The book has finally closed on an intriguing season of NTL basketball, and with Liberty finishing up their season at States I wanted to take a way too early look at next year’s projected win-totals, as well as the players who will take their teams to the next level.

Youth has dominated the story-lines for Tioga County teams this season, and between the three area teams (Wellsboro, NP-Liberty and NP-Mansfield), all but two starters return for another season of NTL basketball.

We will begin our way-to-early predictions with the youngest team on the list in the Wellsboro Hornets. Wellsboro was one of the most interesting teams all season long with a 12-11 record and out of those 11 losses they had seven games decided by five points or less.

Wellsboro returns all five starters, and to be honest, most teams around the area should be shaking in their boots thinking about the jump that Joseph Grab will make from this season until next.

Now I know that Brandyn Tuttle and Andrew Brelo demanded a lot of the scoring for Wellsboro two seasons ago, but for Grab to make the jump from seven points-per-game all the way to an NTL leading 24 points-per-game is still one of the most most impressive revelations in all of District 4 basketball.

Point guard Conner Adams scored 7.7 points-per-game as only a freshman, Liam Manning averaged nearly a double-double with 10 points and seven boards a game and Isaac Keane and Darryn Callahan both proved to be able to shoot the ball effectively throughout the season.

I hate to jump the gun on things but I see a big year for Wellsboro basketball this upcoming season. They showed a lot of toughness in their matchup in Central Columbia and honestly, the only thing that lost that game for the Hornets was youth mistakes down the stretch in the fourth quarter.

I have Wellsboro going 17-5 next season and deep in the hunt for not only an NTL Division 1 title but also a shot at a District Championship if they can possibly get through the ridiculously talented Loyalsock team.

The next team to look at is the North Penn-Mansfield Tigers who also ended the season with a 12-11 record look to have a ridiculous amount of upside heading into next season.

In their last contest of the season the Tigers showed District 4 that they are one of the best up-and-coming teams, and despite falling to the eventual District Champs the Tigers scored a season-high 87 points and were seemingly unphased by any pressure on their three-point shooting attack as they knocked down 14 shots from deep at a clip of 52%.

That game is just a taste of what you should expect to see from the Tigers next season, as they return all their starters except Logan Tokarz and only lose one bench player in Seth Nelson.

Now losing Tokarz is a huge deal, he was the clear leader of this group all season long and was one of the best shot-takers in the entire NTL. Tokarz shot 47% from the field and 34% from three-point range and was one of the few players that I watched this season that didn’t take a “Man, what were you thinking?” shot.

That speaks to his basketball IQ and ability to get to his spots throughout the game. Whether that be an open look from three or using his ball-handling skills to get himself into the paint, Tokarz always made the right play.But on the flip-side, the Tigers have so much returning fire-power it’s hard to think they won’t also be one of the best teams in the NTL.

They have four players returning who scored morre than eight points per game, and have a slew of shooters that are going to be a headache for teams next season.

I expect Curtis Craig to have a big season, and after scoring 11 point-per-game this past season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that jump to right around the 20-point mark. Craig offers up a rare combo of size and shooting that is hard to come by. He can bully you in the post, or pull-up from 20-feet and hit a three.

The Tigers also return Jacob Evans who shot 34 % on three-pointers and connected on 51 triples.

They also return Dominic Garverick who scored nearly 10 points-per-game as well as Alex Stein who scored just under nine points-per-game including a huge performance against Loyalsock where he led the Tigers with 20 points and was perfect from three, connecting on all five of his attempts.

With the stable of shooters and returning players, the Tigers will be right at the top of the standings next season as I predict a 16-6 record for the Tigers and should be battling for an NTL title as well. I would like to think that the Tigers and Hornets matchups next season will have heavy implications on the standings and will feel like a playoff atmosphere everytime they end up meeting.

Last but not least, the North Penn-Liberty basketball team is coming off what some would consider one of their top-three seasons in program history, and things are looking even better for the Mounites as they head into next season.

The end of the season was rough for Liberty, and after going 20-2 in the regular season, they dropped four-straight contests leading to their exit from the State playoffs. But the good news is, I would expect little to no drop-off next season for the NTL Division 2 Champs.

The only senior in the starting lineup for the Mounties was Duncan Zeafla, but his presence on the court will be sorely missed as he was the top three-pointer shooter in all of the NTL as he knocked down 53 three-point shots this season.

Another huge loss for Liberty will be Sam Shedden, who despite not putting up big numbers was one of the main hustle players on the team and was a tenacious defender as well as someone who can get buckets when needed.

Both will be huge hits to the Liberty team, but the core is almost entirely intact, with four of the top-five scorers for the Mounties slated to return.The three biggest returning pieces are in the form of Noah Spencer, Colton Litzelman and Brandon Thompson who had a spectacular junior season together and have nowhere to go but up.

Spencer was one of the most well-rounded producers in the NTL, and was huge in some big games for Liberty and scored 14 points-per-game as well as grabbing six rebounds-per-game, dishing out five assists and coming up with nearly three steals-per-game. Look for Spencer to expand his game even more and with the added confidence and experience of being a four-year starter the sky’s the limit for what he is capable of.

BIg man Thompson made a name for himself this season, and averaged a near double-double for the year scoring 10 points and securing almost eight rebounds-per-game this season. The stat that really jumps out is his block totals though, as he sent back a league best 3.5 blocks a game and was one of the toughest big men in the area to get past in the paint.

Koleton Roupp will be the main three-point shooter for the Mounties next season, and despite being on the floor with Zeafla who made a league best 53 threes, Roupp was right near the top of the list as he knocked down 40 shots from deep in his junior year.

The last returning player that will make a huge difference for the Mounties will presumably take over Zeafla’s spot in the starting lineup, which is Colton Litzelman.

Litzelman is a high-energy defender and like Tokarz from Mansfield one of the best shot-takers around. He shoots the ball at 44% and also is a strong three-point shooter as he knocked down 20 threes at a clip of 36% all off the bench. He scored almost nine points-per-game in limited minuts while also securing 5 rebounds and leading his team with three steals-per-game.

Litzelman’s numbers should take a jump in the right direction as he sees the floor much more often. With all the returning fire-power on the offensive end of the floor, and two of the best defensive-stoppers in the NTL I don’t think you will see much of a drop-off from the 20-2 regular season from Liberty this season.I have Liberty at right about the same mark, (20-2) and an improvement in leadership and confidence as they try to improve on the big stage. Look for Liberty to make a much bigger splash in the District playoffs and another possible berth in the State playoffs.

So there you ha

Well there we have it folks, the last edition of this week in hoops, I’ve had endless enjoyment this season covering all of the area teams and players and want to thank everybody who made it possible for the fun and exciting ride.

Nick Coyle is a sports reporter/enthusiast for the Wellsboro/Mansfield Gazette and Free Press-Courier. Email him at ncoyle@tiogapublishing.com.