MANSFIELD -- After watching his 2012-13 team finish 10-18 and 7-15 in the PSAC, Mansfield Mountaineer head coach Rich Miller's expectations from his current squad can be summed up in one word - improvement.
"I am looking forward to this season," said Miller. "It is a new year and I really think we have the pieces to score points. We have some weapons on offense, but it is going to come down to whether or not we can stop other people from scoring. Can we keep them from going on those 12-0, 15-0 runs and can we get the job done in those areas? Only time and a lot of hard work will tell."
Two areas of the game that didn't sit well with Miller last season was team defense and rebounding. Not to overlook those two areas, Miller has had his troops working hard on both areas in the early going.
"Stats don't lie and we were pretty bad last year," said Miller. "We were dead last in the conference in defensive field goal percentage third from last in points given up per game so we have focused on those areas pretty hard thus far. We have to make improvements and those areas are our primary focus in the pre-season."
One thing that can be done from the 2012-13 season to this year in an attempt to improve in those areas is recruitment. Looking at some of the new Mounties on this year's squad, Miller likes what he sees from his new recruits.
"Charles Pemberton gives us a big guy inside who can block shots," said Miller. He also rebounds, he has good hands and he finishes around the basket. Ryan Krawczeniuk from the Wilkes-Barre area is a combo guy and he is a real good shooter. He is a very, very smart basketball player who can play the point or the wing. We like to shoot threes and we like to go inside-out. When you have an inside threat like we do, it is good to have a guy on the perimeter who can knock down threes. Then we have Jimbo Long, who is a pure point guard who can run the show for us and we feel that those three guys can really help fill our needs to keep moving forward."
Although the Mounties return a good number of players who logged a lot of minutes last year, the three guys who game-in and game-out found their names at or near the top of the stat sheet are Kevonte McClain, Charles Becoats and Joe Bell.
"Joe Bell is an incredible player," said Miller. "He is outstanding offensively and defensively he knows that he is still a work in progress. McClain is really improved and is stepping up as a leader. He is a load in there at 6-6, 250 pounds. Becoats has made himself into an outstanding player. He is a great shooter, can play the point or on a wing and he gives us a multi-dimensional guy out there. He is also a guy who we can give the ball to and say, hey, go and make a play for us."
Some of the other players who Miller hopes can step up and contribute to the Mountie success are Kenny Johnson, Kamil Parzych, Brady Burke and Onyema Utti.
"Johnson was a guy who was really disappointing last year," said Miller. He has an unbelievable amount of talent. He is a big-time, physical athlete who can make plays and we expect him to have a much better year this year. Parzych is a physical guard who came along nicely toward the end of last year, Burke is an athletic guard who came along nicely at the end of the year and Utti did some good things for us last year as well."
As for the PSAC, Miller knows that every time you put the uniform on and step onto the floor, you are going to be in for a battle.
"I think the East is going to be strong again with West Chester and East Stroudsburg both returning very good teams," he said. "Millersville and Bloomsburg had very good years last year and they should both be strong again. Lock Haven is a team that is getting better and better every year, Kutztown has a lot of new faces, Shippensburg has some new faces too and Cheyney will be athletic, quick and strong inside so we'll have to wait and see what happens there."
The PSAC has gone under some renovations since last year with Lock Haven moving from west to east and the schedule format has changed as well.
"The way the league is set up this year you don't feel like when you play your west schedule then that is over," Miller said. "We are jumping right into it so we are going to find out right away where we are because we face West Chester and East Stroudsburg in our first two conference games. I think those two teams will be picked to finish near the top along with Millersville so it is going to be quite a challenge for us."
While the PSAC games are going to be tough, so will the non-conference contests because there are no cup cakes in the group that includes Franklin Pierce, Lincoln and Lemoyne.
"Franklin Pierce went to the elite eight last year, Lincoln is strong again and Lemoyne is also expected to be good so we are going to be tested," said Miller.