- Ky McKeon
Player of the Year: Nana Foulland, Sr., Bucknell
Coach of the Year: Nathan Davis, Bucknell
Newcomer of the Year: Walter Whyte, Fr., Boston
Freshman of the Year: Walter Whyte, Fr., Boston
Key Returners: Nana Foulland, Zach Thomas, Stephen Brown, Kimbal Mackenzie, Avi Toomer
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Paul Newman, John Meeks, Jimmy Sotos
Postseason Projection: 11-12 Seed
Outlook: The Bucknell basketball program has been strong in recent years, notching five NCAA Tournament appearances since 2005. Head Coach Nathan Davis enters his second season at the helm in Lewisburg with perhaps the most talented mid-major roster in the country at his disposal. The Bison return everyone from last year’s 26-9 (15-3) squad that took down Vanderbilt and Richmond in the non-con and gave West Virginia a scare in the First Round of the Big Dance. With other Patriot schools losing key members of their rosters, the Bison and their four All-League performers have more than a good chance at running the conference table in what should be a historic year for the program.
The Bison boasted the Patriot League’s best offense and defense last season, both by very wide margins. On offense, Bucknell runs an uptempo attack that features excellent ball movement and outside shooting. Turnovers were sometimes an issue for the Bison, but those woes were countered by deadeye shooting (they ranked 20th in the country in effective FG%). Defensively, the Bison take away the three-ball and funnel opponents into the outstretched arms of Nana Foulland, the best shot blocker in the conference. Foulland allowed a stymying 0.697 points per possession (ppp) on post-ups last season and Bucknell ranked 48th in the country in FG% defense at the rim.
Foulland was the Defensive POY and overall POY in the Patriot last season, a 6’9” beast of a man inside the paint that wreaks havoc on both ends for opposing squads. He led the Patriot in blocks as a junior last season, ranked 2nd in rebounding percentage, 7th in scoring, and 6th in FG%. Foulland scored in a high volume and efficiently, putting up 1.05ppp on post-ups, a mark that ranked in the 91st percentile in the country (per Synergy). He should repeat as Player of the Year this season and destroy forwards all year long.
Zach Thomas was nearly as influential on the overall game for Bucknell last season. At 6’7”, Thomas played on the wing, ran the point occasionally, and even sat in the paint for post-ups. His shooting slash .510/.409/.814 was one of the best marks in the nation, and his versatility earned him a spot on the All-Patriot 1st Team. Thomas’s ability to affect the game in every facet on offense makes him one of the most valuable weapons in the conference. With Thomas and Foulland, no Patriot team comes anywhere close to matching the production and talent of Bucknell’s frontcourt.
As if having an unstoppable frontcourt wasn’t enough, the Bison also feature perhaps the best backcourt in the Patriot as well. Stephen Brown and Kimbal Mackenzie combine to form a potent one-two scoring punch at either guard spot. Brown is a quick lead guard capable of busting out in transition and knocking down the three-ball in the half-court. Like Thomas, Brown and Mackenzie, too, shot over 40% from deep on a high volume of trey attempts. On defense, Brown was an All-Defensive Team performer thanks to his ability to steal the ball from helpless offenders. Mackenzie is mostly a shooter on offense (.526/.410/.832), but he proved he could also put the ball on the deck and get to the rim in his sophomore season.
Bucknell’s supporting cast is a good one and is often overshadowed by the star power in the starting five. Avi Toomer, a 6’3” combo guard, should start alongside Mackenzie and Brown in the backcourt. He’s a good shooter from the outside (35.7%) and can spark the break with his speed. Inside, Nate Sestina and Bruce Moore will provide steady backup for Foulland and Thomas. Both bigs can step out from beyond the arc, and Sestina proved to be one of the better per-minute rebounders in the conference and a capable post scorer.
Davis brings in a good three-man class of freshmen, but more than likely they won’t see too much floor time in their inaugural year. Paul Newman will be an asset in the frontcourt down the road and Jimmy Sotos looks to have potential to be the Bison point guard of the future.
Bottom Line: Bucknell should be simply dominant this season in the Patriot. I’d bet on them rolling to an 18-0 conference record and winning the league by 4+ games. Davis put together a brutal non-conference schedule, which could lead to an interesting at-large bid conversation if Bucknell somehow stumbles in the postseason tournament. Games against Monmouth, Arkansas, UNC, Maryland, VCU, Vermont, and St. Joe’s will make the Bison a battle-tested squad once Patriot play starts. Don’t be shocked if Bucknell upsets more than one or two of those big name schools.
Key Returners: Will Rayman, Jordan Swopshire, Malcolm Regisford, Sean O’Brien, Francisco Amiel, Tom Rivard
Key Losses: Nathan Harries
Key Newcomers: Jordan Burns, Hugh Baxter, Jack Ferguson, David Maynard
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Matt Langel has yet to lead his Colgate Raiders to a winning overall record during his time in Hamilton. Colgate finished second in the Patriot with a 12-6 record back in 2014-15, but a stiff non-conference schedule held the Raiders under the .500 mark. The 2017-18 schedule has some tough games wrapped in, but there are enough soft spots to potentially vault the Raiders to the glory that comes with a winning record. Langel’s top six guys return this year from a roster that stumbled to a 10-22 (8-10) record last season. Experience and continuity should give Colgate a good shot at 2nd in the Patriot League.
Langel’s offense is all about the three-ball, and has been essentially all of his time at Colgate. The key to the three-point attack is having big guys that can shoot the ball, giving the Raiders four competent outside shooters on the floor at once. Langel found the perfect forward for this offense in Will Rayman, the returning leading scorer and an All-Rookie Team member last season in the Patriot. Rayman’s ability to space the floor (38.4% from deep) causes matchup problems for slower forwards trying to guard out on the arc. On defense, Rayman is an asset as well. The Raiders allowed 0.10ppp less when Rayman was on the floor versus when he sat.
Rayman’s frontcourt mates, Malcolm Regisford and Jordan Swopshire are also talented in their own rights, forming one of the better front lines in the conference. Regisford is the one player that goes against Langel’s shooting big-man role; he prefers working in the paint as opposed to behind the arc. Defensively, Regisford is the 2nd best rebounder in the conference (defensive rebounding is an area the Raiders always seem to excel in) and 7th best shot blocker. Swopshire is mostly a spot-up shooter on offense and a versatile defender on the other end, able to guard out on the perimeter and in the paint. Tom Rivard is the Raiders’ sixth man, another shooting wing with good rebounding chops.
In the backcourt, Colgate features two upperclassmen in point guard Sean O’Brien and 2-guard Francisco Amiel. O’Brien is a highly efficient lead guard that shot .532/.406/.896 from the floor last season. He’s capable of creating his own shot or knocking down a spot-up J. Amiel had a tough time during his sophomore season; he turned the ball over 31% of the time and shot just over 30% from deep. With the talented guard class coming in, Amiel may find his playing time dwindle in his third year in Hamilton.
That talented guard class is led by Jordan Burns and Jack Ferguson, two point guards that have potential to thrive over the next four seasons at Colgate. Burns is a natural leader, strong defender, and a bullet in transition. He’ll likely take over the starting PG reigns from O’Brien next season. Ferguson is a quick guard with deceptive moves that can hit the three-ball.
The returning talent is undeniable, but Colgate was a poor team last season and a big reason for that was its defense. The Raiders gave up open looks regularly and offered little resistance at the rim outside of Regisford. In order to climb up the Patriot standings, Langel’s squad needs to tighten the screws on the defense and start creating turnovers off their token pressure.
Bottom Line: With the experience Langel has at his disposal, Colgate should be able to compete for a top three conference finish. In order to achieve this, improvements in ball protection and defense must be realized.
Key Returners: Cheddi Mosely, Cedric Hankerson, Tyler Scanlon
Key Losses: Eric Fanning, Kyle Foreman, Justin Alston
Key Newcomers: Walter Whyte, Sukhmail Mathon, Javante McCoy
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Boston hasn’t reached the Big Dance since 2011, back when Pat Chambers (current Penn State coach) manned the sidelines and the Terriers resided in the America East. Since joining the Patriot, Boston has amassed a 47-25 conference record, the second best mark behind Bucknell in the 4-year span. Joe Jones will be challenged this year to bring his squad back to the top of the league standings with his top three players gone from last year.
Kyle Foreman, Eric Fanning, and Justin Alston are enormous losses for what the Terriers try to do on offense. Foreman was the team’s point guard, a steady presence that made the offense tick. Fanning played on the wing where he was a threat to drive in the ball-screen heavy, side-to-side motion offense. Alston was the linchpin in the middle, a guy Boston used to play inside out to open up shooters on the perimeter. In his stead, Jones will turn to Cedric Hankerson and Cheddi Mosely to make up some of the lost scoring production. Hankerson will need to morph into more than just a spot-up shooter, the 6’5” senior took 215 threes last season versus just 46 twos. Mosely was hurt most of the year, but he gives Boston some versatility on the offensive end, a wing that can score from the outside and off the bounce.
Incoming freshman Walter Whyte looks poised to be the next Terrier star. Whyte is a 3-star prospect and was ranked #2 in the state of Connecticut by ESPN. He’s a powerful, physical wing that can play the four and contribute greatly on the defensive end where he can guard multiple positions. On offense, Whyte is mostly a slasher, but he has a developing jumper with good mechanics. Whyte could start on day one.
Tyler Scanlon and Nick Havener will form the starting frontcourt, with Max Mahoney serving as a backup big. Scanlon, an All-Rookie Team member, is a stretch four, knocking down 40.9% of his threes last season, but he offered very little in the realm of rebounding. Havener will pick up the slack in that regard; his per-minute rebounding numbers would have ranked high nationally had he qualified time-wise. On defense, Havener is Boston’s best rim protector. Mahoney is in the same mold as Havener, an active rebounder and back-to-the-basket scorer.
The rest of Jones’s rotation will consist of returning wings Destin Barnes and Will Goff, while freshmen Sukhmail Mathon and Javante McCoy will fight to contribute at the bookend positions of center and point guard.
Boston’s defense propelled it to success last season. The Terriers forced turnovers at a top 50 rate in the country and ranked 14th in steal percentage. Jones played mostly 2-3 zone and often extended into a trapping zone past half court. The zone was effective in limiting paint opportunities – Boston ranked 41st in the country in FG% defense at the rim, but it was susceptible to giving up clean three-point looks (typical zone attributes). Foreman was one of Boston’s better perimeter defenders, but Whyte’s arrival and the continuance of Jones’s system should be able to maintain the Terriers’ high-ranking defense.
Bottom Line: It’s always tough to compete the year following the loss of your top three players. Foreman, Fanning, and Alston spanned the backcourt and frontcourt and contributed in all areas on the floor. A strong recruiting class may save Jones and keep Boston afloat near the top of the league standings, but the likes of Hankerson and Mosely will need to step up for the Terriers to be a legitimate Patriot contender.
Key Returners: Shawn Anderson, Hasan Abdullah, George Kiernan, Tom Lacey, Bryce Dulin
Key Losses: Edward Alade
Key Newcomers: JR Mathis, Danny Ogele, Isaiah Burnett, Ryan Reagan, Cam Davis
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Ed Dechellis led Navy to the school’s best Patriot League performance since 2008 last season, notching a 10-8 conference record despite finishing the regular season on a 4-game skid. It was an overachieving year for a team that saw two of its most important contributors in Tilman Dunbar and Will Kelly graduate the season prior. Now with four returning starters back from 2016-17, the Midshipmen will look to repeat and improve upon their success at the top of the conference standings.
Navy was successful last season thanks to its defense, a unit that ranked 3rd in the Patriot in adjusted efficiency per KenPom. Dechellis’s extended 1-3-1 trapping zone caused ball handlers in the Patriot fits and led to numerous steals and turnovers – the Midshipmen ranked 6th in the country in forcing turnovers and 24th in steal percentage. Navy was also good at rebounding out of its zone looks (often 2-3 matchup zones falling back from the extended pressure), but did give up plenty of outside shooting chances which often led to defeat to the better shooting conference foes.
On offense, Navy relies heavily on crashing the offensive glass, ranking 12th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage a season ago. The glass is important because Navy isn’t a great outside shooting team – in fact it ranked 329th in 3P% last year. There are some good individual offensive players on the roster, including All-Conference performer Shawn Anderson, but the collective struggled to put points on the board far too often in 2016-17.
Anderson handles the ball a lot, along with point guard Hasan Abdullah, at the top of the Navy offensive attack. Ball screens, basket cuts, and drive-n-kicks are all commonalities in the Midshipmen offense. Anderson was adept at slashing through the lane last season and picking up foul shot opportunities on his way to the rim, but he lacked a potent outside shot (.482/.214/.658). Abdullah struggled with turnovers in his sophomore season, pacing Navy’s 333rd nationally ranked turnover rate, but proved he could shoot the trey ball. On the other end, Abdullah owned one of the best steal rates in the country.
Bryce Dulin is the third member of the Navy starting backcourt, a classic “3-and-D” type of wing that shot 41.8% from downtown and etched his name on the Patriot All-Defensive Team last season. Dulin will be spelled by freshmen Danny Ogele and Isaiah Burnett. Ogele is an impressive scorer from all three levels on the floor and should have an immediate impact in his freshman year, while Burnett will add versatility and toughness on defense and a slashing presence on offense.
The glass attack will continue to be in good hands this year with the return of Tom Lacey, the 3rd best offensive rebounder on a per-minute basis in the Patriot. Lacey is excellent at keeping possessions alive by way of the rebound and proved to be an asset scoring in the post and getting to the charity stripe. The loss of Edward Alade inside hurts, but George Kiernan should be able to make up for some of the departed’s rebounding production. On offense, Kiernan gives Navy a legitimate stretch four presence, knocking down 37.2% of his long ball chances last season. Freshman Ryan Reagan could also be utilized as a stretch four off the pine, and sophomore Evan Wieck will continue to see chances up front.
Two more freshmen, JR Mathis and Cam Davis, will compete for playing time behind Abdullah (or even eat into the latter’s PT if turnovers continue to be prominent). Mathis is a high scoring guard that looks ready to lead a D1 offense while Davis also projects as a team leader and steady, sure-handed presence at the top of the key. Either of these guys could see ample court time in their inaugural seasons in Annapolis.
Bottom Line: Navy could be a top three Patriot team with the amount production it returns. While nobody is touching Bucknell this year, it’s not crazy to think Navy can secure a 2nd place regular season finish and pull some magic in the conference tournament. A bid to the Big Dance would be the school’s first since 1998.
Key Returners: Kyle Leufroy, Kahron Ross, Pat Andree, Jordan Cohen
Key Losses: Tim Kempton, Austin Price, Brandon Alston
Key Newcomers: Lance Tejada, Marques Wilson, Caleb Bennett, Ed Porter, James Karnik
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Lehigh has been one of the best Patriot basketball programs during Brett Reed’s 10-year stint. In that span, the Mountain Hawks have finished in the top 3 of the league six times and have punched a ticket to the Dance twice. In 2012, the Hawks upended big, bad Duke as a 15-seed in the NCAA Tournament, the only 15-seed to win a game that year (don’t look that stat up, trust me, that was the only one, stop looking up that stat, STOP). Reed faces a significant challenge this season with the loss of Tim Kempton, one of the best players ever to put on a Lehigh uniform (3rd all-time in scoring, 1st in rebounding).
Kempton’s departure is colossal. The entire Lehigh attack keyed on Kempton, who basically went and set a ball screen for whoever had the basketball or worked in the post for an easy score or kick, while the four other Hawks surrounded him on the perimeter waiting to shoot from deep. Check out Kempton’s on/off statistics last season per Hoop Lens:
Lehigh played quick in the half court, often getting shots early in the shot clock, and worked to push off defensive boards into transition. The three-ball was and still is one the team’s greatest weapons; the Hawks ranked 17th in the country in 3P% last season on a high volume of attempts. The three-point focus isn’t going anywhere this year, but there will be a major shift in offensive style without Kempton in the paint. Expect a higher tempo and more transition.
Lehigh will still be in good hands from a backcourt perspective. Senior point guard Kahron Ross is an excellent floor leader and led the Patriot in assists last season (he needs only 45 assists to become Lehigh’s all-time leader). Ross figures to take on more of the scoring load in his final season, which he should be totally capable of doing. Last year, Ross scored a blistering 1.289ppp on isolation plays, the 3rd best mark in the country among players who used over 10% of their possessions in isolation (per Synergy). He’s deadly off the pick-n-roll as well, scoring 0.908ppp off that play type (an excellent mark, per Synergy) while remaining keen on finding open shooters. With his leadership, Lehigh will still be a competitive Patriot squad.
Ross’s backcourt mates include returning leading scorer Kyle Leufroy, rising sophomore Jordan Cohen, and East Carolina transfer Lance Tejada. Leufroy can score from just about anywhere, shooting a fiery .493/.415/.857 from the field last year, but thrives from behind the arc and in transition where he can use his athleticism and quickness to beat repelling defenders. Cohen and Tejada will compete for the starting 2-guard spot this season. Both players are dynamite from behind the three-point line, but Tejada offers a little more in terms of ability to score off the bounce.
Aside from the aforementioned guards, newcomers Caleb Bennett and Marques Wilson figure to play important roles on the wing in their inaugural seasons. Bennett, an off-ball leaning combo guard, is a strong scorer and shooter. Wilson, an ESPN 3-star recruit, is a smart player that can handle it, shoot it, and pass it at a high level.
The frontcourt is where the question marks lie for Coach Reed and the Hawks. Without Kempton, Lehigh is pretty barren at the center spot. Freshman James Karnik will have to step in right away, especially if Caleb Sedore and Jack Lieb are still injured (neither has played a collegiate game yet due to injuries). I think Karnik will actually be a great player in the Patriot down the road; he’s a strong, hard-nosed rebounder that can score in the post and step out from behind the arc. He’s not Tim Kempton, but he has a little Tim Kempton in him. Aside from Karnik, Reed will likely start Pat Andree at the four spot. Andree is a dangerous stretch four capable of heating up in a hurry. Against St. Francis last season, Andree put up 30 points and went 10/12 from downtown. If he rebounds well and provides a bit of interior defense, he will be a very valuable player for the Hawks this season. JUCO transfer Ed Porter will also be a factor in the frontcourt rotation.
Defense may be an issue, particularly inside, without Kempton. The Hawks were the 5th best defensive rebounding team in the country last year, but that’s mainly due to the fact Kempton ranked 6th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. The Hawks mix in some zone and are notorious for forcing opponents into long possessions – in five of the last six seasons, Lehigh’s opponents have played at a bottom-50 national tempo.
Bottom Line: I’m a big fan of Kahron Ross, and the Hawks return and bring in some good talent to be sure. However, the loss of Kempton is immeasurable. Reed is a good coach that can likely rally his squad to victory under a newly modified offensive system, but there’s too much uncertainty heading into 2017-18 without Big Tim.
6. Loyola MD
Key Returners: Andre Walker, Cam Gregory, James Fives, Chancellor Barnard, Andrew Kostecka, Chuck Champion
Key Losses: Jarred Jones
Key Newcomers: Isaiah Hart, Brent Holcombe, River Reed, Luke Johnson
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Last season, GG Smith (Tubby’s kid) enjoyed his best season at the helm of Loyola since taking over for current Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos in 2013-14. The Greyhounds were mediocre overall, notching a 16-17 (8-10) record and placing 6th in the Patriot. Despite the under-.500 winning percentage, last season was a success considering the overall youth of the Greyhounds and the fact they lost their last three conference games by 1, 2, and in overtime. With All-League performer Andre Walker returning, Smith looks poised to improve upon his best season in Baltimore and turn the Greyhounds into a league contender.
Most Patriot squads rely on the three-ball to score points, but the Greyhounds get their buckets at the rim and the foul line. Loyola’s guards can all drive the lane, and forward Cam Gregory is a beast on the offensive glass where he cleans up misses and gets to the foul line. The recently graduated Jarred Jones was a wizard at driving the lane and picking up fouls, but rising senior Chancellor Barnard had the best free throw rate on the team – with a larger role in the offense, Barnard’s counting stats should swell this season once he returns from injury. Junior wing James Fives adds a little more versatility to the “rim attack”, able to step outside from deep to counter his penetration ability. Expect freshman Brent Holcombe to play a role as a stretch four or big wing; he’s a very skilled player, able to handle the ball and shoot at 6’7”.
Gregory is the rock inside, a formidable post presence that put up the best field goal percentage in Patriot play last season (68.1%). The senior ranked also ranked 1st in the Patriot in offensive rebounding percentage and 4th in defensive rebounding percentage, which made Smith’s team one of the best rebounding squads in the league. Gregory is a lone wolf this year in Smith’s offense – Loyola really doesn’t have another competent post presence, unless freshman River Reed can step in and contribute right away. This is especially concerning on defense; the Greyhounds were constantly thrashed at the rim last season.
Andre Walker is the metronome that paces the Greyhounds (so I guess he’s the rabbit in a greyhound race?). Walker is a superb table setter, ranking among the league’s best passers, and is a threat from just about anywhere behind the arc. The senior leader is adept at creating space on the perimeter with which to work – only half of his made three-pointers were assisted last season. Without Walker, the Greyhounds managed a measly 0.87ppp, an atrocious number, proving the guard’s value to his team. The only knock on Walker is his shot selection inside the arc; he’s never shot over 37% on 2PFGA, a consequence of taking tough, contested mid-rangers.
Walker will be joined by Andrew Kostecka in the backcourt, the best shooter on the roster and one of the very few Hounds that doesn’t attack the basket on offense. Kostecka and Walker will be backed up by sophomore Chuck Champion and freshman Isaiah Hart. Hart is the future starting point guard and possibly a future Patriot star. He’ll be tough to keep out of the lineup with his ability to break down defenses in transition, and may start on day one next to Walker.
One of Loyola’s best aspects is its high-pressure defense, one that forces turnovers at a top-30 national rate. Smith’s mobile guards wreak havoc on the perimeter, denying passing lanes and pestering offenders. Of course, the Greyhounds kind of have to do this, given they have little to no rim protection inside. Watch for Smith to ramp up the pressure with the additional guard depth – the Greyhounds allowed only 0.729ppp when they pressed last season, which ranked in the 90th percentile in the country per Synergy.
Bottom Line: Loyola checks almost all of the boxes to be a legitimate Patriot title contender. Walker and Gregory is one of the best inside-outside combos in the conference, and the Hounds should be one of the more experienced teams in 2017-18. If the shooting and interior defense improve, watch out for Loyola to make waves during conference play.
Key Returners: Matt Wilson, Jordan Fox, Tommy Funk, John Emezie, Jacob Kessler
Key Losses: Mac Hoffman
Key Newcomers: None
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Jimmy Allen was left with an empty cupboard at the start of last season with the loss of five senior starters from Zach Spiker’s talented 2015-16 squad. Allen helped lead Army to a relatively successful season despite the lack of experience, taking his team’s preseason KenPom ranking of #325 to #230 by the end of the year. With four starters and the top bench contributor returning, the Black Knights will look to build on a promising first season under Allen.
Allen maintained Spiker’s transition-reliant offensive attack last season, which makes sense considering he served as Spiker’s assistant from 2010-2016. The Knights ranked 5th in the country in field goal attempts in transition and ranked 37th in the country in tempo. Along with running, Army implements a healthy dose of gunning, focusing on three-pointers to supplement its transition attack. Only 25 teams in the nation scored more points off threes last season; with nearly every trey bomber returning in 2017-18, Army should be just as prolific from outside.
Jordan Fox and Tommy Funk return to retake the “dual point guard” reigns in West Point. Fox is the better shooter / scorer (by a significant margin), converting shots at a .467/.389/.808 slash compared to Funk’s pedestrian .391/.290/.626. On offense, Army was 15 points per 100 possessions better when Fox was on the floor... and 13 points per 100 possessions worse when Funk played. However, Funk is the better defender of the two and led the Patriot in assist rate (despite a relatively high turnover rate). Both PGs are extremely important for Army’s transition-based attack, and Allen doesn’t have an alternative lead guard on his bench.
Luke Morrison and Jacob Kessler man the forward spots in Allen’s starting five. Morrison plays a stretch four role with his superior rebounding ability on the defensive end and shot 35.3% from downtown last season on 187 attempts. Kessler knocked down 38% of his three-bomb tries last season and assisted Fox and Funk in pushing the tempo and finding open teammates in transition. John Emezie, a 6’5” junior wing, will spell the two starters. Emezie is the most willing “slasher” on the team, but is also a threat to shoot from outside, a common skill for just about every player on this roster.
Inside, Matt Wilson holds down the fort, a 6’9” center that ranked 5th in the conference in offensive rebounding %, 3rd in defensive rebounding %, and 3rd in field goal percentage. Wilson is the only paint-bound Knight; he prefers to get his points from near the rim, shooting 70.4% from up close last season.
Allen has a short bench, concerning for a team that runs as much as Army. By “short”, I mean he doesn’t have that many competent D1 players – he has plenty of bodies on his roster. With no real impact freshmen, Allen will rely on veterans Adam Roe, John Miller, and Gunther Klimes to provide support off the pine.
Army’s a fun team to watch due to their fast paced, up-an-down style, but they were extremely inefficient last season on offense. Turnovers plagued the Knights, players were allergic to drawing fouls, and the offensive glass was ignored by everyone not named “Matt Wilson”. On defense, the Knights were actually pretty strong thanks to their 6th ranked defensive rebounding percentage. Army was good at closing out on shooters, but far too often allowed easy looks in the paint, a consequence of not having a reliable rim protector.
Bottom Line: Army has the experience and shooters to make a run at a top-five conference finish. Cleaning up turnovers and developing a little more versatility on offense should be the focus areas for a team looking to improve upon an unexpectedly strong showing last season.
8. Holy Cross
Key Returners: Karl Charles, Patrick Benzan
Key Losses: Robert Champion, Malachi Alexander, Anthony Thompson, Matt Husek
Key Newcomers: Kyle Copeland, Matt Faw, Caleb Green, Austin Butler, Connor Niego, Jacob Grandison
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Bill Carmody returns to the helm in Worcester to lead the Holy Cross Crusaders for a third consecutive year. A former Princeton and Northwestern coach, Carmody has been around the block a few times and is widely known as one of the more talented coaches in the league. Holy Cross loses four seniors from last season, meaning it will be one of the youngest squads in the Patriot, a poor omen for NCAA Tourney hopes. Then again, experience may not be all that important to Carmody, who led the Crusaders to the 2016 Dance in his first season despite finishing 9th in the conference and 15-20 overall.
We know exactly what we’re going to get from a Bill Carmody team on both ends of the floor. On offense, Carmody runs the famed Princeton offense, a deliberate motion set that focuses on exploiting mismatches, eating clock, and shooting the three-ball. Carmody’s squads always exhibit top-notch ball movement – since 2001-02 (when KenPom started his site), the Crusaders have only ranked outside of the national top 5 in assist rate one time.
On defense, Carmody’s squads set up in an aggressive 1-3-1 zone that uses high pressure to slow opponents down and force turnovers. Last season, Holy Cross ranked 1st in the country in steal percentage and 3rd in turnover rate. Due to the Princeton Offense / 1-3-1 style, Carmody teams always rank near the bottom of the country in tempo – Crusaders games will likely be in the 50s and 60s all year long.
Carmody will need bodies to play his preferred styles, but nary a productive body returns. Junior wing Karl Charles returns to become the team’s assumed go-to guy on offense, a versatile forward that can shoot the three (37.5%) and get to the rack (#1 in the Patriot in free throw rate, 35th nationally). Aside from being the best scorer on the team, Charles is also the best passer, leading Holy Cross in assist rate last season and ranking 11th in the conference. On defense, Charles is one of the best stealers in the Patriot, a perfect fit in Carmody’s 1-3-1 zone look.
The other two returners of significance are guard Patrick Benzan and forward Jehyve Floyd. Benzan plays both point and off the ball in the Princeton set (though its pretty position-less basketball). Like Charles, Benzan is excellent at cutting through the teeth of the defense and getting looks inside the arc; he doesn’t really shoot threes, a rarity on the Holy Cross roster. Floyd will need to step up in a big way with the lost frontcourt production. He’s not an ideal forward in the Princeton offense due to his limited shooting range, but he’s an asset near the rim.
Freshmen are going to play enormous roles in the rotation this season. In the backcourt, Kyle Copeland, Austin Butler, and Caleb Green will compete for playing time alongside returning guard Matt Zignorski. Copeland is a 2-star prospect, an unselfish, capable shooter that can play both guard spots. His length will be an asset in the zone defense and his shooting ability will be welcome on offense. Butler is more of an athlete at the 2-guard spot, but he too has shooting range from beyond the arc. Green is a point guard that looks like he’ll be a floor leader at Holy Cross for years to come. His maturity and intangibles may allow him to start from day one.
On the wing, Connor Niego and Jacob Grandison will compete for PT with sophomore Clayton Le Sann. Niego needs to gain some strength, but he’s a versatile, big wing that can score in the post and off the drive. Grandison should be one of the best athletes on the roster.
The center position is mighty thin. Floyd will likely see some time at the 5-spot, allowing Carmody to slide Charles to a small-ball 4 role. If not, then freshman Matt Faw is going to see a lot of time (or returning sophomore Jack Stephens). Faw has more of a stretch four build, but Floyd is sturdy enough to play both guys at the same time. Faw is an excellent outside shooter, which is a dream to have in the Princeton Offense – a big man that can shoot the ball from the top of the key.
Bottom Line: I have a lot of respect for Bill Carmody as a coach, and his clearly defined styles of play will allow Holy Cross to steal a few games here or there. But, there simply isn’t enough talent on the roster to propel the Crusaders to a top five Patriot finish. Coach is bringing in good recruiting classes, so it may just be a matter of time before Holy Cross is back on top of the Patriot League.
Key Returners: Matt Klinewski, Paulius Zalys, Eric Stafford, Kyle Stout, Hunter Janacek, Lukas Jarrett
Key Losses: Nick Lindner
Key Newcomers: EJ Stephens, Alex Petrie, Dylan Hastings, Justin Jaworski
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: The Lafayette Leopards are coming off two straight last place finishes in the Patriot League, following an NCAA Tournament appearance back in 2015. Head Coach Fran O’Hanlon enters his 23rd year at the helm of Lafayette; the veteran coach has amassed over 300 wins in his long career and has led the Leopards to three NCAA Tournaments. However, O’Hanlan’s win percentage at Lafayette is an uninspiring 46.3% and his squad has one a total of 15 games over the past two seasons. I have no inkling of what Leopard fans think of the current coaching situation, but I would think they’d like to see some improvement from their legendary coach in the near future. Luckily, with 8 of his top 9 guys returning, O’Hanlon has a chance to have his Lafayette team right in the thick of things in 2017-18.
Returning 8 of 9 guys is definitely a good thing, but the one guy Lafayette loses was arguably its most valuable player last season. Nick Lindner was the team’s point guard, its best shooter, and the only player to record an offensive rating over 100.0 (for context – anything less than a 100.0 O-Rating is considered bad). When Lindner was off the court last season, the Leopards scored only 0.82 points per possession… THAT IS PUTRID.
With Lindner gone, Eric Stafford will see more time on the ball. Stafford was one of Lafayette’s better outside shooters last season at 34.5% and his height will make him an asset on offense. A couple freshmen, EJ Stephens and Alex Petrie, figure to be in the mix as well. Sophomores Kyle Stout and Hunter Janacek will look to reprise their roles on the wing. Both players are seen as spot up shooters, but neither converted above 32% from downtown last year. 6’6” Junior Auston Evans was pretty bad last season, putting up an O-Rating of 65.9, but he should see the floor in a wing role as well.
Most of Lafayette’s production will come from the frontcourt where 3rd Team All-Patriot forward Matt Klinewski and 6’7” stretch four Paulius Zalys look to lead to the team in scoring. O’Hanlon’s motion offense relies on competent big man play – he likes to pair a post scorer with a shooter in the frontcourt in order to pull the latter’s defender away from the rim so his talented post can go to work. Klinewski was a beast inside the paint last year, shooting 70.9% near the rim. He’ll be the key to a Leopard offense that ranked 310th in the country last season. Zalys needs to be a better shooter from deep this year in order to alleviate the pressure on Klinewski. The junior shot only 32% from downtown in 2016-17, but did shoot 42% in conference play back in 2015-16. Sophomore Lukas Jarrett will be the first option off the pine in the frontcourt. Like all Leopards, Jarrett struggled last season, but should be better in his second year.
Lafayette is an interesting team. On one hand, they were one of the worst teams in the country last season, ranking 330th overall per KenPom (out of 351 teams). On the other, the Leopards were one of the youngest squads in the nation, relying heavily on freshmen and sophomores to produce. Experience is a big factor to play in an O’Hanlon offense, which requires players to be hyper-aware of their spots on the offensive end. His offenses have struggled in recent years, but O’Hanlon has shown he can coach effectively – his 2015 Leopards ranked 38th in the offensive efficiency per KenPom. The defense is a whole different story. O’Hanlon’s squads are consistently ranked near the bottom of the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. The coach likes to run different soft zone looks, which often leads to a torching by Lafayette’s opponents from the outside.
Bottom Line: Lafayette should be an improved team this season. It’s easy to take a look at all of the players coming back from last year and rank the Leopards higher in the preseason standings. But, we must remember this was literally one of the worst teams in the country a year ago, and they just lost their point guard to graduation.
Key Returners: Sa’eed Nelson, Mark Gasperini, James Washington
Key Losses: Delante Jones, Charlie Jones
Key Newcomers: Sam Iorio, Jesse Little, Stacey Beckton Jr., Drew Lamont, Marvin Bragg, Larry Motuzis, Cheikh Diallo
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Last year’s American squad was Mike Brennan’s worst in his 4-year tenure. After leading the Eagles to a 20-win season and a NCAA Tourney appearance in 2014, Brennan has suffered declining results, culminating into last year’s 8-22 (5-13) debacle. American was a young team, which was certainly one of the reasons it struggled, but shooting was also hard to come by and turnovers plagued the guard group. The good news is, only two major pieces depart from last year’s squad, and Brennan’s two All-Rookie Team members return. Add in one of the better recruiting classes in the Patriot and there’s reason to believe the Eagles could be a competitive conference team once again this season.
Brennan is a Princeton basketball alum, and like all Princeton basketball alums coaching a college team, Brennan runs the Princeton offense. The Princeton offense is all about ball movement and finding mismatches to exploit – possessions often result in back door cuts or open looks from beyond the arc. Last season was a little different – Brennan’s Eagles shot less threes than they ever had under his tutelage and became more of a penetration / inside-out squad. Much of this was due to personnel, particularly American’s two best players, Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini.
Nelson isn’t much of a shooter (21.8% from downtown), but he’s excellent at finding his way to the bucket on penetration, either off ball screens or isolation. This drive action often led to foul line opportunities, where Nelson converted an embarrassing 56.2% of his tries. Gasperini is a much better post-up and face-up player inside the arc than a shooter from beyond the arc (25.5% from three). This is significant due to the position he plays in the Princeton offense. Gasperini mans the high post area in the offense, a spot reserved for a forward that can pass the ball and shoot the ball from distance. Without the threat of the long ball, defenses could sag off Gasperini (and Nelson on the wing) and really clog up the lane for would-be cutters. This was a major factor in American’s 325th national ranked adjusted offensive efficiency.
Brennan needs shooting in order for his offense to hum. He’ll get some with incoming freshmen Sam Iorio and Drew Lamont, two combo forwards that should contribute immediately. Iorio will start at the 3 or 4; he’s a 2-star product out of Pennsylvania that put up good numbers during the team’s offseason trip to Australia. Iorio is a smart player that could thrive in the cutting-style offense. Lamont is a threat to shoot when he walks into the gym; he’ll be an ideal wing presence that can spot-up and knockdown open looks from kick-outs. Matt Cimino, a junior stretch four and former George Washington Colonial, will see plenty more time this season – he shot 39.3% from downtown last year, one of the best marks on the team. Jesse Little, a 3-star prospect, will also see time inside, though he’s much more of a paint scorer rather than a shooter, and an active rebounder on both ends.
“Point guard” isn’t really a position in the Princeton offense, but solid ball handling is still required for it to be successful. Junior James Washington will need to cut down on his turnover issues that have plagued him the past two seasons; he hasn’t proven to be a good enough shooter to keep on the floor in spite of ball security problems. Freshmen Stacey Beckton Jr. and Marvin Bragg will be gunning for his minutes this season. Both are extremely athletic wings that can step out and shoot a bit, and both will be highly valuable in Brennan’s pressure defense. JUCO import Cheikh “CB” Diallo and NAIA transfer Larry Motuzis could also see time in the backcourt. Diallo is a combo guard with a good jumper, while Motuzis is a pure shooting wing that put up 20ppg at his college two years ago.
On defense, American should continue to be a problem for opposing offenses. The Eagles implement a high-pressure defensive system that focuses on taking away the three-point line and forcing steals. Only 22 teams allowed less three-point looks last season than American, of course the flip side of that is a defense that allows way too much at the rim.
Bottom Line: American has some of the best young talent in the Patriot with Nelson, Gasperini, and the slew of incoming freshmen. This will still be a young team, so we shouldn’t expect a run to the conference championship quite yet. But, Brennan is bringing in the right guys for his system on both ends of the floor and should have his squad back on an upward trajectory after consecutive losing seasons.