Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Patriot League Preview


The Patriot League did not turn out as expected last season. Holy Cross was the clear favorite heading into the season, but the Crusaders finished just 5-9, good for last in the conference. On the other side, Navy was projected to finish near the bottom of the league, but it used a strong finish to get the No. 2 seed heading into the conference tournament. American had control of the Patriot race throughout the second half of the year, finishing one game ahead of the Midshipmen. Just five games separated the first and last-place teams in the conference. The conference tournament did not reflect the parity, though, as American won the automatic bid, defeating Army in the title game. The Eagles then gave Tennessee a run for their money in the NCAA Tournament before falling. They will look to get back to the Big Dance this year.

Favorite: American has the players to repeat as Patriot champions, and even pull off an upset in the NCAA Tournament this season. It starts with Garrison Carr, one of the best shooters in the country and a dynamite scorer. Derrick Mercer is the best point guard in the conference and complements Carr well. On the wing, Bryce Simon will start, while Bryan Gilmore and Jordan Nichols will get time in the post.

Contenders: If American has the best backcourt in the league, Lehigh might own the best inside-outside duo in the conference. Marquis Hall is a very good scorer and distributor at the point, while Zahir Carrington is tough to stop down low. Rob Keefer is a good three-point shooter in the baccourt, while Matt Szalachowski returns as a starter. Navy has a lot of scoring potential on the perimeter, and will be a threat. Kaleo Kina and Chris Harris are both big-time scorers on the wing who can really fill it up. Idaho transfer O.J. Avworo is likely to start at the point. Mark Veazey leads the way down low. Colgate returns just two starters from last season, but that includes all-conference wing Kyle Roemer, one of the best scorers in the league. Willie Morse and Alex Woodhouse are two more solid performers in the lineup. Ben Jonson will get chances up front.

Sleepers: Holy Cross loses one of the best centers in the country in Tim Clifford, but will likely improve on its last-place finish of last season. Alex Vander Baan will pick up some of the slack down low, as will Colin Cunningham and Eric Meister. If he is healthy, Pat Doherty will anchor the backcourt. Bucknell had a drastic drop-off last season, going from averaging 24 wins a year the three prior seasons to just 12 last season. The Bison are looking to bounce back. Stephen Tyree is an all-conference candidate at forward, while 6-11 Josh Linthicum and Patrick Behan are also solid up front. Veteran Jason Vegotsky and sophomores G.W. Boon and Darryl Shazier lead the perimeter.

Rounding out the Pack: Army returns four starters from last season’s 6-8 finish, but the lone loss is all-conference wing Jarrell Brown. Looking to step up in the backcourt will be returnees Josh Miller and Marcus Nelson, as well as Cleveland Richard. Chris Walker and Doug Williams lead the way up front. Lafayette finished exactly .500 last season overall, but lose three starters from that campaign. Leading the way, though, will be all-conference guard Andrew Brown. Michael Gruner also returns to the backcourt, while Jeff Kari will likely start. Up front, Ryan Willen could be an immediate impact player as a freshman.

Prediction: The Patriot League will be American’s to lose this season. The Eagles return the best player in the league in Garrison Carr, and the best backcourt in the conference in Carr and point guard Derrick Mercer. Those two were too much for anyone to handle last season, and they will be even better this year. Lehigh will pose a threat with Marquis Hall and Zahir Carrington, while Navy has plenty of scorers, but American has the pieces both offensively and defensively to stifle any opponent. As long as Carr doesn’t go ice-cold at the wrong time, expect to see the Eagles in the NCAA Tournament again this season.

Player of the Year: Garrison Carr, American

All-Conference Team:
G- Garrison Carr, American
G- Derrick Mercer, American
G- Kyle Roemer, Colgate
G- Marquis Hall, Lehigh

F- Zahir Carrington, Lehigh

Second Team:
G- Andrew Brown, Lafayette

G- Kaleo Kina, Navy
G- Chris Harris, Navy
F- Stephen Tyree, Bucknell

C- Alex Vander Baan, Holy Cross

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