Thursday, September 5, 2013

32 In 32: Patriot League

Senior guard D.J. Irving leads Boston University into Patriot League after successful run in America East. (Photo courtesy of the Boston Herald)

Last night, our "32 In 32" series continued with its second league profile, taking a look at how the Ivy League might play out as Harvard looks for its third consecutive conference championship. Tonight, a new conference gets its share of the spotlight, with one of the teams to beat coming from Harvard's backyard. Now a ten-team league with the additions of both Boston University and Loyola, here is a closer look at the 2013-14 season in the Patriot League.

1) Boston University - The Terriers enter their new home after a long run of success in the America East, and do so as one of the best teams in the conference thanks to the keen recruiting eye and in-game talent of head coach Joe Jones. All seven of Boston University's top scorers are back this season, led by senior guard D.J. Irving, who averaged over fourteen points per game while shooting 37 percent from three-point range, while sophomore point guard Maurice Watson continues to develop into one of the most underrated players in the nation after a freshman season that saw the Philadelphia native average more than five assists a night. If forwards Dom Morris and Malik Thomas, who averaged a combined 19 points and 12 rebounds last season, can be equally as effective, the Terriers are as good as any of their realistic threats.

2) Lafayette - The Leopards were a rather unlikely success story for the casual fan last season, going 10-4 in conference en route to a nineteen-win season for head coach Fran O'Hanlon, and this year, the Pennsylvania program loses point guard Tony Johnson, but returns both of its other leading scorers in Seth Hinrichs and Dan Trist. Both juniors, Hinrichs is a 6-7 wing whose 78 three-pointers and 46 percent rate from long range led Lafayette, while the 6-9 Australian Trist is an efficient shot taker coming off a sophomore campaign with a 53 percent success rate from the field. Guards Joey Ptasinski and Bryce Scott, who combined to average just under 18 points per game, will be X-factors in the backcourt during their junior and sophomore seasons, respectively.

3) Bucknell - Dave Paulsen and the Bison lose three of their starters from last season's NCAA Tournament team, including first-round NBA Draft pick Mike Muscala and shooting guard Bryson Johnson, but Bucknell is still in contention behind swingman Cameron Ayers, the son of former Ohio State coach Randy and younger brother of one-time Notre Dame wing Ryan, who averaged over twelve points per game and lit up the three-point line by connecting at a 40 percent clip from beyond the arc. A big concern for Bucknell this year will be the ability of its bench to step up, as after Ayers, the Bison's next leading scorer is junior guard Ryan Hill, who averaged just under three points per game.

4) Loyola - The Greyhounds join Boston University as Patriot League newcomers after a tenure in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference that saw Loyola win a MAAC title in 2012 and advance into the Tournament last season. This year, seniors Erik Etherly, Robert Olson and Anthony Winbush are no longer around, and longtime assistant coach G.G. Smith; whose father Tubby is the coach at Texas Tech, is now in charge after Jimmy Patsos replaced Mitch Buonaguro at Siena in April. The biggest positive for Smith as he takes over at the helm is the return of senior guard Dylon Cormier, a first team all-MAAC selection last year after averaging over sixteen points per game. Baltimore natives R.J. Williams and Jordan Latham have big shoes to fill as they step into the starting lineup on an everyday basis, but in a wide open middle of the conference, Loyola's recent success should guide them through the stretch run.

5) Lehigh - Realistically, the Mountain Hawks may finish much higher as they look to return to the form that made them national darlings after their upset of Duke in the 2012 NCAA Tournament as a No. 15 seed; but without C.J. McCollum, Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner, Dr. Brett Reed has more of an uphill climb than he would like in Bethlehem this season. Fortunately, point guard Mackey McKnight is back for one more campaign, and will challenge Maurice Watson of Boston University for the title of best point guard in the Patriot League if he comes anywhere close to his form last season, a year that saw the New Orleans product average close to five assists per game. Fellow senior guard Anthony D'Orazio will be a player to watch as he looks for a breakout season following a productive junior year on the bench in which he shot 35 percent from three-point range.

6) Army - Zach Spiker also has a tough job ahead of him in West Point after losing do-it-all warrior Ella Ellis to graduation, but the Black Knights return the bulk of his supporting cast as the United States Military Academy hopes to build further off last year's 16-15 mark. Sophomore guard Kyle Wilson, who averaged thirteen points per game and shot 42 percent from three-point range as a part-time starter, becomes the face of the team now, and will have Josh Herbeck and Larry Toomey around to pick up some of the slack when he is unable to score. If you're looking for a "glue guy" in the Patriot League, look no further than sophomore guard Dylan Cox, a Texan who did a little bit of everything as a freshman, averaging six points, five rebounds and three assists per game in a rookie season that saw him end the year as the only player to start all of Army's 31 contests.

7) Holy Cross - Friend of the site Kevin Doyle, who does excellent work for NBC Sports and their College Basketball Talk site, is hopeful for a positive change in Worcester, and this season might be the one in which the Crusaders finally take the next step toward the Patriot League's upper echelon. Head coach Milan Brown gets both halves of his inside/outside scoring duo back in senior forward Dave Dudzinski and junior guard Justin Burrell, and will hope for more of the same form from sophomore guard Cullen Hamilton and junior forward Malcolm Miller behind the top two.

8) Colgate - The Raiders are another program hopeful of advancing up the Patriot ladder, and get both of their top two scorers back in senior wing Murphy Burnatowski; who can be a first team all-Patriot League selection if he comes close to last year's 17-point average, as well as senior sharpshooter Pat Moore, who shot 41 percent from long distance a year ago. Keep a close eye on sophomore Austin Tillotson, a guard who is once again eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from Monmouth.

9) Navy - The Naval Academy went 8-23 for Ed DeChellis last season, but gained much-needed experience in a year where the Midshipmen did not have a single senior on the roster. This time around, guards Tilman Dunbar and Brandon Venturini have productive freshman and sophomore seasons to build on as they become a sophomore and junior, respectively, with senior guard Thurgood Wynn providing a stable hand of continuity alongside them in the backcourt. Up front, junior swingman Worth Smith will seek to improve on a season that saw him just barely eclipse double figures on his scoring average, yet was still good enough to be the Middies' leading scorer.

10) American - The Eagles now have a new leader, as former Georgetown assistant Mike Brennan remains in the nation's capital after replacing Jeff Jones, who left for Old Dominion. With both of their two top scorers gone, American will be much more reliant upon junior swingman John Schoof and 6-10 senior Tony Wroblicky to guide a young team through Brennan's first regular season at the helm. Despite not accounting for much offense last season, junior Austin Carroll remains a valuable team leader, with mounds of experience in pressure situations from his time at Rutgers that he can fall back on to help lead the Eagles to victory.

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