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First Win Still Elusive for Holy Cross

by - Published December 17, 2010 in Columns

WORCESTER, Mass. – There’s no way to put a pretty face on it, no positive way to spin it. Holy Cross is in a bad state at the moment, with their 0-8 mark the worst start in program history. It was one thing to lose the first game or two, and perhaps even another couple of games, but things are at a different point now.

“It is frustrating. You can’t ignore zero wins,” senior point guard Andrew Beinert said. “We want to win, and that’s what our goal is.”

Holy Cross hasn’t been out-classed all season. The Crusaders have been in position to win games, although only a couple of them might qualify as heart-breaking losses. While last season’s team struggled to stop opposing teams, they were able to score. This season’s team has struggled offensively while also struggling on the defensive end often, although if there is a silver lining it appears that they are making strides there of late. Most of all, they have been their own worst enemy. … Continue Reading

American’s Dream Comes True In Title Game

by - Published March 15, 2008 in Columns




Dream Comes True for Carr, American

by Phil Kasiecki

WASHINGTON – A year ago, this is what some thought could happen – at that time. Few, if any, thought it was a year away.

Last season ended in disappointment for American University, as the Eagles were thought to be a contender in the Patriot League with a senior-laden team. But they didn’t quite fulfill that, finishing fourth and not being able to get over the hump to a higher finish. With seven players gone from that team, including four starters, few thought this team would contend. As they have just one senior who plays significant minutes, the thought was that they were a year away from contending, especially since the one returning starter, point guard Derrick Mercer, is a junior.

But Garrison Carr had a dream. No, not at all like the dream that a great civil rights leader had in the same city many years ago – but a dream nonetheless. Carr’s dream has at least come true after American won the Patriot League with a 52-46 decision over Colgate on Friday.

“Every night before I was going to sleep, every night before this game after the Army game, I would have the same dream,” said the junior guard, who was the tournament MVP after scoring 17 points in the championship game. “I would still wake up in the middle of the night sweating, with time running down and it being a close game.”

The end result is that after three shots at the dream, American is now off to the NCAA Tournament. The program had never been to it thus far, losing three times in the Patriot League championship game after coming over from the Colonial Athletic Association in 2001. While Carr had a dream, Mercer saw this happening a year ago despite the disappointment of losing with a senior-laden team.

“When we lost to Holy Cross up there, it kind of hurt me because I wasn’t expecting that,” said the junior guard, referring to the team’s season-ending loss in the tournament last year. “Once that game was over at Holy Cross, we told ourselves that next year, we were going to work hard and it’s going to be our year.”

Carr is one who certainly went to work. He said he went right to work the next day and never changed how he approached things. In his first two seasons, he showed flashes of potential with his shooting ability, but didn’t log consistent minutes and thus had similarly inconsistent play. This season, it all came together as he moved right into the starting lineup alongside Mercer and had a stellar season. Carr set a Patriot League record with 129 three-pointers and counting, was a First Team All-Patriot League selection and was the MVP of the league tournament.

“I just basically worked really hard on my game like I always had, and this year I knew the opportunity to step up was there,” said Carr, who’s shooting over 45 percent from long range. “I just had to grasp it.”

While Carr’s improvement is the most obvious, he’s not alone. Senior Travis Lay, the consummate program guy, became a starter this year and improved while remaining a player whose effort can’t be questioned. Mercer became more of a scorer. Brian Gilmore, previously a bit player, became the team’s third-best scorer and in the title game made clutch plays that typified how they won the game. Several others increased their contributions as well.

Gilmore, who made the all-tournament team, made three late free throws to seal the game and had three of his four rebounds in the last 83 seconds. The play he will most be remembered for is the first of those rebounds, as Carr missed a three-pointer that was then headed out of bounds. Gilmore hustled over and saved the ball by throwing it back, and it went right into the hands of Mercer, who was fouled after driving to the basket with a wide-open lane after the confusion.

Mercer missed the two free throws, at the time keeping the lead at one. But he’s always had the heart of a lion, going back to his days at powerhouse St. Anthony’s in New Jersey, and he got another opportunity and sank both free throws later to help seal the game.

The Eagles looked like they might be better than advertised in non-league play, when they posted a winning record. While the schedule wasn’t full of heavyweights, it did feature a much-heralded win at Maryland, a game head coach Jeff Jones recalls as the end result of a challenge to his team a game earlier.

Against Dayton, the Eagles led at halftime and were close throughout the second half before losing. It wasn’t a bad loss, especially at that time as Dayton was on a roll and had not suffered the crippling injuries that later hurt their season. Jones asked his team if they were content with just being close, or if they wanted to do better.

“I asked them, what did they think about at some point, about playing 40 minutes, and not just wanting to compete, but putting it out there a little bit?” Jones recalled. “You make yourself vulnerable when you really put it out there. Their answer was the next game against Maryland, we were able to win.”

Last year might have been potentially the year, but that was not the case. With the new players and holdovers having to adjust to new roles, a lot was going to change, and while last year’s players were a fine group, it’s clear the change that occurred was positive. The Eagles followed up their positive non-league showing with a regular season title, and they rode the top seed and homecourt advantage to the title.

“We really had no idea what to expect,” said Jones. “These guys came in, they worked hard, they were just excited about having the chance to play basketball. They really gelled into a team.”

They gelled into a team that is now in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. The dream has come true, even if it was a year later than some expected it.

     

Patriot League Tight All Around

by - Published February 29, 2008 in Columns




Patriot League Race is Right Down to the Wire

by Phil Kasiecki

Looking for a wacky conference? Just take a look at the Patriot League standings.

With one game remaining for each team, the standings are no less clear now than they were before Wednesday night’s games. American and Navy are tied atop the league and assured of the top two spots, with the only question being who the top seed is. Navy has the tie-breaker by virtue of a sweep of the Eagles, so a Navy win or American loss on Saturday clinches it for the Midshipmen.

But the real fun begins after those two teams.

Entering Saturday, four teams are tied with 6-7 records and two teams are 5-8. Given the matchups for the final four games, it’s quite possible that the league ends with a six-way tie for third place, with all six teams being 6-8. All six teams still have a chance to finish in the third or fourth spot, which would earn them a home game in the quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament. The tournament is held entirely at campus sites.

How could this happen? An examination of the matchups shows how possible it is.

  • Navy travels to Colgate on Saturday, and a Navy win leaves Colgate at 6-8.
  • American hosts Lafayette on Saturday, with an Eagle win giving Lafayette a 6-8 finish.
  • Holy Cross travels to Lehigh for a nationally-televised 9 p.m. game on Friday night. A Crusader win – they knocked off the Mountain Hawks earlier this season – puts both teams at 6-8 as Holy Cross enters the game at 5-8.
  • Lastly, Bucknell travels to Army, a team that beat them earlier in the season, on Saturday. An Army win would make both teams 6-8, as Army enters with a 5-8 mark.

The Patriot League put out a release explaining all of the scenarios with the six teams that follow American and Navy. Suffice it to say that there is a lot to parse through in it with all of the possibilities. With six teams tied, the tie-breakers will eventually reach the Collegiate Basketball News RPI rankings on Sunday morning. Who would most likely benefit from this six-way tie? Entering the week, American had the highest RPI in the league, followed by Holy Cross, Lafayette, Colgate, Bucknell, Navy, Lehigh and Army.

Even the journey to get to this point has been interesting. The league looked to be more even this season since Bucknell and Holy Cross, who have led the way in recent years, both lost important personnel. In non-league play, neither team looked like a sure-fire contender although both had their moments. Instead, it was Holy Cross and Colgate who looked better than anyone in terms of non-league wins and losses, while American went 8-7 including a win at Maryland.

While American has been solid all along and Navy is riding a six-game winning streak into its place near the top, early on Bucknell looked like they would be the team to beat once again. The Bison were getting injured players back and improving, and a road win at Holy Cross added to it for a 3-0 start. But a four-game losing streak in the latter part of January dropped them down.

Lafayette started out looking like they could be the team to challenge Bucknell, starting off 4-0. Two of those wins came on the road in overtime. But a five-game losing streak to start February knocked them back in the standings.

Lehigh at one time looked like they might have a chance, as a four-game winning streak to close out January put them at 4-2. But prior to Wednesday night’s win against Bucknell, the Mountain Hawks had lost five of six.

Holy Cross looked to be in trouble with an 0-4 start and three of those losses coming at home. A three-game winning streak earlier in the month aided their comeback, and they could still finish as high as third place with some help. Army could finish there as well with a win and some help.

A curious thing to watch in the tournament will be how teams fare at home vs. on the road. American and Navy have reached their spots in the top two on the strength of excellent road records, with the Eagles going 5-2 and Navy entering Saturday’s finale with a 5-1 record away from home. No team will go better than 5-2 at home, and it’s possible that no team will even get to 5-2 since American and Lehigh could lose their final game. Holy Cross and Army will also finish the season with better records on the road than at home in league games.

While we should finally have some idea of how the regular season standings shake out around 5 p.m. on Saturday, it’s conceivable that we might have to wait a few more hours. One thing is for sure: given how streaky most teams in the league have been and the ability of everyone to win on the road, seeding and homecourt advantage is likely to mean very little in the next couple of weeks.

     

Bucknell Rebounds From Non-League Struggles

by - Published January 20, 2008 in Columns




Bison Regroup to Start Patriot League Play Strong

by Phil Kasiecki

WORCESTER, Mass. – If you need further proof that non-conference results don’t mean much by themselves, look no further than this season’s Bucknell Bison.

After a 5-9 showing in non-conference play, finishing with four losses in the last five games, the Bison came into Patriot League play not looking like one of the favorites. They looked as vulnerable as any contender, especially since they also had to play a lot of young players.

But after Friday’s 73-65 win at Holy Cross, the Bison are 3-0 and look like the team to beat. Although the injury-riddled Crusaders gave them a game, the Bison looked like the clearly better team for most of the night. They look like a team that has regrouped and come to life in a big way.

“We put it behind us,” said junior guard Justin Castleberry, who led the Bison with 22 points against the Crusaders. “We know the league is 0-0. We were 2-0 coming into this game, and we couldn’t be happier to come up here and get a quality win.”

Part of the Bison’s struggles in non-conference can be attributed to their health, or lack thereof at the time. Until a week ago, they had difficulty practicing as they routinely had eight or nine players. The list of injuries goes on: senior big man Darren Mastropaolo missed the first two months after tearing his ACL in a pickup game in the summer; junior guard Jason Vegotsky, a key player Friday night, missed the first seven games of the season with a stress fracture in his foot; senior guard Rob Thomas missed 13 games with a left knee injury. Even now, it hasn’t stopped, as junior center Josh Linthicum is currently day-to-day with a knee injury.

In light of that, the Bison, who have eight freshmen and sophomores, had to rely much more on their underclassmen than they probably wanted to. Sophomore Patrick Behan started the first 11 games of the season after averaging just over eight minutes per game last season. Classmate Stephen Tyree, who played limited minutes last season except as a defensive specialist, has moved into the starting lineup and is one of the most improved players in the Patriot League. Freshman Todd O’Brien started two games and has averaged about 18 minutes per game, more than one might have figured well before the season. Talented classmate G.W. Boon has started three games and shown a little more of his potential than he might have otherwise.

The early experiences, while they included some struggles, right now look like the proverbial blessing in disguise from developing depth out of necessity. The Bison have a stable of guards that can contribute and look to be very deep up front with Mastropaolo back.

“I think that any time you’re thrown in the fire like that – we were playing three freshmen a lot of minutes – it gave them a chance to get experience and be in some different situations before the new year came in,” said assistant coach Nathan Davis. “Now we’re getting healthy, and hopefully we’ll pretty soon have all 14 guys in practice and we’ll be able to keep getting better as the year goes on.”

Mastropaolo’s return helps on a couple of fronts. He’s their most experienced post player, which is an obvious benefit. Having a player who has been through the wars helps immensely, especially on this team since the Bison are rather green on the front line. But he’s also a guy who has been a team player all along. Davis said he was as important as any player to their recent success, calling him “the glue” to those teams.

Another part of their struggles can be attributed to their non-league schedule, which featured eight games away from home and six at Sojka Pavilion. While it was not as daunting as those of recent seasons, the Bison had their fair share of challenges prior to Patriot League play. Their biggest margin of defeat was 14 points against Marist, so they were in every game they lost.

“I don’t think our guys ever lost confidence in themselves,” said Davis. “We knew we could be good, we knew that we were close to winning a lot of those games.”

The typical train of thought is that a challenging non-league schedule toughens a team up for their league play stretch. While that may be at work here, the biggest thing is to look beyond the wins and losses. The bottom line doesn’t show if a team grew along the way, and it seems that has been the case. Their 5-9 non-conference record is a thing of the past, as they are tied with Lafayette atop the Patriot League and look like they could be the team to beat once again.

     

Patriot League Preview

by - Published November 8, 2007 in Conference Notes



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.

Preseason Awards
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)
Projected Starters:

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)
Projected Starters:

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)
Projected Starters:

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)
Projected Starters:

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)
Projected Starters:

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)
Projected Starters:

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)
Projected Starters:

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)
Projected Starters:

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.

Conference Outlook

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.

     

Holy Cross Tops American

by - Published February 2, 2007 in Columns




Crusaders Keep Winning; Eagles Can’t Quite Get There

by Phil Kasiecki

WORCESTER, Mass. – Two teams that appear to be heading down opposite paths played for the second time in 11 days on Wednesday night. On one bench, there was Holy Cross, undefeated in Patriot League play with just two seniors. On the other say American, a team many thought would be a sleeper contender with six seniors and everyone back from last season’s team that had some growing pains.

For a time in the first half, it looked like the sleeper might start to emerge after a tough 3-4 start in Patriot League play. Holy Cross was careless on offense, turning the ball over 11 times, and that led to 17 Eagle points. The Eagles also did a good job on Keith Simmons, as he didn’t score with just three field goal attempts. But there was still the second half.

Not only did Holy Cross work their way back, but Simmons gave them the lead for good with his first five points of the game breaking a 29-29 tie to start a 10-1 run. They would later break the game open and lead by as many as 13 points, getting good help from Greg McCarthy off the bench when Tim Clifford picked up his fourth foul. From there, defense finished the game off in a 58-47 victory.

The Crusaders won despite having more turnovers than assists and shooting below 35 percent from the floor. That’s one thing that concerns head coach Ralph Willard going forward.

“We didn’t move the ball very well offensively,” said Willard. “We really don’t have any patience on offense. We’re trying to force too many things, not getting any ball movement. We’ve got to work on that to get better with it. If you play good defense, you’re going to have an opportunity to win. We had an opportunity tonight and we seized it.”

Defense has been a real key the entire way, and the Crusaders have been especially adept at shutting down the league’s top players. Army’s Jarell Brown, the second-leading scorer in the league, had just 10 points. Bucknell center Chris McNaughton had four points with just four field goal attempts. Navy’s Greg Sprink had eight points on as many field goal attempts in all 40 minutes. Last Friday, Lehigh’s Marquis Hall and Jose Olivero combined for 29 points, but were 9-28 from the field. On Wednesday, Andre Ingram was held in check for a second time, going 4-15 for 11 points and shooting a combined 9-31 in the two meetings.

“The scouting reports are always key to the best players, giving us their strengths and weaknesses,” said senior Torey Thomas, who led the Crusaders with 16 points. “We try to take away their strengths and make them play to their weaknesses.”

The Crusaders are now 8-0 in Patriot League play, and that’s created a buzz around campus. Students are paying more attention and not just on game night, as players note they are talking about it all around campus each day. The team and its coaches aren’t basking in the glow of being undefeated, as they know many of the games could have gone the other way, but they also appreciate where they are.

On the opposite bench, American’s staff is concerned about this team. The veteran Eagles are now 11-11 and 3-5 in Patriot League play, but more concerning is how they are losing. You get the sense in talking to the staff that this isn’t a senior-laden team, but it is.

“Holy Cross is just very, very sound. They take advantage of their opportunities,” said American head coach Jeff Jones. “Until we can learn that kind of discipline and that kind of consistency, whether things are going good or going bad, we can play people close, but we’re not going to get over the hump. We’ve got to learn those lessons. That’s something that has plagued us since last year.”

The Eagles are 5-5 in games decided by 10 points or less this season, but just 1-4 in Patriot League games that fit that description. Although they have six seniors, none appear to have what the Crusaders’ seniors, Thomas and Simmons, have as team leaders. Thomas and Simmons have carried Holy Cross to victories in some games.

“We’ve got experience, we’ve got a bunch of seniors. We’re not there. It’s clear that that’s the case,” said Jones.

Wednesday’s game marked the beginning of a tough stretch for the Eagles, as they host Lehigh and Bucknell for their next two games. The games are at home, but they won’t come easily. Still, it’s a chance to right the ship before it’s too late and gather some momentum for the home stretch.

     

Holy Cross Remains Undefeated

by - Published January 27, 2007 in Columns




Crusaders Undefeated at Halfway Point

by Phil Kasiecki

WORCESTER, Mass. – The best place to be for a sports fan in Massachusetts on Friday night was about 50 miles west of Boston. It wasn’t for a Celtics or Bruins game, the Patriots are done for the season, and the Red Sox don’t report to training camp for a few more weeks. That probably didn’t stop the majority of fans who called sports talk shows from talking about the Red Sox or Patriots, but that also doesn’t change the scene on a big hill in Worcester.

Friday night during the college basketball season is the time for smaller schools to shine. There were just seven Division I games across the country on this night, with two coming in the Ivy League, which plays on that night. The Metro Atlantic also has games that night, and the Patriot League often has a game or two as well. The only Patriot League game on this night involved league leader Holy Cross, which remained undefeated with a 64-53 win over Lehigh.

The atmosphere was live even 30 minutes before tip-off. The crowd was already quite full and could be heard almost as soon as you walked into the arena. The Hart Center was packed, with plenty of people standing to watch the game unfold, and there were plenty of times where it was hard to hear even the person next to you. In other words, the atmosphere was one that sums up what a great college basketball game is all about.

The nearly 3,500 people who gathered (the Hart Center seats 3,600) got to see a desirable result not only in the victory, but a big night for senior guard Torey Thomas. In the first half, Thomas surpassed 1,000 career points, and the crowd went wild with the announcement. But he wasn’t finished by a long shot.

Thomas went on to lead the Crusaders with 18 points, but he added eight assists, six rebounds and a school record-tying seven steals. He also helped shut down Lehigh’s talented guard duo of Jose Olivero (18 points on 5-14 shooting) and Marquis Hall (4-14), the latter the clear top freshman in the league. The Crusaders held the Mountain Hawks to 35.4 percent shooting on the night.

Thomas and classmate Keith Simmons (16 points, six rebounds) once again made many key plays for the Crusaders, but the inside play held its own as well. The Crusaders had 16 second chance points and a 28-18 edge in points in the paint. Tim Clifford still has moments that can make one shake their head, but he had nine rebounds in the game and several were at key junctures in the final minutes, when the Crusaders made enough plays to pull this game out.

“Our team all year has shown the ability to make plays at crucial times,” said head coach Ralph Willard.

Holy Cross forced 15 turnovers in the first half, but had their struggles at the offensive end and was up by just six at the half. It was similar in the second half (the Crusaders shot just under 37 percent from the field on the night), when the Mountain Hawks made several mini-runs to come back but never tied or led in the latter frame.

Not only did Simmons make key plays, he did something else that the box score won’t show easily. With 18:43 left, he picked up his third foul, something that might normally land a player on the bench for a few minutes. Simmons stayed out there and never picked up his fourth foul until over 12 minutes later.

With the win, Holy Cross is now 16-6 and 7-0 in the Patriot League, maintaining their lead over Bucknell, which hosts Army on Saturday. Being undefeated right now is better than it might sound considering there isn’t much distance in talent and experience between many teams in the league, something Willard has stressed. Indeed, the Crusaders have simply won games.

“To get through the first half of the league undefeated is great,” said Willard. “You can’t do any better than the start we had, so I’m pleased with it.”

Before their next game, which is against American on Wednesday, the Crusaders will learn their opponent in the Bracketbusters event. They will be playing on the road, and thus far have made a good case to potentially get a televised game.

     

Bucknell Rivalry

by - Published January 13, 2007 in Columns




Crusaders Pull Out Another Great Game in Rivalry

by Phil Kasiecki

WORCESTER, Mass. – A great rivalry has a little of everything. It has one great game after another. It has great players, as well as relative unknowns, coming out of nowhere to make big plays that fans don’t soon forget. It has games that make one team’s fans ecstatic while ripping the hearts out of the opposing fans.

The rivalry between Bucknell and Holy Cross has certainly had some of each. Over the last couple of seasons, there have been a couple that ripped the hearts out of the Holy Cross faithful as the Bison came into Friday night’s game having won four straight in the series. The first of those four was the 2005 Patriot League championship game, where the Crusaders nearly made a miraculous comeback from a big second-half deficit before falling. Last year’s game in Worcester was one where the Crusaders had a 15-point lead with 16 minutes to play, but the Bison came all the way back to pick up the win en route to running the table in Patriot League play.

And for a minute, Friday night’s win by Holy Cross looked like it could be a repeat of last season’s game at the Hart Center. There were certainly moments in the final three minutes where the near-sellout crowd wondered if history would repeat itself.

The Crusaders led throughout the game, holding a 60-50 lead with 2:53 left and Bucknell forward Donald Brown (13 points, eight rebounds, three steals) having fouled out. It looked like they were in good shape, but back came the Bison. Bucknell would score the next five points as part of a 10-1 run to get within 61-60 with 57 seconds left.

But on a Torey Thomas missed free throw, Alex Vander Baan came up with a huge offensive rebound. That gave them more life with another possession and more time off the clock, but it wasn’t sealed until Thomas (13 points, five assists) made two free throws with eight seconds left after big defensive rebound to bring the score to the final margin of 65-60.

“We have to learn how to finish a lot better,” said senior guard Keith Simmons, who had a game-high 22 points. “That’s been a problem for us throughout the year. When we learn to do that, we can be a really good team.”

The win moves the Crusaders to 3-0 in Patriot League play, which head coach Ralph Willard is happy about since he thinks there isn’t much separation between teams in the league this year. When the league is as close as the teams appear to be this season, every win counts.

“To be 3-0 right now, with wins over Bucknell, a good win over Army, a good win over Lafayette, that gives us a lot of confidence going into Navy,” said Simmons.

The Crusaders did a very good job of taking away Bison star center Chris McNaughton. The senior big man had no field goal attempts and precious few touches in the first half and finished with just four points while also battling foul trouble. That was a focus of the defense, and it opened up some opportunities for Bucknell to shoot it. The Bison went 8-21 from long range, with Justin Castleberry (3-6 from long range en route to a team-high 16 points off the bench) being one of the primary beneficiaries.

The game had the atmosphere of a big game, as tends to happen with these two programs. A number of students even came back early from the semester break to be at the game, which had an attendance of over 3,100 (the Hart Center seats about 3,600).

“That’s the great thing about Holy Cross, you’ve got the students willing to come back about four days early off their winter vacation to support their team,” said Thomas.

But it also speaks to the rivalry between these two teams. Every game is hotly contested, and last night’s was no different. The two winningest programs in Patriot League history have met in 10 of the 16 Patriot League tournaments, including the last two title games. The Crusaders may have led throughout Friday’s game, but they were challenged several times and never really broke it open. The Bison aren’t as deep as they have been the past couple of years, and they don’t have as many players who can score the ball as well with the key losses of Kevin Bettencourt and Charles Lee, but they still play the same tough defense and clearly still have the parts to contend in the Patriot League. And the teams know each other, which adds one more element to the rivalry and can be an equalizer of sorts.

“This is the kind of game for both teams, where kids know each other so well – all your sets, all your looks,” said Bucknell head coach Pat Flannery. “Holy Cross does a lot of good things, Bucknell does a lot of good things. We know each other very well. The difference is who’s going to make a basketball play.”

There is also the respect factor, which both coaches talked about. These two may be arch-rivals with the noted recent history, but there’s no hatred between the teams by a long shot. They’re just trying to beat each other when they play, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they played for a third time this year in March.

“Bucknell has built a tremendous program the last couple of years. They’ve represented the Patriot League in an outstanding way, so I have the utmost respect for them,” said Simmons. “This is a lot of fun, you have to enjoy it. I won’t be able to play against Bucknell again ever in my life, so I’m trying to enjoy it.”

The players enjoy it, the fans clearly enjoyed it, and well they should. Friday night’s game was a typical Bucknell-Holy Cross game, and more are probably ahead in the times to come.

Notes

  • Bucknell started out the season 0-4, but that record is a bit deceptive as none were against a bad team. The teams they had the last two seasons were pretty special. They were deep at every position and had great class balance, and last season’s team had the added benefit of being very experienced. The Bison are still one of the best teams in the league, but they’re far from unbeatable.
  • Holy Cross big man Tim Clifford continues to progress, posting 13 points and eight rebounds. The players all know how important he is, as Simmons noted how good his second half play has been. If he can keep out of foul trouble, the Crusaders will remain in good shape inside.
  • Holy Cross could have Lawrence Dixon back before long. The sophomore wing has been dogged by knee problems all season, but was dressed for last night’s game. He has practiced with the team in recent days and is getting better.

     

Patriot League Preview

by - Published November 11, 2006 in Conference Notes



Patriot League 2006-07 Preview

by Phil Kasiecki

The Patriot League has been on a nice rise the last few seasons, one that has certainly been aided by postseason success. The Bucknell Bison have won an NCAA Tournament game each of the past two seasons, while Holy Cross has had success in the NIT after the two teams had some epic battles prior to the postseason. The Bison earned the best seed ever by a Patriot League team last season when they were a No. 9 seed.

While most around the league feel that the rise has been aided by all teams improving, especially once the move was made by schools to give athletic scholarships (Lafayette became the last to do so starting with this year’s freshman class), the top teams have certainly carried the Patriot League in this time. The last six seasons, the NCAA Tournament representative has been either Holy Cross (2001-03), Lehigh (2003-04) or Bucknell (past two seasons). Meanwhile, the teams at the bottom of the league win very few games in Patriot League play.

The 2006-07 season looks to be more of the same, especially at the top. But the picture is far from clear as to who will emerge victorious, and there’s a sleeper that will have a say in American, as the Eagles return their top 12 scorers from last season’s team and clearly improved as the season went along. All three teams picked at the top have question marks: Bucknell has winning experience but their two departed starters won’t be easily replaced, Holy Cross could have health questions, and Lehigh will be looking to a freshman point guard to run the team. Meanwhile, American’s big question is if they can continue their improvement and take the next step.

The league’s rise should continue this season, even if slightly, and it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if two teams made postseason play once again. Who will be there, and what postseason success they may have, are the big questions.

Preseason Awards

Player of the Year: Keith Simmons, Holy Cross
Rookie of the Year: Marquis Hall, Lehigh
Defensive Player of the Year: Abe Badmus, Bucknell
Primed to Break Out: John Griffin, Bucknell

All-Patriot League Team
Andre Ingram, Sr. G, American
Chris McNaughton, Sr. C, Bucknell
Jose Olivero, Jr. G, Lehigh
Keith Simmons, Sr. G, Holy Cross
Torey Thomas, Sr. G, Holy Cross

Bucknell (27-5, 14-0 Patriot League)
Projected Starters:
Sr. G Abe Badmus (6.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.9 apg, 2.0 spg)
Jr. G John Griffin (3.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Jr. F Darren Mastropaolo (3.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
Sr. F Donald Brown (6.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Sr. C Chris McNaughton (12.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The non-conference slate won’t be easy, especially with just Wake Forest and Northern Iowa plus the BracketBusters game at home. The Bison open at Albany and later play at Saint Joseph’s, Penn State, Xavier and Texas Tech. They also take on George Mason in Washington, D.C. (BB&T Classic) and could get Marist in the finals of the Marist Classic. Five of the first seven Patriot League games are at home, giving them a chance to get off to a quick start. They’ll get an early gauge as to whether they’ll be in good shape to defend their title, hosting American in the second game and traveling to Holy Cross for the third.
Outlook: The Bison may be favored, but it’s by a slim margin and intangibles go a long way in this. They return a veteran team that has done a lot of winning the past two seasons, a battle-tested group that won’t go down easily. That said, they lost two key scorers in Charles Lee (whose all-around game won’t be replaced) and Kevin Bettencourt, meaning that several players have to pick up the scoring. Badmus is a solid floor leader at both ends but isn’t a scorer, while Griffin might be the player they need the most improvement from. McNaughton has never dominated in the post like a seven-footer could in this league, but he’ll score with his moves and touch away from the basket. Brown is athletic and steps into the starting lineup, but he’ll need to improve offensively, as will Mastropaolo. The Bison have developed good depth in recent years in getting contributions from freshmen, even in relatively limited minutes.
The Bison will surely play the same stifling defense that has been their staple, and they’re a good bet to take care of the ball like they did last season. Those will go a long way towards another league title, which is certainly within their grasp.

Holy Cross (20-12, 11-3 Patriot)
Projected Starters:
Sr. G Torey Thomas (11.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.8 apg, 2.4 spg)
Sr. G Keith Simmons (14.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.5 apg)
So. F Colin Cunningham (3.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
So. F Alex Vander Baan (6.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Jr. C Tim Clifford (7.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Crusaders pulled off a rare feat in getting three of their four non-conference home games to start the season. They open with Fairfield, Hampton and Siena. Later, road games include Syracuse, Dayton, Duke, and Providence, and they also get George Mason across town from campus in what is considered a neutral site game. Six of the first nine Patriot League games are at home, with an early gauge of where they stand coming on January 13 when they host Bucknell.
Outlook: The Crusaders have enough pieces returning to contend for the title, starting with the best backcourt in the conference in the ultra-quick Thomas and Simmons, who had a breakout year despite battling health concerns along the way. If Pat Doherty makes a smooth return from an injury that cost him last season, they will be in good shape in the backcourt. After the frontcourt looked like a question mark last year, it appears to be in good shape now thanks largely to the continued good strides made by Clifford, who should be one of the conference’s top big men if he becomes a better rebounder. Vander Baan and Cunningham are capable players who now have a season under their belt. The freshmen all will get a chance to contribute as well.
A tough non-conference schedule will have the Crusaders battle-tested for Patriot League play. There hasn’t been much separating them and Bucknell the past two seasons, and the gap may have closed. If they stay healthy, the Crusaders have a good shot at the title.

Lehigh (19-12, 11-3 Patriot)
Projected Starters:
Fr. G Marquis Hall
Jr. G Jose Olivero (17.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
Sr. G-F Kyle Neptune (11.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.7 apg)
Jr. F Bryan White (6.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
Sr. C Jason Mgebroff (3.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Mountain Hawks have six non-conference home games, two against non-Division I schools. They open up at the Basketball Travelers Classic at Oregon, then later go to Notre Dame, Princeton, Miami, Rutgers and Northeast contender Monmouth. In Patriot League play, a road stretch of Bucknell, Holy Cross and American in late January could provide the most telling sign of where this team will end up.
Outlook: The success of the Mountain Hawks may hinge on a freshman, as they need Hall or someone else to take over at the point. If Olivero has to handle the ball, that will hurt the offense since it takes him away from focusing on scoring, and this is not a team with a lot of it as only two Patriot League teams scored less last season. Hall is a capable floor leader, so how he adjusts to playing at the college level will tell the story. Neptune is one of the best energy players in the conference and another key part of a good perimeter unit. White gets the job done down low, while Mgebroff needs to improve if they are to compete with the top two teams. Freshman Zahir Carrington, another part of a good recruiting class, looks to be the best newcomer in the frontcourt and should help at both forward spots.
The Mountain Hawks’ solid defense will give them a chance, but some improvement is needed at the offensive end. That will all start with Hall or someone else other than Olivero emerging as a consistent floor leader.

American (12-17, 7-7 Patriot)
Projected Starters:
So. G Derrick Mercer (7.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.8 apg)
Sr. G Andre Ingram (12.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.8 apg)
Sr. G Linas Lekavicius (6.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.4 spg)
Sr. F-C Brayden Billbe (8.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
Sr. C Paulius Joneliunas (6.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Eagles play five non-conference home games, four in the first month. A challenging road slate includes Richmond, Xavier, Yale, Maryland and Virginia (alma mater of head coach Jeff Jones and all three assistants). Patriot League play opens with two tough road games at Lehigh and Bucknell, but they finish with four of six at home.
Outlook: This is the sleeper team, a very experienced group that returns almost everyone from last season’s team and has good balance. Mercer should only get better after a good freshman season that featured occasional growing pains, while Ingram probably won’t repeat his struggles shooting the ball. Lekavisius and sophomore shooter Garrison Carr will also be key players on the perimeter, with Carr capable of lighting it up from long range. Billbe and Joneliunas lead a solid, unspectacular frontcourt that adds Georgetown transfer Cornelio Guibunda.
If they are to contend, the Eagles need to improve their defense, especially against teams with shooters since they allowed opponents to shoot 39 percent from long range. They also need to take better care of the ball, which should happen since this team has a full year of playing together.

Colgate (10-19, 4-10 Patriot)
Projected Starters:
Sr. G Jon Simon (9.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.5 apg)
Jr. G Kyle Roemer (11.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
Jr. G Kyle Chones (5.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.4 apg)
Jr. F Kendall Chones (8.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
Sr. C Marc Daniels (3.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.0 bpg)
Schedule Highlights: The non-conference slate has seven home games, including five in a row starting in late November. The road slate includes Syracuse, Arizona State, a BracketBusters game, and an appearance in the Cable Car Classic in Santa Clara starting with the host school. In Patriot League play, the Raiders get a tough four-game stretch early: on the road at American, Lehigh and Bucknell, then home against Holy Cross.
Outlook: The Raiders should certainly improve, but contending looks to be a long shot unless they improve markedly on offense. The perimeter trio of Simon, Roemer and Kyle Chones is a good place to start. Roemer can score and Simon can run the show, but the latter needs to take better care of the ball after having more turnovers than assists last season if he is to replace the departed Alvin Reed. Both are also capable of shooting better, although senior reserve Dan Gentile is the designated sniper in the group. The frontcourt is capable on the boards, though they still need to improve there as neither starter led the team in rebounds. If they don’t improve offensively, the Raiders’ best hope to win will be better defense, an area in which they were okay last season but could be better.

Lafayette (11-17, 5-9 Patriot)
Projected Starters:
Sr. G Marcus Harley (5.0 ppg in four games)
Sr. G Jamaal Hilliard (7.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
Jr. G Bilal Abdullah (9.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.3 apg)
Jr. F Ted Detmer (5.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.8 spg)
Jr. C Everest Schmidt (5.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Leopards are in the NIT Season Tip-Off early on, playing at Indiana and possibly getting Notre Dame or Butler. Then they come home to play Saint Joseph’s in the first of six non-conference home games (two against non-Division I schools). They also get Princeton at home, while notable road games include Miami, Temple and San Diego State. Patriot League play doesn’t look to have any overly brutal stretches, although they get Bucknell and Lehigh back-to-back on two occasions.
Outlook: Injuries and poor defense were the thorns in the Leopards’ side last season, and both are keys with many of those players returning on this experienced team. Harley played in just four games while Hilliard battled a nagging leg injury, and if healthy, they team with Abdullah to form a perimeter unit that will score some points. There is some depth there as well on the offensive end. Detmer and Schmidt are serviceable in the frontcourt, and should get a boost from two members of the school’s first-ever scholarship class, Marek Koltun and Andre Hines.
Besides defense and rebounding, the Leopards need to improve in taking care of the ball as only one team in the league turned the ball over more last season. That would certainly help in the event that they don’t improve defensively.

Navy (10-18, 3-11 Patriot)
Projected Starters:
Jr. G Corey Johnson (9.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.7 spg)
So. G Kaleo Kina (10.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.3 spg)
Jr. G Greg Sprink (14.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.0 apg)
So. F Adam Teague (4.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
Jr. C Ben Biles (1.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Midshipmen, who open with Loyola (Md.) and then play either North Florida or St. John’s in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, play seven home games in non-conference, including four straight in December. Two home games are against non-Division I schools, with Penn being the most noteworthy opponent. Road games include Villanova and Georgetown. In Patriot League play, a three-game road stretch in January and a three-game homestand in February highlight the slate.
Outlook: The Midshipmen are a young bunch this year, as the roster has just one senior, little-used Calvin White, and plenty of freshmen and sophomores. That means this season is a key developmental one, especially at the point since Johnson and Kina need to cut down on turnovers as they helped the team lead the league in that category. Both can score along with the sharp-shooting Sprink, ensuring that the Middies will remain near the top in the league in scoring after leading in that category last season. The X-factor may be the development of freshman Derek Young, as he could take over the point and let Johnson and Kina become scorers first. The frontcourt needs to keep developing, and may get a boost from two freshmen, Trey Stanton and Bobby Fenske.

Army (5-22, 1-13 Patriot)
Projected Starters:
Sr. G Marshall Jackson (2.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.4 apg)
Sr. G Matt Bell (13.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.7 apg)
Jr. G Jarell Brown (14.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
Jr. F Corban Bates (5.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Sr. C Jimmy Sewell (1.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Black Knights open the season with the John Thompson Foundation Classic in Missouri, where they play Stetson, North Carolina A&T and the host Tigers. Seven of the next 11 games are at home, with back-to-back road games at Notre Dame and Michigan included. The Patriot League schedule has them playing each team in the same order both times through, with a three-game homestand in January and a three-game road stretch highlighting it.
Outlook: The Black Knights have four starters back, but don’t expect a huge jump in the standings as their most glaring weaknesses are at the key positions: the point and the middle. They struggled to take care of the ball at the point, posting the worst turnover margin in the Patriot League, while the post players aren’t the best rebounders save for Bates. Bell and Brown can certainly score, but someone needs to run the show and that looks to be Jackson, who started all 27 games last season. Their defense isn’t bad, but it’s not good enough to cover up the offensive issues or the fact that they force far fewer turnovers than anyone else.
Two of the Black Knights’ five wins last season were against non-Division I teams, so they’ll need to win more games at this level before they have the look of a contender.

League Outlook

A couple of old faces are favorites in Bucknell and Holy Cross, but they aren’t alone. Lehigh will have something to say about the league race, and American is the X-factor with their experience. All in all, the top four are a pretty solid pick, with the top two being an even call to go either way and it wouldn’t be a complete shock if Lehigh or American was right there contending at the end of the season.

The schedule could play a role in how things play out with the top teams. Bucknell and Holy Cross each open up with a number of early home games, while American has a couple of tough road games in the early going. The Bison and Crusaders went a combined 13-1 at home in Patriot League play last season, so the early home games give them a chance to get some momentum and possibly put some distance between themselves and other teams. One thing that is for sure is that the games between the top four should all be close, well-played games as they have been over the last few seasons.

     

Patriot League Notebook

by - Published January 25, 2006 in Conference Notes



Patriot League Notebook

by Steve Sheridan

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.

     

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