Men’s hoops No. 3

Marco Cicchino, Staff writer

For lack of a better phrase, Indiana University of Pennsylvania is not kind to almost any opponent who dares to visit.  The vaunted Kovalchick Complex creates a distinct home-court advantage, with its state-of-the-art facility and rowdy student section.  The Lakers’ bid to repeat as unlikely PSAC champions ended there on March 1, 2017.  Nearly 1,700 people packed the complex to witness the Indiana Crimson Hawks’ 16-point win in the PSAC quarterfinals.

This would be a relatively low number by Indiana standards, but the fan support was there and unwavering.  So it should come as no surprise that despite losing their first two games with a No. 6 preseason ranking, the Crimson Hawks were picked as preseason favorites to pick up a West Division crown.  Indiana’s eight first-place votes indicate a vote of confidence in by the rest of the division to repeat its 21-1 PSAC record from last season.  The Lakers, meanwhile, sit third on the poll, picking up the other top vote and sandwiching Gannon in at second place.  Before they were unsuccessful in defending their PSAC title, the Lakers finished at an even .500 in both the PSAC (11-11) and overall (14-14).

However, the Lakers have every reason for optimism about 2017.  Following the Lakers in the preseason poll were two surprises in Slippery Rock and California, with Pitt-Johnstown in sixth spot, followed by Seton Hill, Edinboro and Clarion.  A big advantage for this year’s Lakers lies in the experience factor.  The Lakers enter their 10th season in the PSAC and return all but four from last year’s roster that allowed a third-in-the-conference 68.8 points.  Game one for the Lakers is in Buffalo against a Daemen team that went 19-9 last year and 14-2 in the East Coast Conference.
Despite this, Daemen fell to the Lakers at the Mercyhurst Athletic Center 70-61.  From here, the Lakers follow up to face the bottom two teams in the East preseason poll, Millersville and Shippensburg.

Two of the top teams in the East welcome the Lakers in early December — Kutztown and West Chester.  West Chester is looking to snap a three-game losing streak to the Lakers that dates back to 2014.  This includes the 2016 PSAC championship contest, won by the Lakers for their first title since joining the conference.  The road does not get any easier after that, as dates with both preseason favorites bookend the turn of the calendar.  Shippensburg will arrive here on Dec. 30 before the Lakers return to the Crimson Hawks on Jan. 6 in what has the potential to be one of the highest-profile contests in Division II all season.  The Crimson Hawks arrive here on Jan. 27 after the Lakers face every other team in the division in between the two IUP contests.

Gannon went 18-10 overall last season but won 11 of 15 at the Hammermill Center in downtown Erie, including a 110-104 double-overtime thriller against Clarion on Jan. 14.  The Lakers then complete their schedule with contests against every team below them in the preseason poll, the Pride of Erie Game third-to-last on the slate.  Dajuan Dent came off the bench nicely to record 9.5 points in 28 contests, while his 120 rebounds were second on the team to Durrell McDonald.  Three other Lakers recorded at least 90 rebounds last season, including John Majors, who shot 46.7 percent from the floor.  Meanwhile, the Lakers’ +75 turnover margin averaged out to 2.68 per contest, fourth in the conference, while they recorded the fifth-best rebounding defense at 34.4 per game.