District men's basketball preview: Saint Vincent out to recapture PAC title
On Oct. 30, the Saint Vincent men's basketball team had an opportunity most Division III schools don't get: The Bearcats hosted a Division I school, Robert Morris.
The game was staged as a charity exhibition, and, as most observers might have expected, the Colonials earned a 78-61 victory. That didn't make the Bearcats any less upset about the outcome.
That, said senior guard Matt D'Amico (Fox Chapel), spoke volumes about his team.
“I think it really showed us the type of guys that we have,” said D'Amico, who averaged a team-high 12.6 points last season. “A lot of (D-III) teams would be happy losing by 20 (to a D-I school), but I felt like we were upset about that.
“That showed a lot about our guys, that they expect to win every game.”
The standards are high at Saint Vincent, which entered the 2016-17 season riding a string of four consecutive Presidents' Athletic Conference titles. But Thomas More knocked the Bearcats from the top of the mountain last season, putting D'Amico and his teammates on a mission.
“It motivated us a ton,” said senior Jason Capco (Belle Vernon), who averaged 7.6 points last season. “It's different when you play at Saint Vincent. You're expected to win championships. You don't just hope to win championships.”
The Bearcats return the bulk of the team that went 21-7 (15-3 PAC) to try to retrieve that lost title. Joining D'Amico and Capco among the holdovers is senior Tom Kromka (Gateway), whom coach D.P. Harris calls “one of the best players in the league.” The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Kromka averaged 12 points and 7.6 rebounds.
Also back are senior guard Coy Patterson Jr. (9.7 ppg) and senior forward Austin Dedert (Plum, 6.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg).
Several newcomers also are expected to have a significant impact, including 6-6 freshman Shemar Bennett, who had 16 points in 15 minutes off the bench against Robert Morris.
Harris plans to have a lineup that is 10 to 12 players deep, using an up-tempo style with liberal substitutions to try to wear down the opposition.
“One of our slogans this year is ‘stronger by numbers,' ” Harris said. “We're looking to play more guys less minutes. You're going to be tired while we're still fresh.”
Added Capco: “I think we got a lot better versatility-wise and depth-wise. We got some new guys in who allow us to play five in and five out. That allows us to play more up-tempo.”
There will be no shortage of challengers for the PAC crown. Reigning champion Thomas More returns its three leading scorers (Damion King, Simon Clifford and Ryne Callahan). Thiel, which finished third in the conference last season, returns PAC Player of the Year Tyreik Burton.
Westminster, tied for third with Thiel, returns all four of its leading scorers, including Deontay Scott (13.7 points, 9.4 rebounds) and Jarrett Vrabel (13.4, 8.0).
The Bearcats, however, remain confident the PAC title runs through Latrobe.
“It was tough to break that (string of titles),” D'Amico said. “At the same time, that really motivated us to come back and regain the championship.”
Added Harris: “We have throwback kids. They love winning. They love competing. I think that loss (in the championship) was good for us because it was a little humble pie for us.”