach Kyle Brumett. "Our second place pick is due to their hard work and past performance, but the poll is about past performance.  It is about what we are going to do now that matters."  

Some teams have already started their pre-season exhibition schedules. Most teams start their conference scheduled the weekend before Thanksgiving.
Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.