Chris Bengel (@clbengel)
With all of the area teams in the middle of finals season for the fall semester, we figured we would look around the various leagues that CoBL covers and grade each of the teams on their performance thus far. At this point, we’re fewer than five games away from the conference schedules, leaving only a few more opportunities for each team to work on their issues before the games start to take on a lot more meaning:
American Eagles (3-7)
The Good: With former head boss Jeff Jones heading to Old Dominion in the offseason, the identity of American was uncertain. After ten games, it’s still somewhat unclear what new head coach Mike Brennan has. Big man Stephen Lumpkins (14.2 ppg and 9.4 rpg last season) is gone, but sophomore guard/forward Jesse Reed (12.1 ppg and 4.0 rpg) has made big strides and has American looking respectable. The Eagles have beaten UMBC and hung with nationally ranked Ohio State in an eventual 11-point loss.
The Bad: Despite an adequate start, American has been snake-bitten by close games. The Eagles have lost six of their last eight, including a home loss to Brown and road defeats at Saint Mary’s and San Francisco. Those are the types of games that they’re going to have to win, especially with the Patriot League portion of the schedule coming up.
The Grade: C
Army Black Knights (3-7)
The Good: Sophomore guard/forward Kyle Wilson has made a slight leap forward after a very impressive rookie season in the Patriot League. Wilson is averaging 18.5 ppg and 3.0 rpg for a struggling Black Knights team and has eclipsed 20 points in four games so far. Six-foot-10 sophomore Kevin Ferguson has stepped up to average 9.7 ppg and 5.4 rpg.
The Bad: The Black Knights were picked to finish third in the Patriot League, even though lost star guard Ella Ellis (17.7 ppg and 3.8 rpg last season) to graduation. Instead, it’s been rough sailing at West Point with a stretch of five consecutive losses against teams like Notre Dame, Delaware, Houston Baptist and N.J.I.T. Their wins come against The Citadel, Maine and St. Francis (N.Y.), who have a combined record of 9-22.
The Grade: C-
Boston University Terriers (7-5)
The Good: One of two newcomers to the Patriot League is Boston University and they’re making an impact early on this season. Guards Maurice Watson Jr. (14.5 ppg, 5.9 apg, and 3.9 rpg) and D.J. Irving (12.7 ppg and 3.1 rpg) are lighting up the stat sheet and have the Terriers in contentions for the conference title in their first season in the league. The Terriers certainly opened eyes this past weekend with an 83-77 win at Maryland that earned Irving his first Player of the Week honor.
The Bad: Prior to the Maryland win, the biggest knock against the Terriers was that they’d mostly taken advantage of an easy schedule, beating teams like UMass-Lowell, LIU Brooklyn and Saint Peter’s while losing to UConn, Harvard and George Washington as well as Norfolk State and Eastern Washington. They’re just about average nationally on both offense and defense, without any major advanced statistical categories in which they rank in the top 70 on either end of the ball, according to KenPom.
The Grade: B+
Bucknell Bison (5-5)
The Good: Like many Patriot League teams, Bucknell is dealing with a changing of the guard with star big man Mike Muscala having graduated last spring. However, Germantown Academy alum Cameron Ayers (13.8 ppg and 3.8 rpg) is leading the way and has Bucknell playing well. The Bison has a nice win over Penn State to their credit and are right in the thick of the standings early on. The Bison are in the top 10 in a few national categories, including defensive rebound percentage (75.8, eighth), 3-point percentage (42.2, eighth) and free throw percentage (78.4, fifth).
The Bad: Tight games have eluded the Bison at times this season. Narrow losses to Stanford (72-68) and St. John’s (67-63) could have been huge resume boosters, while those to Mount St. Mary’s (69-64) and Marist (69-51) certainly don’t help. Other than the Penn State win, the resume is thin. While the defensive rebounding is fantastic, the offensive end (24.6 percent) is just 326th nationally.
The Grade: B-
Colgate Raiders (6-4)
The Good: In year three of former Penn and Temple assistant Matt Langel, Colgate is making significant strides. Sophomore guard Austin Tillotson (14.1 ppg and 4.8 apg) transferred from Monmouth and has provided some serious offensive firepower from beyond the arc (63.0 percent). The combination of Tillotson and senior forward Murphy Burnatowski (14.0 ppg and 5.2 rpg) will be lethal for the Raiders this season. There’s really not a bad loss on the schedule–three have come at high-majors (Wake Forest, Syracuse and Georgetown), and a home loss to 7-4 Fordham isn’t great but this isn’t a squad looking for an at-large bid.
The Bad: As offensively gifted as the Raiders are, offensive rebounding has been an issue. Colgate is only averaging 6.2 offensive rebounds per game this season, which ranks dead last in the Patriot League. They’re also struggling to force teams to turn it over, getting turnovers just 15.6 percent of possessions (319th nationally). And while road wins over Albany, Tulane and Binghamton already equal the number of victories away from home all last season (3-15 on the road), doing so in-conference is another matter.
The Grade: B
Holy Cross Crusaders (6-5)
The Good: Holy Cross didn’t have an impressive season last year, but looks stronger this season. The Crusaders have played the likes of North Carolina and Ivy League powerhouse Harvard very tough and can certainly build from that. Big man Dave Dudzinski (17.1 ppg and 7.6 rpg) is a monster in the post and leads a very underrated group that could surprise some people. Freshman forward Malachi Alexander is off to a strong start, averaging 10.1 ppg and 4.6 rpg.
The Bad: Similar to Colgate, they don’t yet have a great win on the resume, with Albany (KenPom ranking: 184) at home their best one thus far on the year–they have a chance for a big one on Saturday when they travel to Michigan. While the Crusaders are shooting a remarkable 44.9 percent from the field, their assist numbers are less than stellar. Holy Cross is only averaging 12.1 apg, which is last in the conference.
The Grade: B-
Lafayette Leopards (4-6)
The Good: Despite an incredibly rough 0-5 start, Lafayette rebounded with a four-game winning streak before dropping their last game to St. Francis (N.Y.). Junior guard Seth Hinrichs (20.4 ppg and 5.9 rpg) has been lethal from the outside, but has also put the ball on the floor and driven to the basket. Sophomore Bryce Scott (16.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg) dropped 35 points in the Leopards’ last game, while freshman guard and Germantown Academy alum Nick Lindner (11.6 ppg and 4.1 apg) is really hitting his stride and is becoming the facilitator that the Leopards need.
The Bad: Lafayette had a dismal start, which included five consecutive losses (two in overtime and a buzzer-beater against Yale). Rebounding and defense have been the main issues for the Leopards. Forward Dan Trist did missed some time with a shoulder injury, which definitely factored into the slow start. Now, Hinrichs missed the last game with a knee injury that was expected to keep him out 2-3 weeks; any longer and it becomes a serious problem for the Leopards’ Patriot hopes.
The Grade: C+
Lehigh Mountain Hawks (7-5)
The Good: Despite losing four starters from a year ago, Lehigh has still been very successful so far this season, and they’re on a five-game winning streak heading into next week’s game against Bryant. Senior guard Mackey McKnight (14.3 ppg and 5.9 apg) is finally the unsung leader of this team and is being a spectacular facilitator for the Mountain Hawks. Many of Lehigh’s key players are freshmen and sophomores. Big man Tim Kempton (13.5 ppg and 6.1 rpg) has been one of the better freshmen in the Patriot League and is establishing himself as a premiere post presence.
The Bad: While the Mountain Hawks seem to have righted the ship, close games certainly haven’t been Lehigh’s forte. In games against Fordham and Houston, Lehigh had second half leads but just couldn’t hold on. The biggest overall issues has been rebounding, on both ends of the floor. They’re 331st in offensive rebounding percentage (24.1 percent) and 324th in defensive rebounding (62.4 percent).
The Grade: B
Loyola (Md.) Greyhounds (5-5)
The Good: Much like fellow newcomer Boston University, Loyola (Md.) came into this season with a ton of promise. Homegrown star guard Dylon Cormier (24.1 ppg and 6.2 rpg) can score at will and currently leads the Patriot League in scoring. Come conference play, the Greyhounds could make life very miserable for the rest of the league.
The Bad: The Greyhounds have had a pretty strong season so far. However, they have missed out on a few chances for a marquee win. In games against Connecticut and West Virginia,–as well as solid opportunities like Stony Brook and Saint Joseph’s–victories have eluded them and things won’t get any easier when conference play begins.
The Grade: C+
Navy Midshipmen (5-5)
The Good: Navy hasn’t been a team that’s much of a thought in the Patriot League. However, things could be much different this season. Sophomore guard Tilman Dunbar (11.9 ppg, 5.0 apg, and 3.0 rpg) brings balance to the Midshipmen attack and could help sneak Navy into the top six in the conference.
The Bad: The Midshipmen’s offensive attack is where they could run into some trouble. Navy only averages 67.7 ppg, which ranks 285th in the nation. That’s a combination of being below-average in shooting (eFG% of 47.2, 253rd nationally), rebounding (29.2 oReb%, 245th nationally) and taking care of the ball (20.8 turnover percentage, 282nd nationally), all of which have room for improvement. They’ll need to pick it up offensively if they truly want to be a contender.
The Grade: B