Pitt-Bradford men's basketball is set to tipoff the 2016-17 season at 7 p.m. Tuesday hosting Buffalo State.
It will be the first meeting between the two schools since 2011-12 and provide Pitt-Bradford with an early non-conference test; the Bengals won 15 games a year ago.
"Buffalo State will be the favorite in the SUNYAC and there is no better way to kick the season off then at home," head coach Britt Moore said.
Moore enters his sixth season at the helm and hopes the momentum of last season carries over.
Pitt-Bradford closed out the regular season with four straight wins and upset La Roche in the first round of the AMCC tournament. The Panthers gave top-seeded Hilbert all it could handle in the semifinals but eventually fell 80-75. It was the program's second semifinal appearance under Moore.
Pitt-Bradford will be led by the senior duo of Evan Greening and Manny Welch, the only two starters back from last year's squad. Greening was chosen as the AMCC's Preseason Player of the Year after leading the league in scoring (20.5) and rebounding (11.6) a year ago. He scored in double-figures in every contest but one and ranked third nationally with 18 double-doubles.
Welch is the team's top outside shooting threat after hitting 53 three-pointers in 2015-16 and will shoulder a bigger role on offense to replace the departure of Eric Matheson, who ranked second in the league behind Greening with 19 points a game.
Moore believes the Panthers will benefit from more depth in 2016-17.
"We expect some of the returners to expand their role such as Tim Atkinson, Sahlil Harris and Jon Haenel at the guard position," Moore said. "We have added a few transfers that should be able to compete for minutes right away and some very skilled freshmen.
Seniors Fateem Brockington and Harris will join Welch in the backcourt. Brockington was limited to 13 games last season after transferring in mid-season yet performed well, and Harris was third on the team in made three-pointers.
Haenel shot 36 percent from long range in limited action last year, and Atkinson made significant strides in the offseason and will be the team's emotional leader. Junior transfer Christian Perkins averaged 12 points and four rebounds last season for Penn State Beaver and will also see minutes in the backcourt.
The addition of 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Jaewon Mitchell should bolster the frontcourt and give the Panthers a legitimate shot-blocker in the paint. Mitchell's athletic ability has already wowed the coaching staff with a few signature dunks in 5-on-5 drills.
With the loss of three starters and several new faces, the Panthers are slowly coming along in the preseason. Nonetheless, Moore is hoping to play at quicker pace this season and improve upon the team's 74 points a game scoring average from last year.
That follows a trend within the conference as the league shifted toward a more offensive-minded approach in 2015-16. Scoring as a whole was up nearly eight points a contest from the previous season. Despite the increase in offense, the Panthers ranked third in defensive scoring behind Penn State Behrend and Hilbert and were among the league leaders in rebounding margin (+3).
Moore has guided the program to the postseason in each of his first five seasons, and the Panthers are expected to be in the mix once again. Pitt-Bradford was selected fifth in the AMCC preseason coaches' poll.
Greening will be among the best players in the country, and Welch is an outstanding complimentary scorer. If the Panthers want to break through to the semifinals once again or possibly go further, it will require the pieces around those two to make significant strides. With some luck, the Panthers are poised to do just that.