I know this blog is primarily meant for Holy Cross football, but I figured during the offseason I would inevitably deliver my thoughts on some of the other sports Holy Cross competes in as well. I have been busy lately communicating with a college basketball website called "Rush the Court" (www.rushthecourt.net), so I apologize for my brief hiatus from the blog. I just finished drafting up my first article for the site, and thought I would share it with you here.
I thank Joe T for helping me out during my stint away from the blog. Hopefully I will be able to draft up some of my reactions on Fordham, and thoughts on Brown later on today and in the coming days. With a paper due tomorrow, however, it is looking like I will not be able to quench your thirst for Holy Cross football until then. Stupid schoolwork.
Without further adieu, here is the 2010 Patriot League Basketball Preview (the article has not yet been put up on the site, but should be up either later today or tomorrow. Also, sorry the formatting is pretty bad here, it will appear better on the website):
Predicted Order of Finish:
1. Bucknell 10-4
2. Lafayette 9-5
3. Holy Cross 8-6
4. American 8-6
5. Lehigh 8-6
6. Colgate 5-9
7. Navy 5-9
8. Army 3-11
CJ McCollum (G), Soph, Lehigh (18.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.3 apg)
Jordan Sugars (G), Jr, Navy (15.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg)
Jared Mintz (F), Sr, Lafayette (14.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Andrew Keister (F), Sr, Holy Cross (10.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg)
Vlad Moldoveanu (C), Sr, American (19.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.1 apg)
6th Man: Devin Brown, Jr, Holy Cross (13.2 ppg, 45.4 3PT%)
Impact Newcomer: Troy Brewer, Jr, American (transferred from Georgia)
What You Need to Know. Long are the days where Bucknell and Holy Cross had supremacy against the six other members of the Patriot League. In three years ranging from the 2004-2005 season to the 2006-2007 season, the Bison and Crusaders compiled a gaudy 74-10 record in Patriot League action. In this span, Bucknell garnered two NCAA Tournament wins (Kansas and Arkansas), while Holy Cross had an NIT victory (Notre Dame). Times have changed, however, as storied coaches Pat Flannery (Bucknell) and Ralph Willard (Holy Cross) have moved on to other endeavors. Since then, the Patriot League has become one of the most competitive leagues in the country in terms of balance within the conference. Jeff Jones at American hit lightning with a dominant backcourt in Garrison Carr and Derrick Mercer who nearly pulled off a dramatic upset of Villanova two years ago, and Lehigh saw freshman sensation CJ McCollum carry them all the way to a Patriot League title just a year ago. In the 2010-2011 campaign, however, it is anyone’s guess whom will be standing atop the pedestal come year’s end. Lafayette and Bucknell have the most talent coming back, American has Player of the Year Candidate Vlad Moldoveanu playing for the entire season (he missed the Fall semester last year), Lehigh has McCollum back after his rookie season that saw him dominate Patriot League competition by averaging 23 points a contest, and Holy Cross returns a boatload of talent, but will be playing under their third coach in three years.
All-Transfer Team: Some of the best players in the league this season began their college careers with bigger name programs in BCS conferences, but ultimately found their niche in the quaint PL. Jeff Jones at American always seems to tap into the Junior College (JUCO) talent, but this year his top three players may be Division 1 transfers from bigger schools: Vlad Moldoveanu (George Mason), Troy Brewer (Georgia), and Charles Hinkle (Vanderbilt). Colgate was the recipient of John Brandenburg (Virginia). Holy Cross hit pay dirt last season when Mike Cavataio (St. Johns) was one of their most dependable players throughout the year. O.J. Avworo (Idaho) brought his talents to Annapolis a few years ago after having a solid season for the Vandals in 2006-2007. Lehigh has guard B.J. Bailey (Boston University) available after the conclusion of the Fall semester; just in time for Patriot League action.
Power in Pennsylvania: Last season the three Pennsylvania-based schools—Lehigh, Bucknell, and Lafayette—all finished 1-2-3 in that order. The Patriot League championship featured Lehigh vs. Lafayette, one of the biggest rivalries in all of college sports, and both squads look to be strong again this year. Bucknell seems to finally be figuring out the system of third year coach Dave Paulsen. After going a disappointing 7-23 in his inaugural season, the Bison went 8-2 in the last 10 games of the PL regular season last year before being upset in the first round of the league tournament against rival Holy Cross. With much of their starting five and nine of their ten top contributors from last year’s squad returning, Bucknell may be the favorite to win the league.
A New Era at Holy Cross…Again: After a disastrous season that saw Holy Cross have one of its worst seasons (9-22) in the history of the program, Athletic Director Dick Regan elected to fire Sean Kearney after just one season at the helm. Kearney came to the Crusaders via Notre Dame after Ralph Willard, a 1967 graduate of the college, spoiled the HC faithful with four NCAA Tournament berths and an NIT bid in a seven year span. Now, Milan Brown will lead the men in purple. Brown, who comes from Mount St. Mary’s, is a defensive stickler who will look to improve Holy Cross’ defense which ranked 288 last year.
Predicted Champion. Bucknell (NCAA Seed: #15). The Bison bring back virtually everybody from a team that ended last year playing very well together. This team will not be as good as some of the dominant Bison teams in past years—I don’t think the Patriot League will ever see a team of that caliber again—but their depth will make it hard for other PL teams to compete with. The Bison routinely went 10 deep, and eight of these 10 players averaged between 5.6 and 10.1 points per game. The unselfish nature of Dave Paulsen’s motion offense makes it hard for opponents to key on one player. Senior Darryl Shazier leads the team at point guard, something he has done since his freshman season, and is joined by sharpshooter Bryson Johnson (2.2 3PT per game) in the backcourt. Fifth year senior Stephen Tyree, a menace on defense, and do-it-all player Bryan Cohen (8.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.7 apg) will be integral parts of Bucknell’s success. Bucknell has not finished above .500 since 2006-2007, and many of the Bison faithful may be losing patience with Dave Paulsen, but this looks to be a breakout type season for Bucknell.
Top Contenders. There are four other teams aside from Bucknell that have legitimate chances to challenge for the Patriot League title. In fact, it is hard to make Bucknell the clear-cut favorite, but with the amount of talent they have returning, along with their supporting cast, they should have a slight edge. Lafayette, Lehigh, American, and Holy Cross will all be in the mix come conference tournament time.
- While the Mountain Hawks graduated two of the league’s best in Marquis Hall and Zahir Carrington, they return arguably the best pure scorer in the league in CJ McCollum. McCollum has the ability to take over the game with his quick speed and flawless stroke, and Gabe Knutson is a formidable big man underneath. If Lehigh can overcome the loss to Hall and Carrington, which will be no easy task, they have a chance to be a serious contender.
- American, after a down year following back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths, reloads with two transfers: Troy Brewer and Charles Hinkle. Add on Vlad Moldoveanu and Stephen Lumpkins (drafted as a left-handed pitcher by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the most recent MLB draft), and American could feasibly win the league if all the pieces to a complicated puzzle are placed together.
- Lafayette returns four of five starters from a team that went to the league championship last season. One of these starters, senior forward Jared Mintz, may be the league’s most efficient offensive player, as he shot 55.6% from the field and 87.5% from the charity stripe. The Leopards’ most important aspect of their team, however, may be their head coach Fran O’Hanlon. Although his record may not indicate his coaching abilities as Lafayette struggled for much of the 2000s, O’Hanlon was essentially coaching with one hand tied behind his back as LC was the last school to implement basketball scholarships. With that being said, O’Hanlon managed to lead Lafayette to two straight Patriot League titles in the late 90s. He has employed a sophisticated offensive system that takes advantage of his deadly three point shooters (ranked 28th in the nation by drilling 8.1 per game), and opens up the middle for Mintz to operate.
- Holy Cross is unquestionably the biggest enigma entering the 2010 campaign. There is little doubt around the league and amongst the coaches that this team has talent. They were, after all, picked to win the league in 2009 and have graduated only one player who contributed significant minutes since then. Yet, being on their third coach in three years will pose major challenges for the team as they are learning another new system of basketball. Ralph Willard was famous for his suffocating 2-3 match-up zone, Sean Kearney instilled a “run-and-gun” style, and new coach Milan Brown looks to be a hard-nosed, defensive minded coach. Led by senior point guard Andrew Beinert (10.2 ppg, 3.5 apg), fifth year senior power forward Andrew Keister, and former Rookie of the Year and All-League guard RJ Evans (13.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.7 apg), the leadership and talent is there on the court. The overriding question that will determine how far this squad can go in the PL, is whether the talent on the court meshes well with Milan Brown’s philosophy and game plan.
Top 5 RPI Boosters:
Nov. 12, 14, Dec. 22, Jan. 2—Bucknell @ Villanova, @ Marquette (CBE Classic), @ Boston College, @ Richmond—The Bison face two of the Big East’s most formidable opponents within the first three days of their season. Wins are very unlikely, but competitive and close showings could demonstrate how they are the class of the league.
Nov. 13, 17 22, 27 Dec. 4—Holy Cross vs. College of Charleston, @ Harvard, @ Boston College, @ UMASS, @ Wake Forest—Although the Crusaders do not play any perennial national powers until Wake in December, they face off against some of New England’s toughest in November. Defeating a Charleston team led by Bobby Cremins to begin the year would be a great sign under first-year coach Milan Brown.
Nov. 19, Dec. 11, Jan. 4—Colgate @ Duke, @ Syracuse, @ Maryland—Not only is Colgate playing a few teams from BCS conferences that can boost the RPI, but these are three teams that routinely advance deep into the NCAA Tournament.
Nov. 20—Lafayette @ Villanova—Want to show the rest of the Patriot League you are legitimate contenders this year? Give the Wildcats a competitive game.
Dec. 1, 5, 16, & 22—American @ West Virginia, vs. Florida, @ Northwestern, @ Pittsburgh—After several relatively easy out of conference games to begin the year, the Eagles will learn quickly whether they can hang with the big boys.
Key Conference Games:
Jan. 12—Colgate @ Lafayette—The Raiders will want to prove early on if they belong in the upper or lower tier of the league. Defeating the Leopards on the road would go a long way in proving the former.
Jan. 16—Holy Cross @ Bucknell—Always a fun game between a rivalry that developed when the Crusaders and Bison were the face of the league for a three year span.
Jan. 22—Lehigh @ Lafayette—The battle for the Lehigh Valley. Both have legitimate shots at winning the Patriot League, and gaining the upper hand on the other team early in league play could pay dividends down the road.
Feb. 9—American and Bucknell—How good are the three Eagle transfers relative to one of the league’s best? The Eagles can prove they are a force to be reckoned with by defeating Bucknell.
Feb. 19—Army @ Navy—Although neither team figures to pose a serious threat in challenging for the league crown, any game with Army and Navy is a nip and tuck fight ‘til the very end.
Digging Deeper. The two New York-based Patriot League schools have seen very little basketball success in the history of the PL. Army has never won the League, and has yet to even be in the title game, while Colgate has not won the League since 1996. That 1996 Raider team featured Adonal Foyal, arguably the best player to ever don a Patriot League jersey. Foyal was drafted with the 8th overall pick by the Golden State Warriors in the 1997 NBA Draft.
Fun With KenPom. Since the 2004 season there has been a steady improvement in terms of conference rating. The #29 rating in 2004 was by far the worst year for the conference as a whole in recent memory (Lehigh won the PL and was pitted against Florida A&M in the Play-In Game). There was a five spot jump in 2005 to #24, back to #27 in 2006, but then a drastic jump in 2007 to #20. In 2008, the conference came in at #21. The Patriot League can thank Bucknell, and to a lesser extent Holy Cross, for the improved ranking during these years.
NCAA Tournament History. The Patriot League has built a reputation during the last decade of being a real tough out in the NCAA Tournament. Bucknell finally got over the hump that Holy Cross could not by defeating the third seeded Kansas Jayhawks 64-63, and the following year knocking off Arkansas 59-55. In three straight seasons, the Crusaders lost to Kentucky 72-68, Kansas 70-59, and Marquette 72-68. From 2001-2010, the average defeat of Patriot League teams in the first round has been a respectable 11 points.
Final Thoughts. Although the Patriot League will not play the flashiest basketball around, one can expect a very competitive league, especially with the top five or six teams. With the exception of Lehigh, the top tier teams in the league return plenty of their top scorers and players from the 2009 season. Being a relatively small conference with just eight teams, the familiarity each team has with one another makes for interesting games night in and night out. While there are always many questions heading into every season, it remains to be seen if American will gel with three transfers now on the roster, or if Holy Cross can adjust to a third system in three years, or if both Lafayette and Bucknell can live up to preseason expectations.
Kevin Doyle '11