The University of Charleston, Fairmont State and Salem International were expected to be the cream of the West Virginia Conference this season.
The Eagles are currently ranked No. 7 nationally and defeated No. 10 Longwood on Saturday, while SIU moved into the Top 25 last week and reeled off two more impressive wins.
But the surprise team early in the season has been West Virginia Wesleyan.
Parlaying last season's late run, which saw them win eight of their last 10 and reach the conference tournament semifinals, the Bobcats have raced to a 5-1 record, including wins over Millersville (Pa.) and Pitt-Johnstown.
"The upperclassmen got a taste last year and they want to go back," Wesleyan coach Charlie Miller said. "They understand the importance of their final year.
"We surprised a lot of people last year but maybe not ourselves."
Damien Jackson and Jamar Thompkins again are the Bobcats' leading scorers. Jackson, a first-team all-conference performer last year, is averaging 17.8 points, while Thompkins is averaging 16.3 points and 11 rebounds.
"Jamar has been playing extremely well and has four double-doubles already," Miller said. "Damien is a major threat because of the mismatches he presents with his size."
But three other keys to the early success, according to Miller, have been the play of Richard Lindsey and the team's senior leadership and defense.
Lindsey gives the Bobcats a third scoring option from his small forward position, averaging 15.7 points and 5.3 rebounds.
"He's been very instrumental, but it's not only him," Miller said. "We have seven seniors on the team and that's been a major factor with all the experience we have."
Defensively, Wesleyan is ranked third in the conference, giving up 68.5 points a game and holding opponents to 42 percent shooting.
"We've concentrated on defense," Miller said. "It's one of the last things we say when we leave the lockerroom, 'Let's play some defense.'"
BIG WIN: Charleston's big 88-80 victory over Longwood was good for the Eagles and SIU.
UC is highest ranked East Region team in the Division II Top 25 poll, while Longwood and the Tigers were the only other ranked teams in the Top 25 from the Region.
But high rankings in the Top 25 poll doesn't always translate high rankings in the regional poll.
Salem International was ranked in the Top 5 early last season in the national poll but was only third in the regional poll.
(INSERT QUOTE FROM YOUNG HERE. HE LEFT OFFICE WHEN I CALLED WILL CALL HIM LATER TO GET IT.)
Assistant sports editor Danny Carpenter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at email@example.com.