Heading into the 2013-14 campaign, Susquehanna head coach Frank Marcinek and his staff welcome back nearly their entire starting five from a year ago. Add eight newcomers into the mix and it appears everything is adding up to a roster that has an almost ideal mix of experience, youth and depth.
Marcinek, now in his 25th year at the helm of the program, knows his team has the talent to improve from its sixth-place conference finish a year ago. He has added assistant coach Gregor Van Pelt to the program. Van Pelt joined SU after a stint at Division II East Stroudsburg and along with returning assistant coaches Chad Bailey and Mark Prusch '06, the players have the resources they need to succeed.
While injuries have plagued the team during the preseason, the season is a long one; it's a marathon, not a sprint, as the saying goes. The injury bug has, however, given the team's first-year players more repetitions in practice and more playing time in scrimmages than they might have otherwise gotten, meaning they are more than ready to step in and see significant time from the start if need be.
Three-year letterwinner and two-year starting point guard Mike Perillo (Holmdel, N.J./Holmdel) provides a reassuring presence on the court as he has solid ability – and experience – to run the team's offense. This year Marcinek and his staff hope to see the senior increase his scoring threat to bring his game to the next level. Perillo had a better than 2:1 turnover to assist ratio last year as he led the team with 144 assists to just 43 turnovers.
Adding to the depth at point guard is newcomer Phil Madison (Johnstown, Pa./Great Johnstown) who, Marcinek says, "can score, shoots the ball well and is very quick."
Reigning 2012-13 Landmark Conference Rookie of the Year Brandon Hedley (Silver Spring, Md./Salisbury Prep) was projected to start at the two-spot again as a sophomore but with several preseason injuries has now taken over at point guard. Having played two-guard as a freshman, he is capable of making the transition back to that role if needed but has spent the preseason learning the ins and outs of the point guard position for Susquehanna.
The team's leading scorer a year ago, Hedley brings the added dimension of a scoring threat to the point guard role as well as a year of experience at the college level.
Now stepping into the two-guard spot vacated, at least for now, by Hedley is Steven Weidlich (Watchung N.J./Watchung Hills). Fellow first-year player Evan Austin (Knoxville, Md./St. John's Catholic Prep) did not see as much time during the preseason as had hoped due to injury but once healthy should serve as the backup two-guard as will Hedley.
The small forward spot will go to senior Jake Eskin (Germantown, Md./Churchill) at the start of the season as Josh Miller (Strasburg, Pa./Lampeter Strasburg), who was also competing for that starting spot, rehabs an ankle sprain. Marcinek considers Eskin the team's best driver of the ball to the basket who can get to the free throw line. Eskin also provides the squad with great leadership as he is now in his fourth season with the team.
Big things are still expected from Miller upon his return. Miller started 11 games last year and appeared in 24 contests. He came on strong to end the season, finishing his freshman season averaging 7.6 points and 2.9 rebounds per game.
Backing up the position will be junior Matt McGugan (Silver Spring, Md./Blake), who appeared in six games last year.
There is a great deal of depth at the four spot. Tre Dean (Dallas, Texas/Greenhill School) will be expected to carry the bulk of the playing time once healthy with sophomore transfer Zach Newby (York, Pa./William Penn) expected to see immediate and significant playing time, as well. Dean pulled down 3.6 rebounds per game last year while adding 4.5 points per game.
"Zach brings a great deal of athleticism and natural ability to the position," Marcinek said. "He's a little raw but got a lot of repetitions in preseason."
Newby saw the court a lot during preseason practices and scrimmages while Dean rehabbed a lower body injury and thus should be ready to step into the starting role if necessary.
In a surprise to no one, 2010-11 Rookie of the Year Harley Sellinger (Mill Hall, Pa./Central Mountain) will anchor the center position. Sellinger missed the first half of his junior campaign while studying abroad but returned for the latter part of the season and produced big numbers, averaging 8.7 points and a team-high 6.1 rebounds per appearance. Now entering his fourth year as a starter, the team needs another productive season from the All-Conference player.
Classmate Wally Rutecki (Springfield, Pa./Springfield) will back up Sellinger at center while also serving as a backup at the four spot. Rutecki is regarded as the team's best communicator and will be asked to provide additional offense than in years past.
Providing quality minutes off the bench at the position will also be freshman Danny Weiss (Montville, N.J./Montville Twp.). Throughout preseason it has become apparent to the coaching staff Weiss is the best back-to-the-basket scorer and because of that he will see the court.
While Marcinek acknowledges that as is expected, the newcomers will need some time to adjust to the speed of the game but with five of the team's first six games at home, this
SU opens the season at Lycoming before hosting its annual Pepsi Tip-Off Tournament. The first Landmark Conference game of the season is a home contest as Scranton comes to Houts Gymnasium on Dec. 7.
This year the team will travel to Puerto Rico to take part in the Puerto Rico Division III Classic on Dec. 21. The Crusaders will face Elite 8 team St. Mary's (Md.) in its final game of 2013.
All four Landmark Conference tournament teams from a year ago lost significant pieces but Marcinek still expects them to be tough competition. However, despite being picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll, Marcinek stated "it is not our goal to be fifth at the end of the season."