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District college basketball 2013-14 preview: D-II and D-III

| Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, 7:06 p.m.
Gannon basketball player Jenny Papich, a Fox Chapel graduate

Western Pennsylvania's Division II and III college basketball teams take their lumps against teams from larger schools in early November in order to prepare for conference play. Men's and women's action in Division II's Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference begins Nov. 20. Play in Division III's Presidents' Athletic Conference and Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference opens Dec. 4.


Division II

Big question: How will PSAC West newcomers Pitt-Johnstown and Seton Hill fare after years of competing in the comparatively stronger West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference?

Teams to watch

Gannon — Junior 6-foot-1 guard Adam Blazek (11.5 ppg, 3.4 apg) paces the Golden Knights, who allowed a PSAC-low 58.2 points per game last season. Gannon picked to take second in West division preseason poll.

IUP — Receiving seven of the preseason poll's nine first-place votes, the Crimson Hawks are expected to repeat as PSAC West champs. IUP is ranked No. 14 in the National Association of Basketball Coaches poll.

Slippery Rock — Redshirt senior Tabari Perry, a 6-8 forward who averaged 10.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, anchors The Rock, who led the PSAC in rebounding margin (11.4) in 2012-13. Slippery Rock came in third in the PSAC West preseason poll.

Players to watch

Andrew Cressler, Pitt-Johnstown — A 6-4 senior guard from Plum, Cressler averaged 10.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He shot 50 percent from the field and 48.1 from 3-point range.

Mike Kromka, Clarion — The 6-6 senior forward and Gateway grad is a preseason All-PSAC West selection. He averaged 12.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game.

Bryan Theriot, Edinboro — A 6-9, 270-pound center, Theriot earned first-team All-PSAC West honors last season after averaging 18.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.

Division III

Big question: Did La Roche learn from last season, when it lost two key games consecutively that caused it to share the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference regular-season title and miss out on the AMCC tournament championship?

Teams to watch

La Roche — The Redhawks, who received three first-place votes but came in second in the AMCC preseason poll, will lean on senior forward David Jackson, the program's career rebound leader, and senior guard Andre Flanigan (9.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.5 spg).

St. Vincent — Only three players graduated from the Bearcats' 2012-13 team, which won the PAC championship. Led by 6-8 junior forward and Mt. Lebanon native Grant Latus, St. Vincent's top five rebounders return. And senior guard Isaac Turner is back after averaging a team-high 16.7 points per game.

Penn State Behrend — The defending AMCC tournament champion came in third in this year's preseason poll. Junior guard Nick Delisio, a Central Valley alum, is the top returning scorer for the Lions after an All-AMCC second-team season in which he averaged 11.6 points per game.

Players to watch

Nate Bellhy, Washington & Jefferson — The 6-6 junior combo guard from Fort Cherry followed in the footsteps of his standout older brother, Zach, by averaging 14.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.

Rocco Contristano, Pitt-Greensburg — A 6-3 sophomore guard from Keystone Oaks, Contristano earned AMCC Newcomer of the Year honors last season after he led the team in scoring (11.5 ppg).

J.T. Schwartz, Grove City — The 5-8 junior guard and Shaler grad was named All-PAC honorable mention after a season in which he averaged 11.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game.


Division II

Big question: After reaching the Division II's Elite Eight last season and returning all five starters, can Gannon go all the way this winter?

Teams to watch

California (Pa.) — Australian senior guard Kate Seebohm (5.2 apg, 2.2 spg), a preseason All-PSAC West selection, anchors the Vulcans, who averaged a PSAC-low 16.7 turnovers and led the conference in turnover margin (5.65) last season.

Edinboro — Senior guard and Penn Hills grad Darche' Jackson (10.7 ppg) must pick up the offensive slack for Edinboro, which led the PSAC West in points per game (70.7) but lost its top two scorers. The Fighting Scots were second in the PSAC West preseason poll.

Gannon — The Golden Knights, who graduated just one player from its 13-player roster, grabbed the No. 2 spot in the USA Today Division II preseason poll. Their 2012-13 season ended with a 74-63 loss to eventual national champ Ashland in the quarterfinals.

Players to watch

Hannah Heeter, Clarion — A 6-1 junior forward, Heeter averaged 14.4 points and 13.3 rebounds per game last season and earned first-team All-PSAC West honors.

Jen Papich, Gannon — Papich, a 6-1 senior forward from Fox Chapel, was the 2012-13 PSAC West Player of the Year. She's a two-time All-PSAC West first-team selection.

Katie Gattuso, Seton Hill — A Seton-La Salle alum, the 6-0 senior forward was a first-team All-WVIAC in 2012-13 after averaging 17.6 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.

Division III

Big question: Will Washington & Jefferson finally dethrone seven-time defending champion Thomas More in the Presidents' Athletic Conference?

Teams to watch

La Roche — The Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference's three-time defending champ, La Roche was picked to repeat again in the preseason poll. Junior forward LaShauna Brothers, a New Castle alum, bolsters the team's front court.

St. Vincent — St. Vincent graduated just three seniors from a team that went 15-3 in conference play last season. Juniors Elle Collins and Ally Schmidt will handle guard duties for the Bearcats, who ranked second in the PAC in scoring offense (68.8 ppg) and scoring defense (54.9).

Washington & Jefferson — Picked to take second in the PAC preseason poll, the Presidents feature a daunting frontcourt duo in senior Chelsea Apke and junior Valerie Dunlap, who combined for 28.3 points and 18.7 rebounds per game.

Players to watch

Chelsea Apke, Washington & Jefferson — The 5-10 senior forward from Mt. Lebanon earned first-team All-PAC honors after averaging 14.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game last season.

Casie Cygan, La Roche — The 5-5 senior guard and Butler grad led the AMCC in scoring at 18.2 points per game last season. A four-year starter, she has averaged more than 10 points per game in every season.

Taylor Mathers, St. Vincent — The 6-2 senior forward, who averaged 7.1 points per game and had 28 blocks, will try to step in to replace standout inside presence Devin McGrath.

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