Patriot League Basketball Preview: American Hopes To Repeat Championship
In a small conference such as the Patriot League, the reality is that only one team can make the NCAA tournament. Started up in 1990 (formerly the Colonial League), Patriot League teams have only won tournament games twice. Bucknell won in consecutive years in 2005 over Kansas and 2006 over Arkansas.
Only one current NBA player came out of the Patriot League. Adonal Foyle, who attended Colgate, is a center for the Orlando Magic. Future Hall of Famer David Robinson attended Navy, but that was pre-Patriot League.
The Patriot League is one of the few conferences that values the academic part of the student athlete. The league ranked first in the most recent NCAA graduation rate report, even above the more heralded academic conference, the Ivy League.
The Patriot League does not have any one-and-dones. The league only added athletic scholarships very recently. Players play for these teams because of the love for the game, not as a one year shoot around before they bounce for the NBA draft.
In the Patriot League you will find four-year senior leaders, and not five-star recruits. Recruiting is one of the hardest things for Patriot League teams.
Last season, American (21-12 overall, 10-4 in conference) captured the Patriot League automatic bid. It came after six of the last seven bids were earned by either Bucknell or Holy Cross.
The Eagles earned a 15 seed and lost to Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA tournament. American fought hard until the end against Tennessee and what was supposed to be a blowout turned out to be a close game until the closing minutes of the second half. American, Navy, and Lehigh are all contenders to capture the bid this year.
If American gets the bid again come March, look for American to be an upset special. Garrison Carr wreaked havoc on Tennessee last year, and he will be looking for a tournament win to end a great career.
Guard - Garrison Carr, Senior, American - As a junior, Carr was the leading scorer for the Eagles and helped them get their first tournament bid in almost 50 years. In American's first four games, Carr is averaging 20.4 points per game. Carr is a favorite for Patriot League Player of the Year.
Guard - Marquis Hall, Junior, Lehigh- Marquis Hall is averaging 15.8 points per game, 4.8 assists per game, and 6.6 rebounds per game to lead Lehigh to a 5-1 start. He scored 28 points in Lehigh's victory over the Big East's Rutgers.
Guard - Chris Harris, Junior, Navy - Averaging 19 points per game through 5 games, he has led Navy to a 4-1 start to the season.
Forward - Brian Gilmore, Senior, American- Although not big for a forward and therefore not the best rebounder, Gilmore is a great scorer to complement Carr for American. He is averaging 11.2 points per game including an 18 point performance against Jacksonville.
Forward - Zahir Carrington, Junior, Lehigh- Carrington is off to a hot start for the Mountain Hawks, averaging 14.8 points per game and 4.8 boards per game.
1. American - American looks to repeat its Patriot League Championship from last year and earn a second straight tournament bid. They return their leading scorer from last year in Garrison Carr as well as Derrick Mercer and Brian Gilmore.
Coach Jeff Jones signed a long extension to stay with American instead of moving onto a bigger conference school. American lost two starters but both of them were role players and return all of their top scorers.
He scheduled a few tough contests in the non-conference schedule, including games against Georgetown and Maryland.
2. Lehigh -Finished tied for third in the league last year, and return two of their stars from last year, aforementioned Marquis Hall and Zahir Carrington. Although they lost Bryan White, who averaged 10 points and eight rebounds a game, Lehigh should be able to recover.
They are off to a 5-1 start, including a win against Rutgers and a one point loss to a solid Rider team. Lehigh looks to challenge American for the the championship this year.
3. Navy -Finished second a year ago and return two high scoring guards from last year's squad. Chris Harris and Kaleo Kina look to lead the Midshipmen's backcourt. The frontcourt is led by Adam Teague and Mark Veazey.
They have a couple of formidable opponents coming up, including games against Virginia Tech and Villanova. Navy should be able to win this year's rivalry matchup with Army, which gets less press coverage than its football counterpart but is just as intense.
4. Colgate -The Raiders finished tied for third in the league last year and made it to the Patriot League tournament final only to lose to American. Colgate lost three starters from last year's team and will rely on sophomore guard Mike Venezia, who came off the bench last year.
Colgate plays Syracuse and Cal in the upcoming weeks. Colgate adds three solid freshmen in Yaw Gyawu, Nick Pascale, and Anthony Hill.
5. Lafayette -The Leopards are led by a scoring trio of guards Jeff Kari and Andrew Brown along with forward Jared Mintz. They finished 5th in the league last year and are off to a 2-3 start, with losses to Temple, Rider, and Colorado. The Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry is another one to look out for this season. The Leopards wisely chose to keep their non-conference schedule relatively easy this season.
6. Holy Cross - The Crusaders started this season with an overtime upset victory over St. Joseph's, but then proceeded to lose four straight and now sit at 2-4. The loss of Tim Clifford will hurt Holy Cross this season.
Freshman guard R.J. Evans has looked good so far this season and junior forward Adam May has also provided points. Holy Cross finished last in the Patriot League and looks to move out of the cellar this season.
7. Bucknell -A few years ago a Patriot League powerhouse, the Bison are currently in the rebuilding stage. Last year, they finished second to last in the league and this year they currently sit at 1-3 overall.
Justin Castleberry and Bryan Cohen form a strong backcourt duo but the Bison need to get better on defense if they want to make any noise in the league. They are currently allowing 75.8 points per game.
8. Army -Army finished tied with Bucknell and Lafayette for second to last in the league last year. The Black Knights won their opener against Dartmouth but then proceeded to lose their next five games, three of them to Ivy League opponents. Guards Josh Miller and Cleveland Richard lead Army with 11.6 and 11.2 points per game respectively.
Army looks like it is going to have a tough time holding its own this year in the Patriot League, and one can expect a loss in their rivalry game against Navy.
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