Midwestern State received its highest preseason rating since joining NCAA Division II Monday afternoon ranking seventh in The Sporting News Preseason Top 10.
The Mustangs, who carried the No. 8 ranking heading into the 2013 season, return two starters and six letter winners off of last season's 22-win regional finalist squad.
Midwestern has stood as the class of Lone Star Conference basketball since joining the league in 1995. Since, the Mustangs claimed eight league titles while making 10 NCAA tournament appearances including in each of the last seven years.
MSU advanced to three consecutive Elite Eights in 2010, 2011 and 2012 while winning at least 20 games in each of the last seven seasons.
Senior guard Bretson McNeal returns to lead the Mustangs as an All-Lone Star Conference first-team performer in 2014-15. The Minneapolis native dropped in 15.9 points per game while shooting 42.3 percent from the arc.
Senior guard Hershell Grant started 17 games last season averaging 7.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, while senior forward Khapri Alston delivered 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds as the Mustangs' sixth man a season ago.
Other returners for MSU include sophomore guard Devante Pullum (10 points per game), junior forward Trevor Fuller (4.0 ppg, 69.1 FG pct.) and junior guard Pat Smith.
The Mustangs also receive a jolt from two players who missed a season due to injury in senior forward DeVaughn Jones and sophomore Nick Powell.
Midwestern buoyed the lineup with a mix of three Division I transfers in senior guard Jordan Stevens (Duquesne), junior Magnus Richards (Binghamton) and 7-footer Matt Pollard (San Jose State).
A release of the Mustangs' complete signing class is expected in the near future.
Rival Tarleton State tops the rankings followed by Augustana (S.D.), West Liberty (W. Va.), Lincoln Memorial (Tenn.), Missouri Southern, Bellarmine (Ky.), MSU, St. Cloud State (Minn.), Montevallo (Ala.) and California Baptist.
Midwestern State hosts a pair of exhibitions welcoming Louisiana State-Shreveport on Sunday, Nov. 1 at 3:30 p.m. and Huston-Tillotson (Texas) on Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m.
The Mustangs open the regular season with Oklahoma City on Nov. 15 at D.L. Ligon Coliseum. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Midwestern State blistered its way out to 10-under par after first eight holes Monday afternoon at the D2 National Preview played at the Green Valley Ranch Golf Course.
The Mustangs couldn't quite keep the torrid pace, but still managed to enjoy a solid performance led by junior Thomas Smith.
"This is the best field we will play against all year," MSU coach Jeff Ray said. "It's even better than the national tournament. These are the best golfers in the country. We got off to a great start on a challenging course."
Smith head into Tuesday's final round tied for sixth carding rounds of 69 and 72 for a 3-under total of 141. The native of Stoke-on-Trent, England has the Mustangs eighth on the team leader board, but just six strokes out of third place with a 4-over team total of 580 (283-297).
"The guys got a little tired near the end and we left some strokes out there, no doubt," Ray said. "I am proud of the guys and the effort they gave. They battled after a great practice round on Sunday. We showed we can compete with the best programs in the country."
Smith registered nine birdies and was 2-under on Par-3 holes to lead the way for the Mustangs, but certainly had plenty of help.
Junior Colton Dorion also carded nine birdies and was 1 stroke to the red on Par-3s to finish tied for 22nd through the first 36 holes with scores of 69 and 75 for an even-par total of 144.
Junior Jared Baker proved strong on the longer holes going 4-under on the Par-5 holes on his way to scores of 72 and 75 for a 3-over total of 147, while sophomore Will Mullins fired eight birdies to tie for 49th with arounds of 73 and 75 for a 4-over total of 148.
Senior Ian Gallagher battled for scores of 78 and 80 for a total of 158.
"This is a golf course that you have to put it in the fairway to make a par. The greens are fast and you have to put the ball in the right part of the green," Ray said. "It was a great start. We are definitely looking forward to finishing with a great round tomorrow."
Chico State (Calif.) carries a 10-stroke lead into the final round of play with a 17-under total of 559, while Central Oklahoma's Eric Kline tops the individual leader board carding rounds of 69 and 67 for an 8-under total of 136.