Patriot League Notebook
Bucknell and Lehigh Begin League Play Strong
With most teams five games into the league schedule, Bucknell and Lehigh have started out very strong. The Bison have built an undefeated league mark by, for the most part, rolling over the opposition, having outscored their opponents by an average of 18.5 points. The usual suspects are leading the way for Bucknell, as Kevin Bettencourt and Chris McNaughton are both averaging double-figures in points in the team’s first five league match-ups. The Mountain Hawks, conversely, have outlasted their opponents by an average of less than 10.0 ppg. For Lehigh, the team will live or die by the duo of Jose Olivero and Joe Knight, who are averaging 17.2 and 15.3 ppg, respectively, in league play so far this season. The last two undefeated teams in the league will square off at Stabler Arena on Wednesday, in a game that will surely show whether or not the Mountain Hawks can keep up with the front-running Bison.
Flannery Breaks League Wins Mark
With his team’s victory over Holy Cross last Saturday, Bucknell head coach Pat Flannery broke the Patriot League record for league victories by picking up his 94th Patriot League win. The previous mark was held by Navy’s Don DeVoe, who retired from coaching in 2004 with 93 league wins. In his 12 seasons in Lewisburg, Flannery has compiled a record of 184-139, and his career record over 17 seasons is an impressive 279-192. And after signing a four-year contract extension in June, expect Flannery to keep increasing his record for many years to come.
Johnson Not Out After All
Despite evidence to the contrary, Navy’s Corey Johnson has returned to the Navy starting lineup after missing only nine games due to problems with his left knee – and he has come back strong. The sophomore has accumulated 31 points and 18 rebounds in the team’s three Patriot League games so far this season, and should be a welcome boost to a struggling Navy squad.
Navy Dedicates Basketball Court to Smalley
Before the team’s game against Bucknell on January 7, Navy dedicated its basketball court at Alumni Hall to Senior Associate Athletic Director Dave Smalley, who has served the Naval Academy for over 50 years in varying capacities. Smalley, a 1957 graduate of the Naval Academy, served as team captain for two seasons and also returned to coach the squad for 10 seasons, leading the team to a 94-130 record.
Player of the Week: Corban Bates, Army
Rookie of the Week: Kaleo Kina, Navy
Patriot League Power Listings (PLPL)
Every week, I will be rating the eight teams of the Patriot League based upon their play as of late. I won’t be going solely by record, but more on how the team has played (and against what type of competition, too).
1. Bucknell Bison (14-3, 5-0, T-1st in PL)
So far, so good for Pat Flannery and the Bison, as Bucknell as began this Patriot League campaign much like it ended last year. The team’s statement game came when the Bison hosted the Holy Cross Crusaders, and sent the visitors home with a 56-42 loss. Combined with blowout wins over Navy and Lafayette, Bucknell has shown absolutely no let up in its desire to win back-to-back league titles.
The Bison finish off the first half of the league slate with a tough game against fellow undefeated Lehigh on Wednesday before taking on Navy on Saturday evening. Right now, it looks as if no league team can beat the Bison if they play well, although anything can happen on any given night. Bucknell, however, looks even more determined than last year’s squad.
2. Holy Cross Crusaders (9-9, 3-1, 3rd in PL)
The Crusaders have played well in the new year up to this point, having feasted on the lesser teams of the Patriot League and giving Bucknell a good battle in Lewisburg. The HC also put a pretty big scare into the 21st-ranked Boston College Eagles before finally succumbing to the ACC school, 63-53. Despite the loss of much of last year’s front court, the team has been succeeding due to the combination of first-year Alex Vander Baan and sophomore Tim Clifford. The duo has combined to score 12.6 ppg and grab 9.0 rpg for the Crusaders, and have provided the team a solid base up front to complement the tremendous trio of Kevin Hamilton (16.8 ppg), Keith Simmons (13.2 ppg) and Torey Thomas (11.5 ppg).
No doubt already looking forward to the team’s return engagement with Bucknell, the Crusaders finish the first half of league play with a home game against a struggling Colgate squad and a trip to first-place Lehigh. The Saturday match-up against the Mountain Hawks will serve to show whether Lehigh is for real and will determine which team is truly Bucknell’s stiffest challenge for league supremacy this season.
3. Lehigh Mountain Hawks (12-8, 5-0, T-1st in PL)
The good news for the Mountain Hawks is that the team has won its first five Patriot League games and seven games in a row overall for the first time since Billy Taylor’s first season in Bethlehem. The bad news, however, is that the Hawks have yet to beat a good team. Lehigh jumped out to a good league start by feasting on the lesser teams in the Patriot League – and three of those five games were won by less than nine points (Navy, 65-58; Army, 63-60; Colgate, 53-45). Lehigh has obviously been helped by the return of Joe Knight, who has averaged 15.3 ppg in his first three games of the season after sitting out the first semester, along with the continuing solid play of Jose Olivero (17.4 ppg), but the team will need to show a little more before it moves up in the rankings.
We will know much more about the Mountain Hawks after the team’s next two-game stretch, in which the team faces off with league powers Bucknell and Holy Cross. If the Hawks can come away with at least one win, then the rest of the Patriot League will have to accept Billy Taylor’s squad as serious contenders for the league title this season.
4. Lafayette Leopards (8-10, 2-3, T-4th in PL)
Five games into the league season, it already seems pretty clear what is in store for Lafayette this season. Never seriously considered to challenge for the league title, Lafayette has proven that it can beat the teams at the bottom half of the league but cannot give much of a challenge to the league’s top schools. The Leopards lost to Holy Cross, Bucknell and Lehigh by an average of 22.3 points, while soundly defeating both Navy and Colgate. Lafayette has a deep – if not overly talented – team, led by Bilal Abdullah and Andrei Capusan, who both average double figures in points. First-year Andrew Brown has also been a pleasant surprise for Fran O’Hanlon’s team, averaging 9.6 ppg in playing the second most minutes on the team.
This week, the Leopards travel to cellar-dweller Army and American. Right now, the Eagles look to be the Leopards’ major competition in the race for the fourth seed in the Patriot League Tournament, and so it will be a good test for Lafayette to play another team stuck in the middle of the pack. A win in Washington will also help to boost the confidence of this young team.
5. American Eagles (6-12, 2-3, T-4th in PL)
Much like the Leopards, American is a team destined for the middle of the pack. The Eagles did manage to play the best of the Patriot League close – including an eight-point loss to Bucknell at Bender Arena – but still has yet to prove that they can beat any of the league’s top teams. And while the team’s 65-63 double overtime victory over Army was a notch in the win column, it also isn’t a very good sign when comparing the Eagles to the rest of the Patriot League. One of the Eagles’ problems is a rotating lineup that has seen only three players start a majority of the team’s games. If American can stay with a set lineup for the majority of the league slate, then the team’s level of play should rise and the wins will continue to come for Jeff Jones and his team.
The Eagles travel to Navy on Wednesday and then welcome Lafayette to Bender Arena on Saturday afternoon. Two victories this week would cement the Eagles’ position in the middle of the Patriot League pack and would give the team an advantage over the Leopards for the league’s fourth spot.
6. Colgate Raiders (7-12, 1-4, 6th in PL)
We are only five games into the league season, and one thing is already painfully clear to me: I was wrong about this year’s Raider squad. After beginning league play with an encouraging win over Army, the Raiders have lost four consecutive league games to fall into sixth place in the standings. Colgate cannot seem to win any type of game – if the team scores points, the defense will falter; if the defense is strong, the offense will disappear. Only one Raider player (Kyle Roemer) averages double figures in points, while the return of Kendall and Kyle Chones has yet to reenergize the team as hoped. With nine league games remaining, the Raiders still have a chance to prove me right in my prediction, but that’s looking less likely by the game.
This week the Raiders get opponents at opposite ends of the success spectrum, as they travel to Worcester to take on the Crusaders and return home to take on Army at Cotterell Court on Saturday. A loss to the Black Knights would drop the Raiders perilously close to the bottom of the league, and so Emmett Davis and the Raiders must avoid that outcome at all costs.
7. Army Black Knights (5-12, 1-4, 7th in PL)
The Black Knights escape the bottom position thanks to the team’s 80-73 win over Navy on Sunday afternoon. Heading into that contest, the Knights had lost seven consecutive games – although Army’s losses to Lehigh and American were by a combined five points. It almost seems like the team’s 84-46 shellacking at the hands of Holy Cross might have awoken the Army spirit, as the team has played much better in the three games since. The team has also been helped immensely by the excellent play of sophomore Jarell Brown (14.2 ppg), who has finally provided a much-needed offensive complement to fellow guard Matt Bell.
With a win finally under its belt, Army will look to keep going whatever momentum it has gathered against Lafayette and Colgate this week. With a win against the Raiders, Army could see itself rise all the way to sixth place in the league – a spot that the team hasn’t seen in a couple of years.
8. Navy Midshipmen (7-10, 0-4, 8th in PL)
It now falls to the Midshipmen to carry the weight of being in the Patriot League cellar. The Middies have lost six of their last seven games, with the one win coming against Longwood, a team currently transitioning to Division I. Navy is a team in disarray. This despite having Matt Fannin return from a four-game layoff due to injury to lead the team in scoring against Army. The problem for the Middies is not scoring (Navy leads the league in scoring with an average of 71.1 ppg), but stopping the opposition – Navy allows an average of 70.8 ppg and could not stop Army when necessary on Sunday. Greg Sprink leads four Navy players averaging in double digits in points, but until the team learns to play some defense it will stay winless in the Patriot League.
The Middies’ next best chance to get that elusive first league win comes on Wednesday at home against American, before the team travels to Lewisburg to take on Bucknell on Saturday.