Patriot League 2007-08 Preview
by Phil Kasiecki
Fresh off its recent excellence, including last season’s solid top-to-bottom showing, the Patriot League hopes to continue its forward surge heading into 2007-08. That’s going to be a tall order, although there should be one very good sign of progress.
It starts with the league’s top two teams last year, as each enters this season with significant personnel losses from last season’s team. The third place team, Lehigh, has a new coach and lost its top scorer and a key complementary player. The fourth place team, American, lost just about every significant contributor from last season’s team. And on and on it goes.
Meanwhile, teams that finished in the bottom half last season look like they could be better as a whole, but how much better is an open question. Colgate lost key starters but gets a key offensive player back from an injury. Army and Navy progressed nicely last season, but each team still went 4-10 in Patriot League play. The Midshipmen saw two key players leave after the season, so although the team as a whole is more experienced, how much they could jump in the standings is harder to predict than it was back in March. Lafayette should certainly be better now that they are more experienced.
Nonetheless, it appears that familiar faces will be at the top of the league. What this adds up to is that the league as a whole doesn’t look to be up this season, but the games might tell a different story. Even if the league is down from last year, it’s not all bad; last year was an excellent year for the league and this down year appears to be an anomaly since the teams that lost significant pieces will rebuild or reload in due time. Last season, league teams went 37-40 in non-league games not including the NCAA Tournament.
The league saw one coaching change in the off-season. Billy Taylor, who had been the head coach at Lehigh, left in August to take the head coaching job at Ball State. The school promoted top assistant Brett Reed to the position in his place, keeping continuity in the program with a man who has had no small part in their recent success.
Player of the Year: Tim Clifford, Holy Cross
Top Freshman: Andrew Beinert, Holy Cross
Defensive Player of the Year: Kaleo Kina, Navy
Coach on the Hot Seat: Emmett Davis, Colgate
Best NBA Prospect: Marquis Hall, Lehigh
Preseason All-Patriot Team
Tim Clifford, Sr. C, Holy Cross
John Griffin, Sr. G, Bucknell
Marquis Hall, So. G, Lehigh
Derrick Mercer, Jr. G, American
Greg Sprink, Sr. G, Navy
Holy Cross Crusaders (25-9, 13-1 Patriot)
Jr. G Pat Doherty (5.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.3 spg)
Sr. G Kyle Cruze (2.1 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1.0 apg)
Jr. F Alex Vander Baan (6.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.7 apg)
So. F Eric Meister (3.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
Sr. C Tim Clifford (11.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.9 bpg)
Schedule Highlights: The non-league slate has plenty of challenges and has six home games, including a BracketBusters game. They open with Hofstra at home and later host Ohio, Ivy League contender Yale and America East favorite Boston University. An additional game in Worcester that will be played at the DCU Center (and is thus considered a neutral site game) is against Dayton. Road dates include MEAC contender Hampton, Saint Joseph’s, MAAC contender Siena, Northeast favorite Sacred Heart, and Maryland. In Patriot League play, the Crusaders have three straight home games on two occasions along with one three-game road stretch at Army, Bucknell and Navy.
Outlook: Although the Crusaders lost just two players from last season’s team, the two they lost – guards Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas – meant more to them than any two players meant to another team in the league. To say they were the heart and soul of last year’s team would be an understatement. Life after them will start with frontcourt play, where the Crusaders dominated teams in Ralph Willard’s early days in Worcester. Clifford anchors the middle and has shown steady progress in his three years, and may be ready for a stellar senior year. Vander Baan is the energy guy and may be ready to blossom in an expanded role seeing time on the wing in a bigger lineup. Oft-injured junior Lawrence Dixon and up-and-down classmate Colin Cunningham will figure into the mix as well. Meister was a capable role player last year and will need to do more alongside Clifford this year. There is good depth here, with junior Greg McCarthy and freshman Josh Jones also in the mix. Redshirt freshman Andrew Keister was also likely to be in the rotation, but he got hurt again late in the summer. The backcourt has oft-injured but very capable Pat Doherty along with role player Kyle Cruze for an experienced starting duo. Look for freshman Andrew Beinert to get plenty of minutes right away and possibly start in the backcourt.
Although they lost a lot with Simmons and Thomas, the Crusaders still have Ralph Willard coaching the team, and that along with their veterans looks to be enough.
Bucknell Bison (22-9, 13-1 Patriot)
Jr. G Justin Castleberry (5.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.0 apg)
Sr. G John Griffin (10.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.8 apg)
Jr. G Jason Vegotsky (7.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.0 apg)
So. F Patrick Behan (1.7 ppg)
Jr. C Josh Linthicum
Schedule Highlights: Six home games are on tap in a challenging non-league slate that features a trip to Berkeley for the Golden Bear Classic and a BracketBusters road game. Notable home games include Albany to start the season, La Salle to close a three-game home stretch, Ivy League contender Cornell and Ohio. The toughest road games look to be at Villanova, Wake Forest and Drexel. In Patriot League play, the Bison will tangle with a couple of top contenders right away as they open with Navy at home and play at Holy Cross in their third game.
Outlook: The Bison lost more key contributors and enter this season once again a less experienced but still battle-tested team, and one that still has a top-notch coach leading the way in Pat Flannery. Not helping is that big man Darren Mastropaolo tore his ACL over the summer and will miss a significant portion of the season or redshirt. That will make this team more perimeter-oriented, and there is some talent there that starts with Griffin, one of the most improved players in the league last year. Castleberry and Vegotsky are both scoring threats who should increase their numbers, and Rob Thomas is a capable reserve on the perimeter as well. Freshman G.W. Boon is a good talent who should contribute as well, though likely in limited action because of the depth at this position. While Griffin and Castleberry are capable ball handlers, freshman Darryl Shazier might be the best true point guard on the team. The frontcourt doesn’t have much proven depth beyond Behan and Linthicum, both of whom need to give them more as it is. The Bison are known for playing tough defense, and they will surely need that more than ever this season if they are to remain at the top and make it through the tough non-league slate. With their numbers in the frontcourt, don’t expect the Bison to lead the league in rebounding margin again.
Lehigh Mountain Hawks (12-19, 7-7)
So. G Marquis Hall (10.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.5 spg)
Jr. G Matt Szalachowski (2.6 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 1.0 apg)
So. F Zahir Carrington (5.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
Sr. F Bryan White (5.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
Jr. F-C Phil Anderson (5.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Mountain Hawks’ non-league schedule is a rarity for a team at this level in that they have as many home games (seven) as road games. The home slate includes a three-game stretch in December, while the road slate includes the opener at Ivy League contender Cornell, a three-game stretch concluding at Maryland, and dates with Northeast contender Central Connecticut State, Penn State and Ivy League contender Columbia. In Patriot League play, they close January and start February with a crucial three-game road stretch that begins at Bucknell and Holy Cross. They close the season with consecutive games against the same two teams at home.
Outlook: New head coach Brett Reed isn’t exactly new to the program, so don’t expect a large change in how the Mountain Hawks play. What will be different is the talent, especially on offense as Jose Olivero and Kyle Neptune are the key players gone from last season’s team. Hall will be the nerve center of this team, one that is relatively young but talented. Szalachowski was starting by the end of last season and Carrington had a fine rookie campaign, so the perimeter appears to be in good hands. White is a solid complementary player inside, while Anderson needs to deliver with more minutes. Five freshmen enter the program to provide depth, as none are expected to repeat what Hall did last year. With the lack of proven scoring beyond Hall, the Mountain Hawks have more urgency to improve on their defense, as only Lafayette allowed more points and they tied for the fewest forced turnovers.
Navy Midshipmen (14-16, 4-10 Patriot)
Jr. G Kaleo Kina (9.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.7 spg)
Sr. G Greg Sprink (16.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.4 apg)
So. G Chris Harris (3.5 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Jr. F Adam Teague (7.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.2 apg)
So. F T.J. Topercer (3.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Midshipmen play six home games in non-league play, including an early one against Northeast contender Robert Morris. They will also play in the Philly Classic, which includes games at Drexel and at the Palestra against Seton Hall and either Penn or Virginia. A trip to San Diego State is the most notable remaining road game. In Patriot League play, they will get an early test against the league’s best, as they open at Bucknell and host Lehigh, then go to Holy Cross two games later.
Outlook: The Midshipmen showed signs last season that they could be contenders as early as this year, as they were a clearly improved team that simply needed to grow from more experience. Picking them this high may be a stretch, however, as starters Corey Johnson and Trey Stanton both left the team after the season. Still, there is something to work with, beginning with the perimeter duo of Kina and Sprink. Sprink is one of the league’s best players, while Kina can score but must become a better floor leader if they are to improve. Harris is one of several possibilities to join them on the perimeter, including freshmen Greg Brown and Romeo Garcia. Stanton’s departure robs the frontcourt of some size, meaning Teague must continue to develop and either Ben Biles or one of two freshmen with size, Jeremy Wilson or Mark Veazey, must contribute right away. Only Lafayette had a worse rebounding margin last season, and if they don’t get production on the glass inside, they might be right there again in that category this season.
Colgate Raiders (10-19, 5-9 Patriot)
Sr. G Daniel Waddy (5.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.0 spg)
Jr. G Kyle Roemer (redshirt)
Sr. G Kyle Chones (7.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
Sr. F Kendall Chones (10.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
Jr. F Alex Woodhouse (4.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The non-league schedule includes four home games and an appearance in the Kennesaw State Tournament. The best home game looks to be against MAAC contender Marist. The toughest road games look to be at Notre Dame, Ivy League contender Cornell, Syracuse and Penn State. In league play, the month of January closes and February begins with a tough five-game stretch that begins at Lehigh and Bucknell, then has Holy Cross and Bucknell at home sandwiched around a road game at Navy.
Outlook: The Raiders boast an experienced core with the return of Roemer from an injury that cost him last season, making them a bit of a wild card as they lose two starters. If Waddy can capably run the team and Roemer returns to form, the perimeter will be in good shape. Roemer’s return will give life to an offense that was last in the league in scoring last season. Freshman point guard Mike Venezia should challenge Waddy, which will only help since Waddy would improve if he wins the starting job. The point guard spot is the big question because both Waddy and the departed Jon Simon had more assists than turnovers and led the team to the worst assist/turnover ratio in the league last year. The frontcourt is where the questions are, although Kendall Chones isn’t one of them. Woodhouse started just two games last season and must get better quickly. The Raiders were out-rebounded last season, and their leading rebounder was Kyle Chones from the wing.
Army Black Knights (15-16, 4-10 Patriot)
So. G Marcus Nelson (3.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.2 spg)
Sr. G Jarell Brown (16.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.5 apg)
Jr. F Kenny Brewer (2.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
Jr. F Doug Williams (3.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
So. F Chris Walker (5.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Midshipmen did well with the non-league schedule as they have seven home games, including five straight to close out 2007 and bring in 2008. Noteworthy as well is that they have a home-and-home with Division I newcomer Presbyterian College. Notable road games include Minnesota to start the season, Northeast favorite Sacred Heart and Ivy League contender Cornell. In league play, they have a three-game road stretch midway through, then close the regular season with three straight at home.
Outlook: The Black Knights were one of the biggest breakthrough stories in the country last season, finishing just shy of .500 overall and winning 11 games in non-league play. Nelson and Brown give them a solid backcourt, with Nelson likely needing to score more this season. The backcourt will carry them unless the frontcourt players improve, although there has been some youth there. Brewer and Williams now have two years in the program, so this is their time to break out, while Walker grabbed a starting spot last year and showed good promise. The Black Knights were out-rebounded last season and also had some struggles defensively, and with the lack of scorers besides Brown, the latter is a key area for improvement if they are to build on last season’s success.
Lafayette Leopards (9-21, 3-11 Patriot)
Jr. G Andrew Brown (10.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.0 spg)
Sr. G Matt Betley (10.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.1 spg)
Sr. G Bilal Abdullah (9.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.0 spg)
Sr. F Ted Detmer (5.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.1 spg)
Sr. F Everest Schmidt (4.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: After one home and one road game to open the season, the Leopards’ non-league schedule breaks up into a long home stretch followed by a long road stretch. They first play five straight at home, highlighted by Northeast contender Central Connecticut State and Ivy League contender Penn, then they go on the road for eight games. Included in the road stretch are games at Rutgers, Ivy League contender Columbia, Northeast contender Robert Morris, Pittsburgh and Mississippi State. In Patriot League play, they don’t have a stretch of games that really stands out in terms of difficulty or home/road games, aside from closing the regular season with three of four on the road.
Outlook: With four full-time starters and a part-timer returning on a team with five seniors, the Leopards would appear primed to make a jump in the standings. But this cast had some major struggles last season, especially at the defensive end as they were by far the worst team in both scoring and field goal percentage defense and had the worst rebounding margin in the conference. That exacerbated the fact that they led the league with 17 turnovers per contest. A good perimeter trio returns with Brown, Betley and Abdullah, two of whom had more assists than turnovers. They can score, but must take better care of the ball. Detmer and Schmidt are the incumbents in the frontcourt, but look for freshmen Darion Benbow and Jared Mintz to push them. In theory, the Leopards should move up with their overall experience, but they need to make some major strides defensively before that happens.
American Eagles (16-14, 7-7 Patriot)
Jr. G Derrick Mercer (9.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.2 spg)
Jr. G Garrison Carr (3.8 ppg)
Jr. F Travis Lay (2.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
Jr. F Jordan Nichols (1.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
Jr. C Cornelio Guibunda (1.7 pg, 2.2 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: Five home games are on tap in a non-league slate that has its biggest challenges at the end. The most notable home games are against UMBC and Atlantic Sun contender Jacksonville. Road games of note include MAAC contender Loyola (Md.) early, then a brutal stretch of five games to close out the slate at Dayton, Maryland, Georgetown, Brown and Ivy League contender Columbia. As if that’s not enough, that five-game stretch adds two road games to open league play that offer no break: at Lehigh and Bucknell. The next toughest stretch will come in February, when they play at Holy Cross and follow that with home games against Lehigh and Bucknell.
Outlook: It’s safe to say that no team was hit as hard by graduation losses as American was. Mercer is the only starter remaining, and while he’s arguably the best point guard in the league, he can’t do it alone. A number of role players return, but they all must adapt to new roles, and it wouldn’t hurt if any of the six freshmen contributed right away. Carr is a dangerous shooter who will now be counted on for more offense, as will Lay, a skilled and tough wing who isn’t the most aggressive offensive player around. Nichols and Guibunda, the latter of whom started his career at Georgetown, will need to get better quickly inside. With all the proven scorers that they lost, don’t expect the Eagles to lead the league in scoring again. It wouldn’t hurt if they were to lead the league in field goal percentage defense again since defense is likely to be how they will win some games.
Although they suffered significant personnel losses, Holy Cross and Bucknell still enter this season as the team to beat. Lehigh should remain a solid third team, and then it gets interesting as almost any of the other five teams could finish fourth. The common theme throughout the league is a question mark, as each team has at least one significant one that will determine their season. The league should remain very competitive much like last year, but in the end the old hats should still be left standing at the top.