Monday , Nov , 08 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Patriot League

*** College Basketball Preview – Patriot League ***

The Sports Network

By Frank Haynes, College Basketball Senior Editor

OUTLOOK: This could be the most competitive season in Patriot League history,
with at least half of the teams all having a legitimate shot at claiming the
league title and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Bucknell appears to be
the odds-on favorite at the start, and Pat Flannery’s squad boasts three
preseason All-PL First Team selections. Defending champion Lehigh will likely
stand toe to toe with the Bison, while American University, which has appeared
in the last three PL Tournament title games and features the preseason pick
for PL Player of the Year, and Holy Cross will certainly pick up their share
of wins and be in the mix all season long. As for Colgate, Lafayette, Navy and
Army, they could make some noise, but more realistically, have a tough road
ahead if they have Patriot League title aspirations. Colgate comes into the
season in search of scoring following the loss of two All-PL performers, while
Lafayette will be hard-pressed to duplicate last year’s 18 wins despite having
some talent in place. Navy has a new head coach in former Villanova assistant
Billy Lange, and it will take some time for the Midshipmen to buy into his
system and make a climb up the league ladder. As for Army, there isn’t
anywhere for Jim Crews’ club to go but up, as the Black Knights won just six
games last season, only three of which came against league foes.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Bucknell

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Bucknell; 2. Lehigh; 3. American; 4. Holy
Cross; 5. Colgate; 6. Lafayette; 7. Navy; 8. Army

TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:

BUCKNELL – Littered with talent, the Bison are clearly the team to beat in
2004-05. With three preseason PL First Teamers on board, Bucknell should have
very little trouble producing at both ends of the court. All five starters are
back from a team that went 9-5 in league play last year, giving coach Flannery
the luxury of experience at every position. Junior Kevin Bettencourt (14.9
ppg, 2.8 apg), sophomore Chris McNaughton (11.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and junior
Charles Lee (10.1 ppg, 2.6 apg) all averaged double figures in scoring last
season, with McNaughton serving as the team’s top rebounder and Bettencourt
its leading assist man. Despite an overall FG percentage below 36 percent,
Bettencourt set a new school record with 72 three-pointers. McNaughton had an
impressive rookie season and is looking to improve, while Lee is simply a
solid all-around player capable of leading the team by example. Sophomore Abe
Badmus will serve as the Bison’s primary playmaker, while guys like sophomore
John Clark and senior Chris Niesz will add support where needed.

LEHIGH – Led by two-time Patriot League Coach of the Year Billy Taylor, the
Mountain Hawks come into the 2004-05 season as the defending league champs.
Repeating won’t be an easy task, however, as the team lost its leading scorer,
assist man and thief in last year’s PL Player of the Year, Austen Rowland.
Still, the Hawks welcome back four starters, including sophomore guard Jose
Olivero. As a PL All-Freshman Team pick a year ago, Olivero averaged 11.6 ppg
and hit 51 three-pointers. Big things are expected from senior forward Earl
Nurse (6.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and sophomore center Jason Mgebroff (7.0 ppg, 3.9
rpg). Junior guard Joe Knight, a transfer from High Point where he earned Big
South Rookie of the Year honors in 2003, is being looked at as a guy who could
potentially fill the void left by Rowland, while senior swingman Nick Monserez
should add some spark as well. Another guy to keep an eye on is freshman
forward Bryan White, who along with Knight could provide some energy off the
bench.

AMERICAN – As long as star guard Andre Ingram is on the court, the Eagles have
a shot to win against almost anyone. Ingram, who averaged 13.6 ppg to finish
fifth in the PL in scoring last year, is a solid three-point shooter and he
led the league in treys in ’03-’04 with 78 en route to being named PL Freshman
of the Year. He has much loftier goals this time around and is the early
choice to pick up league Player of the Year honors. Ingram isn’t the only
option for coach Jeff Jones, as senior forward Matej Cresnik and sophomore
guard Linas Lekavicius will be asked to add support and could shine with
Ingram receiving most of the attention from the opposition. Another guy who
could figure into the equation, particularly at the offensive end, is senior
guard Jason Thomas. Lekavicius is especially important as he will be asked to
hold down the point following the loss of former standout Andres Rodriguez,
who was the PL’s top playmaker last year with 7.3 apg.

HOLY CROSS – If the Crusaders are going to make headway in the PL this season,
they will need to get consistent play from the point. The loss of the league’s
all-time assist and steals leader in Jave Meade leaves a huge hole to fill,
but coach Ralph Willard has confidence that a guy like sophomore Torey Thomas
has the talent to secure the job. Junior guard Kevin Hamilton led the team in
scoring (11.0 ppg), steals (72) and three-pointers (53) last season, but he
suffered his third broken wrist in a little more than a year so his status for
the start of the campaign is in question. Senior center Nate Lufkin was
productive last year, averaging 8.8 points and 4.9 caroms per contest, while
Keith Simmons contributed 8.5 ppg an hit 33 treys. Hamilton is the key to any
success Holy Cross achieves this year, but the Crusaders could surprise some
folks and challenge for the league’s top spot with consistent efforts from a
host of other players.

COLGATE – The loss of the team’s two top scorers (Howard Blue and Mark
Linebaugh) will certainly be felt, but coach Emmett Davis believes he has some
players capable of filling the void. Junior guard Alvin Reed is the one guy
Davis will look to most, as the 6-1 San Bernadino, CA native is the top
returning scorer (11.4 ppg) and he also paced the club in assists (3.3 apg)
and steals (37) last season. Senior forward Andrew Zidar highlighted the
team’s effort on the glass with 6.6 rpg while also contributing at the
offensive end with 9.5 ppg. Sophomore forward Kendall Chones (7.4 ppg, 4.7
rpg) will be counted on to give the Raiders some spirited play at both ends of
the court, while big things are also expected from juniors John Foss and Marc
Daniels. Keith Williams is one of just two seniors on the team and is coming
off a pair of knee surgeries, but he is hoping for a return to the form that
saw him earn PL All-Rookie Team honors a few years ago.

LAFAYETTE – With a new long-term contract in hand, Lafayette coach Fran
O’Hanlon has been given the vote of confidence that he is the man to lead the
Leopards for the next decade. Unfortunately, Lafayette has just one starter
back in the fold in junior guard Pat Betley (6.6 ppg), but he has tremendous
outside touch and will be asked to up his offensive production this season as
a result. Senior center Sean Knitter averaged 9.4 points and 4.0 rebounds per
game last season, his first as a Leopard after coming over from Delaware, and
his play will be instrumental in helping Lafayette exceed expectations. Other
guys who should play an important role in the Leopards’ success include
sophomores Marcus Harley and Jamaal Douglas who averaged just 7.5 and 3.1 ppg,
respectively, last year. One of five freshman on the roster, 6-2 guard Pat
Cummins could make his presence known early on, but for the Leopards to be
truly successful, Knitter is going to have to dominate down low and Betley
will need to become even more of a long-range shooting threat.

NAVY – New coach Billy Lange has his work cut out for him this season, as not
only is he replacing a legend in Don DeVoe (more than 500 career wins), but he
has no real scoring options now that sophomore forward Carlton Baldwin is
expected to miss at least the first half of the season after undergoing
surgery to repair a broken toe on his left foot. Baldwin led the Midshipmen in
both scoring (8.0 ppg) and rebounding (4.1 rpg) last year, and his absence
means junior guard David Hooper is the team’s leader in both categories
despite netting just 7.8 ppg and grabbing only 4.0 rpg in 2003-04. Senior
guard Taj Mathews (2.8 apg) will serve as the team’s floor general, but again,
scoring will be a problem and as a result, Lange’s first season could be one
of pain and heartache. The Mids are sure to play hard, but a glaring lack of
talent will keep them in the lower half of the PL standings all season long.

ARMY – The Black Knights are young and really have no idea what it’s like to
win on a consistent basis. Coach Jim Crews’ squad features just one senior and
one junior, with sophomores ruling the roost (11 in all). Guard Matt Bell is
the team’s top returning scorer, rebounder and assist man, but he averaged
just 6.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game last season. Joining
Bell in the Army backcourt is Travis Owsley, but he too struggled offensively
in 2003-04, netting just 5.4 ppg. Up front, the Black Knights will rely
heavily on Colin Harris to provide some offensive punch, while Erik Engstrom
could become a force on the glass. Army won just six games in Crews’ second
year at the helm last season, and while the team is likely to be competitive
in more games this time around, there are no guarantees that will translate
into more victories.