Thursday , Nov , 02 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Patriot League

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) –
OUTLOOK: Bucknell is the popular choice once again to capture the Patriot
League title, as coach Pat Flannery’s club has done in each of the past two
seasons. Last year, the Bison won a school-record 27 games, became the only
school in league history to go undefeated in league play, and were the only
team in school and league history to crack the AP Top-25. They are led this
time around by preseason PL Player of the Year Chris McNaughton, and boast
three seniors among the starting five. Giving Bucknell a serious run for
its money will be the only team to ever win three straight Patriot
League titles, the Holy Cross Crusaders, while squads at Lehigh,
American, Colgate and Lafayette look to climb the PL ladder as well. The
two service academies will likely finish at the bottom of the league
standings, but it won’t be for a lack of effort as Navy head man Billy
Lange and Army head coach Jim Crews both have talent, but not enough to make
any significant strides.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Bucknell

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

TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:

BUCKNELL – As mentioned, the Bison probably have the most talent of any team in
the Patriot League this year, despite the loss of two of the school’s most
productive players ever. 2005-06 leading scorer Charles Lee and long-range
sniper Kevin Bettencourt have both moved on, but McNaughton, a three-time All-
PL selection, gives Bucknell a highly-skilled inside presence and he is coming
off a season in which he averaged 12.6 ppg while shooting a league-best 57.8
percent from the floor. His career 60.1 percent effort from the field is best
among all PL participants, and he will likely be joined in the starting
rotation by guards Abe Badmus and John Griffin, and forwards Donald Brown and
Darren Mastropaolo. Badmus is a solid point guard who will try to feed
McNaughton on just about every trip down the floor, but for the Bison to claim
the “three-peat”, they will need contributions up and down the roster. One guy
to keep an eye on is freshman Zach Evans, a talented defender who will help
Bucknell continue its trend of playing stingy defense, as it did last season
when it allowed a league-low 55.8 ppg.

HOLY CROSS – Led by senior guards Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas, the Crusaders
should make a run at Bucknell and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see
coach Ralph Willard’s troops unseat the two-time reigning league champs.
Simmons is a tremendous player, and he averaged 14.2 points and 5.2 rebounds
per game last year as a junior, while also leading the league in three-point
shooting accuracy (.476). Thomas is the team’s point guard and averaged
double figures as well in ’05-’06, netting 11.0 ppg while handing out nearly
five assists per outing. The Holy Cross frontcourt features a pair of
sophomores and a junior, with 6-6 forward Colin Cunningham having the
unenviable task of trying to replace former HC standout Kevin Hamilton. Also
expected to see considerable time in the backcourt is Pat Doherty, a former PL
Rookie of the Year who played sparingly last season due to injury. Holy Cross
has won at least 20 games in each of the past two seasons, and a third is
likely when you consider the talent with which Willard has to work.

LEHIGH – Another team with a talented backcourt, Lehigh is poised to make a run
at the Patriot League’s top spot after winning it all in 2004 — that is if
coach Billy Taylor’s and everyone else’s expectations pan out for highly-touted
rookie guard Marquis Hall. The one guy Taylor won’t have to worry about is all-
league guard Jose Olivero, as the 6-2 senior is coming off a year in which he
averaged 17.1 ppg and shot 41 percent from three-point range. Helping take some
of the pressure off Olivero will be senior guard Kyle Neptune, but where the
Moutain Hawks are likely to struggle the most will be up front where unproven
guys like sophomore Greg Page and junior Bryan White must step up. Freshman
Paul Bayer is a solid shooter, and his development will be instrumental in
helping the team as a whole improve upon the mediocre shooting effort it put
forth a season ago. Another one of the young players expected to make a splash
this season is Zahir Carrington, a talented scorer in high school who Taylor
hopes will flourish sooner rather than later.

AMERICAN – Perhaps the most experienced team in the Patriot League this year
resides in Washington, D.C., as the American Eagles return each of the top 12
scorers from 2005-06. AU head coach Jeff Jones is optimistic about his team’s
chances, and he will rely heavily on senior guard Andre Ingram to carry the
club most nights. Ingram, a member of American’s 1,000-point club, started all
29 games for the Eagles last season and averaged 12.0 ppg. The Eagles are also
fortunate to have last season’s PL Rookie of the Year, point guard Derrick
Mercer, as well as former North Carolina Tar Heel, 6-11 center Paulius
Joneliunas, back in the fold. Under Jones, American has won a pair of PL
regular season titles, and has appeared in three league tournament championship
games — good times that the Eagles hope are revisited here in 2006-07.

COLGATE – It’s been a decade since Colgate went to the NCAA Tournament, and
while getting there this time around isn’t likely, the Raiders could sneak up
on teams and make some noise if all goes according to plan. The return of three
starters from last year’s 10-19 team (4-10 PL), means coach Emmett Davis will
have some experience on which to lean. It would have been four returning
starters if junior guard Kyle Roemer (11.4 ppg) hadn’t suffered a serious knee
injury that will cost him the season. The best of the [remaining] bunch is
probably 6-5 junior Kyle Chones, although sophomore forward Alex Woodhouse
could make a real name for himself if he shows that he is fully recovered from
the knee injury that forced him to miss all of last season. Senior point guard
Jon Simon will serve as the team’s primary playmaker and can be a real calming
force, but the key to Colgate’s season will be whether or not a few of the
unheralded players step up, especially at the offensive end.

LAFAYETTE – Now permitted to give scholarships, Lafayette is a team that could
surprise this year as a solid core of returning players along with some
talented newcomers could give two-time PL Coach of the Year Fran O’Hanlon some
serious options. The Leopards are likely to be one of the more undersized teams
in the PL, so hard work and determination will be key to the team’s success.
The frontcourt features the return of 6-7 juniors Ted Detmer and Everest
Schmidt, and both should demonstrate the maturity O’Hanlon hopes they got from
playing full-time roles last season. As for the backcourt, two seniors and a
junior get the starting nod as Jamaal Hilliard, hopefully recovered from
injuries suffered last season, and Marcus Harley provide veteran leadership,
while Bilal Abdullah looks to improve on the 9.9 points and 2.3 assists per
game he averaged last year as a sophomore. The Leopards will need to play solid
defense and shoot well from the perimeter in an effort to make up for the
shortcomings they have down low.

NAVY – Billy Lange’s rebuilding project continues in Annapolis, and while the
Midshipmen will likely finish near the bottom of the Patriot League standings
once again, they should show signs of improvement. The return of four starters
is good news, and it includes a pair of double-digit scorers from last season
in guards Greg Sprink (14.9 ppg) and Kaleo Kina (10.4 ppg). Unfortunately, a
lack of ideal size and talent will cost the Mids dearly. Sprink, who could wind
up an All-Patriot League First Teamer by season’s end, was Navy’s top rebounder
a year ago, but he grabbed fewer than five caroms per contest so finding
someone to crash the boards with reckless abandon will be one of Lange’s
greatest challenges. Navy won just three league games in 2005-06 and only 10
total, but eclipsing those marks could be difficult if Navy has a tough time
controlling the paint, as many expect it will.

ARMY – Coach Jim Crews’ club may finish in the Patriot basement once again, but
improving upon least year’s one league victory shouldn’t be that hard to do.
The return of the top five scorers from last season should pay dividends, as
guards Jarell Brown and Matt Bell combined to average 27.3 ppg and they will be
the catalysts that drive the Army machine. The hope is guys like John
Moonshower and Kenny Brewer will add some electricity off the wings, but alot
of the Black Knights’ success this season will hinge on how well they do in
close to the basket. The unexpected departure of Colin Harris means 6-4 junior
Corban Bates is the team’s top proven rebounder, so someone will need to rise
to the occasion and lend a hand. That guy could be 6-11 senior Jimmy Sewell, if
he plays tougher than his frail frame has allowed in the past.