FORT SMITH, Ark. – UAFS men’s basketball coach Josh Newman has high expectations for his team this season, and this year, so do a lot of others.

Heartland Conference coaches and sports information directors have once again picked the Lions as the preseason favorite to win the conference title. It’s the seventh-consecutive season the Lions have been picked to win the conference.

UAFS, which tied for the regular-season conference title last season and won the conference tournament, received 12 of the 18 first-place votes and 147 total points in the voting for the poll, which was released Wednesday morning.

“Being the preseason favorite once again creates a sense of excitement for our fans and community while creating a stronger drive for our players. We understand that champions aren't crowned until March, and our goal is to become the best team we can by March,” Newman said.

“This league has proven year in and year out to be very competitive and extremely balanced. Our goal is to repeat as conference champions, but everyone else’s goal is to win a championship as well. This should be another exciting year in the Heartland Conference.”

UAFS returns seven players from last season’s team that finished 23-11 overall and 13-5 in the conference, won the conference tournament and advanced to the NCAA Division II National Tournament, where it lost to eventual South Central Region champion and Elite Eight participant Colorado School of Mines.

Six of those seven returners started at least 14 games last season, including Preseason All-Heartland Conference selection DaVaunta Thomas. The senior guard from Tulsa, Okla., is the team’s top returning scorer (12.2 ppg) and second-best returning rebounder (6.1 rpg).

Along with Thomas, the Lions welcome back senior guard Ladarius Coleman from Memphis, Tenn.; sophomore guard Kyree Elder from Antioch, Tenn.; senior guard Marcus Wallace from Little Rock, Ark.; junior forward Dalton Glapion from New Orleans, La.; senior forward Brett Jolly from Southlake, Texas; and sophomore guard Seth Hawley from Fort Smith.

That talented group of veterans will be joined by newcomers Chris Crawford, a junior guard who transferred from Connors State College; Darrion Strong-Moore, a senior guard who transferred from Oklahoma; Derrick Dandridge, a senior forward who transferred from Florida A&M; Tracy Jones, Jr., an incoming freshman forward from Dallas, Texas; Cameron Ivey, an incoming freshman guard from Houston, Texas; Adam Rivera, an incoming freshman forward from Amarillo, Texas; and Jeremiah Toney, an incoming freshman guard from Little Rock, Ark.

Dallas Baptist, which was one of three teams that tied for the regular-season conference title a year ago, received five first-place votes and 142 points in the voting and was picked to finish second.

Lubbock Christian received 109 points in the voting and was picked to finish third. Rogers State received one first-place vote and 105 points in the voting and was picked to finish fourth.

Texas A&M International, which also tied for the regular-season conference title a year ago, received 95 points in the voting and was picked to finish fifth, followed by St. Mary’s (71), St. Edward’s (64), Newman (41) and Oklahoma Christian (37).