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Holy Cross essentially ran away with the regular season title a season ago, winning it by three games over Bucknell. Only three teams finished with a winning record overall during the season. In the conference tournament, Bucknell took down the top-seeded Crusaders and won the automatic bid. The Bison went on to pull of the biggest upset of the 2005 NCAA Tournament, beating 3rd-seeded Kansas before losing in the second round to Wisconsin. Bucknell and Holy Cross are once again the top two teams. Their roles are reversed, however, and it shouldn't be as close this time around.
Favorites: Bucknell is everyone's favorite mid-major this season, after shocking the world and beating Kansas last season. However, everyone seems to forget that this is the same team that lost the regular season title by three games. Not to sound like I'm nitpicking, but the Bison have flaws. They also have many strengths, and they far outshine the weaknesses. Guard Kevin Bettencourt was tied for the team lead in scoring average, and combined with Charles Lee to give Bucknell a lethal wing combination. Lee is an excellent inside-outside player. Point guard Abe Badmus runs the show and keeps everyone happy. Inside, Chris McNaughton is one of the best players in the league. If he improves his rebounding, he will be one of the best mid-major post players. Darren Mastropaolo rounds out the starting lineup, while John Griffin and Donald Brown provide depth in the backcourt and frontcourt, respectively. Holy Cross loses three starters from the regular season champs, but they return a wing combination that rivals that of Bucknell's. Kevin Hamilton is a candidate for Player of the Year; he can do it all on the court--scoring, rebounding, passing, and defending. Keith Simmons is a very good scorer and should have even better numbers this season. Torey Thomas is an extremely capable point guard. There are many questions in the frontcourt, although Kevin Hyland looks like he could be the answer to some of them down low. Tim Clifford could start at center.
Contenders: Lehigh is another team that has a sensational backcourt. The Mountain Hawks' version includes All-League performer Joe Knight, who fills up the stat sheet in a variety of categories; and Jose Olivero, one of the best wing scorers in the league. Jason Mgebroff provides an inside presence to take some of the pressure off the outside guys. John Gourlay can also help inside. He is a 7-foot freshman that is expect to make an impact. Colgate returns three double-figure scorers. Alvin Reed could be an all-league player this season, while Jon Simon is a high-scoring wing. Kyle Roemer is another solid scorer from the wing; he is an excellent shooter. Brothers Kendall and Kyle Chones will bolster the frontcourt--neither played last season--and Kendall may start. Alex Woodhouse is a returning starter up front, while Marc Daniels is another body down low. American has a first team All-Patriot guard in Andre Ingram, a very good shooter and scorer who can carry the Eagles. Freshman Derrick Mercer is an excellent defender and ball handler and is expected to start at point guard. Linas Lekavicius should see more open shots with the addition of Mercer. South Carolina transfer Paulius Joneliunas will become eligible in late December and should make a major impact once he comes to the Eagles.
Sleeper: Navy should improve their record considerably from a year ago. Forward Matt Fannin could develop into an all-league type of player, while fellow frontcourt mate Carlton Baldwin is expected to make more of a splash in the paint. Freshman Adam Teague should make an impact up front. Corey Johnson is one of the better all-around guards in the league, and Greg Sprink and David Hooper are good scorers on the wing.
Rounding Out the Pack: Lafayette doesn't have anyone that would resemble a go-to-guy on offense, but they have a crew of players that are ready to contribute. Returning starters Marcus Harley, Bilal Abdullah, and Jamaal Hilliard all can score the ball. Harley is a very good point guard, Abdullah was one of the league's best freshman last season, and Hilliard is poised for a big year. Andrei Capusan should step into a starting role this season, as could one or two of the newcomers. Army has a decent team on paper, but it is the same paper that shows that the Black Knights won 3 games last season and 1 in the Patriot. Matt Bell is an underrated guard, and should be all-Patriot. Joining him in the backcourt is Cory Sinning, who is a versatile guard. Colin Harris, Corban Bates, and Grant Carter are three solid forwards, with Harris leading the way. Jimmy Sewell is a capable center.
Prediction: Bucknell should be one of the best mid-major teams in all of college basketball this season. Their trio of Kevin Bettencourt, Charles Lee, and Chris McNaughton can compete with anyone. Holy Cross will contend and would be a serious threat to win most mid-major conference championships this year--but not the Patriot. Bucknell is just too good all-around. Holy Cross and their wing combo of Kevin Hamilton and Keith Simmons should find themselves consolation in the NIT, though.
Player of the Year: Kevin Hamilton, SG, Holy Cross
G- Kevin Hamilton, Holy Cross
G- Andre Ingram, American
G- Charles Lee, Bucknell
G- Joe Knight, Lehigh
C- Chris McNaughton, Bucknell
G- Kevin Bettencourt, Bucknell
G- Matt Bell, Army
G- Keith Simmons, Holy Cross
G- Alvin Reed, Colgate
F- Matt Fannin, Navy
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