Twelve teams will fight for it all this week in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) playoffs after the fields were finalized on Saturday for what is expected to be a hotly contested tournament.
“All six teams could win this tournament,” SRU head coach Kevin Reynolds said pertaining to the PSAC west teams.
The Indiana (Pa.) Crimson Hawks claimed the no. 1 seed in the west after a stellar 22-17 (18-4) year, which had earned them the no. 5 ranking in the NCAA Atlantic region currently.
“Indiana has won the west again, they had another good season,” Reynolds said. This is the third-straight year IUP has earned the number one seed for the west.
IUP earned a bye and will await the winner of Edinboro and Pitt-Johnstown
Edinboro earned the fourth seed while becoming the surprise of the year, as they were picked eighth out of nine teams in the preseason poll.
“Edinboro will probably have the coach of the year. They were picked eighth in the league and finished fourth, so that’s a good turnaround,” Reynolds said.
The fighting Scott opponent, UPJ, returns three all-PSAC players and will look to make a run of their own in the tournament.
On the other side of the bracket for the west will be Slippery Rock hosting Mercyhurst in the first round. Slippery Rock has some strengths that must continue and some weaknesses that need to be corrected for them to make a run, Reynolds said.
“We need to keep sharing the ball and finding who’s hot. We’ve really been getting the ball moving instead of just sticking it in one guy’s hands,” Reynolds said. “We need to practice better, You can’t take practices off physically or mentally, I think that’s what hurt us near the end of the year. We had guys who didn’t have their A or B game during practice and it cost us.”
SRU’s opponent will be the Mercyhurst Lakers, who finished the year an even 13-13, but always have the ability to trip up an opponent.
“Mercyhurst is always one of the stingiest teams from a defensive standpoint, they play a lot of different defenses, they are really physical,” Reynolds said.
The winner of that contest will travel to Erie to play the Gannon golden knights, who sit at tenth in the NCAA atlantic regional rankings, and will be the other team in the PSAC-West to receive a bye.
“To get the bye is huge, because if you want to win the tournament, it’s easier to win three games instead of four,” Reynolds said. “Gannon is one of the more historic programs in Division II, they are always a team before the season starts that you know you have to contend with.”
The PSAC-East will have six teams fighting as well, with Reynolds describing the east as “Top-Heavy” due to the top four seeds all appearing in the top seven in the regional rankings: East Stroudsburg (no. 1 seed, no. 7 ranking), West Chester (no. 2 seed, no. 4 ranking), Shippensburg (no. 3 seed, no. 3 ranking) and Kutztown (no. 4 seed, no. 6 ranking.)
No. 1 ESU will await the winner of no. 4 Kutztown and no. 5 Bloomsburg, while no. 2 West Chester will face the winner of no. 3 Shippensburg and no. 6 Millersville.
Once the field is narrowed down to four teams, the match ups switch and the highest seed from the host division plays the lowest seed from the opposite division, and the winners of those two games face off in the PSAC championship game on Sunday, March fourth.
Following a loss to Gannon on Saturday, SRU will start the season Monday and will look to overcome the challenges of a grueling playoff schedule to secure a championship.
“We gotta play a lot of games in a few days, we need to have everybody on their A game, because we have no break until the tournament starts,” Reynolds said.
For SRU, their “X-Factor” to win the tournament seems to lie in the bench.
“This year we’ve gotten really good bench production, it doesn’t really matter who we start,” Reynolds said. “We play whose going; a guy like Christal who started most games last year, he is still probably one of the better big men in the league, he does a good job whether he’s starting or comes off of the bench.”
SRU and Mercyhurst will tip off at 7 p.m., Monday, February 26th to start the tournament.