With more than two weeks in the books, Big Apple Buckets unveils their first installment of the Patriot League power rankings. There’s been quite a bit of movement from the original preseason poll.
1) Boston University Terriers (4-2)
The Terriers were the prohibitive preseason favorite of the Patriot League, and nothing has happened to otherwise dispel that notion. An upset loss to Eastern Washington not withstanding, Joe Jones’ squad has been one of the more efficient mid-majors in the country. As Beanpot Hoops explains, the Terriers have made a conscious effort to stay out of mid-range hell, utilizing their talent around the rim and behind the arc. This approach may be more difficult to execute in the defensive minded Patriot League, but for now, the team is clicking well. Dom Morris has made 62.2% of his field goals, Maurice Watson has protected the basketball splendidly (1.9 A/TO), and Player of the Year candidate D.J. Irving is reeking havoc on both sides of the ball.
Boston U will be tested in the coming weeks, with a challenging slate of games – Harvard, St. Joseph’s, Maryland, and Quinnipiac – ahead.
2) Bucknell Bison (3-2)
What a difference an offseason can make for someone’s development. Case in point:
2012-13: 86.7 ORtg, 24.9% Ast Rate, 30.9% TO Rate, 2.4 ppg
2013-14: 103.5 ORtg, 35.0% Ast Rate, 24.7% TO Rate, 12.2 ppg
This is the offensive profile of junior point guard Steven Kaspar, who’s a major reason why the Bison are near the top of the power rankings. Kaspar, along with Ben Brackney, Brian Fitzpatrick, and Dom Hoffman, have shown significant improvement with a larger workload bestowed on them.
The defense is still a work-in-progress (1.06 points allow per possession) without Mike Muscala and Joe Willman patrolling the middle, but the offense is scoring at an incredibly efficient rate (1.15 PPP). That’s been buoyed by an unsustainable 48.6% three-point percentage. Still, Dave Paulsen’s veteran squad, led by leading scorer Cameron Ayers and his 17.2 ppg, has a good chance to earn their fourth straight Patriot League regular season championship.
3) Loyola (MD) Greyhounds (4-0)
Despite winning their first four contests of G.G. Smith’s tenure, the Greyrounds’ KenPom ranking has actually gone down two spots from 187 to 189. Why? Their thin margin of victory (+4.8 points) against down programs like Cornell, Binghamton, and UMBC hasn’t impressed the KenPom logarithm very much. What has been impressive is the play of Dylon Cormier. He’s carrying an enormous offensive load at the moment (38.8% possession rate, #1 in the nation), and producing at a very efficient rate. His 29.9 ppg average is third in the country, yet the 6’3″ guard is also rebounding like a skilled power forward (8 rpg), especially on the offensive end. Cormier’s 20 offensive rebounds illustrates the effort he’s exerting in his senior campaign.
In the blink of an eye, Loyola’s schedule becomes more difficult with guarantee games versus UConn and West Virginia before heading back to Maryland for showdowns with Mount St. Mary’s, Stony Brook, and St. Joseph. It’s the latter three matchups that will indicate if the Greyhounds are for real heading into conference play.
4) Holy Cross Crusaders (3-3)
With the most difficult portion of the non-conference schedule mostly behind them, Milan Brown’s Crusaders are poised to make a nice run through inferior competition before their game at Michigan. The team has been playing with a newfound confidence, due to the emergence of their newcomers, Malachi Alexander, Anthony Thompson and Eric Green. The trio’s instant impact has allowed Brown to comfortably employ an eight-man rotation, giving Holy Cross some much-needed versatility and defensive toughness, two attributes that were sorely lacking last season.
In fact, no Patriot League freshman has been more productive than Alexander when using efficiency rating as the barometer. The 6’7″ freshman can do a little bit of everything on the floor, and has, averaging 13.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, while making more than 60% of his twos. His ability to attack the rim off the dribble adds another dimension to the Crusaders offense.
5) Lehigh Mountain Hawks (2-4)
After graduating 49.6% of their scoring and 44.4% of their rebounds, Lehigh is forging ahead with one of the youngest lineups in the conference. The future is now for Brett Reed’s Mountain Hawks with one sophomore (Jesse Chuku) and two freshman (Austin Price and Tim Kempton) logging big time minutes early. The threesome has combined to post 32.8 points and 10.7 rebounds per contest. There will be growing pains with this approach, but Reed may be sacrificing the present in order to progress for the future. With Mackey McKnight running the show, the Mountain Hawks will be a difficult opponent any given night.
With all of their guarantee games out-of-the-way, Lehigh will face off with an American East, a MAAC, and four NEC programs before descending on conference play.
6) Colgate Red Raiders (2-2)
Recruiting in the Patriot League certainly presents a challenge (see academic index), but it’s even tougher in Matt Langel’s shoes, especially given Colgate’s location. Undaunted, Langel has built the Red Raiders via the transfer student athlete. Everyone knows about the bearded Murphy Burnatowski and his potential to lead the conference in scoring, yet other transfers are pacing the Red Raiders as well. Point guard Austin Tillotson has 25 assists versus four turnovers. Damon Sherman-Newsome is hitting 52% of his shots while dishing out 2.0 dimes per game. And 6’11” standout Ethan Jacobs, a player who several were skeptical about, is using his size to his advantage. He’s currently ranked nationally in defensive rebound and block rate.
Throw in Pat Moore and Luke Roh, and Colgate has a chance to infiltrate the upper half of the conference if things break right.
7) Lafayette Leopards (0-4)
One reason why Ken Pomeroy and Dan Hanner’s projections didn’t like Lafayette coming off an unexpected Patriot League title game appearance was the inability of Fran O’Hanlon to coach defense. Not once in the past ten seasons have the Leopards been in the top half of the country in defensive efficiency, and season number 11 is off to an inauspicious start. With Tony Johnson and his stellar steal rate no longer around, the Leopards have reverted back as a defensive liability, allowing a putrid 110.4 points per 100 possessions.
Not coincidentally, Johnson’s graduation has also made the Leopards more turnover prone. With freshman Nick Lindner struggling, at times, to man the point – something that’s certainly expected for a freshman – Lafayette has 49 assists versus 57 turnovers so far. Last year, those numbers were considerably better (486 assists against 418 turnovers).
8) Army Black Knights (1-4)
In Army’s first winning season since 1985, senior Ella Ellis handled nearly 29% of the Black Knights’ possessions while producing at an All-American level. Now graduated, Army has struggled to make up Ellis’ production, particularly around the rim. Zach Spiker’s team has been heavily reliant on the three with more than half of the team’s shot attempts coming from behind the arc. It’s a major reason for Army’s dismal start, since they’re connecting on only 26.7% of those attempts. Moreover, the Black Knights haven’t been getting to the charity stripe very much.
Also troubling: The defense hasn’t stopped anyone (1.15 PPP). With one of the youngest rosters in the country, Spiker has a little time before January, but you’re surely going out on a limb if you believe Army is a legit conference contender at the moment.
9) Navy Midshipmen (2-3)
We (OK, I) poked fun of Navy for their laugher of a non-conference schedule, yet in retrospect it made perfect sense for a young team trying to find its way. Ed DeChellis, now in his pivotal third season, is attempting to build the confidence of a team loaded with underclassmen, so early season victories over Binghamton and UMBC will only strength the Mids resolve. Despite the weak tilt, though, Navy has struggled to score, posting with a league low 0.85 PPP. The offensive profile will likely improve, however, the stark reality is the Mids will continue to be inconsistent, much like the team’s young stars in Tilman Dunbar, Worth Smith and Kendall Knorr are. Nevertheless, there is finally hope on the horizon.
10) American Eagles (1-3)
It isn’t disrespectful to place American at the bottom of these power rankings. Rather, it’s a testament to the depth of the league. Given the loss of Stephen Lumpkins, Daniel Munoz and Blake Joviette, first year head coach Mike Brennan has done a nice job implementing his Princeton system and getting guys to buy in. Stephen F. Austin transfer Darius Gardner has been excellent in his first four games, injecting some playmaking into the lineup. He’s averaging 13.8 points, 5.0 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game. Gardner, combined with veterans John Schoof and Troy Wroblicky, will have the Eagles competing hard every night.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride