The Patriot League went pretty much as predicted last season. Holy Cross and Bucknell came into the season as the favorites and they didn’t disappoint. Both teams finished 13-1 in league play, with the lone loss for each team coming at the hands of the other. No other team came anywhere near the Crusaders or the Bison, as the next-best squad was only 7-7. The conference tournament saw the rubber match between the two, with HC coming out on top before losing to Southern Illinois in the NCAA Tournament. Expect much of the same in the standings this year.
Favorites: Holy Cross, despite the losses of Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas, still has enough firepower to repeat as league champions. It all starts with Player of the Year favorite, center Tim Clifford. He is a great shot-blocker and inside scorer who can also step out and knock down jumpshots. Starting next to Clifford will be Alex Vander Baan, who can also move to the wing if necessary. Eric Meister will see time down low. In the backcourt, Pat Doherty will run the point, while Kyle Cruze returns at the two-guard position. Bucknell loses three starters from a team that lost only one conference game all season. The backcourt will be the focal point for the Bison. John Griffin, an all-conference combo guard, leads the way. He can shoot the three and also get to the basket. Jason Vegotsky is a very good three-point shooter, while Justin Castleberry will also push for time. Stephen Tyree is a long, athletic defender. Up front, Darren Mastropaolo was expected to have his breakout year, but he tore his ACL over the summer, and he might not play until at least January. The starting spots will be manned by Josh Linthicum and Patrick Behan, two big men who need to step up this season.
Contenders: Lehigh tied for third last season, but lost in the opening round of the conference tournament. The Mountain Hawks do have some talent, though. They are led by guard Marquis Hall, one of the best guards in the conference, and Bryan White, the best rebounder in the Patriot. Those two form a very good inside-outside duo. Zahir Carrington and Phil Anderson will likely start as well, while Matt Szalachowski and Rob Keefer will fight for minutes on the wing. American lost four starters from last season, but return point guard Derrick Mercer, one of the best at his position. Flanking him in the backcourt will be returnee Garrison Carr and JC transfers Frank Borden and Bryce Simon. Up front, Travis Lay leads the way, while Brian Gilmore will fight for minutes. Jordan Nichols is a very good shot-blocker, and Cornelio Guibunda will see time.
Sleepers: Colgate returns three starters from last season, but also brings back two key players from injury in guard Kyle Roemer and forward Alex Woodhouse. Roemer can shoot the three with efficiency, while Woodhouse is very athletic. Kendall Chones leads the returnees. He is an all-conference candidate who is efficient inside. His twin, Kyle, is a good shooter and can also score down low. Daniel Waddy will run the point again, splitting time with Trevaron Vinson. Army could make a move upwards in the standings this season. Sixth man Jarrell Brown is one of the best players in the conference; he averaged almost 17 points per game off the bench. He is a tough scorer to stop. Marcus Nelson and Josh Miller will fight for the starting point guard spot, while Cleveland Richard and Tyrell Thompson will compete for time on the wing. Kenny Brewer returns as the starting power forward, with Doug Williams and Chris Walker anchoring the center position.
Rounding out the Pack: Lafayette went only 3-11 last season in Patriot play, but the Leopards return four starters. One of the best backcourts in the conference leads the way. Andrew Brown is a very good long-range shooter, and is also a solid distributor, while Bilal Abdullah is a good scorer. Matt Betley is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder on the wing and Paul Cummins is a shooter. Up front, Everest Schmidt and Ted Detmer return, but they will be pushed by freshmen Darion Benbow and Jared Mintz. Navy is led by all-conference guard Greg Sprink, one of the best players in the conference. He is a very good scorer who can also rebound, distribute and shoot the ball. He combines with Kaleo Kina to comprise a formidable wing duo. Chris Harris will also start on the perimeter. Up front, Adam Teague can shoot the three well, while T.J. Topercer is also solid. Bryce Bingham and a myriad of tall big men round out the frontcourt.
Prediction: Don’t expect much to change this season in the Patriot League. Both Holy Cross and Bucknell are the favorites again this season, although the Bison could see some tough times early on if Darren Mastropaolo does not recovery from his ACL injury. As a result, I’m going with Holy Cross to repeat as conference champions. The Crusaders have the best player in the league, and a variety of other frontcourt contributors that make them difficult to match-up with. As long as they get scoring from the perimeter, Holy Cross will get back to the Dance.
Player of the Year: Tim Clifford, C, Holy Cross
G- Jarell Brown, Army
G- Greg Sprink, Navy
G- Marquis Hall, Lehigh
G- John Griffin, Bucknell
C- Tim Clifford, Holy Cross
G- Derrick Mercer, American
G- Matt Betley, Lafayette
G- Andrew Brown, Lafayette
F- Kendall Chones, Colgate
F- Bryan White, Lehigh
Photo Credit: AP
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