By Jeff Vella| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 11:48 p.m.
Slippery Rock men's basketball coach Kevin Reynolds compares his program to baseball's Tampa Bay Rays, a small-market team competing with the titans of the sport.
“We have to go through the Yankees and Red Sox,” Reynolds said, “but the only difference is they put the Phillies, Cardinals and Angels in our division as well.”
Reynolds may be exaggerating, but the PSAC's West Division was strong and balanced this season. Slippery Rock, Indiana (Pa.) and Gannon slugged it out for the division crown until the final game, with IUP winning its fourth straight title. Edinboro, Mercyhurst and California (Pa.) also finished .500 or better in league play.
Then there's the PSAC East, which is led by defending tournament champion East Stroudsburg (21-5), the 20th-ranked team in Division II.
The parity makes it hard to find an overwhelming favorite for the conference tournament, which starts Saturday at campus sites.
The first choice might be IUP (21-5), which received a first-round bye and hosts a quarterfinal game Tuesday against Edinboro (17-9) or Mercyhurst (16-12). The Crimson Hawks, the 16th-ranked team in Division II, have made four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and reached the championship game in 2010. Coach Joe Lombardi is used to the pressure of his team being considered the Yankees of the division.
“A lot of times, the greater the challenge, the more satisfying the accomplishment,” said Lombardi, whose team is led by junior guard Mathis Keita's 13.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. “It certainly becomes harder and more difficult because you're everybody's Super Bowl, and when they beat you, they tend to storm the court and things like that.”
Slippery Rock (19-7) and Gannon (22-6) split their season series with IUP. The Rock had a chance to win the division, but Wednesday's loss to Gannon pushed them down to a No. 3 seed. The Rock host California (Pa.) (12-14) in a first-round game at 7 p.m. Saturday.
If Slippery Rock wins, it will visit Gannon in Tuesday's quarterfinals.
Because IUP is on the other half of the bracket, the championship game — which is March 9 — might be an all-West matchup.
“The (West) division is as strong as it's ever been,” Reynolds said. “You can see why we're arguably the toughest conference in Division II.”
The women's tournament begins with four first-round games Saturday.
Gannon (26-3), ranked eighth in the nation, and 18th-ranked Edinboro (21-5) earned byes and host quarterfinals Tuesday.
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments â either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.