For the third consecutive season, the UAFS men’s basketball team has been picked to win the Heartland Conference.

UAFS received 130 points in the voting and 12 of the 17 first-place votes cast by the conference’s head coaches and sports information directors in the recently released preseason conference poll.

The Lions are the defending regular season conference champions after going 10-4 in league play last season. UAFS, which finished 16-12 overall last season, was runner-up in the conference tournament, losing to St. Mary’s in the title game.

"We are humbled to hear that our league has picked us as the preseason favorite this season. We understand that championships aren’t won or given away in October, and the target has been placed on UAFS," said UAFS coach Josh Newman, who begins his eighth season.

UAFS returns three starters in senior guards Corey Copeland and Xavier McClish and junior guard Dusan Stojanovic. Senior guard Jake Toupal came off the bench to lead the Lions in scoring with 13.7 points per game and earn Second Team All-Conference honors last season.

The Lions welcome back nine players in all from last year’s team, and Newman and his staff signed seven newcomers in the offseason, including NCAA Division I transfer Kenny Martin, a sophomore forward from Arizona State, and local product Seth Youngblood, a freshman guard from Roland, Okla.

"We respect that the league thinks highly enough of our returners and incoming recruiting class to pick us the preseason favorite," Newman said. "We have a lot of work to do to attempt to repeat as conference champions, and our work just got a little bit harder."

St. Mary’s was picked second, receiving 78 points in the voting and three first-place votes. Newman was picked third, receiving 66 points and one first-place vote, and Texas A&M International was picked fourth, receiving 63 points and one first-place vote.

Dallas Baptist was picked fifth (54 votes), followed by St. Edward’s (41), University of Texas of the Permian Basin (37) and Oklahoma Panhandle State (12).

Lubbock Christian, Oklahoma Christian, Rogers State and McMurry also will be competing in conference play, but each is a provisional member of NCAA Division II and is ineligible to compete for the conference title or qualify for postseason play.

UAFS ushered in the official start of preseason practice with its annual Moonlight Madness on Tuesday. The Lions will play at NCAA Division I Texas Christian University in an exhibition game on Nov. 1 before opening the regular season against Central Baptist College on Nov. 9 at the Stubblefield Center.