Marty Leon is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.
Predicted Order of Finish:
American (24-5, 14-0)
Navy (19-10, 8-6)
Lehigh (18-11, 7-7)
Colgate (17-11, 7-7)
Holy Cross (16-14, 7-7)
Lafayette (13-15, 7-7)
Army (13-15, 6-8)
Bucknell (5-23, 0-14)
What You Need to Know (WYN2K). The Patriot League is the second cousin of the Ivy, with academic standards for student-athletes tougher than 90% of the rest of the country. Bucknell and Holy Cross have been the historical kings of this league until American emerged last year. With four starters returning led by Garrison Carr, they are a lock to win the league again. Navy’sKaleo Kina and Lafayette’s Andrew Brown are two of the league’s best returnees. Here’s a clip from American’s clincher last year versus Colgate (love the RTC footage).
Predicted Champion.American(#14 NCAA) should repeat as champions. Colgate, a conference tourney finalist last year, was set to challenge until 1,000 point scorer Kyle Roemer went down for the year with an ACL tear. The experience of American and the program’s momentum after last years great season will lead them to Selection Sunday again. A possible #14 seed, Jeff Jones’ squad gave Tennessee all they could handle for 35 minutes in last year’s first round of the NCAA Tourney.
Others Considered.Navy, Lehigh, and Colgate shore up the middle of the pack. The Midshipmen return nine of their top ten scorers. Marquis Hall and Zahir Carrington of Lehigh are both potential all league performers and they could be a sleeper. Emmit Davis’ Colgate five were primed for a title run until Roemer went down, but still will be a tough out. Holy Cross is striving to return to its glory days under Ralph Willard. Jim Crews’ Army team had a nice year in 07-08 and will compete. Bucknell,with new mentor Dave Paulsen, has been crushed by preseason injuries and only has ten healthy bodies at this time.
Key Games & RPI Boosters.
American @ Oklahoma (11/14/08)
American @ Georgetown (12/6/08)
American @ Maryland (12/22/08)
Colgate @ American (2/14/09)
Neat-O Stat. Patriot League coaches have sigificant experience at multiple levels of college basketball. American’s Jeff Jones has been head coach at Virginia, Holy Cross’ Ralph Willard has been head coach at Pitt, and Army’s Jim Crews has been head coach at Evansville. On the flip side, Bucknell’s Dave Paulsen has been head coach of D3 Williams and St. Lawrence, and Emmit Davis of Colgate and a member of his staff played at St. Lawrence.
65 Team Era. The Patriot League didn’t come into existence until the 1991-92 season, but despite its pedstrian record (2-15, .118), in its short time it’s managed to make some NCAA Tournament noise over the years. Everyone of course remembers the Bucknell upsets of 2005 (Kansas) and 2006 (Arkansas), as the Bisons made it to the second round in consecutive years. But from 2001-03, Ralph Willard’s Holy Cross team seemed to live on throwing major scares into top-tier seeds, losing by only four to #2 Kentucky (2001), eleven to #1 Kansas (2002), and four to #3 Marquette (2003).
Final Thoughts. When evaluating this league, the word that comes to mind is parity. These teams are all evenly matched so rarely do you get a blowout in any conference games. This is a great coach’s league. Winning at home is crucial to having a successful season. Anyone but American emerging this season would be a huge surprise, and AmU has a chance to break through the first round and make some noise in the NCAA tournament.