2009-10 Conference Primers: #29 – Patriot LeaguePosted by rtmsf on October 7th, 2009
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and America East Conference. Click here for all of our 2009-10 Season Preview materials..
Predicted Order of Finish:
- Holy Cross (11-3)
- Lehigh (10-4)
- Army (9-5)
- Navy (7-7)
- Bucknell (6-8)
- Colgate (6-8)
- Lafayette (4-10)
- American (3-11)
- Marquis Hall (G), Sr., Lehigh
- R.J Evans (G), Soph., Holy Cross
- Andrew Keister (F), Jr., Holy Cross
- Zahir Carrington (F), Sr., Lehigh
- Patrick Behan (F/C), Jr., Bucknell
6th Man. Chris Harris (G), Sr., Navy
Impact Newcomer. Jeff Holton (F), Fr., American
What You Need to Know. American’s dominance it seems will come to an end this year after back-to-back Patriot League championships. The “American” have seven freshman on the 2009-10 team, and the current team has zero combined starts between them, so they will experience a steep learning curve. With the most well known coach in the PL gone (Ralph Willard at Holy Cross), we will have to see if Sean Kearney can carry the torch with a squad full of talented returning players in Worcester. With his experience coaching at this level, I am willing to bet he can, which is why they are my pick for the conference champions. As a whole, the entire league returns more talent this year than any year in recent memory.
Predicted Champion. Holy Cross (NCAA #14). Holy Cross returns four starters and nine players from the second place team in the conference last year. They return the Patriot League Rookie of the Year in guard R.J. Evans, who was Holy Cross’ leading scorer last year as a freshman. The other three returning starters returning include all-conference first team selection Andrew Keister, and sharpshooter Andrew Beinert will complement Evans in the backcourt. Beinert shot 45% from three-point range last year, leading the Patriot League. The fourth returning starter is Eric Meister who came on strong late in the season. He earned All-Patriot League Tournament honors. Although they are returning a plethora of players, the cog at the end of the Crusaders bench for the last 10 years, Ralph Willard, is gone. They will now be led by new head coach Sean Kearney, who spent the previous nine seasons as an associate head coach at Notre Dame. It will rest on his shoulders to make sure that the Crusaders continue to play the tough defense that was a trademark under Willard in his ten years in Worcester. The Patriot League champion is always a tough out in the NCAA tournament and this year will be no different.
- Lehigh will be the top challenger to the Crusaders in the Patriot League. They return two PL all-conference selections in senior forward Zahir Carrington and senior guard Marquis Hall. Hall was a first-team selection and Carrington a second-teamer. The two comprise the top scoring duo returning to the Patriot League, as Carrington averaged 14 points per game and Hall averaged 13.9. Also expect former Patriot League Rookie of the Year Rob Keefer to play a huge part on offense as the third option in his junior year. Finally the fourth returning starter for the squad is Dave Buchberger, a senior guard.
- The next grouping of teams is Army, Navy, Bucknell, and Colgate. All return three starters or more and should be in contention in every game. The wild card is Army because of the move to fire head coach Jim Crews made in September. It was widely considered a bad move, at least in timing. To fire your coach that close to the start of the season could end up being a huge mistake. They have the talent to compete, but will new coach Zach Spiker be able to earn respect and harness the team?
RPI Boosters. The Patriot League is counting on the Big East this year to provide some tough competition out of conference. Most of the major conference opponents for Patriot League teams are from the Big East. The Big East won’t be as strong as last year, but if a Patriot League team manages to eke out a victory on the road against any of these squads it would be huge for the conference. Georgetown alone provides two chances for the PL.
- Nov. 14, 2009 – Bucknell @ Notre Dame
- Nov. 16, 2009 – Colgate @ UConn
- Nov. 29, 2009 – Lafayette @ Georgetown
- Nov. 30, 2009 – Colgate @ Syracuse
- Dec. 22, 2009 – Navy @ Seton Hall
Key Conference Games.
- Jan. 9, 2010 – Army @ Colgate. The opening game of the Patriot League schedule is an immediate test to see if this Colgate team has what it takes to hang with the upper tier this year.
- Jan. 16, 2010 – Bucknell @ Holy Cross. This is an early chance for The Bison to show if they are for real.
- Jan. 31, 2010 – Lehigh @ Holy Cross. The first of two matchups that could separate the first place team and second place team.
- Feb. 20, 2010 – Army @ Navy. A rivalry that is always intense is highlighted late in the season with likely seeding implications.
- Feb. 27, 2010 – Holy Cross @ Lehigh. The final game of the year for both teams could decide the regular season champion.
Digging Deeper. Holy Cross has been to seven of the last nine conference championships, the only team who has done that more consistently over the last nine years is Gonzaga which has been to all nine in the WCC.
Fun With KenPom. If the Patriot League teams could get their offenses improved, this wouldn’t be a league that is statistically near the bottom of D1. The defense in this conference is actually quite good, with five of the eight teams last year ranking in the top half of the nation in defensive efficiency. But it gets downright ugly on the other end, as only one school (American) was in the top half on offense. And four teams are sub-300 in that category. If the offense was anywhere near as good as the D in this league, we’d be looking at a conference roughly on par with the MAC.
NCAA Tournament History. The last two seasons American has given Tennessee and Villanova, respectively, all they wanted in the first round of the NCAAs before FTs made up the final difference. In 2008, American was within 4 pts of UT going into the final tv timeout before losing by 15; and last year American actually led Villanova by 10 pts at the half before succumbing 80-67. In years prior to that Bucknell had a two-year run of first-round victories in 2005 and 2006, and Holy Cross has sent night terrors through more than one high seed in the last decade. The overall record of the league is 2-18 (.100), but the cream of the league has earned a reputation as a giant-killer, and first round opponents at BCS schools would do well to heed the PL champion each spring.
Final Thoughts. The Patriot League has six teams that could fight for the regular season championship this year. Excepting Lafayette and American, all the teams return a high level of skill. Top to bottom it should be one of the stronger years for the Patriot League. It remains to be seen how the coaching changes at Holy Cross and Army will affect those programs and the league overall. No team will run away with it, but Holy Cross is returning the most talent and would be a formidable match up in the NCAA tournament for any #2 or #3 seed.