Can the Aquinas Saints outplay their pre-season #4 ranking in WHAC coaches poll?

Bertoia_Bench Aquinas

When the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference released the preseason coaches poll earlier today, the Aquinas Saints men’s basketball team ranked #4 on the list. National Championship runner-up and crosstown rival, the Cornerstone Golden Eagles, finished with all 11 first-place votes and ended up with the top spot. Newcomer to the league, Rochester, and UM-Dearborn ranked #2 and #3, respectively.

Aquinas Saints logoThe Saints will return nine players from a team that finished 19-15 overall and 13-9 in conference play, lost in the WHAC tournament championship game to Cornerstone and made their first NAIA postseason berth since 2008-09, losing to eventual champion, Union (KY).

The 2017-18 season will bring new challenges to the Saints. None of their returning players averaged double-digits in scoring and no one averaged more than five rebounds per contest. The Saints should be alright in the front court with an arsenal of big men returning. But their troubles will be in the backcourt, where no returning player averaged more than two assists per game. Losing departing players Jake Bullock and Ryan Schall will be the biggest hurdle for Aquinas.

Arsenio Arrington, a 6-foot-9 senior forward from Chicago, averaged 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds and should help lead the way for coach Ryan Bertoia this season.

Frank Devos, a 6-foot-6 forward from Chesterfield (L’Anse Creuse North) in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, averaged 8.0 points and 5.0 rebounds.

Rob Deiz, a 6-foot-4 junior guard from Detroit, averaged 7.2 points and 1.9 rebounds.

Opeyemi Sholesi, a 6-foot-5 senior forward from Columbus (OH), finished last season averaging 4.9 points and 4.5 rebounds.

Rashaud Orange backboard Union HS
Rashaud Orange broke this backboard in high school. ( Photo)

Rashaud Orange, a 6-foot-4 junior forward from Grand Rapids, also returns. He averaged 4.7 points and 4.3 rebounds during the 2016-17 campaign. Orange is a favorite of the BeerCityHoops staff, not only because he started his local high school career at Creston HS and moved to Union HS when GRPS closed the former Polar Bears school, but also because we’ve seen the damage he can do on the court. Orange broke a backboard at his new school during his first practice at Union.

Other returnees include juniors Austin Clements and TJ Hunter, who both saw time in 30+ games last season, and sophomores AJ Atwater and Beau LePage.

Newcomers to the Saints include Zezva Liuashvili, a 6-foot junior guard from the Republic of Georgia who previously played at Sand Hill Community College, sophomore Taylor White from Addison Trail in Illinois, and freshmen Deric Murray (Ann Arbor Pioneer), Truman Hillis (Caledonia) and Simon Vernon, a home-schooler from Grand Rapids.

Other members of the Saints program include Zane Draper, JT Houghton, Marek Laucky, Tommy Lewis, Deondra MacDonald, Mason Thiele and Kierson Watts.

Some questions that surround the program:

  • Can the Saints make their sixth trip to the NAIA Tournament will so much turnover in their backcourt?
  • Will coach Bertoia’s incoming class make the leap and keep them in the mix in the WHAC?
  • Or does Cornerstone have an easy road to the local “top of the hill”?

The Saints take on Spring Arbor and Indiana Wesleyan in the season’s opening weekend (Oct. 27-28), with both games being played in Spring Arbor. The 2017-18 home opener is on Nov. 18 against Rochester at 3:00 p.m.