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The men’s basketball team is beginning its 2013-14 season the same way it ended last season: on top.
The reigning Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference tournament champions were voted first in the PSAC West Division preseason coaches’ poll, announced Wednesday afternoon.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania garnered seven of the nine first-place votes. Gannon University and Slippery Rock University each received one first-place vote and are ranked second and third in the poll, respectively.
The Crimson Hawks, under the tutelage of ninth-year head coach Joe Lombardi, will look to repeat as PSAC champions but will have to do so with a team that counts half of its 14 players on the roster as newcomers.
“Being picked in first place is nice because it’s just a sign of respect for our program and the way our guys go about things,” Lombardi said. “I’m sure we weren’t picked first because we were looked at as being loaded. This is the least experienced team that I’ve had here in five years.”
Lombardi will lean heavily on his two preseason All-PSAC West players, Mathis Keita (senior, sports administration) and Marcel Souberbielle (senior, communications media). Earlier this month, Keita, who led the team in scoring a year ago, was named honorable mention in the Division II Bulletin’s All-American team.
“I’m really excited because they gave me all those extra things and individual awards, but I just want to win games,” Keita said.
Souberbielle, who was fourth on the team in scoring last season, is ready for the challenges of this year, even with all of the new players.
“It’s a completely new team,” Souberbielle said. “I’m just excited. Having a new team, new responsibilities, but the expectations are the same for us always so I’m just excited for what we can do.”
DeVante Chance (junior, communications media) will be the primary ball-handler and floor general from the point guard position this year, a season after splitting duties with Anthony Wells. Last season, Chance came off the bench in 25 games but still led the Crimson Hawks in assists, with 3.3 per game.
“I learned a lot from Ant Wells, from just his leadership on the court and off the court to talking throughout the game and practice and trying to get the team together,” Chance said.
The IUP frontcourt will feature Drake University transfer Jeremy Jeffers (junior, journalism) and Devon Cottrell (sophomore, communications media).
According to Lombardi, Jeffers is going to play a “prominent role” on the team from the four spot and has been impressive through the first two weeks of practice. The 6-foot-6-inch forward will bring many intangibles to the team with his play.
“I think Jeremy brings a lot of versatility,” Souberbielle said. “He can really stretch the floor. He’s a really good shooter.”
Cottrell, despite averaging just 11 minutes of playing time per game, led the Crimson Hawks in 2012-13 with 25 blocked shots.
“Our most improved guy from over the summer might be Devon Cottrell,” Lombardi said. “He’s put an incredible amount of time in.”
Other Crimson Hawks that expect to play key roles include Brandon Norfleet (sophomore, undeclared), Cornell Yarde (redshirt freshman, computer science), Jesse Bosnik (graduate, business administration) in the backcourt and Kalusha Ndoumbe Ngollo (sophomore, international business) and Nathan Lemke (freshman, natural science) in the frontcourt.
“We have some good players behind the starting five,” Lombardi said.
Norfleet, who transferred from Cheyney University, was named PSAC East Freshman of the Year after averaging 13.6 points per game and shooting 42 percent from 3-point range. Norfleet will become eligible to play for IUP sometime in January.
Lombardi also has high expectations for the other players.
“Cornell Yarde has a chance to be a real good player in our program,” Lombardi said. “Jesse Bosnik, after a six-year layoff, is starting to look like a basketball player, and we’ll look to him to contribute. Kalusha and Nathan, as they become more familiar with the system and improve fundamentals … will make contributions on the inside.”
Fans this season may notice a few changes in the Crimson Hawks’ style of play, mostly in their defense. Due to greater referee emphasis on hand-checking on the perimeter, Lombardi said he has decided that his team will play zone defense a year after only playing zone “maybe two possessions all [last] year.”
“Zone is going to become a necessity, not only for our team but for every team,” Lombardi said of the new rules regarding perimeter defense.
IUP tips off its season this weekend with exhibition games Saturday at La Salle University and Monday at Michigan State University. The regular season officially starts Nov. 13 when IUP plays West Virginia Wesleyan College before the Crimson Hawks make their home debut Nov. 16 versus Notre Dame College (Ohio).