2. Boston University
3. Holy Cross
6. Loyola (MD)
All Conference Awards
POY: Tim Kempton, Senior, Lehigh
Coach of the Year: Bill Carmody, Holy Cross
Newcomer of the Year: Pat Andree, Fr., Lehigh
Freshman of the Year: Pat Andree, Lehigh
Key Returners: Tim Kempton, Kahron Ross, Austin Price, Kyle Leufroy
Key Losses: Jesse Chuku, Justin Goldsborough, Devon Carter
Key Newcomers: Pat Andree, Jordan Cohen, Caleb Sedore
Postseason Projection: 15 seed
Shout out to family friend of this writer, Corey Jones (and CJ McCollum I guess), the only person I know who went to Lehigh! The Mountain Hawks tucked in right behind champion Bucknell with the second-ranked offensive efficiency and second-ranked defensive efficiency in the conference; appropriately, they finished second in the standings as well. They bring back four double-digit scorers, including maestro Kahron Ross and big man Tim Kempton, who is attempting to win his third straight conference Player of the Year award, and will be the clear favorite to win the league this year.
It all starts with the two players previously mentioned - they make the offense hum with their hyper-efficient pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop sequences, with Ross being a devastating penetrator and distributor and Kempton creating constant mismatches with his size and midrange shooting touch. He also uses his size to work on the offensive glass and draw fouls while also being an anchor on the defensive boards (narrowly second-best in the Patriot). Ross, for his part, is a good defender too, harassing opposing point guards up and down the court.
The threat of the Ross/Kempton combination is made even more potent by the cadre of shooters on the floor with them. Guards Kyle Leufroy and Austin Price are both very good shooters on the wing, with either having the potential to be an all-conference level guy on the wing this year if things break right. True freshman Pat Andree is an absolute gunner as well, probably stepping right into the starting lineup as a stretch four in the place of the graduated Jesse Chuku. His form is a little funky (it’s pretty two-handed), but he basically has unlimited range and the result is pure.
As mentioned, this team was pretty strong defensively as well, and coach Brett Reed will mix in some zone to keep opponents guessing. As great as Kempton is on the glass, the team mostly lacks rim protection inside, which makes the zone useful for keeping opponents out of the lane as well as help the Mountain Hawks defend without fouling. That last part is especially key because this team is extremely thin - the bench barely played last year, ranking 338th in % of minutes played. That will continue this year, with only Brandon Alston possessing much experience off the bench (who missed last year with injury). The freshman reserves of Jordan Cohen, Josh Wolf, and Jack Lieb will also be forced to play spot minutes in place of the excellent starters.
The starting 5 is the best in the league, and Reed plays the perfect scheme to allow those guys to thrive. The offense should carry them to a Patriot championship, Kempton should become the back-to-back-to-back POY and get his first shot at the NCAA tournament, and the Hawks’ shooting could give a high seed a scare come mid-March.
2. Boston University
Key Returners: Kyle Foreman, Cheddi Mosely, Cedric Hankerson, Eric Fanning, Nick Havener, Justin Alston
Key Losses: John Papale, Nathan Dieudonne
Key Newcomers: Tyler Scanlon, Max Mahoney
Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT/Vegas 16
If Lehigh doesn’t have the best offense in the Patriot, my money is on the Terriers. They almost bring back four double-digit scorers as well, and though one of those is Cedric Hankerson with 2014-15 stats, I’m gonna count it and you can’t stop me. They’ll have to replace a big piece of the offense, departed gunner John Papale, as only Cheddi Mosley made more than 28 threes last year (Papale hit 96!). Hankerson knocked down 72 two years ago, though, which should help offset that loss. That should provide space for last year’s first-teamer, ‘tweener Eric Fanning, to work inside the arc.
Boston U teams coached by Joe Jones constantly rely heavily on the three, so spacing the floor will be crucial. Kyle Foreman was also a major part of the offense as the ball was constantly in his hands, and he was the primary distributor to the team’s other weapons. He struggled with turnovers (as freshman PGs are wont to do), but a year in the system (along with Hankerson to aid with ball-handling) should cut that rate down for him. Finding some depth behind those guards will be a challenge for Jones, though.
To that end, forward Tyler Scanlon and wing Destin Barnes should both see some playing time this year as freshmen. Scanlon was the State Player of the Year in Virginia, and his versatility should be very useful, and Barnes is a savvy athlete from Chicago who will give Jones a defender and driver off the bench. Don’t count out sophomore Kamali Chambers either, the younger brother of Harvard’s Siyani Chambers, a solid floor general who got his toes wet last year.
A worry for this team is rebounding - the departed Nathan Dieudonne was a rock inside, and while Nick Havener showed the ability to play that role last year, he can’t go it alone. Justin Alston is a candidate if he’s healthy in his fifth year, and it’s fair to expect one of Dylan Haines or Blaise Mbargorba to step up as a 7-footer off the bench. All of those guys save Alston are also respectable shot-blockers, meaning they should be able to bother opposing drivers when they get into the paint.
The team’s real downfall last year was its defense, as they were forced to mix in a lot of zone looks due to playing Fanning at the 4 fairly often, but between the above mentioned bigs, Jones hopes he can play a lot more lineups consisting of two true bigs and play more (Bill Raftery voice) man-to-man on defense. The smallball group of Foreman/Mosley/Hankerson/Fanning will still see some run, though, due to its deadly potential on offense.
With the team’s offensive stars and returning perimeter experience, hopes are high for the Terriers. They may not have the upside of Lehigh, but if they can piece together a defense with some zones inside and potentially excellent perimeter defense, they can fit right into the upper tier of the league.
3. Holy Cross
Key Returners: Malachi Alexander, Anthony Thompson, Karl Charles, Robert Champion, Matt Husek
Key Losses: Cullen Hamilton, Eric Green
Key Newcomers: Tyrone Cohen, Jack Stevens, Clayton Le Sann
Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT/Vegas 16
It’s really hard to know what to do with the Crossaders (see what I did there?). On one hand, they were an abysmal team during the regular season, going 5-13 in the conference and bottoming out at a hideous 324th in KenPom. On the other hand, they went on a nice run in the postseason, winning the Patriot Tournament, beating Southern in the PIG (play-in game) and SKYROCKETING to 285th. Ultimately, they finished as one of the lowest-ranked KenPom team to ever play in the NCAA Tournament despite their succession of wins.
You do have to wonder, though, if a young team finally clicked in veteran coach Bill Carmody’s slow-as-hell system, and with 5 of their top 7 players back (including their best 3), maybe they’ll carry that momentum into this season. Do you have a coin? Flip it, that’s about the certainty with which I’m forecasting this team. Based on Carmody’s experience and their play at the end of the year, I’m settling on an outcome much closer to the optimistic view.
Part of why I like this team is the way the personnel meshed with the scheme late in the year, especially the amazingly-named pair of forwards Robert Champion and Malachi Alexander. Alexander became an expert at facilitating the offense from the high post with his passing, finding the plethora of cutters that are featured in Carmody’s Princeton-inspired offense. That kind of offense also ends up inverting the bigs and guards at times, and the deep shooting ability of both Alexander (44%, 50 makes) and Champion (36%, 58 makes) creates massive problems for defenders. Bobby Champ’s excellent defensive rebounding enables Carmody to play them as a matchup nightmare post combo, and the rotation was bolstered by even bigger man Matt Husek sharing that skill set (good defensive rebounder and shot-blocker, 36% from 3). Due to the nature of Carmody’s approach to transition defense (basically, "GET THE HELL BACK!"), the Crossaders mostly ignore the offensive glass.
Those pieces also fit well into Carmody’s extended 1-3-1 zone on defense (Husek a bit less so), as Champion, Alexander, and Karl Charles are athletic enough to move around the floor and cover space. Champion and Charles both showed sticky hands last year too, posting matching 2.3% steal rates. Due to the ball skills of the big men, the guards are overshadowed in Worcester, but Anthony Thompson is a steady hand with the ball and a solid defender (miserable shooter, though). Guard depth will be a question mark, as Matt Zignorski is the only obvious option there unless one of sophomore Pat Benzan or freshman Tyrone Cohen emerges. Charles will likely have to spend some time at the 2 (he’s a good enough passer to have the ball in his hands at times) with Jehyve Floyd stepping into the lineup.
I like the way this team plays, and thus I hope last season’s twilight success continues into this year. The Fightin’ Bill Simmonses have the athleticism and skill to keep it going, and with a veteran coach in Billy “Not the Kid” Carmody, I think they will.
Key Returners: Nana Foulland, Zach Thomas, Stephen Brown
Key Losses: Chris Hass, Ryan Frazier, Dom Hoffman
Key Newcomers: Avi Toomer, Bruce Moore, Ben Robertson
Postseason Projection: None
My absolute favorite Bucknell moment last year (what was yours???) was one of the season’s most insane box scores, the first half of Bucknell/Army on January 2nd. It’s tough to show it because only the first half was truly bizarre, but if you read along with the first half play-by-play ticker, you’ll see that graduated guard Chris Hass had 32 of the Bison’s 37 points, including all but one of the team’s field goals. He single-handedly willed them to a 1-point halftime lead, and the Bison eventually won that game (and the Patriot regular season title, by one game).
Haas is gone but not forgotten, and he leaves behind a promising roster for second-year coach Nathan Davis as they attempt to defend their status as reigning champs. After assisting in the Patriot for 11 seasons (6 at Bucknell), Davis dominated Division III hoops at Randolph-Macon before returning to Lewisburg, PA (that’s where Bucknell is!).
Under Davis, the Bison rode a downhill, transition-attacking offense to the top of the standings, and key pieces Stephen Brown (the open court maestro), Zach Thomas (an athletic stretch four), and Nana Foulland (a sturdy interior big man) return to continue that onslaught. They lose some dangerous scoring in Haas and wing shooting in Ryan Frazier, but sophomore guards Nate Jones and Kimbal Mackenzie (who is somehow white - sign him up for Bill Simmons’s Reggie Cleveland All-Stars) had some very good moments as freshmen and should fit nicely into the starting lineup. Both shot solid percentages from deep, and their presence will likely keep senior John Azzinaro in a bench role, despite him being a senior. Freshman Avi Toomer, an excellent athlete who dunks with ease at 6’2, will also probably make an impact on both ends.
A weird strength/weakness of the offense was the impressive propensity they had for getting to the free throw line - I only call it a slight weakness because Foulland knocked down a bricky 49.7% of his throws, and opponents sometimes dabbled in the aesthetically-appalling Hack-a-Shaq strategy.
Defensively, the Bison mix it up pretty frequently between man and zone, which surprisingly didn’t really hurt their defensive rebounding very much (thanks to the efforts of Foulland and especially Thomas). Foulland also provides a shot-blocking presence, and DJ MacLeay is an excellent role player defensively with his own rebounding fortitude and versatility. Davis has high hopes for 6’7 freshman athlete Bruce Moore, a wiry athlete with a raw offensive game. The Bison actually ended up with the top offense AND defense in league play last year, efficiency-wise, and Foulland along with the perimeter’s length really allowed them to pester opposing shooters/finishers.
With some effective pieces returning and a promising second-year coach, Bucknell should contend in the league once again, though the offense will dip a bit without the mastery of Hass.
Key Returners: Sean O’Brien, Tom Rivard, Jordan Swopshire
Key Losses: Austin Tillotson, Alex Ramon
Key Newcomers: Will Rayman, Milan Williams
Postseason Projection: None
I had absolutely no idea that Colgate’s mascot is the Raiders - I guess I never really thought about it, but when I came to preview them, I realized I had always just assumed it was the “Gaters.” That’s not a word, folks, and I might be an idiot!
Think of Colgate like a small conference Wisconsin offensively - slow and deliberate, but capable of being lethally efficient by putting a ton of skill and shooting on the floor and driving defenses crazy with their insistence on waiting for a great shot. The key to that offense (for both Wisconsin and Colgate) is being able to stretch the floor and create mismatches by having big men who can shoot, and the Raiders bring back two deadly guys in that role in Tom Rivard and especially Jordan Swopshire. Both former transfers (Rivard - James Madison, Swopshire - Bradley), Rivard shot 36% from 3 while battling on the defensive glass, but Swopshire did him one better by shooting 43% (6th in the conference - not bad for your 4/5 man). When coach Matt Langel makes the rare decision to play a more defensive lineup, sophomore Dave Krmpotich showed the ability to be a solid defender last year.
Quick Swopshire tangent: he played at Fort Zumwalt South in St. Louis before starting his career in Peoria, and I regret not seeing him play a little in high school. His brother, Jared, was an absolutely electric high school player who played 2 years of high school at the esteemed IMG Academy, but his career at Louisville was mostly derailed by injuries, and he finished with a relatively quiet grad year on a bad Northwestern team in 2012-13. Tangent done!
The Gaters (you can’t stop me!) did, however, get run over in the paint defensively, which may force Malcolm Regisford into the starting lineup alongside those gunners. He only played in 20 games as a freshman, but he registered (regisfered?) what would have been a top-25 defensive rebounding rate nationally. His strength would also be extremely useful against opposing post men. Fellow sophomore and long-haired goober Dana Batt was a better shot-blocker, but he just wasn’t as stout positionally while also being nearly invisible on offense.
Langel has traditionally favored a similary conservative approach on defense, but he cranked up the pressure some last year with guards Austin Tillotson (graduated), Sean O’Brien, and Francisco Amiel’s ability to harass opposing ball-handlers. Amiel screams for a DH on offense, though, as his terrifying 72.2 offensive rating attests. Jordan Robertson will probably start over Amiel due to his shooting ability. One freshman worth noting who could make an impact is Milan Williams; Williams hails from powerhouse Detroit Country Day (Shane Battier, Chris Webber among others), and he should be able to use his strong guard frame to bully opposing guards inside while the bigs fire away (even though he’s a bit ground-bound). Defensively, playing more for turnovers often caused this team to get lost on the perimeter, but a little more experience in the scheme may help that.
With some skilled players returning to the league’s #3-ranked offense, Colgate will again be a pain to play against, but I doubt Langel will get the defense organized enough to challenge the top dogs.
6. Loyola (MD)
Key Returners: Andre Walker, Jarred Jones, Chancellor Barnard, Cam Gregory
Key Losses: Eric Laster, Tyler Hubbard, Franz Rassman
Key Newcomers: Chuck Champion, Austin Harriot
Postseason Projection: None
I hope you’re patient reading this preview, because here’s yet another deliberate, patient team! In his 4th year since succeeding Jimmy Patsos (Siena), GG Smith has continued to play his mentor’s style both offensively and defensively.
On offense, that features a flex-type offense focused on pounding the ball inside to the blocks and subsequently attacking the offensive glass. They won’t take or make many threes at all, particularly following the departure of the team’s two highest-volume shooters. Neither one of those guys could actually shoot, though, so maybe focusing on getting the ball inside to Jarred Jones and Cam Gregory will be a better strategy?
Jones is an athletic, conventional four man - he’s a relentless rim attacker who gets after the glass on both ends while also showing the ability to draw fouls on offense and block shots defensively. He thrived next to the monstrous Franz Rassman last year, but his post buddy this year will be Gregory, who’s more of a mirror of Jones’s game as a bully on the boards and an efficient finisher. Backing them up will be highly-regarded freshman KaVaughn Allen from all the way across the country in Irvine, CA. Allen is a bouncy forward in Jones’s vein. Shot-blocking freshman 7-footer Dylan Gollivar will need to play a bit (though he’s incredibly raw offensively), as will little-used senior Nick Gorski, but expect the starting twosome to play a lot of minutes and make the Greyhounds one of the better interior teams in the Patriot.
As much as I just sang the praises of Jones, this team’s best player is unquestionably point guard and floor general Andre Walker. Don’t be fooled by his modest 3.9apg; he’s an excellent passer whose numbers were depressed by playing with bricky outside shooters last year. Walker can shoot himself (38% from deep), but he was not a good finisher last year as he struggled with his relatively thin frame. If any of the team’s freshman guards (Austin Harriot, Chuck Champion, or Andrew Kostecka) show they can shoot a lick, they’ll get on the floor to aid this team’s major deficiency.
Chancellor Barnard is a highly unique player. A tough, athletic lefty, his game screams “four man” (12th in conference in O-reb rate, 8th in block %, 2nd in 2-point field goal %), but he’s only 6’4, 192lbs. He’s a useful weapon against weaker opposing guards, as the flex offense gives him a lot of chances to bully his way inside, and he’s a very good defender in the team’s conservative scheme.
Loyola’s pound-it-inside offense will steal a few games in conference against weary teams that just aren’t prepared to play with that intensity, but the utter lack of shooting and questions about the team defense will drag them down towards the Patriot’s bottom half.
Key Returners: Nick Lindner, Monty Boykins, Paulius Zalys, Matt Kliniewski
Key Losses: Bryce Scott, Zach Rufer
Key Newcomers: Kyle Stout, Myles Cherry, Hunter Janacek
Postseason Projection: None
Longtime coach Fran O’Hanlon is like a roller coaster (or a sine wave, for all my trig nerds reading a Lafayette preview) - his teams just seem to be constantly up and down. In the past 7 years, here are the Leopards’ overall records: 19-13, 13-19, 13-17, 19-15, 11-20, 20-13, 6-24 - maybe he actually isn’t a sine wave, since the variance seems to be getting even larger (I’m a freaking NERD, folks). Based on my exhaustive (read: limited) research, those wild shifts are due to his teams’ gross disregard for defense and overt reliance on the three.
Lafayette was, by far, the worst defense in the Patriot last year, and they’ve consistently been bad-to-abysmal under O’Hanlon. Playing a mix of zone and man (I think he just throws shit at the wall and hopes for random improvement), they get worked on the boards, don’t bug you enough to force turnovers, and lack any sort of physicality or shot-blocking on the interior. Matt Kliniewski and Paulius Zalys are promising offensive options, but you don’t get the sense when watching them that they’ll ever be pillars in the paint defensively. Sophomore Auston Evans is promising with his versatility, but because of his lagging offense, O’Hanlon is liable to keep him out of the starting lineup. Perimeter defense is something O’Hanlon may or may not have ever heard of, as he doesn’t really ask his guys to play it, which leads to giving up a ton of open shots and easy drives. Thankfully, this team also plays on the other end of the court...
Offensively, there’s a ton of optimism to be had here. Nick Lindner is an excellent point guard, as he excels finding a very good balance between scoring and setting up his teammates, all while taking great care of the ball. He’ll have diminished shooting weapons on the wings, though Monty Boykins is a legit threat and freshman Kyle Stout, though thin, can bury jumpers when given the chance (he’s also a poor defender, which fits in perfectly!). The offense will also thrive through the high-low action with Zalys (a solid shooter) and Kliniewski (a very good interior finisher). Zalys will need to get better with the ball in his hands in his role up top, but he should have the proverbial frosh-to-soph leap coming in that regard.
It speaks to the low expectations at Lafayette that O’Hanlon has amassed a 295-331 record over 21 years and is under no threat to be fired. He’s made three NCAA Tournaments (only 1 since 2000-01), but he at least satisfies the old adage “if you’re gonna be bad, at least be entertaining” with his sieve defenses and gunning offenses. With Zalys and Kliniewski continuing to develop, next year may be his next best chance at the tournament, but doing so without Lindner will be a major challenge.
Key Returners: Shawn Anderson, Tim Abruzzo, Tom Lacey
Key Losses: Tilman Dunbar, Will Kelly, Jace Hogan, Kendall Knorr
Key Newcomers: They have a billion freshmen (okay, actually 8), so we’ll see
Postseason Projection: None
The second Big Ten retread coach in this league (though he left of his own volition), Ed DeChellis helms the Navy Midshipmen after spending the better part of the 2000s at Penn State. His squad was hit with heavy losses, including the nation’s 2nd-best shot-blocker (by rate) in Will Kelly and perimeter anchor Tilman Dunbar, but they’ll find enough players on their 23-man roster (what is this, the World Cup?!) to remain competitive.
DeChellis is (in)famous for his slow as F teams, finishing in the bottom 50 of adjusted temp for 8 years running now (3 of them at PSU), and this year will be no different, particularly without an experienced point guard. Dunbar was an anchor in that regard, and little-used Nourse Fox will probably be entrusted with the role in his third year in the program. He used a miniscule 8.6% of shooting possessions while on the floor last year, and while he will certainly be asked to distribute, DeChellis will need more scoring from him as well. In his deliberate offense, the ball often ends up in the point guard’s hands late in the shot clock, an area where Fox has a lot of growing to do. Expect leading returning scorer Shawn Anderson to take that late-clock-iso roll fairly often, particularly early in the season. Bryce Dulin and possibly freshman Kyran McClure will provide depth off the bench.
That deliberate offense focuses around the flex cut, which heavily involves ball reversals and baseline cross screens to shrink the court and look for mismatches inside (guard or big). Jace Hogan was an expert here, but he transferred, leaving a lot of shots available for players such as forward Tom Lacey and center Edward Alade. DeChellis teams usually take a lot of threes, but last year’s team was so devoid of shooters that they sank to a galling 342nd nationally in 3-point rate, instead relying completely on scoring inside and free throws. Alade and Lacey were both excellent finishers last year, and if they can keep that up in larger roles, Navy should maintain its #1 conference rank in 2-point FG%. Lacey and Alade should also continue to carry on the standard started by Hogan and Kelly of demolishing the offensive glass (both returnees actually did it better than the departed last year). Freshman James Butler should play right away as a backup big, and he’ll continue the rebounding onslaught when on the floor.
The big unmentioned party so far is wing Tim Abruzzo, a defensive whiz in DeChellis’s system (3rd in the conference in steal rate), who will harass opponents and likely start atop the trapping 1-3-1 zone. Navy was second in the league and 54th nationally in turnovers forced, but without Kelly to clean up the messes behind the front line, this defense could see a major regression.
That potential defensive slide is the main reason I’m forecasting a fall for Navy, who actually sat at 9-5 in the conference before dragging through the finish line with 4 straight losses. Point guard is a major concern, and there’s still little-to-no shooting to give the interior players space to work, meaning both ends of the court might weigh the Midshipmen down. Their rebounding work on both ends gives them a solid floor, though.
Key Returners: Delante Jones, James Washington, Paris Maragkos, Charlie Jones
Key Losses: Jesse Reed, Marko Vasic
Key Newcomers: Mark Gasperini, Sa’eed Nelson
Postseason Projection: None
On the morning of January 20th last season, American had almost hit absolute rock-bottom - they were 2-15, 0-6 in the Patriot, and ranked 347th of 351 teams in the country per KenPom. But like the country they’re named after, they rallied against all odds (I hope you’re proudly picturing the American flag in your mind’s eye), clawing their way to a 9-9 conference finish, including wins over regular season champ Bucknell and sweeps of auto-bid winner Holy Cross and respectable Navy. Lineup constant Jesse Reed is a big loss, but two sophomores lead the charge for optimism this year.
The leader of those sophs is Delante Jones, already the team’s clear best player in his second year. A versatile and athletic wing, Jones was 7th in the conference in % of minutes played during league play (when American became respectable), getting to the line at will and cashing 41% of his threes. He’ll be supplemented by point guard James Washington, who was rather unproductive as a frosh but gained valuable experience.
Those two will play key roles in coach Mike Brennan’s Princeton-inspired system. Similar to Holy Cross in the way they invert their offense (bigs often on the perimeter), Brennan will give the green light to center Andrija Matic on the perimeter; Matic hit 30% from deep as a freshman and should improve. Wings Charlie Jones and Jalen Rhea won’t shoot much, but they’re generally pretty effective when they do, which could open up the floor for backdoor cuts and Del Jones driving. Brennan often played D Jones at the 4 last year, an effective strategy that got him a mismatch offensively yet was hidden by the team’s 1-3-1 trapping zone on the other end (yes, this conference has a lot of that). Charlie Jones is more known for his defensive prowess - he was a terror in multiple facets last year, leading the team in steal AND block rate at 6’4.
Brennan takes the Princeton offense thing a little far, finishing with the longest average possessions in the country 2 years running, but part of the problem was that the team just didn’t have enough shooting to force opponents to step out and expose themslves to cuts. Enter freshman big man Mark Gasperini, who Brennan is very high on as a quintessential Princeton big: he can hit threes and pass from the top of the key (fun fact: born in Moscow!).
The aforementioned 1-3-1 is, yet again, very similar to Holy Cross (both coaches descend from the hallowed Pete Carril coaching tree), attempting to force opponents into corners and let the Eagles’ quickness and aggressiveness take over (3rd in the conference in TO% forced). Jones being the leading shot-blocker also speaks to how vulnerable the Eagles are inside, as the roster has no interior rim protection.
Overall, I think this team played above its head last year in conference play, and while Brennan does a great job of getting the most from his guys, the offense probably doesn’t improve enough to make a significant difference this year (unless Gasperini is a revelation at the 5).
Key Returners: Kennedy Edwards
Key Losses: Tanner Plomb, Kyle Wilson, Kevin Ferguson, Dylan Cox, Larry Toomey
Key Newcomers: Babacar Thiombane, Cameron Fuller, Tommy Funk
Postseason Projection: None
As a youth, I was an avid fan of Monty Python and the Holy Grail...sure, not the most sophisticated humor, but I stand by it! The reason I bring that up is because the 2016-17 Army Black Knights remind me of the Black Knight of the Crossing in that movie. It seems he’s going to put up a major fight against King Arthur, but Arthur slowly chops off everyone of his limbs, to the point where he’s just a torso on the ground with only a head remaining.
If that sounds like an unflattering comparison - it is! The United States Military Academy looked threatening last year, but it loses all 5 starters (their limbs) this season. To top it all off, the cruel college basketball gods went a step further than even King Arthur - they chopped off the head as well, as coach Zach Spiker took the Drexel job. They aren’t even capable of shouting empty threats and insults as challengers ride away!
The two biggest losses are Tanner Plomb and Kyle Wilson; Plomb used the highest percentage of possessions in the league for two straight years, while Wilson was 4th in that category for three straight years himself. With Kevin Ferguson departing as well, the team’s only high volume player is forward Luke Morrison, who didn’t play a ton last year but is a breakout candidate simply due to his usage. Other breakout candidates (someone has to) include basically the entire sophomore class - Jordan Fox, Adam Roe, and John Emezie will likely start as the backcourt trio, and the three have pretty clearly defined roles. Fox is the distributor, a very good passer who struggled with turnovers as freshmen are wont to do. Roe is the shooter, knocking down nearly a three per game while not even playing 10mpg. And finally, Emezie is the athlete, showing a penchant for getting to the rim and the foul line but also an equal affinity for bricking his freebies (52% from the stripe). Kennedy Edwards should join them as a versatile forward and the leader in returning minutes.
The bench and the playing style are both semi-mysteries. Army has a hilarious 27 guys on its official roster, making it a little hard to decipher who will actually sniff the court (even in practice!), but I’d expect redshirt freshman PG Kevin Olsen, local guard Kevin Janowski, and senior Mac Hoffman to see a lot of minutes. As for their style, Jimmy Allen takes over after 6 years assisting Spiker, meaning a major shift in strategy is unlikely. That means a transition-reliant, fast-paced offense with a ton of threes thrown up early in the shot clock (Roe is HYPED while reading this right now), contrasting starkly with a disciplined (shocking!), conservative approach on the defensive end that forces opponents to use a lot of the shot clock. They clean the defensive glass, don’t foul, and run you off the three point line, though that last aspect leads to a LOT of easy buckets inside. No one really projects as a shot-blocker (or even shot-changer) inside, so the weak interior will continue.
For a team that loses 4 1,000-point scorers and a coach and yet only went 9-9 in the league, this season looks grim. Allen is an enthusiastic young coach, but he needs to find some effective limbs for this helpless torso ASAP.