As February turned to March, the buzz was back.
Last year saw a resurgence on the local college basketball scene, culminating in a Saturday doubleheader featuring four area schools playing for Freedom Conference championships.
And three seasons without an NCAA tournament appearance by the men's and women's programs at King's, Misericordia and Wilkes, last year saw three squads qualify.
Both Misericordia programs won conference titles to advance, while the King's women received an at-large berth and made it all the way to the Sweet 16.
With the spring semester opening back up, the locals will try and recapture that same atmosphere from last season's stretch run.
It all begins tonight as Freedom Conference play opens back up for seven weeks of basketball before the NCAA tournament.
King's and Misericordia are both hosting a doubleheader to resume league play tonight as the Monarchs host perennial contender DeSales at Scandlon Gymnasium and the Cougars welcome Eastern to the Anderson Center. The Wilkes teams, meanwhile, head on the road down to Delaware Valley.
All three women's games tip at 6 p.m., with the men's games to follow at 8 p.m.
• Defending champion Misericordia has dropped four straight since returning from holiday break, but the Cougars' schedule has been rigorous. Tonight's game will be their first at home since Dec. 18.
Coach Trevor Woodruff made some tweaks to the lineup before a loss over the weekend against York College in a matchup of NCAA tournament qualifiers from a season ago. Misericordia has had to replace 2011-12 conference MVP Ethan Eichhorst and streak-shooter Jeff Slanovec is now on the coaching staff.
Point guard Matt Greene is the lone starter from last year's NCAA first-round loss to NYU back for this season. But the Cougars got off to a 2-0 start in the conference last semester and the schedule gives them a good shot at heading down to DeSales next week at 4-0 in an early potential battle for first place.
• Wilkes, which faced Misericordia in last year's conference title game, has been buoyed by the return of former GAR star Chris Shovlin, who played for a season-and-a-half for the Colonels from 2004-06. Averaging 26 points per game, Shovlin entered the week ranked seventh in the country in scoring.
Shovlin's presence will be even more important for Wilkes this semester because of the team's 0-2 in conference play. The Colonels are also without the services of guard Jourdon Wilson, last seasons' Freedom rookie of the year, who left the team in December. Forward Bernard Edmonds will also not be on the court this semester.
The Colonels remain experienced in the backcourt with dependable MMI alum Tyler Breznitsky. With Paul Huch and Kendall Hinze having graduated, Wilkes has used a healthy rotation of post players.
• King's returned from the semester break with a new lineup, inserting Coughlin grad Joe Caffrey in at point guard.
Senior Matt Fiorino had run the point for the first two months of the season, replacing graduated four-year starter Kyle Stackhouse. The move frees up Fiorino to shoot more often, and he leads the team with 31 threes in 13 games.
Junior Kyle Hammonds, a former conference freshman of the year, leads the Monarchs at 13.2 points per game. As a team, King's ranks second in the league in scoring defense (65.5 ppg), just a hair behind tonight's opponent, DeSales.
• After an impressive run last March that saw them upset one of the country's top-10 teams in the NCAA tournament, the Lady Monarchs hope their returning pieces can lead them back to the big stage.
Two of them – senior guards Katlin Michaels and Celia Rader – made their impact on the national scene, with the former posting double-doubles in the tournament and the latter breaking three-point shooting records. Not surprisingly, they lead the team in scoring as league play resumes.
Lindsay Atchison, Molly Dahl and Ashley Davies also were on the floor for that tournament run, with Atchison the most experienced of the bunch. The Lady Monarchs have been without top post presence Marissa Manning since late December.
• New coach Allison Kern looks to continue Misericordia's success after winning a conference title last season and reaching the NCAA tournament.
The Cougars graduated one of the most prolific players in school history in Christine Marks, as well as another top performer in Jesse Robinson.
But point guard Tyann McDaniel, last year's Freedom Conference tournament MVP, and Hannah Seely are back as returning starters. Stepping up to replace the departed scorers is former Pittston Area standout Lauren Smicherko, who tops the team so far at 13.6 ppg.
• Under second-year coach Chris Heery, Wilkes surpassed its win total from the past three seasons in just two months, sitting at eight wins. The next step for the Lady Colonels is to translate that over to league play after dropping games to Misericordia and DeSales last semester.
Impressive sophomore Elena Stambone has already built on a strong campaign and leads the conference in scoring by a comfortable margin at 20.7 ppg.
Leading the charge is a pair of local four-year starters in guards Megan Kazmerski and Amanda Pawlowski, who finished their high school careers at Holy Redeemer. Kazmerski just hit the 1,000-point milestone to open the week.