Tuesday , Nov , 01 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Patriot League

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

The Sports Network

By Frank Haynes, College Basketball Senior Editor

OUTLOOK: With at least half of the eight teams that make up the Patriot League
almost guaranteed to post winning records in 2005-06, the rest of the country
should stand up and take notice of the little conference that could. Bucknell,
last year’s PL Tournament champion, pulled off one the more memorable upsets
in recent memory, knocking off third-seeded Kansas in the first round of the
NCAA Tournament. The win was the first-ever in NCAA Tourney play by a Patriot
League club and earned the Bison a second-round date with Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, they bowed out of the tournament at that point, but it was a
banner year for Pat Flannery’s squad, and the PL in general. This year
Bucknell is clearly the team to beat, but standout squads at Holy Cross (last
year’s PL regular season champion and NIT first-round winner over Notre Dame),
Lehigh and American will all give chase, and up-and-comers like Colgate and
Navy could figure into the mix as well. Lafayette and Army are likely to bring
up the rear, but this should be another intensely competitive year for the
Patriot League.


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


BUCKNELL – With all five starters back in the fold, Bucknell should post
somewhere in excess of 20 wins this season and could make a perfect run
through the PL if all goes according to plan. While that last part will be
difficult to pull off, having guys like 2004-05 All-Patriot League First
Teamers Chris McNaughton (12.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Charles Lee (12.5 ppg, 6.4
rpg) back will provide Flannery with perhaps his most talented team ever. Add
Second Teamer Kevin Bettencourt (12.6 ppg, 78 three-pointers), PL Defensive
Player of the Year Abe Badmus and PL All-Rookie selection John Griffin to the
equation and you have all the makings of a very special team indeed. Some
impressive reserves also dot the Bucknell roster, and in fact 12 of the 13
players Flannery had at his disposal last year return. A tough non-conference
slate has the Bison taking on Syracuse, DePaul, Villanova, Saint Joseph’s and
Duke, which means the odds-on favorite to win this year’s Patriot League
regular season championship should be battle tested by the time league play
rolls around in early January.

HOLY CROSS – The Crusaders of head coach Ralph Willard had one of their best
seasons ever in 2004-05, logging an impressive 25-7 record, 13-1 in PL play.
They ran off a staggering 16 straight victories leading up to their
disappointing loss to Bucknell in the Patriot League Tournament title tilt,
but earned an invite to the NIT where they claimed the league’s first-ever win
in that tournament as well. Willard, now in his seventh year and seeking his
fourth 20-win season, was named the PL Coach of the Year and despite the loss
of three starters, the return of 2004-05 Patriot League Player of the Year
Kevin Hamilton (15.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) should help Holy Cross enjoy another highly
successful campaign. Hamilton and Keith Simmons (12.1 ppg, 50 three-pointers),
both guards, picked up All-PL First Team honors last season, and with guys
like backcourt mate Pat Doherty, last year’s PL Rookie of the Year, back to
lend a hand, the Crusaders could once again challenge the Bison for the
league’s top spot. Holy Cross doesn’t play the kind of daunting non-conference
schedule Bucknell does, but challenging games against the likes of Cincinnati
and perhaps Clemson and Mississippi State could serve as big-time character

LEHIGH – A year removed from winning the Patriot League crown, the Mountain
Hawks suffered a down year in 2004-05, finishing 14-15 overall and an even 7-7
in conference. The good news for coach Billy Taylor’s squad is that star guard
Joe Knight is back for another go after leading the PL in assists last season
with 4.1 per game. Knight is also a solid scorer (13.6 ppg) and has some
serious range on his jumper (51 treys). In an effort to take some of the
pressure off Knight, fellow three-point sniper Jose Olivero (13.0 ppg, 53
triples) will be asked to raise his level of play, as will 6-10 center Jason
Mgebroff (8.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg). An early trip to Laramie, Wyoming for the BCA
Invitational could speak volumes as to where Lehigh is headed this season, as
will tough non-league games against Princeton, Villanova and Washington.
Still, once the PL season gets underway, it’s anyone’s guess as to how well
the Mountain Hawks will perform. The only sure thing is that Taylor will have
his troops fired up to get back to the pinnacle of Patriot success, regardless
of the obstacles in their way.

AMERICAN – Having reached the PL Tournament finals the previous three years,
and the semi-finals last season, American is a team that prides itself on
consistency and playing hard for all 40 minutes. Head coach Jeff Jones’ club
comes into the 2005-06 campaign hoping to be better in the low post, which is
where the Eagles seemed to be most vulnerable in finishing two games over .500
in PL play a year ago (8-6). A pair of big men will hopefully lead American
back to the top of the Patriot heap, as former South Carolina Gamecock Paulius
Joneliunas (eligible the end of December) and Brayden Billbe will attempt to
clog the middle and do their share of scoring at the offensive end. Highly-
touted newcomer Derrick Mercer could provide instant gratification for an AU
fan base that will be chomping at the bit for their beloved Eagles to
challenge for the PL title. With all the hype surrounding Mercer’s arrival,
lest we forget that Andre Ingram (15.2 ppg), the league’s second leading
scorer last year, is back and should once again be a force to be reckoned
with. An ambitious non-league slate has the Eagles playing at Washington and
Maryland, but there are plenty of winnable games on the docket and the Eagles
should be in real nice shape come their league-opener against Lehigh on
January 7th.

COLGATE – It wasn’t the season head coach Emmett Davis had in mind, but there
were certainly some positives to take from last year’s 12-16 (7-7 in the PL)
record. The Red Raiders placed two players on the All-Patriot League Second
Team, one of which was guard Alvin Reed (12.8 ppg, 91 assists) who returns to
the fold for his senior season. Reed is joined in the backcourt by Jon Simon
and Kyle Roemer (the PL’s top three-point shooter at 45.3 percent in 2004-05),
and the trio is arguably the best perimeter shooting bunch in the conference,
having hit a combined 149 treys a year ago. Also figuring to see plenty of
action, and in return pay immediate dividends, are brothers Kyle and Kendall
Chones. The sophomore siblings sat out last season, but both possess the size
and skills necessary to give opposing teams serious matchup problems. A pretty
tough non-league schedule which features bouts with Princeton, Syracuse and
Georgetown, and a potential game against either UTEP or Texas, should have the
Red Raiders in a positive frame of mind come PL play, knowing they have
competed against some of the tougher teams in the nation to that point.

NAVY – Billy Lange embarks on his second season at the helm in Annapolis, and
while last year’s 9-19 overall mark (5-9 in the PL) was not the way he
envisioned his first season going, there is reason for optimism looking ahead.
A 5-5 record down the stretch, which included a huge upset of Bucknell, ended
the season on a positive and the hope is those good feelings will carry over
to the start of this season. The Mids were the top rebounding team in the
Patriot last year and the belief is the team will once again excel in that
area. The squad boasts a pair of 2004-05 All-PL Rookie Team performers in
guards Corey Johnson and Greg Sprink, and they combined to score more than 16
ppg and hand out nearly five assists per outing last season. Up front, senior
Matt Fannin (10.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg) should provide leadership and production at
both ends of the court, while guard David Hooper (9.8 ppg) lends Johnson and
Sprink a hand in the backcourt. Talented forward Carlton Baldwin is lost for
the first month or so of the season following surgery to repair a broken
ankle, but the 6-8 junior is expected to give the Midshipmen a major boost
upon his return. One guy to keep an eye on in Baldwin’s absence is senior
Leonard Green, a 6-6 senior who has enjoyed a tremendous preseason. Navy opens
the 2005-06 slate against Big East foe Georgetown, while games versus Air
Force and Pennsylvania will also serve as major tests early.

LAFAYETTE – With three tough games right out the chute, the Leopards will know
early on just what kind of time they are. Taking on Saint Joseph’s, Notre Dame
and Princeton, all on the road, over a span of nine days in November is an
aggressive undertaking, but coach Fran O’Hanlon knows those kind of games
build character and that’s the hope as Lafayette looks forward to an exciting
2005-06 campaign. The Leopards finished just 9-19 a year ago, but six losses
came by nine points or fewer. The loss of leading scorer Sean Kittner (10.9
ppg) to graduation, and leading rebounder Jamaal Douglas (7.0 rpg) who
transferred, means O’Hanlon will turn to sophomore Bilal Abdullah (8.7 ppg, 72
assists, 36 steals) and juniors Marcus Harley (9.1 ppg) and Jamaal Hilliard
(7.1 ppg) to lead the way. Lafayette is once again a very young team as there
are only three seniors on the roster. As many as four freshmen could figure
into the Leopards’ plans early on, but once league play rolls around, expect
the trio of Abdullah, Harley and Hilliard to settle in and provide both
leadership and production at both ends of the court.

ARMY – The return of 2004-05 All-Patriot League Second Teamer Matt Bell (14.3
ppg) highlights what coach Jim Crews hopes is his finest team since taking the
reins at Army four years ago. In addition to Bell, Colin Harris (9.1 ppg) is
back and will hopefully take his game to the next level. Cory Sinning (7.6
ppg) will also be asked to kick it up a notch, but this is Bell’s team and the
6-0 junior will attempt to lead the Black Knights out of the PL basement. Last
year, Army won just three games, only one in conference, and the hope is this
time around the Knights will at least be able to get over the .500 mark,
something they haven’t done in nearly a decade. A highly-competitive non-
league schedule has the team facing off against Temple and Connecticut, both
on the road), as well as bouts with four Ivy League teams, all of which will
hopefully have the Black Knights primed for the Patriot League battles that
lie ahead.