Times are good in the Patriot League right now. The league just completed its first season with ten schools, and not only was it a success overall but there is plenty of reason to like what is ahead. The early verdict on the league’s expansion is that it is definitely a net plus.
Three teams saw postseason play, and all three had at least 20 wins. That marked the third time in league history that happened, with the previous instance being two years earlier. This season didn’t top that one overall, as that year two teams topped Boston University’s 24-win mark this season and both of those teams won a game in their postseason tournament, but there is reason to believe that the best is yet to come.
The league had a lot of good talent this year. A few teams with a lot of young talent had some struggles out of the gates, but by the end of the year, teams like Bucknell, Lehigh, Holy Cross and Army had all grown up to become very formidable opponents and look like potential contenders next season.
A decade ago, Bucknell and Holy Cross ruled the league. Their success led other programs to get better, and the fruits of that labor are showing up now. The Patriot League is a better league than at that time, and it’s on a nice upward trajectory as well.
Colgate knocked off Navy 57-51 and Lafayette went on the road to beat Loyola (Md.) 84-71 to open the tournament. Both would bow out in the quarterfinals, with Colgate losing 59-50 at American and Lafayette getting annihilated at Boston University by a 91-54 count. Holy Cross edged Lehigh 54-48 and Army edged Bucknell 72-71, the latter the only road win in the quarterfinal round.
In the semifinals, Boston University handily knocked off Army 91-70, while American used a 28-7 run over the final 16 minutes to rally from ten points down to beat Holy Cross 57-46.
That set up a championship game that was essentially a rubber match between American and Boston University, with each team winning on their home floor during the regular season. American blew out the Terriers in the nation’s capital, while the Terriers beat the Eagles fairly convincingly in Boston in February.
On this night, however, the Terriers never showed much energy, and once American grabbed the lead late in the first half it was never really a ballgame. The Eagles dominated the second half, shutting down the Terriers en route to a 55-36 win that wasn’t even that close.
Player of the Year: Cameron Ayers, Bucknell
Rookie of the Year: Tim Kempton, Lehigh
Coach of the Year: Mike Brennan, American
Defensive Player of the Year: Tony Wroblicky, American
Cameron Ayers, Sr. G, Bucknell
Dave Dudzinski, Sr. F-C, Holy Cross
Maurice Watson Jr., So. G, Boston University
Kyle Wilson, So. G-F, Army
Tony Wroblicky, Sr. C, American
- Boston University won the regular season title in the school’s first season in the league
- American rebounded from its worst season in league play to win the conference championship
- Three teams saw postseason play
- All three postseason teams won at least 20 games, the second time in league history that has happened
What we expected, and it happened: Boston University won the regular season title. Also, young Bucknell and Lehigh had growing pains and were better later in the season than early on.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Lafayette didn’t contend at all, instead finishing closer to the bottom of the league than the top. Injuries had a lot to do with that, and in part because of that the Leopards never really got untracked this season.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: American was right there in contention for the top spot all season and then won the league tournament. With a new coach and a number of new players, no one expected this.
Team(s) on the rise: Army. The Black Knights had growing pains, as could be expected with a core revolving around sophomores. But by the end of the season, they had grown considerably and pulled out a road win in the league tournament that makes one believe they are ready to contend next year. Also, Bucknell, as the Bison played their best basketball late in the season and streaked into the league tournament as their younger players grew up, and Lehigh, who likewise grew up as the season went along and pulled off several wins they never would have had earlier in the season.
Team(s) on the decline: Boston University. Simply put, Watson’s transfer really hurts, as the Terriers don’t have a point guard with Division I experience on the roster next season – not even a backup who has to move into the starting spot. Add that to the other departures, and it could be a rebuilding season on Commonwealth Ave.
Next Season Conference Outlook
There is a lot of talent that will return to the league next season, and it could be the league’s best year ever. Picking favorites won’t be easy, and for that you can’t just look at some of the top teams this past season. Lafayette was decimated by injuries this year, but the Leopards should be one team to talk about when the subject turns to the contenders for the top of the league.
With all the young talent many of the aforementioned teams have, as well as Lafayette, moving up is going to be very difficult for the likes of Navy and Loyola (Md.) Boston University figures to drop several places in the standings at first glance, unless a point guard emerges.
As competitive as this season was in the league, next season should be on another level in that respect. In addition, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the league improved in non-league play to the point of a .500 record or better after finishing a few games below that mark in 2013-14.