Starting out on top: Mavs ranked No. 1 in Central Region poll
Jim Heaps has been toward the bottom of the regional rankings, trying to move up in the home stretch of the season.
The Mesa State College men’s basketball coach kind of likes the view from the top.
“We kind of figured we’d be one or two,” he said Wednesday after the Mavericks (16-1, 10-0 RMAC) received the No. 1 ranking in the NCAA Division II Central Region. “Minnesota State is a heck of a basketball team, as is Augustana.”
Minnesota State is No. 2 after losing to Augustana last week.
Heaps was quick to say, however, there’s a long way to go until March 7, when bids are extended to eight teams in each region. Regional rankings come out each Wednesday through March 3.
“We’ll talk at practice that it’s never where you’re at, it’s where you finish,” he said. “It can change in a hurry. You’ve accomplished what you wanted to at this point, but it doesn’t mean much if you don’t keep it going.”
The No. 1 regional ranking is the first for the Mavericks, who reached No. 2 in 1994, when they lost in the championship game of the RMAC tournament and in the semifinals of the North Central Region tournament in overtime to North Dakota State.
That season, the Mavericks reached their highest national ranking until this season, No. 16.
The regional recognition, though, is better than the national respect, since that’s how teams reach the playoffs.
“The national ranking is an opinion poll,” Heaps said. “A lot of people voting on it don’t even know where we’re located. Some of them probably think we’re in Mesa, Arizona. They see us on paper and we’re 16-1 and they decide to put us ahead of this team that’s 16-2.
“The regional ranking is a committee that looks at your record, your power rating, in-region games, the whole thing. It’s what’s determining the national tournament, who makes the regionals.”
Metro State is third in the region, followed by Augustana (S.D.), the University of Mary (N.D.), Fort Lewis, St. Cloud State (Minn.) and Colorado Christian. Winona State (Minn.) and Upper Iowa round out the top 10.
The RMAC Shootout and Northern Sun Conference tournament champions receive automatic bids to the regional, with the other six teams receiving at-large bids based on the final regional poll. The Mavericks remember how they were left out of that six-team group last season, something that’s driven them this winter.
Starting out No. 1 gives a team a little room for error, Heaps said, which is much better than trying to move into the top eight late in the season.
“A lot of them were stung last year when we didn’t make it,” Heaps said. “They made it their mission to be invited this year.”
After a 20-point victory Tuesday night against Western State, they day they reached No. 14 in the national polls, the Mavericks turned their attention to tonight’s opponent at Brownson Arena, Western New Mexico.
They understand every team will want to be the one to knock them from their lofty perch atop the RMAC — and regional — standings. The maturity of this team has Heaps believing they won’t get complacent.
“I hope not,” he said. “This group wants more, they have higher goals than that.”