PAC Men’s Basketball 2017-18 Preview: Stars are Aligned for a Competitive Year

By Justin Zackal

Reigning PAC Player of the Year, Tyreik Burton, and the Thiel Tomcats are hoping this is their season to win the PAC.

Every year coaches are going to boast about how tough it is to play in their conference that it can also be tough to take such platitudes seriously. But when Thiel College men’s basketball coach Tim Loomis said that the Presidents’ Athletic Conference this year is “the best it’s ever been” and “from top to bottom, anyone can win this league,” he was not exaggerating.

There are three reasons for this, according to Loomis, two of which are the raised standards in recruiting and coaching, but the other is more coincidental: the stars are aligned for the 2017-18 PAC men’s basketball season, meaning all the stars are coming back.

Twenty-one of the highest 22 scoring averages last year are returning, including the league’s top 15 scorers and each team’s leading scorer. All 10 teams are returning at least three starters, including three with four and three with five. Eight of the 10 players named all-PAC last year are back as well.

“Recruiting efforts have amped up the last two years, good players are returning on all the teams and there’s better coaching,” Loomis said. “It’s going to make it very competitive this year.”

Loomis welcomes back the reigning PAC Player of the Year in senior guard Tyreik Burton, who led the league with a 18.0 scoring average a year ago. According to Loomis, Burton has Division-I quickness and because it’s rare to see a defensive equivalent at the Division III level, Burton’s presence alone can open up shots for teammates.

One teammate who Loomis considers just as much of a player of the year candidate as Burton is senior forward Josh Lumbus, who averaged 12 points and 5.6 rebounds last year. Both Burton and Lumbus did not finish the season, nor did they play in the conference tournament because of knee injuries.

Coaching experience is also a prevailing theme. Loomis is entering his 12th season and he’s only the fourth longest tenured coach, while the remaining six coaches are entering at least their third season at their school.

Thomas More broke up Saint Vincent’s four-year run as PAC champion by winning its first league title since 2009. But, as Loomis indicated, anyone can win it this year. Here are the teams listed in their predicted order of finish in this year’s coaches’ poll with last year’s overall and PAC records in parentheses:

SAINT VINCENT (21-7, 15-3)
For the first time since 2012, the Bearcats are not entering the season as defending champs, but head coach D.P. Harris is returning four of five starters, including senior guard Matt D’Amico (12.6 ppg), but that’s not including senior forward Tom Kromka, who was named first-team all-PAC despite coming off the bench and averaging 11.9 points and 7.6 rebounds.

THOMAS MORE (22-7, 15-3)
The Saints return all five starters from last year’s PAC championship team, including four juniors who averaged at least 7.3 points per game, led by guard Damion King and his team-best 14.1 average. Fifth-year head coach Drew Cooper’s team led the league in scoring (78.0), average scoring margin (+8.7) and average rebound margin (+4.7) last year. They also enter the year having played Kentucky and Xavier in preseason exhibition games.

WESTMINSTER (17-12, 11-7)
The Titans return three of five starters for sixth-year head coach Kevin Siroki. Senior forward/guard Deontay Scott averaged 13.7 points and a PAC-best 9.4 rebounds last year, and he will be joined again in the frontcourt by Jarret Vrabel (13.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg).

THIEL (16-9, 11-7)
Loomis said his Tomcats will be deeper this year and they’ll be able to play at a faster pace, especially at guard with sophomores Terrance Holloway and Nyric Gosley getting up to speed as freshman last year, especially after Burton went down with his injury. Thiel hasn’t won the PAC title since 2000. This could be the year.

BETHANY (17-13, 9-9)
The Bison lost Antonio Rudolph, the only first-team all-PAC player and the league’s only top-22 scorer not to come back. But this year’s team will be more about who is returning, as in three starters and their top two scorers from last year: senior guards Calique Jones (14.8 ppg) and Andrew Williams (12.8 ppg).

GROVE CITY (12-14, 8-10)
Steve Lamie enters his 20th season as head coach of the Wolverines seeking the team’s first PAC title since 2010. If they do it this year it’ll be because of their 6-foot-6 big men, Andrew Beckman (13.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Cory Huff (14.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg), who account for two of the team’s four returning starters.

CHATHAM (10-16, 6-12)
All five starters are back for Chatham’s third year of varsity basketball, including junior guard/forward Alex Schoppen, who averaged 12.0 points per game last year. Isaiah Brown (11.5 ppg) and Anthony Bomar (7.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg) are also back.

GENEVA (10-16, 7-11)
The PAC’s longest tenured coach, Geneva’s Jeff Santarsiero, welcomes back three of five starters for his 21st season. The Golden Tornadoes typically rely on one or two players to do most of their scoring and last year was no different. Sophomore guard Ethan Moose (16.2 ppg) and senior forward Jimmy Leichliter (15.5 ppg) ranked second and fourth in the league in scoring, but as a team the GTs were sixth (70.6 ppg).

WAYNESBURG (6-19, 4-14)
The Yellow Jackets return three starters, including senior forward Jon Knab, who ranked third in the league in scoring last year with 16.0 points per game. Waynesburg hasn’t won the PAC since 1996, which would be the longest drought if not for …

… Washington & Jefferson, which has not won the PAC since 1995, the last of four straight years the Presidents won the league. The Presidents return all five starters from last year, including two senior Brians, Lindquist (13.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg) at forward and Graytok (11.4 ppg, 3.4 apg) at guard.