- Ky McKeon
Player of the Year: Sa’eed Nelson, Jr., American
Coach of the Year: Brett Reed, Lehigh
Newcomer of the Year: Nic Lynch, Fr., Lynch
Freshman of the Year: Nic Lynch, Lehigh
Key Returners: Lance Tejada, Kyle Leufroy, Pat Andree, Jordan Cohen, James Karnik, Caleb Bennett, Marques Wilson
Key Losses: Kahron Ross
Key Newcomers: Jeameril Wilson, Nic Lynch
Outlook: Lehigh expected a rebuilding year in 2017-18 after the loss of program great Tim Kempton, but Brett Reed and his Mountain Hawks still powered through to an 11-7 conference record, overcoming a 3-7 conference start, and notched a 4-seed in the PL Tourney. The Hawks have consistently been a Patriot title contender under Reed, but the last time they’ve been to the Dance was all the way back in 2012 when they upset Duke as a 15-seed. With seven of his top eight guys returning from last season, Reed should have his Hawks near the top of the standings in 2018-19 and may even be the favorite to earn the auto-bid in March.
Lehigh’s one offseason departure is a significant one. Kahron Ross, the all-time assist leader in both Lehigh and Patriot League history, graduated after being named to an All-Conference team all four years of his college career. Reed’s biggest challenge will be to find a replacement for Ross, but thankfully he has two ready and willing options in junior Jordan Cohen and senior Lance Tejada. Cohen likely sees the lion’s share of the ball handling duties, but Tejada ran a lot of point at his previous school, ECU. Cohen is a steady ball handler who posted a solid assist rate and turnover rate while leading the league in FT% and providing consistent outside shooting. Tejada joined Ross on the Patriot’s All-Conference 2nd Team last season after leading the Hawks in scoring. The 6’2” combo guard ranked 4th in the PL in 3P% and 38th nationally, shooting around 45% from the Land of Plenty. As Tejada becomes the new alpha of the squad, expect his usage and scoring numbers to increase:
The backcourt is important to Lehigh’s success due to its crucial role in Reed’s preferred style of play. The Hawks like to run in the open floor, pushing the ball in transition off opponent misses, and look to launch threes whenever possible. Reed’s teams have ranked in the national top 20 each of the past three seasons in 3P% (7th last year), a trend that should continue in 2018-19 with the roster continuity. Lehigh ranked 5th in percentage of possessions ending in spot-ups, going away from the post without Kempton, and also ran a good chunk of offense through isolation (Ross & Tejada, among others).
Bolstering Reed’s backcourt is senior Kyle Leufroy and sophomores Caleb Bennett and Marques Wilson. Leufroy lost his starting spot last season after his usually-strong 3P% tanked. The 6’3” guard shot 43.3% from deep as a freshman and 41.5% as a sophomore, but only 31.2% in 2017-18. He was still an important asset to the Hawks offensively and proved to be an above average backcourt rebounder, but Leufroy will need to iron out his shooting woes in order to regain his starting role in 2018-19.
Wilson was the benefactor of Leufroy’s late season struggles, as the then-freshman took over as the starting 3-man in Reed’s rotation. He poured in a ridiculous 53.5% of his 43 long-ball tries (tops in the PL) and was an impactful defender on the other end. Bennett, like everyone else on the roster, is also a high-level outside shooter, but the 6’5” wing has a little more drive to his game than the average Mountain Hawk.
Lehigh’s frontcourt was mighty thin last year with Kempton’s departure and an injury to forward Ed Porter. This year, Reed appears to have plenty of depth on the front line with the return of sophomore James Karnik, 4-man Pat Andree, and the addition of two freshmen: Jeameril Wilson and Nic Lynch. Porter is also back, but he’ll miss the non-conference part of the year as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
Karnik started all but one game for Lehigh as a freshman and was immediately one of the best rebounders in the Patriot on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Karnik will need to improve on his finishing skills, as a 51.4% clip at the rim and 27% away from the rim isn’t going to cut it. Andree has no issues filling up the basket on offense, but he does it mostly from outside the three-point line. In 2017-18, Andree led the PL in O-Rating and shot 48.7% from outside (2nd to Marques Wilson) in conference play. Andree was forced to play some 5 last year, which was a disaster defensively – he’s a brilliant stretch 4, but he’s not a center.
Nic Lynch’s arrival ensures Andree won’t have to see much, if any, time at the 5. Lynch is a 3-star prospect per ESPN and comes in with a college-ready body at 6’10” 250+ pounds. He’ll provide ample support for Karnik up front as Lehigh rebuilds its Kempton-less frontcourt. Jeameril Wilson will provide depth at both the 3 and 4 spots.
Bottom Line: Lehigh was the best offensive team in the Patriot last season, but its defense held it back. The Hawks allowed far too many threes and lacked any real rim protection. Reed likes to show some full court pressure (14% of possessions in 2017-18) and slow teams down in the half-court by mixing in zone, but his schemes were not effective last season. With more experience and an improved frontline, Lehigh’s defense should be able to improve. If it does improve, the Hawks may be punching their first ticket to the Dance since 2012.
Key Returners: Kimbal McKenzie, Jimmy Sotos, Bruce Moore, Nate Sestina, Avi Toomer
Key Losses: Zach Thomas, Nana Foulland, Stephen Brown
Key Newcomers: Walter Ellis, Andrew Funk, Kahliel Spear
Outlook: Bucknell has won the Patriot League seven of the past eight years and has made the Big Dance the last two under current head coach Nathan Davis. With Davis’s coaching pedigree and the Bison’s streak of dominance, it’d be unwise to think of Bucknell as anything but a top contender for the league title this year, but the loss of three 1st Team All-Conference members might make things more interesting.
The loss of Zach Thomas (’17-18 PL POY), Nana Foulland, and Stephen Brown can’t be understated. The trio was vital to the Bison’s success on both ends of the floor and Bucknell outperformed teams by +0.16ppp when all three played together vs. when one or more sat:
With the departures, Bucknell loses its best three scorers and best defenders in one fell swoop. Davis will need a promising bunch of returners to step up to keep the Bucknell machine ticking.
Davis likes to push the tempo on offense, ranking 1st in the league in pace last season. When not looking to score in transition, Davis’s Bison looked to work the ball through the post either to Foulland or Thomas, ranking 2nd in the country in percentage of possessions used via post-up, and attacked the rim off drives, ranking 11th in the country in free throw rate. To round things out, Bucknell also constantly had a group of high-level shooters on the floor at all times. This balanced attack made the Bison difficult to stop on this end.
Without the likes of Foulland and Thomas, Davis needs to find offense elsewhere, which will likely come by way of his backcourt. Senior Kimbal Mackenzie, sophomore Jimmy Sotos, and junior Avi Toomer appear to be the next ones “up” in handling the scoring load this season. Mackenzie missed several games last year and his efficiency fell from a spectacular sophomore season, but the 6’2” guard is a career 38% three-point shooter on 329 attempts and has proven to be capable of being more than just a standstill catch-and-shoot threat. Sotos earned key minutes as a freshman and started 13 games, filling in nicely in Mackenzie’s absence. With Brown gone, Sotos likely slides over to assume PG duties, so a major leap in production and usage seems to be in the cards. To boot, Sotos shot 39% from deep during his freshman season. Toomer also missed a good chunk of time last year, but has made regular appearances in the starting lineup over his first two seasons. Toomer functions mainly as a catch-and-shoot threat on offense but like Mackenzie, can also penetrate.
The fact that Davis’s best scorers live in the backcourt this year may suggest a shift in offensive style, relying more on outside shooting versus post-ups to score in 2018-19. That is unless forwards Bruce Moore and Nate Sestina blossom into legitimate go-to threats. Moore could definitely break out if give the opportunity, but he’s more of a wing than a post-up threat, preferring to spot-up or cut into the lane and shoot jumpers to score baskets. Sestina, too, could be in for a giant production leap. He’s proven to be a versatile and talented post scorer and now may finally get his chance to be a focal point of the offense:
Bucknell’s key reserves this year include returning senior Nate Jones and freshmen Walter Ellis and Kahlil Spear. Jones is a wing shooter that will round out the backcourt rotation and likely fill a similar 15-minutes-per-game role. Ellis, a 3-star prospect and LaPhonso Ellis’s son, is an excellent outside shooter that should challenge for a starting role right away. Spear is an athletic, versatile two-way wing that can shoot, block shots, and push the pace in transition.
The Bison had the Patriot’s best defense last season and have consistently been stout under Davis. Bucknell’s goal the past few years was to take away the three-ball and funnel opposing ball handlers into the paint where Foulland waited to eat shots. Without Foulland, Bucknell’s defense may regress this year, especially given Sestina and Moore aren’t nearly the shot blockers Foulland was. This end of the floor represents the biggest question mark for the Bison heading into the year.
Bottom Line: Bucknell lost more talent than anyone in the Patriot League this offseason, but the Bison are still legitimate conference title and auto-bid contenders. Former role players will need to step up on both ends of the floor in order to get Davis back to a third straight NCAA Tournament, but they have the requisite talent to do so.
Key Returners: Tyler Scanlon, Max Mahoney, Walter Whyte, Javante McCoy
Key Losses: Cedric Hankerson, Nick Havener, Eric Johnson, Will Goff
Key Newcomers: Garrett Pascoe, Fletcher Tynen, Jordan Guest, Jack Hemphill
Outlook: Boston has been a perennial conference contender since 1996-97 in both the America East and Patriot League. Head coach Joe Jones has led BU to five straight top five PL finishes but has yet to take his Terriers to the Big Dance. This season, Boston returns a very promising 4-man core and brings in one of the better recruiting classes in the conference, suggesting a PL title run may be within BU’s future.
Jones slowed Boston’s tempo down last year after ranking in the top 100 nationally in pace each of the previous two seasons. The Terriers also shot far less three-pointers as they have historically under Jones (consistently a top-50-ish 3PA rate squad), mostly due to the shift in personnel and emergence of big man Max Mahoney. Boston uses ball movement to break down opposing defenses and looks to score by way of the post or dribble-handoff, while skilled wings like Tyler Scanlon and Walter Whyte can beat their men off the bounce and kick to open outside shooters. Transition and isolation play-types are generally non-factors in Jones’s offensive scheme.
Defensively, the Terriers were once again one of the Patriot’s strongest units, ranking 3rd in the league in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency standings. Jones likes to implement a mix of zone (mostly 2-3) and man-to-man in the halfcourt but will also extend pressure past the timeline and set up in a trapping zone look. The Terriers ranked 23rd nationally in steal rate as help defenders feasted off errant passes out of the trap.
Co-leading scorer Cedric Hankerson graduated this offseason, but Jones has plenty of firepower to work with, specifically within his frontcourt. Tyler Scanlon and Max Mahoney both return to form one of the better one-two up-front combinations in the conference and should take on leadership roles in their junior seasons. Scanlon ranked 3rd on the team in scoring and led the Terriers in both rebounding and assists, demonstrating his impressive versatility on the offensive end. Scanlon is adept at driving-and-kicking and initiating offense from the top of the key in a sort of “point-forward” role. Being a career 40.4% three-point shooter helps as well.
Mahoney, a member of the 3rd Team All-Patriot last season, is Boston’s go-to post presence. The 6’8” bruiser ranked 7th in the league in OR% and 4th in 2PFG%, doing most of his damage near the rim and breaking out with extended playing time in his sophomore season. On defense, Mahoney serves as the anchor to the 2-3 and ranked 5th in the Patriot in block rate last year.
Boston’s 4 and 5 spots won’t all be Scanlon and Mahoney, though, as Jones brings in two highly regarded freshmen to add to his suddenly deep frontcourt rotation. Both Jack Hemphill and Jordan Guest are ESPN 3-star prospects capable of challenging for a starting spot and making immediate impacts. Each freshman is skilled offensively and can space the floor from behind the arc. Hemphill is probably the more ready prospect of the two. Considering the amount of big man talent, Jones may consider playing more of a traditional lineup instead of his preferred 4-out structure.
On the wing, sophomore Walter Whyte returns to provide versatility on both ends of the floor. Whyte earned a spot on the Patriot’s All-Rookie team last year after ranking 6th in the conference in OR%, top 20 in both steal (9th) and block (18th) rate, and shooting a respectable .519/.386/.671 (2P/3P/FT) from the floor. Look for Whyte to breakout this year with Hankerson gone and Boston in need of a reliable wing scorer.
Part of Boston’s turnover woes last season was due to the lack of a true PG. Javante McCoy, a 6’5” combo guard, was given ball handing responsibilities most of the time he played, but the sophomore is really better off the ball. Despite his TO struggles, McCoy still turned in a solid freshman season, shooting 43.2% from downtown and impacting the defense with his size. Jones brings in a crafty freshman PG in Garrett Pascoe, but he’s probably a year or two away from making a meaningful impact on the lineup, and sophomore Andrew Petcash is a shooting guard, so expect to see McCoy bringing the ball up the lion’s share of the time in 2018-19.
The final piece to Jones’ impressive incoming class is ESPN 2-star Fletcher Tynen, a physical wing slasher that’s listed at 6’7” despite what reality might say. Tynen is strong enough to play the 4 on offense and has the ball skills to slide down to as far the 2-spot in a pinch. Look for him to see the floor some in his freshman season and be a key piece to the Terriers’ success down the road.
Bottom Line: Boston has the pieces to contend for a Patriot League title this year, especially with the amount of talent Bucknell loses. Jones always has his Terriers right near the top of the league standings, but this year he has a legit opportunity to finally take his team dancing.
Key Returners: Will Rayman, Jordan Burns, Dana Batt, Malcolm Regisford, Francisco Amiel, Jack Ferguson
Key Losses: Jordan Swopshire, Sean O’Brien, Jordan Robertson
Key Newcomers: Tucker Richardson, Liam Courtney
Outlook: Matt Langel won Patriot Coach of the Year last season after leading his Raiders to their first overall winning record since 2007-08 and 2nd 12-win conference season during his tenure. Three key players depart from last year’s squad, including All-Conference guard Sean O’Brien, but Langel brings back plenty of talent with which to push for a Patriot title.
Colgate is a three-point focused offense, mostly running a 4-out / 1-in format with four shooters constantly spacing the floor. The Raiders led the Patriot in 3PA rate last year and ranked in the top 30 nationally, living and dying by the spot-up jumper. A dual PG look with O’Brien and Jordan Burns sparked the attack and handled the ball at a nationally elite level, while big man Will Rayman and wing Jordan Swopshire spaced the floor. Defensively, Colgate was not great, which is par for the course under Langel. The Raiders were constantly burned from outside the arc, partially a result of the mixed zone looks Langel likes to implement.
Burns will be handed much more responsibility in his second season after earning a spot on the league’s All-Rookie team in 2017-18. As a freshman, Burns was the highest used player on the team and now will be the undisputed primary ball handler without O’Brien. Burns is key to the Raiders’ attack as he’s one of the few players on Langel’s roster that can create his own offense off the bounce, succeeding in the pick-n-roll, isolation, and transition last year. With spot-up shooters Francisco Amiel (more of a defender than an offensive asset) and Jack Ferguson as his main backcourt mates, Burns will need to maintain and improve upon his impressive collegiate start.
Will Rayman is Burns’ frontcourt counterpart and a 2nd Team All-Patriot member in 2017-18. Rayman impacts the game in pretty much every way a basketball player can. The 6’8” forward is a career 40.4% three-point shooter (314 attempts), gets to the line at a high rate where he shoots 80%, is a top 15 block rate and top 20 steal rate guy in the PL, and a decent rebounder. While he spends most of his time on offense on the wing, Rayman has proven to be able to score in isolation or in the post. With Swopshire gone, Rayman is now by far Colgate’s most prolific three-point shooter, so like Burns, he will be vital to the team’s success:
Inside, Dana Batt and Malcolm Regisford will form the primary 5-man rotation. Batt is a reliable big man and posted the 2nd best O-Rating in the Patriot and #1 FG% as a junior last year. Defensively, Batt is crucial to Colgate, anchoring an otherwise sub-par defensive squad. Regisford was a regular starter in 2016-17 before Batt took his spot. He’s an excellent rebounder, superior to Batt, but doesn’t have quite the offensive skill or shot blocking chops. Both big men will see ample playing time in 2018-19.
Two freshmen, Tucker Richardson and Liam Courtney have chances to crack the rotation this year, as the remaining members of Langel’s bench are largely unproven. Richardson is primarily an outside shooter and his 6’5” frame makes him a more attractive option than some of the other returners on the wing. Courtney is a skilled Canadian 7-footer that may not see a whole lot of time behind Batt and Regisford, but he’s talented and should make an impact on Colgate in the near future.
Bottom Line: Swopshire and O’Brien are major losses for a team reliant on three-point shooting. Combined, the pair attempted 366 threes and hit over 35% of them in 2017-18. Rayman and Burns will continue to bomb away from deep, but Langel will need a guy like Ferguson, Amiel, or Richardson to step up and provide another reliable option on the perimeter. Despite the losses, the Raiders still appear to be a lock to finish top 5 in the league.
5. Holy Cross
Key Returners: Jehyve Floyd, Jacob Grandison, Austin Butler, Caleb Green, Patrick Benzan, Matt Zignorski, Matt Faw, Connor Niego
Key Losses: Karl Charles
Key Newcomers: Marlon Hargis, Blake Verbeek
Outlook: Holy Cross was one of the youngest teams in the country last year but held its own in the Patriot and now appear to be positioned for a run at the top of the 2018-19 standings. Bill Carmody hasn’t led the Crusaders to a winning season since coming to Worcester in 2015-16, but he was able to steal the auto-bid in 2016. Only Karl Charles, a productive but suspended starter, departs from last season’s 12-19 (8-10) squad, so Carmody should finally be able to vault his Crusaders over that elusive .500 mark.
Carmody is a proponent of the famed Princeton offense, an attack that slows down the tempo, emphasizes ball movement, and looks to exploit mismatches on the floor. Holy Cross didn’t execute this attack efficiently in 2017-18, notching the Patriot’s worst 3P% (32.6%) and turning the ball over too much. Carmody has the requisite personnel to accomplish the goals of the Princeton offense; he theoretically has four shooters on the floor at all times and a legit post scorer in senior Jehyve Floyd. If his “shooters” find the bottom of the net more this season, the Crusaders will be a much-improved offensive team.
Defensively, HC was the 4th best unit in the conference (Carmody usually has solid defenses). The Crusaders pressed more last year than they have historically under Carmody and continued to run Carmody’s trademark zone looks. Holy Cross played zone at the 7th highest rate in the country, mixing in an aggressive 1-3-1, a matchup-y 2-3, and an extended 1-2-2. Roster continuity suggests the Crusaders should once again be stout on the defensive end.
Jehyve Floyd is the star of the Crusaders, a 2017-18 3rd Team All-Patriot member and the conference Defensive Player of the Year. The 6’8” forward came into his own last season with a dramatic spike in playing time and was instrumental to HC’s offense (24th in the country in FG%) and defense (25th in the country in block rate). His ability to score in the post makes him a perfect option for Carmody to use as a “matchup exploiter” in the center of four shooters.
Carmody has a couple “true” power forward options to lineup alongside Floyd in Matt Faw and Connor Niego, but we’ll likely see swingman Jacob Grandison getting the majority of the starts at the “4-spot”. Faw was the best three-point shooter on the team last year, knocking down 47.7% of his long-ball tries, and should see more PT this year in year 2 without Charles. Niego started a few games last season for Carmody and, like Faw, is more of a stretch 4. Grandison had a good all-around freshman year, proving to be a decent rebounder and showing the ability to play either the 3 or 4. The 6’6” forward is a capable scorer from all three levels, but needs to improve on a sub-par three-point percentage in 2018-19. Freshmen Marlon Hargis, a big, versatile 3/4 tweener, and Blake Verbeek, yet another stretch 4, could also carve out time in the frontcourt this season.
In the backcourt, 2017-18 Patriot All-Rookie Team member Austin Butler and sophomore point guard Caleb Green lead the way. Butler is a versatile scorer with his ability to shoot and drive, and is a real asset in transition on the rare occasions Holy Cross pushes it up the floor. Green manned the point as a freshman and played the 9th most minutes in the PL. While not overly efficient, Green was solid in his first season, excelling in pick-n-roll situations, and should only improve with substantial experience already under his belt.
Seniors Patrick Benzan and Matt Zignorski will fight for the final starting spot in between Green and Butler. Benzan is a capable secondary ball handler and scores by way of penetration versus spotting up from outside the arc. Zignorski is a three-point threat, turning in one of the highest 3P% on the team last season (36.5%). Both guards will be counted on to play major minutes this year.
Bottom Line: The combination of roster continuity and Bill Carmody’s coaching pedigree have me bullish on Holy Cross this season. As simple/obvious as it sounds, shooting will the key area in which the Crusaders must improve in 2018-19 and it’s the area that could make or break their season. Floyd should challenge for PL POY and Carmody has a deep rotation chock full of experience after young players were thrown into the fire in 2017-18.
Key Returners: Tommy Funk, Jordan Fox, Matt Wilson, Alex King, Jacob Kessler, Tucker Blackwell, John Emezie
Key Losses: Luke Morrison
Key Newcomers: Aaron Duhart, Josh Caldwell, Johnny Scully
Outlook: Army returned four starters last season after stumbling to a 13-19 (6-12) record in 2016-17, only to pretty much repeat that exact same performance (13-17 (6-12) in 2017-18). Third-year coach Jimmy Allen once again brings back four starters, but this time his crew is more experienced and seems poised to finally make a leap up the standings. Allen will look to prove he’s the right man for the job after following a successful stint from current Drexel head coach Zach Spiker.
Allen served as an assistant for Spiker for seven years before taking over as head coach in 2016-17. So it should come as no surprise that he kept Spiker’s style alive in West Point. Army looks to score in two primary ways on offense: 1) transition and 2) three-pointers. Last season, the Black Knights ranked 10th in the country in percentage of FGA in transition and launched threes at a top 80 rate. Penetration, glass crashing, and post-play (with the exception of Matt Wilson) are rarely avenues by which Army scores the ball.
Defensively, the Knights weren’t good, allowing easy buckets near the rim all too often, a result of a severe lack of rim protection. Army pressed at the 9th highest rate in the country last year, so the Knights did force a fair amount of turnovers, but not enough to make up for a porous half-court shell.
Hope that both offense and defense can improve this season lies in the minute continuity of Allen’s roster as his players mature and become increasingly comfortable in his system on both ends of the floor. Army’s backcourt is solid from a Patriot League perspective, returning two efficient guards in Jordan Fox and Tommy Funk to lead the way. Fox is a knockdown outside shooter, stroking threes to the tune of 39.4% his junior year, while also sharing ball handling duties with Funk (3rd best assist rate in the Patriot). Funk set Army’s single-season assist record last season (2nd best assist rate in the Patriot) and turned in a very low turnover rate despite high usage. Like Fox, Funk can fill it up from downtown, but he has a little more dribble-drive to his game than his backcourt counterpart.
Allen is deepest at the 1 and 2-guard spots, having guys like Tucker Blackwell, Lonnie Grayson, and freshmen Aaron Duhart, Josh Caldwell, and Johnny Scully capable of playing significant minutes. Given Allen’s hesitancy to use his bench in years past and the fact Fox and Funk are the best players on the roster, the depth may not be much of a factor in 2018-19. Expect Blackwell, another capable three-point shooter, to be the main guy off the bench in the backcourt, while Caldwell can add an element of penetration and creation not widely available on the team.
Army’s wing corps includes sophomore Alex King and seniors John Emezie and Jacob Kessler, while big man Matt Wilson runs the 5. King is a stretch 4 that hit 47.1% of his three-point attempts last season (14th in the country) and likely steps into the starting lineup this year in place of Luke Morrison. While King provides a little more shot blocking on the interior than Wilson, he’s not an effective rebounder and really skews more towards a 3 offensively.
Kessler is a good three-point shooter in theory, but his percentage tanked last year to 16% after scorching the nets at 38% in 2016-17. The 6’4” senior will need to rediscover his stroke this season and continue to be a factor on the glass. Emezie saw his minutes cut down in 2017-18 after a so-so 2016-17. His biggest asset is his versatility on both ends of the floor. At 6’6”, Emezie can shoot or drive and on defense can match up with a variety of players. Inside, Wilson provides a competent and steady post threat and offers solid rebounding. As mentioned above, though, Wilson is a non-factor protecting the rim.
Bottom Line: If Army doesn’t improve this season, or turns in another 6-12 conference performance, Allen may be shown the door. With a talented backcourt returning and enough frontcourt bodies to get by, the Knights should be able to crack the league’s top 5 and maybe even challenge for a dark horse bid to the Dance (which would be the school’s first ever appearance).
Key Returners: Sa’eed Nelson, Sam Iorio, Larry Motuzis, Cheikh Diallo, Marvin Bragg, Mark Gasperini, Stacy Beckton Jr., Jesse Little
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Christian Sutton, Jacob Boonyasith, Josh Alexander
Outlook: 2018-19 can’t be any worse for the American Eagles than last season. Mike Brennan’s teams have steadily declined over the past five years, gradually finishing with worse records ever since he took his 2013-14 squad dancing. BUT, hope is on the horizon in DC – American returns essentially everyone, including all five starters, from last year’s 6-24 (3-15) squad. Considering this and the fact the Eagles ranked 345th in experience last season, there’s plenty of reason to believe a significant turnaround is coming.
In addition to all of the 2017-18 returners, Brennan also brings back center Mark Gasperini, a 6’10” big man that missed all of last year with injury after averaging double figures in 2016-17. Gasperini’s return is large for a few reasons: 1) Size – American was forced to play 6’5” Sam Iorio, who was brilliant, at the 5 for a significant amount of time, which hurt the interior defense and glass effort; 2) American’s offense became one-dimensional – the Eagles ranked 9th in percentage of possessions used on spot-ups last season and lived and died (mostly died) by the three-ball. In 2016-17, American used 12% of its possessions in post-up versus only 5.8% in 2017-18; 3) Brennan, a Princeton grad, wants to run a Princeton-style offense which functions a hell of a lot better when you have a competent (and preferably sizable) big man keying the offense at the top of the three-point line.
With Gasperini back, Iorio, a Patriot All-Rookie Team member last season, can play a more natural 4-man role. Iorio was super impactful on both ends of the floor last year, ranking 6th in the league in eFG% (.513/.437/.791 2P/3P/FT slash), top 13 in both steal and block rate, and 4th in defensive rebounding rate. Iorio did everything he could playing the de facto 5 role, but his lack of size limited him. 6’10” Jesse Little returns as a sizable backup big man that can provide rim protection and 6’8” freshman Josh Alexander will provide much-needed athleticism to the frontcourt rotation.
Of course, the most impactful returner to this year’s Eagle squad is 2nd Team All-PL member Sa’eed Nelson, a do-everything point guard and squad leader. Nelson ranked in the top five of the league in usage last season (20th nationally) slashing his way to the bucket and earning frequent trips to the foul line. Additionally, Nelson led the PL in assist rate and American is heavily reliant on him to create offense. His impact on the lineup is unquestioned: per Hoop Lens, without Nelson, American scored a putrid 0.85ppp compared to 0.98pp with him (0.13ppp difference). Defensively, American allowed 0.07ppp less with Nelson on the court, spurred by his 5th best steal rate in the Patriot:
Nelson’s perimeter defense ability, along with fellow backcourt members CB Diallo and Stacy Beckton, vaulted American to being one of the better turnover forcing teams in the country (#1 in the Patriot), but the high pressure defense wasn’t enough to stop constant interior gashing and murder on the glass. The Gasperini / Little / Alexander combination will hopefully help this issue.
Two other key pieces to the Eagle lineup are Larry Motuzis, a former NAIA transfer, and Marvin Bragg, a second-year player. Motuzis is an offensive wing that shot a respectable 34.7% from deep in conference play last season. His primary function on offense is “catch and shoot”. Bragg is a 3/4 tweener in a similar vein to Iorio and shot 37% from deep last year. Defensively, Bragg provides a bit of rim protection as well.
Two freshmen, Christian Sutton and Jacob Boonyasith, likely don’t see the floor much this year in Brennan’s crowded backcourt, but Boonyasith projects as a knockdown outside shooter that could have an impact on the squad down the road
Bottom Line: American may be in for a vast improvement from last year’s disaster. Brennan will finally have some expectations this year with the amount of minutes he brings back. His Eagles should be able to make a push for the Big Dance, but a 10th to top 5 jump is always difficult no matter the returning personnel.
Key Returners: Alex Petrie, Paulius Zalys, Justin Jaworski, EJ Stephens, Kyle Stout, Lukas Jarrett, Myles Cherry
Key Losses: Matt Klinewski, Eric Stafford
Key Newcomers: Michael Anekwe, Tyrone Perry, Isaac Suffren, Sean Good
Outlook: Lafayette outperformed expectations last year despite an on-the-surface unimpressive 10-21 (7-11) record. Fran O’Hanlon’s squad, still one of the youngest in the country, improved its conference record by two games and jumped 55 spots in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings. This season, the Leopards could do some damage in the middle of a competitive 2018-19 Patriot. The loss of All-Conference forward Matt Klinewski is enormous, and Lafayette is still without a proven true point guard, but O’Hanlon has plenty of firepower to make waves.
Klinewski’s departure should be worrisome to Leopard fans. Last season, Lafayette poured in an efficient 1.09ppp when the big man was on the floor but sputtered to just 0.90ppp when he sat. O’Hanlon’s motion offense is predicated on good frontline play, an area where the long-time coach likes to mix a space-creating big with a post-bound presence. Historically, O’Hanlon has had good offenses (Lafayette ranked 4th last year in the PL), scorching opposing teams from beyond the arc and scoring efficiently via post-ups. The former route of scoring should continue to be a source of points, the latter is uncertain without Klinewski.
Paulius Zalys, a senior Lithuanian forward, is a proven scorer in the post on offense and he’s also shown the ability to shoot the three-ball. While he’ll never be able to touch the level of production Klinewski brought to the table, Zalys should be a source of consistent scoring. His frontcourt mates, Lukas Jarrett and Myles Cherry, will need to step up in Klinewski’s absence. One of the two juniors likely starts alongside Zalys and both have much to prove. Jarrett is a good defensive rebounder and arguably the best rim protector on the roster, and offensively can stretch the floor. Cherry is probably the best rebounder on the team but is a more paint-bound presence and not near the rim protector Jarrett is. Sophomore Dylan Hastings and freshman Sean Good could each crack the frontcourt rotation as well this season.
O’Hanlon’s backcourt is the strength of his team this season, particularly his 2-guards. Alex Petrie, a 3rd Team All-PL member last year and the reigning Rookie of the Year, comes off a brilliant freshman season in which he led the conference in usage, shot 90.5% from the foul line, and 41.2% from deep (47.8% in PL play). Also, fun fact, Petrie ranked 4th in the country in least amount of fouls committed per 40 minutes. Similar to Klinewski, Lafayette’s offense turned to utter trash when he was off the floor (1.08ppp vs. 0.94ppp), so expect the sophomore to see as much playing time as his body allows. Added fun fact: when both Petrie and Klinewski sat last year, Lafayette scored just 0.81ppp (WOOF).
Joining Petrie in the backcourt (and fighting for starting spots) are sophomores Justin Jaworski and EJ Stephens, and junior Kyle Stout. Jaworski can handle the ball in a pinch, and may be asked to with the lack of point guards on the roster (more on that later), and shot 44.9% from three-point land on 136 attempts as a freshman. Stephens is yet another good outside shooter for O’Hanlon to run out on the court and was also an effective mid-range scorer in 2017-18. Stout is mostly a shooting threat on offense but it’s his 6’6” frame that makes him most valuable to an otherwise undersized roster.
Aside from the “replacing Klinewski” question, O’Hanlon is also faced with a point guard conundrum. Since Nick Lindner left in 2016-17, Lafayette hasn’t really had a true lead ball handler. Sure Petrie, Jaworski, or Stephens could play the role, but all three guards are better suited off the ball. Freshman Tyrone Perry may be the long term answer here and could see a significant amount of time in year one if he comes along quickly. Outside of Perry, the Leopards are out of options at the point.
Look for freshmen Isaac Suffren and (possibly) Michael Anekwe to see some run this season as well. Suffren can score points in bunches and doubles as a potential shut-down perimeter defender. Anekwe can add versatility and size to the wing position.
Bottom Line: As mentioned above, O’Hanlon’s offenses are usually very good, finely tuned machines, but his defenses are a different story. Lafayette ranked in the bottom 40 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings in 2017-18 (8th in the PL) and nothing aside from roster continuity suggests a drastic change towards the positive. O’Hanlon did start to go away from his standard soft zone-looks last season and increased the rate at which his team pressured in the full court. So maybe there is reason to believe a trend towards defensive competency is coming.
At this point in the offseason, the Leopards look to be a middle-to-bottom tier Patriot squad. If someone up front takes a giant leap forward production-wise, Lafayette can possibly crack the league’s top five.
Key Returners: Hasan Abdullah, Evan Wieck, George Kiernan, Cam Davis
Key Losses: Shawn Anderson, Bryce Dulin, Tom Lacey
Key Newcomers: Josiah Strong, John Carter Jr.
Outlook: Navy notched a 20-win season last year for the first time since 1999-00. Ed DeChellis continues to work wonders with his build of the Midshipmen program and has taken the squad from conference basement feeder to perennial top 4 threat. This year, DeChellis will have to deal with the departure of three starters and work with a far less experienced squad than he had in 2017-18.
DeChellis’s style is a known commodity by now, as the long-time DI coach has built a reputation for slowing the game down, emphasizing patience on offense and throwing zone looks on defense. Offensively, Navy scores by crashing the glass and getting to the free throw line via rim attack – the Midshipmen have shot over 33% from downtown only once (2014-15) in DeChellis’s seven years at the helm. Navy carries out this ugly offensive style fairly well, leading the Patriot in offensive rebounding rate in 2017-18, but turnovers and a lack of shooting has kept a firm ceiling on the Midshipmen’s final standings possibilities.
Navy won 11 games in the PL last year thanks to its defense, which ranked 2nd in the conference per KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. DeChellis implements an extended 1-3-1 trapping zone and also mixes in some 2-3 in an effort to slow opponents down and keep them away from the cup. Last season, the Midshipmen ranked 5th in the country in defensive rebounding rate (1st in PL) and 29th in turnover rate (2nd in PL), bolstering a stout defensive scheme. The only real weakness over the years to Navy’s D has been a tendency to get burned by the three-ball, which Patriot League teams shot at the 8th highest frequency among the 32 DI conferences.
I won’t dive into all 23 guys listed on Navy’s online roster, because we would be here all season and frankly most of those guys won’t even see the floor. We know the starting point guard spot is securely in the hands of senior Hasan Abdullah, who will need to be a source of consistency this year for Navy. Abdullah still hasn’t figured out his lingering three-year turnover issue, but he did rank 5th in the Patriot in assist rate and 2nd in steal rate (9th nationally) last season. Offensively, Abdullah also adds some rare shooting to the Midshipmen attack, knocking down 35.3% of his deep-ball tries as a junior. With Shawn Anderson gone, Abdullah needs to step up in the scoring department this year.
Inside, DeChellis returns two regularly-used big men in Evan Wieck and George Kiernan. Wieck, who functions as the 5-man, is a big-time offensive rebounder ranking 4th in the Patriot in OR% last season. Offensively, Wieck was fed in the post fairly often and feasted off second chance opportunities contributing to his PL 6th-best 62% FG%. Kiernan is a high usage forward that likely takes on much larger scoring role this season. The 6’7” senior scores the ball well from all over the court and can stretch the defense from behind the arc. Defensively, Kiernan was the best rebounder in the conference by rate.
The backcourt rotation outside of Abdullah will feature a combination of sophomore Cam Davis, freshmen Josiah Strong and Jason Carter Jr., and senior Ryan Pearson. Davis enjoyed a successful first season in Annapolis, shooting 38.1% from deep, and should see his playing time and usage skyrocket in year two. Strong is a talented combo guard that can score, handle the ball, and facilitate on offense. Carter is a big-time scorer that brings versatility on both ends of the floor from the wing spot. Sophomore wing Isaiah Burnett likely cracks the rotation as well in his first season on the “varsity” squad.
Bottom Line: Navy likely hangs around the middle of the pack of the Patriot standings this season. DeChellis is a large factor in this, as the Midshipmen roster doesn’t really jump off the page from a talent perspective. DeChellis’s slow-down style and emphasis on rebounding will continue to allow Navy to hang around in games with clearly superior teams and scrap out an unexpected win or two.
10. Loyola MD
Key Returners: Isaiah Hart, Chuck Champion, Andrew Kostecka, Brent Holcombe, KaVaughn Scott, Sam Norton, James Fives
Key Losses: Andre Walker, Cam Gregory
Key Newcomers: Jan Dornik, Jaylin Andrews, Casmir Ochiaka, Kenny Jones
Outlook: Loyola comes off a triumphant and unexpected Final Four run... oh wait, hang on. Wrong Loyola...
Loyola MD comes off a dumpster fire of a season in which it drastically underperformed after returning nearly everyone from a 6th place 2016-17 Patriot squad. Former head coach GG Smith paid the price for this disappointing performance, getting canned after five forgettable seasons in Baltimore. The Greyhounds haven’t been a good team since the Jimmy Patsos days, which ended in 2012-13. Now the school welcomes first-time head coach Tavaras Hardy to the fold and hands him a difficult rebuilding situation after the Greyhounds lost their two most important players in Andre Walker (1st Team All-PL) and Cam Gregory.
Hardy played ball for Northwestern under current Holy Cross coach Bill Carmody and later served under his former coach as an assistant before serving under Chris Collins, James Thompson III (at Georgetown), and Josh Pastner (at Georgia Tech). The 38-year old head coach brings with him hope for a turnaround to a school located in a major basketball talent pool.
This roster isn’t totally gutted. In fact, the Greyhounds bring back everyone of significance outside of the aforementioned Walker and Gregory. It’s uncertain what type of offensive and defensive schemes Hardy will bring (Princeton offense perhaps? Carmody zones?), but Hardy has some talented pieces with which to work. Loyola was a bad offensive team last season, ranking 9th overall in the PL per KenPom. The Greyhounds score via the drive, pouring in the 3rd highest percentage of points from inside the arc in the country in 2017-18. Transition, glass crashing, and the pick-n-roll were all avenues by which Loyola scored last season. Defensively, Loyola was the worst group in the conference, unable to reproduce the same turnover success it enjoyed in 2016-17 with its various pressing and zone schemes.
Hardy’s backcourt, Isaiah Hart, Chuck Champion, and Andrew Kostecka, will be the heart and soul of the squad this season. Hart will run the point this year, coming off an okay freshman season in which he ranked 6th in the PL in FT rate and 7th in assist rate. His offensive style is all penetration, unable and unwilling to do much damage from deep (he has a slow and choppy release). Champion is a bit of a gunner on offense but he’ll need to be a major source of production for the Hounds in his junior season. He tends to fall in love too much with the mid-range jumper and only shot 32% from deep last year, but he is capable of being a big-time scorer. Defensively, Champion could be a potential lock-down perimeter stopper. Kostecka already is a lock-down perimeter stopper, a member of the 2017-18 PL All-Defensive Team after ranking 7th in the league in block rate (he’s 6’3”) and 1st in steal rate. Offensively, Kostecka will look to be more aggressive in his junior year as he can be an asset from the outside and taking the ball to the rim.
Senior wing James Fives and freshmen guards Jaylin Andrews and Kenny Jones will challenge for playing time alongside sophomore Luke Johnson. Fives was limited to just 8 games last season before succumbing to injury; he’s a former starter for the Greyhounds and shooting threat from downtown. Andrews offers scoring off the bench after pouring in points at his high school last season and Jones will serve as a pass-first PG with a good jump shot off the pine.
Inside, Loyola is weak, especially after Gregory’s departure this offseason. Sophomore Brent Holcombe has tons of potential as a promising stretch 4 and could be a major asset to Hardy if the new coach decides to implement the Princeton offense. KaVaughn Scott is an undersized 5-man that serves a true post presence and solid rebounder. Backing up the pair will be walk-on Sam Norton, who started 10 games out of necessity last season, and freshmen Jan Dornik and Casmir Ochiaka. Dornik is a Slovenian product that can play either the 3 or 4. His ability to shoot from the outside, handle the rock, and score above the rim should come in handy for the Greyhounds. Ochiaka is a big body that adds size to a roster severely lacking it.
Bottom Line: Plenty of talent returns for Loyola this season, but this still feels like a bottom-tier Patriot squad. New head coach Tavaras Hardy has his work cut out for him, but hopefully can get the ball rolling again out in Baltimore.