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WAUKESHA - The Lakeland College men's basketball team is wearing the target of favorites after being voted first in the North Division of the Northern Athletic Conference in 2012-13, based on a preseason poll of league coaches released Wednesday by the conference.
The Muskies are heavy favorites in the North Division, having received 71 points in the poll and all but one first-place vote. Lakeland received 11 first-place votes, while Edgewood College received the lone other top ranking in the division.
Edgewood and Marian University tied for second in the North Division with 48 points each. Defending North champion Concordia University Wisconsin was picked fourth with 46 points, followed by Milwaukee School of Engineering with 27 points and Maranatha Baptist Bible College with 16 points.
Aurora University came in first in the South Division, garnering 10 first-place votes for 68 points and the top spot. Benedictine University was tabbed with the remaining two first place votes and 60 points for second, followed by Rockford (Ill.) College (41), Concordia University Chicago (37), Dominican University (30) and Wisconsin Lutheran College (16).
Lakeland finished 21-7 overall last year and 12-4 in the NAC, tying Edgewood (23-7, 12-4 NAC) for second place in the North behind Concordia Wisconsin (21-6, 14-2 NAC). The Muskies fell to Edgewood in the NAC Tournament championship game, and this year return a pair of first team All-NAC forwards in senior Jake Schwarz (Sheboygan, Wis.) and junior Justin Ward (Wisconsin Dells, Wis.).
Schwarz is on pace to pass John Koslowski (1980-84) as the school's all-time leading scorer, while Ward also is on track to surpass 1,000 career points this year. Along with junior guard James Oshkeshequoam (Keshena, Wis.), the Muskies return three starters from last year and are shooting for their second-ever trip to the NCAA Division III national tourney.
The NAC's eight-team conference tournament will take place Feb. 16-23, with the tournament champion receiving the conference's automatic bid to the 2013 NCAA Division III Championship Tournament. The top four teams from each division qualify for the conference tournament.
2012-13 Northern Athletics Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll
1. Lakeland (11 first-place votes), 71 points
2. Edgewood (1), 48
(tie) Marian, 48
4. Concordia Wisconsin, 46
5. MSOE, 27
6. Maranatha Baptist, 12
1. Aurora (10), 68
2. Benedictine (2), 60
3. Rockford, 41
4. Concordia Chicago, 37
5. Dominican, 30
6. Wisconsin Lutheran, 16