Assistant Sports Editor
Head Coach: Carl Danzig (17th season, 309-131)
2016-17 Record: (22-7 overall, 11-3 conference)
2016-17 Finish: Landmark Conference Champions, NCAA Tournament Second Round
Graduated: John Vitkus
First Game: Penn State-Berks, Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The Scranton men’s basketball program has a rich history of success, from the national championships in 1976 and 1983 to the seven Landmark titles in 10 years of the conference.
Year in and year out, the Royals look to attain lofty goals and often meet those high expectations. This year, Scranton is led by five experienced seniors head coach Carl Danzig has bred in this culture of excellence.
Four of those seniors are returning starters, including captains Ethan Danzig and Kevin Doolan.
Ethan Danzig is the second of Carl Danzig’s three sons to play at Scranton. Older brother Ross is one of the most prolific Royals of all time while younger brother Jackson is committed to play for The University next season.
Ethan Danzig started all 29 games last season, averaging 12.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. The 6-foot-5 guard also made 195 career 3-pointers, which is fourth most in program history.
Doolan started nearly every game of his career, including 29 games at point guard in 2016-17. The 5-foot-11 ball handler led the Landmark Conference in assists (131) and scored 9.1 points per game last season.
With 755 and 803 points, respectively, Doolan and Ethan Danzig should each score his 1,000th points later this season, barring no injuries.
“When you’ve got seniors that have played a ton of minutes and lead by example and also lead off the court by handling themselves a certain way, it makes my job a lot easier,” Carl Danzig said. “You can also add Drew Schankweiler in there, too. He’s our third captain. Another guy who just does what he’s supposed to do and handles himself very well on a day to day basis.”
Schankweiler started all 29 games last season at forward, but the 6-foot-8 post player will see an increased role his senior year after the graduation of standout center John Vitkus. Schankweiler averaged 7.3 points per game in 2016-17, and coach Danzig expects him to be this season’s X-factor.
“He’s been kind of waiting in the wings,” Carl Danzig said of Schankweiler. “He played next to (Vitkus) every game last year, and he played next to Brendan Boken the year before, and he has worked super hard every year he’s been here. I’m really excited for him. I think it’s going to be his time to shine.”
Chris McCullough also started 29 games last season, but the 6-foot-1 guard underwent ankle surgery over the summer and expects to be out to start the season. McCullough averaged 5.9 points per game and drilled 35 3-pointers before sustaining the injury during the final game of the season.
McCullough is one of the fastest, most athletic players on the team, so his injury will affect Scranton’s style of play.
“He plays defense, he can handle the ball, he can shoot, takes the charges,” Carl Danzig said of McCullough. “He just does a little bit of everything.”
Senior Mitch Cross rounds out the senior class, and he may see a bigger role to start the season in McCullough’s absence. Cross appeared in 56 games in his career, coming off the bench 29 times at shooting guard last season.
Jack Connelly, the only junior on the team, appeared in 17 games off the bench last season. The 6-foot-3 guard may also see more minutes while McCullough nurses his injury.
The Royals boast a stacked sophomore class that will be poised to step into starting roles in 2018-19, but for now the second-year players will get as much experience as they can coming off the bench.
Carl Danzig mentioned Matthew Mancuso as a potential hole filler after the loss of Vitkus. The 6-foot-7 forward played in 27 games off the bench last season, logging double-digit minutes in each of the last 13 games.
Sophomore guard Kyle DeVerna appeared in all 29 games off the bench last season, averaging 6.8 points and 20 minutes per game.
Ryan Vitkus, the younger brother of aforementioned John Vitkus, also hopes to step into that big-man role. The 6-foot-7 center only appeared in eight games his freshman year, but he has plenty of time to develop under the high family expectations.
Guard Danny Doolan, also part of a Royal basketball family, is the younger brother of Kevin Doolan. Danny Doolan appeared in nine games as a freshman and will see many more minutes this season.
Forward Lucas Hackett and guard Jack Dreisbach round out a sophomore class that will see a lot of minutes off the bench and looks to be the future of Scranton basketball.
“That’s really been the key to our success over all these years is I play a lot of young kids,” Carl Danzig said. “I give kids opportunities so when it is finally their time to shine they’re pretty comfortable.”
The Royals welcome a talented group of five freshmen that will battle for extra minutes. Logan Bailey is the son of Scranton’s 1983 national champion point guard Todd Bailey, but the 6-foot-4 freshman will sit out this entire season with a knee injury.
Other newcomers include forward Ryan Braun, guard Brian Monaghan, guard/forward hybrid Jack Stafford and post player Nolan Genasevich.
“We’re excited about this freshman group,” Carl Danzig said. “I think there’s a lot of talent there.”
According preseason polls, Scranton seems like shoo-in to win back-to-back Landmark Conference titles.
The Royals are first in the Landmark coaches’ preseason poll, receiving seven of eight first-place votes. Moravian College is slotted second as they return 12 players from last year’s conference championship runner-up team.
More often than not, the Royals are ranked at the top of the preseason standings, essentially putting a permanent target on the team’s back.
“When the purple comes to town we’re everybody’s big game,” Carl Danzig said. “The way I look at it is this is what you work hard for. You want to be the bar and you want everybody’s best shot, and if you don’t want to be a part of that, you’re not going to make it within our program.”
Susquehanna University came in third just one point behind Moravian. The River Hawks lost All-American and Landmark Player of the Year Steven Weidlich. Catholic University, which received the other first-place vote, is projected to finish fourth.
In order, Juniata College, Drew University, Goucher College and Elizabethtown College finish out the bottom of the list.
The Royals also have a tough non-conference schedule, including Widener University, Ursinus College and The College of New Jersey.
“We have a great non-conference schedule,” Carl Danzig said. “But I think this group can handle it. … There’s not many creampuffs on the schedule.”
Scranton has been one of the most consistent college basketball programs in the country, but the Royals have not reached the pinnacle of a Division III championship in 35 years. With four returning starters and a talented bench, the team is poised to make another NCAA Tournament run.
“It’s a long way away and it’s hard to go out there with those expectations,” Schankweiler said about a potential playoff push. “Our goal now is to get to the NCAA Tournament and take it from there.
Schankweiler said one team goal that is established every year is to win every home game. Going undefeated at the John Long Center seems like a difficult task, but the Royals only lost one game on home court last season.
“It would help us a lot if we’re able to do that,” Schankweiler said. “We’re just excited to get started on Friday.”
Scranton tips off its season by hosting the Hilton Scranton Invitational on Friday and Saturday, the first of two tournaments on home court.
The Royals host King’s College, Wilkes University and Marywood University for the Cross-County Challenge on Nov. 25-26.
Conference play begins at Juniata on Dec. 2, but Scranton opens the regular season hosting Penn State-Berks on Friday at 7:30 p.m.