2012-13 Patriot League Preview: Lehigh, Bucknell Top Dogs Once Again
The Patriot League returned to relevance last year by having a pair of premier mid-majors in Bucknell and Lehigh. Both teams had the potential to beat someone in the NCAA tournament, and of course Lehigh did by upsetting Duke and nearly defeating Xavier in March.
Once again, Lehigh and Bucknell are the top dogs in the conference, and there are no other teams really threatening those two for the crown.
Here is a 2012-13 season preview for the Patriot League, with team-by-team breakdowns, preseason all-conference awards and predictions for how the final standings will shape up.
Lost: Simon McCormack, Troy Brewer, Riley Grafft, Charles Hinkle, Joe Hill, Wayne Simon
Adds: Jesse Reed, Billy Dooley, Zach Elcano, Darius Gardner, Marko Vasic, Stephen Lumpkins
American fans should prepare for a down-year after last season's 20-win campaign.
The Eagles lost their top two scorers from last year (Hinkle and Brewer), and they also lost a pair of role players in Grafft and McCormack.
American will rely mainly on Blake Jolivette and Daniel Munoz
The two make up an undersized back court at 5'11" and 6'1", respectively. The two guards were solid three-point shooters last year, combining to make 45.6 percent of their treys.
Initially, the Eagles' only size in the front court will come from 6'9" center Tony Wroblicky. In 2011-12, Wroblicky averaged 6.5 points per game, six rebounds per game and 1.6 blocks per game.
However, Stephen Lumpkins, who had taken a year off from school to pursue professional baseball, is back with American. Lumpkins averaged 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds during the 2010-11 season.
Freshman Jesse Reed will likely see some playing time. American will need help in the front court, and the 6'5" forward can provide some height. But, of course, it is too much to expect a freshman to make huge contributions during his first year.
Army Black Knights
Lost: Pat Harris, Julian Simmons, Josh Johnson
Adds: Kyle Weldon, Tanner Plomb, Matt Gramling, Tanner Omlid
Army has not had a winning season since 1984-1985, but the Black Knights' luck might be ready to change this season.
The Black Knights are only losing one key player in Julian Simmons, who was the second leading scorer on last year's team.
They return all the other key pieces from the 2011-12 roster.
Ella Ellis, who was No. 3 in the conference in scoring with 17.5 points per game, is back for his senior season, as is Josh Herbeck, who scored 10.3 points per game.
Herbeck also shot 40.1 percent from three-point range.
Army will also have sophomore Maxwell Lenox, who was already showing signs of being a well-rounded player with 6.4 points per game, 3.5 rebounds per game and 3.2 assists per game last season.
The Black Knights have a very solid backcourt, but they will need someone to step up in the frontcourt in order to be an actual threat to Lehigh and Bucknell as a sleeper for the conference title.
Senior Jordan Springer and junior Andrew Stire were the two main pieces to the frontcourt last season, but they struggled to produce.
If they can increase their production or get help from freshmen forwards Kyle Weldon and Tanner Plomb, then Army becomes No. 3 team in the Patriot League. Otherwise, the Black Knights will end up having another rough year.
Lost: Probese Leo, Bryan Cohen, Enoch Andoh
Adds: Dominic Hoffman, Christopher Haas, Ryan Frazier
Bucknell has won each of the last two regular season championships in the Patriot League and has gone to back-to-back conference championship games, although the Bison lost to Lehigh last year.
This year, the Bison return their top four scorers, which includes their two leading rebounders. However, they did lose Bryan Cohen, who led the team in assists with 2.5 per game.
Although Cohen led the team in assists last season, the Bison proved that they have many players capable of distributing the basketball. Six other players averaged 1.5 assists or more last season.
Lehigh's C.J. McCollum is the clear frontrunner for conference player of the year, but senior forward Mike Muscala is also a preseason candidate. Muscala won the award two years ago as a sophomore.
Muscala is the most dominant big man in the conference. Last year he averaged 17 points and 9.1 rebounds along with a team-best 1.7 blocks. At 6'11" he gives the Bison a huge advantage inside.
The Bison will also be one of the more experienced teams in the league. They will likely start three seniors and two juniors.
Expect Bucknell to trample the teams from the bottom of the conference. Between their talent and experience, the only team that can match them this year is Lehigh.
Lost: Nick Pascale, Mike Venezia, Sterling Melville, Yaw Gyawu
Adds: Alex Ramon, Damon Sherman-Newsome, Austin Tillotson, Ethan Jacobs, Murphy Burnatowski.
Colgate has historically struggled in the Patriot League. The last time the Raiders won more than 10 games in an entire regular season was 2007-08. (In 2008, they went 18-14 and lost in the conference championship game.)
Unfortunately, the Raiders' luck does not seem to be taking a turn for the better.
Although Colgate returns its top scorer in junior Pat Moore (9.9 ppg), it is losing four of its next top five scorers.
On a team that already had trouble scoring the basketball, the Raiders will need to quickly find a way to replace that lost production.
Moore will team up with Mitch Rolls in the backcourt. Rolls averaged 8.6 points per game last year and led the team with 2.3 assists per game.
Holy Cross Crusaders
Lost: R.J. Evans, Devin Brown, Mike Cavataio, Jeff Harris, Charlie Mills
Adds: Isaiah Baker, Cullen Hamilton, Eric Green, Chris Morgan
After finishing with its 14th winning season in 22 years in the Patriot League, Holy Cross was dealt a tough blow with R.J. Evans transferring to Connecticut. Evans was the No. 2 scorer on the team with 11.5 points per game, and the Crusaders already graduated leading scorer Devin Brown (14.6 ppg).
The Crusaders return junior forward Dave Dudzinski, who is poised for a breakout year where he should average close to double-double, and sophomore point guard Justin Burrell, who led the team in assists last year with 3.7 per game.
Phil Beans will likely start alongside Dudzinski in the frontcourt and Jordan Stevens should start as the second guard. Although the final starting spot could still be up for grabs, senior forward Eric Obeysekere is the frontrunner for the fifth spot.
Holy Cross could finish as high as No. 3 in the conference and as low as No. 6.
The big question is if Dudzinski and Burrell can evolve into team leaders rather than just good starters.
Lost: Ryan Willen, Jim Mower, Nick Petkovich, J.D. Pelham
Adds: Nathaniel Musters, Billy Murphy, Zach Rufer, Ben Freeland, Bryce Scott
Lafayette finished a mediocre 7-7 in conference play last year and then graduated its two leading scorers.
The Leopards return three solid players in Rob Delaney, Seth Hinrichs and Tony Johnson
Hinrichs has a good chance at leading the conference in assists this season.
These three make up one of the better backcourts in the Patriot League, although they're still a clear step behind Lehigh and even Bucknell.
The key for Lafayette this year will be for Dan Trist to step up and replace some of Willen's production.
Willen was the main big man on the team last year and averaged 14.4 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Trist had a strong freshman year with 5.7 points per game, but as the best returning big man on the roster, it is time for him to step up his game.
Lafayette should be well-prepared for the conference season. The Leopards have a pair of games against defending NEC champion LIU-Brooklyn on their OOC slate, plus games at Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota and Stanford.
Lehigh Mountain Hawks
Lost: John Adams, Justin Maneri, Jordan Hamilton
Adds: Devon Carter, Justin Goldsborough, Jesse Chuku
C.J. McCollum got Lehigh on the map last season with a NCAA tournament win over No. 2 seed Duke.
The Mountain Hawks will be back for more this year.
McCollum debated turning pro, but said in an article that he chose to return to school to finish his degree and spend one more year with his teammates and coaches.
Although McCollum was easily the most valuable player for Lehigh last year, there are also a number of other key players returning.
In the frontcourt, the Mountain Hawks will have Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner, although they did lose Jordan Hamilton's 6.5 points per game.
They will also have Mackey McKnight, who led the team with 3.6 assists per game and also scored 8.8 points per game. He will be an essential piece in the backcourt along with McCollum and 6'3" freshman Devon Carter from John Hay High School in Cleveland.
Carter looks like he could be the second coming of McCollum, who is also a native of Ohio. In fact, Carter is ranked even higher than McCollum was coming out of high school.
Lehigh was already one of the better mid-majors in college basketball last season, but the Mountain Hawks will be even better in 2012-13. Don't be surprised if they once again win a game (or maybe more) in the NCAA tournament.
Lost: Ted Connolly, Carlton Smith, Jordan Sugars, J.J. Avila, Jordan Brickman
Adds: Tilman Dunbar, Richard Kuzma, Jerome Alexander, Phil Guglielmo, Will Kelly, Kendall Knorr, Ryan Spadaford
Navy's glory days are long gone.
The Midshipmen have not been to the NCAA tournament since 1998, and they have not won a NCAA tournament game since 1986.
Navy hit a new low last year, going 3-26 and 0-14 in the Patriot League. (Only two of the wins were against D-I opponents.) And to make things even worse, their best player transferred to Richmond, and their second best player graduated.
With only two starters returning, head coach Ed DeChellis welcomes seven new players to the roster.
After such a terrible season, going with a very new mix of players might not be such a bad thing.
Preseason All-Patriot League Awards
All-Conference First Team
Tony Johnson, Lafayette
Ella Ellis, Army
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh
Gabe Knutson, Lehigh
Mike Muscala, Bucknell
Preseason Patriot League Player of the Year—C.J. McCollum, Lehigh
Defensive Player of the Year—Mike Muscala, Bucknell
Newcomer of the Year—Devon Carter, Lehigh
Projected Final Standings
6. Holy Cross