The 53rd season of Blue Knight men’s basketball officially gets underway this weekend under new head coach Nick Dials when Urbana University travels to the IRMC/Hilton Garden Inn Classic. Hosted by IUP at the Kovalchick Convention & Athletic Complex in Indiana, Pa., UU will challenge the sixth-ranked Crimson Hawks (0-2) today at 7:30 p.m. and Pitt-Johnstown on Saturday at 5:15 p.m.
What you need to know:
The Nick Dials era commences this weekend after the 33-year old was named the head men’s basketball coach last summer. Dials, who is in his first head-coaching job, previously served as an assistant at Toledo, Miami and his alma mater Akron. He is the 10th head coach in UU men’s basketball history.
Friday marks the fourth consecutive year that UU will open the season at IUP and seventh overall meeting between the two schools. The Blue Knights are winless against the Crimson Hawks while averaging 63.5 points per game in the all-time series. IUP won last year’s meeting at the Kovalchick Complex, 91-74.
UU also played Pitt-Johnstown in last year’s trip to the Kovalchick Complex and came out with a victory, 80-74, after leading by as many as 16 in the neutral-site matchup. Four Blue Knights scored in double-digits, including this year’s top returning scorer Carlas Jackson with 19 points.
Last season, UU produced the largest turnaround in program history with a 10-game improvement in the win column. The Blue Knights finished 12-17 after going 2-26 in 2015-16.
Six returners are back from the 2016-17 squad, led by senior shooting guard Carlas Jackson.
Jackson is the team’s top returning scorer (15.3 career ppg) and lone-three letterwinner. Back in the mix are seniors AJ Washington (5.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Aarmanni Garnett (2.9 ppg), along with redshirt junior Malik Jacobs, sophomore Ethan Snapp (5.1 ppg) and sophomore Andre Hawes Jr. (1.3 ppg).
Eight newcomers joined the program this season including six transfers with Nick Detlev (7-3, 225/UT Martin), Mike Ryan (6-7, 195/Ashland) and Roy Hatchett Jr. (6-1, 175/Owens CC) expected to contribute right away.
The Blue Knights lost nearly 70 percent of their scoring from last year’s team that averaged 83 points per outing. The Blue Knights are 3-12 in season openers since 2003-04 and won last year’s tipoff game against UPJ.
UU was voted to finish 12th in the Mountain East Conference Preseason Poll. The Blue Knights are in their eighth year as an NCAA Division II program and fifth as a member of the MEC.
IUP at a glance:
Sixth-ranked IUP lost both games against ranked opponents last weekend at the Small College Basketball (SBC) Hall of Fame Classic in Evansville, Ind., which included seven other D-II teams. The Crimson Hawks opened against No. 20 Findlay (L, 80-61) and most recently fell against No. 10 Ferris State in a tight contest, 86-82. Under head coach Joe Lombardi, the Crimson Hawks have reached the postseason in nine straight years. IUP went 28-4 last season and returns four starters, including junior duo Jacobo Diaz and Dante Lombardi who are preseason All-Americans.
Pitt-Johnstown at a glance:
Under long-time head coach Bob Rukavina, the Mountain Cats are coming off back-to-back winning seasons. UPJ finished 19-11 last year and returns two starters including all-conference guard Dale Clancy (14.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.2 apg). UPJ was picked to finish sixth in the PSAC Western Division after making its third straight conference tournament appearance last season.