The University of Scranton men's basketball has a long and storied tradition of success which fosters high expectations year in and year out.
The 2018-19 season is no different for the Royals, who have the same lofty goals as they always have had under head coach Carl Danzig, who enters his 18th season at the reigns of the program.
"Our goal is to win 20 games, win the Landmark Conference championship, and make the NCAA Tournament," stated Danzig.
Scranton's 2018-19 edition will feature a bit of a new look with many new faces to go along with several key returners. Most importantly, the squad enters the start of the season at full health and will look to carry that throughout the season.
Coach Danzig is counting on big contributions from several key returners while looking for others to step up into increased roles. The Royals are also excited by a talented group of first year players who will look to adjust to the collegiate game quickly to play a part in the team's success.
A season ago, Scranton went 13-12 to post their 14th straight winning record and were above .500 for the 16th time in Coach Danzig's 17 seasons as the Royals' head coach.
However, despite going 9-5 in Landmark Conference games, the Royals missed out on a playoff berth for the first time in 14 seasons after becoming the first team in the league's 11-year history to fall short of the postseason with nine conference wins. Notably, Scranton missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 campaign despite finishing the regular season one game out of a tie for first place.
Juniata and eventual conference champion Moravian tied atop the league standings with 10-4 records while Drew, Catholic, and Scranton finished in a three-way tie for third place with 9-5 marks, but it was the Royals who were left on the outside looking in when the tiebreakers played out.
Scranton's conference foes expect the Royals to contend for the conference title this season, picking them third in the Landmark Conference preseason coaches' poll which was released on Friday. Scranton collected 44 points and one first-place vote in the balloting, trailing preseason favorite and defending champion Moravian (70 points, 7 first place votes) and Drew (49 points).
Catholic was slotted fourth in the preseason poll with 40 points to sit just ahead of Susquehanna, which garnered 38 points. Juniata (28 points), Elizabethtown (21 points), and Goucher (14 points) rounded out the voting.
Scranton had a bit of a head start this summer as the returning players spent 10 days together on a trip to Ireland, playing three games while touring the country in early August. "It was a great team-building experience for our guys," remarked Coach Danzig. "We played some good competition over there but, more importantly, we got to know each other that much more and enjoy a once in a life time experience."
The Royals returned to Northeastern Pennsylvania and headed back into the classroom at the end of the month before hitting the hardwood for preseason in the middle of October with five new freshmen joining their ranks.
Now, as Scranton puts the final touches on its preparation for Saturday's season opener, Coach Danzig feels good about how the Royals' preseason has played out. "The energy has been really good this preseason," he said. "We have a nice mix of some veteran guys and younger players looking to prove themselves which has made it a lot of fun. The challenge for our new players is understanding the concepts of what we are trying to do, but our upperclassman have been great in helping them along. We're healthy and we're headed in the right direction."
Scranton has won seven Landmark Conference championships, the last coming in the 2016-17 season. In order to contend for its eighth Landmark crown and achieve its goals, the Royals will need to find a way to replace five seniors from last year's team lost to graduation including three starters in guards Ethan Danzig and Kevin Doolan, along with forward Drew Schankweiler.
Also departed are graduated guard Mitch Cross and Chris McCullough who rounded out a veteran leadership core last season. Danzig, the Royals' all-time leader in three-pointers made, and Schankweiler, who averaged a double-double, were Second Team All-Landmark Conference selections.
Coach Danzig will turn to a new crop for leadership this season with senior Jack Connelly (Ellington, Conn./Ellington) and juniors Kyle DeVerna (Rockville Centre, N.Y./Kellenberg Memorial) and Matthew Mancuso (Bridgewater, N.J./Bridgewater-Raritan) serving as captains for this year's edition of the Royals.
Connelly is the lone senior on this season's squad. He's coming off a junior season in which he played in 23 games, including eight as a starter, on the wing. He averaged 4.0 points per game while shooting 51.7 percent from 3-point range.
"Jack is the consummate team player," said Coach Danzig of his lone senior. "He's an extremely hard worker who sets the tone in practice. His teammates respect him and follow his example of putting the team first."
DeVerna started 24 of 25 games last season, averaging 9.9 points, 3.2 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 0.9 steals per game. He led the team in free throw percentage at 85.4, the ninth-best single-season percentage in team history. DeVerna scored in double figures 10 times last season.
"Kyle's been a key contributor for us over the last few years," Coach Danzig said about DeVerna. "He's taking on a new role this season, moving off the ball which will free him up to maximize his talents."
Mancuso overcame an early season injury a year ago to start 15 of 16 games he played in and was third on the team in scoring at 13.8 points per game while adding 5.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
"Matt had a tough start last year," said Danzig of Manusco, who reached double figures 13 times after coming back from his injury. "He looks greats in preseason and we're counting on him to have a solid year for us."
Beyond his captains, Coach Danzig will be looking for several players to step into bigger roles this season including junior guard Jack Dreisbach (Allentown, Pa./Parkland), sophomore forward/center Nolan Genasevich (Sugarloaf, Pa./Home School), sophomore guard Brian Monaghan (Florham Park, N.J./Morristown-Beard), and sophomore forward Ryan Braun (North Wales, Pa./Lancaster Catholic).
Dreisbach appeared in 12 games and averaged 7.6 minutes per game while Genasevich appeared in 17 contests with 5.2 minutes per game. Monaghan averaged 11.6 minutes in the 10 game in which he played while Braun appeared in 10 contests, averaging 5. 9 minutes.
Coach Danzig feels good about the team's depth, which also includes returners junior forward Lucas Hackett (Millington, N.J./Watchung Hills Regional), junior guard Danny Doolan (Basking Ridge, N.J./Ridge), sophomore guard Jack Stafford (Plainview, N.Y./Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK), along with redshirt freshman Logan Bailey (Scranton, Pa./Scranton Prep) who missed all of the 2017-18 season with an injury.
"Logan is fully healthy and he looks great," said Coach Danzig of Bailey. "He brings great energy to the team and is always positive which makes it great to have him back on the floor. We're looking for him to be a key contributor for us this season."
Coach Danzig's depth will include five new freshman in guards Jackson Danzig (Clarks Green, Pa./Abington Heights), Ben Bosland (Colts Neck, N.J./Colts Neck), and Jack Brockett (Shamong, N.J./Seneca), along with forwards Peter Hartrick (Binghamton, N.Y./Seton Catholic Central) and Paul Brown (Greenville, Del./Salesianum School).
The Royals' coaching staff thinks highly of the freshman class and is expecting immediate contributions from Danzig, Bosland and Brockett while looking for Hartick and Brown to continue the improvement they've showing throughout the preseason to help the team as the season progresses.
"Our new guys fit nicely into what we are looking to do," said Coach Danzig of his freshman class. "Not only do they fit in talent-wise, but they bring the positive attitude, energy, and enthusiasm that will help make us a better team."
Scranton will once again play a challenging non-conference slate to prepare itself for the rigors of a highly competitive Landmark Conference slate. This season, the Royals will play four games against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season, and six more against teams that won at least 17 games.
Scranton opens the season a week earlier than usual, thanks to an NCAA rules change that allows teams to start their seasons earlier. The Royals will travel to Owings Mills, Md. On Saturday to take on Stevenson at 3 p.m. in the season opener, which comes a week earlier than in previous seasons.
"It's always exciting to get out and play that first game of the season," said Coach Danzig of the early start to the 2018-19 season. "Our players are excited to see outside competition and while we have a week less of preparation, we're excited to see how they handle the game, on the road, with so many new faces."
Scranton returns to the John Long Center for the home opener on Friday, Nov. 16, in the Hilton Scranton Invitational. The Royals will take on Hartwick at 7:30 p.m. following the first game between Ursinus and St. Lawrence. Saturday's championship game tips off at 4 p.m. and is immediately preceded by the third-place game at 2 p.m.
The Royals then play two more home non-conference games before opening Landmark Conference play on Saturday, Dec. 1, against Goucher at 2 p.m. in the Long Center. Scranton will then play three non-conference games to close out the pre-Christmas schedule.
The annual Cross-County Challenge will take place on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 29-30, at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The Royals will face Wilkes at 1 p.m. on Saturday before taking on the host Monarchs on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Scranton will complete its non-conference schedule on Wednesday, Jan. 2, by hosting Gettysburg at 7 p.m. before finishing the year with 13 straight Landmark Conference games starting with a tilt at Elizabethtown on Sat., Jan. 5 and concluding at Goucher Sat., Feb. 16.