District college basketball preview
Men's teams to watch
The Bisons' up-tempo, high-pressure playing style led to a 25-4 overall record and a Presidents' Athletic Conference title last season. Senior WPIAL alums Nick Wilcox (Peters Township), Reece Mabery (Highlands), James Barton (Bethel Park) and Brady Pacific (Kiski Area) are the top four returning scorers, and all four factored into Bethany's defense, which allowed a PAC-low 60.9 points per game and averaged 11.28 steals.
Winner of the past three PSAC West division titles, IUP (23-6, 19-3 last season) will lean on a stingy defense (PSAC-low 60.2 points allowed per game last season) as it tries to replace star scorers Ashton Smith and Julian Sanders. Senior guard Anthony Wells (6.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.2 steals per game), junior forward Marcel Souberbielle (7.3 ppg), and senior center Josh Wiegand (5.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg) are prime candidates.
Standout forward Devin Taylor, a 6-foot-6 redshirt senior from New Castle, leads an experienced core for the Rock (17-10, 14-8), which returns four starters and tied Indiana (Pa.) with three first-place votes in the PSAC West preseason coaches poll. Look for junior forward Tabari Perry to complement Taylor. Slippery Rock ranked first in the PSAC in rebounding margin (10.9) and second in points allowed per game (64.0) last winter.
Senior guards Anthony Harvey (New Castle) and R.J. Brownlee (Ringgold) should emerge as essential players for the Tomcats, who went 16-8 and tied for second in the PAC last season. Harvey started all 24 games, had a team-high 40 steals and finished third in points (12.5). Brownlee, who averaged 17.4 minutes a game, proved himself as a spark plug off the bench, dishing 38 assists and grabbing 37 rebounds.
W. Liberty (W.Va.)
The No. 1 team in the Division II preseason National Association of Basketball Coaches poll, West Liberty returns the top eight scorers from a group that went 32-3 and led the country in points per game (102.4). West Mifflin grad C.J. Hester, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard, is back after leading the team in rebounding (8.4) and placing third in scoring (14.4 ppg) a year ago. Junior guard Jeff Yunetz (Latrobe) also is expected to contribute.
Women's teams to watch
No starters graduated from a squad that went 15-11 last season, though star senior Heidi Goeller left to finish her physician's assistant program at Chatham. Senior forward Daryl Ford (Sto-Rox) and junior combo guard Erica Restich (Chartiers Valley) appear capable of filling the void, as the former of the two averaged 15.7 points, 8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. Restich averaged 15.8, 5 and 3 in the same categories.
Ranked No. 6 in the Division II USA Today/ESPN Coaches preseason poll, the Fighting Scots (30-2, 21-1 PSAC a year ago) are deep despite the graduation of three starters. Senior guard Kiara Brown (Ambridge) averaged 14.5 points and finished with 100 assists and 79 steals. Look for junior Darche Jackson (Penn Hills) and redshirt sophomore Laurel Lindsay (South Park), both responsible for previous 100-assist seasons, to bolster the backcourt.
Junior do-it-all Jen Papich (Fox Chapel) leads the Golden Knights, who went 22-7 overall last season and received the No. 15 ranking in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Division II preseason poll. Junior guard Kelley Sundberg and sophomore forward Nettie Blake join Papich as returning starters. Gannon was efficient around the basket a season ago, making a PSAC-best 43.6 percent of its field goal attempts.
The Crimson Hawks (23-7 last season) retained their top five scorers, three of whom are from the WPIAL. Forward Ashley Stoner (Thomas Jefferson) averaged 8.1 points per game, and Indiana products Marita Mathe and Leslie Stapleton scored 8.9 and 8.0, respectively. Sarah Pastorek led IUP in scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounding (7.4), and she ranked third in assists (1.9).
The Yellow Jackets have the weapons necessary to control the boards. Seniors Jessi Drayer, Elainse Hasek (Mars) and Paige Pearce (Elizabeth Forward) are back after combining for more than 20 rebounds per game. And senior Jessi Drayer returns after leading the team in scoring (14.4 points per game). Waynesburg again aims to lead the PAC in points allowed; it surrendered 57.1 a season ago.
men's PLAYERS TO WATCH
A junior forward and Westinghouse alum, Palmer ranked third in Division III in rebounds per game (13.0) and averaged 18.8 points per game, the second-best mark in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference. He had 17 double-doubles.
Devin TaylorSlippery Rock
The chairman of PSAC boards, Taylor, a 6-foot-6 redshirt senior forward and New Castle alum, tied for the conference lead by grabbing 9.8 rebounds per game. He also averaged 13.5 points per game and ranked fourth in the PSAC in field-goal percentage, making 48.6 percent of his attempts.
One reason Bethany has received votes in the Division III coaches poll is Wilcox, a well-rounded standout senior. The Peters Township grad ranked sixth in the PAC in scoring (14.8 ppg), fourth in rebounding (7.9) and first in steals (3.2).
women's PLAYERS TO WATCH
Devin McGrathSt. Vincent
There are few Division III players as multi-talented as McGrath, a senior forward and Our Lady of Sacred Heart alum. She ranked 10th in the PAC in scoring (12.9 points per game), third in rebounding (8.4), fourth in assists (3.7), first in steals (3.3) and second in blocks (1.8).
Selected as a preseason PSAC West first-teamer, Papich, a junior forward and Fox Chapel grad, creates matchup problems. She averaged 14.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.7 steals per game last year. Her steals mark ranked in the top 40 nationally.
Picked as a preseason PSAC-West first teamer, Blazetic is a dominant force in the middle for Edinboro. An honorable mention All-American, she averaged 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds last year and had 81 blocks. She owns the school single-season and career shots blocked records.