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2007 Patriot League Halfway Awards

29 January, 2007

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With every team in the league having played half of their conference schedule, now is a good time to begin looking at our Patriot League postseason awards. The goal of the Halfway Awards isn’t to prematurely give out awards, but to identify nominees for postseason awards and figure out who to focus on as the season plays out. As such, each category will contain a list of nominees with no winner chosen. This article focuses on conference play, and as such all stats are from league games only.

Player of the Year nominees
The discussion starts and ends with Keith Simmon. The Holy Cross swingman is leading the league in scoring with 19.1 points per game, tied for 3rd in rebounding with 6.0 boards per game, and leading a team that’s undefeated in league games. Simmons, who was Basketball U.’s Preseason Patriot League Player of the Year, is also tied for the lead in steals per game, and in the top 5 in field goal percentage, three-point percentage and blocks per game. He’s so far ahead of the league right now that short of literally forgetting how to play basketball, the only way he could lose the Player of the Year award is injury.

Among those with an outside shot at the award, Bucknell’s Donald Brown is scoring 14.1 points per game, eighth in the league, and grabbing 7.6 rebounds per game, way out ahead in first place in the conference. Donald Brown has been an efficient scorer (59.4 percent from the floor, 2nd in the league), passer (2.7 assists per game, 5th) and defender (2.3 steals per game, 3rd). While Bucknell’s outside shooting is 6th in the league in three-point percentage, Donald Brown and Chris McNaughton have kept the Bison offense afloat.

Speaking of Browns, there’s arguably no pure scorer in the Patriot League better than Jarell Brown of Army, whose 16.7 points per game trails only Simmons. Jarell Brown has led Army’s resurgence this year, and done it with teams keying on him defensively. Every coach in the league knows Jarell Brown is going to be taking a lot of shots; he shoots 13.7 times per game, tops in the league, and he’s still already led the Black Knights to as many league wins as they’ve gotten in any year since 2001-2002. If Army keeps winning, Jarell Brown’s stock rises further.

Simmons’s teammate Torey Thomas has been the best point guard in the league and a top scorer (13.6 points per game, 11th). Thomas leads the league in assists and steals, and his 51.9-percent three-point shooting is tops among players with 15 or more attempts. He’s not considered a go-to guy, being teamed with Simmons, but Thomas is as vital a cog in the Crusader offense and defense as Simmons, and his balanced box scores usually reflect that.

Other All-Conference First Team nominees
Two similar players who are both in the running for postseason honors are American’s Andre Ingram and Navy’s Greg Sprink. Ingram is averaging 15.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, while Sprink is posting 16.6 points and 5.0 boards per game. Both are explosive swingmen who can score on the move and also drain threes. Both are also on teams that were expected to do better than they’ve done so far. If either one can lead their team to a strong finish, it would help their stock immensely.

While Lehigh’s senior scorers have unexpectedly struggled, freshman point guard Marquis Hall has come on very strong for the Mountain Hawks. Much like Thomas, Hall fills up the entire box score every night. He’s averaging 14.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and just 1.3 turnovers per game, and he’s shooting 49.3 percent from the floor, including 48.6 percent from the arc. To the entire league’s surprise, he’s outpacing senior teammate Jose Olivero in all of those categories. His contributions have more than assuaged Lehigh fans who were worried about life after Olivero and Kyle Neptune.

Crusader big man Tim Clifford has played like the best center in the Patriot League this year. He’s averaging 12.7 points per game as a tertiary option after Simmons and Thomas, and grabbing 5.6 boards per game. He’s also been very efficient from the floor (45.5 percent) and the line (85.7 percent). He’s already saved Holy Cross this year, notching a huge performance at American to lead his team to an overtime win when Simmons and Thomas were both struggling with their shots.

Despite not living up to some expectations, Bucknell center Chris McNaughton has had a very solid season thus far, posting 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. McNaughton’s 61.2-percent field goal shooting is enough to make one wonder why he’s attempted so few shots; he has by far the fewest attempts of all Patriot Leaguers who’ve hit 30 or more field goals.

The most dangerous marksman in the league has been Jon Simon. The Colgate sharpshooter has 20 three-pointers, the most in Patriot League play, and his 15.6 points per game ranks 4th in the conference.

Transitioning to the second option behind Jarell Brown, Matt Bell of Army is only averaging 14.9 points per game, but his efficiency is way up across the board. Bell is 47.7 percent from the floor and 47.8 percent from the arc. With little scoring behind them, Brown and Bell will be the ones to carry Army as far as it can go.

At 6-4, Lafayette’s Matt Betley has often been undersized going against forwards in league play who have 3 or more inches on him. Despite that, the tenacious Betley is averaging 10.6 points and 5.1 rebounds. On a team full of shooters, it’s been Betley keeping defenses honest on the interior.

The best sixth man in the league, Arvydas Eitutavicius is finally getting some starts for American. The Lithuanian struggled mightily last year, standing around waiting for the ball too often and shooting too much. This year, though, Eitutavicius has provided not only offence (13.9 points per game) but passing (2.9 assists) per game and much-improved defense. He also nearly singlehandedly downed Holy Cross in the final minute of regulation.

Freshman of the Year nominees
There’s not much to say about Marquis Hall that wasn’t said above, except that he’s even more of a lock to win this award than Simmons is to win Player of the Year.

Other All-Freshman Team nominees
Eric Meister has become a key contributor for Holy Cross in recent weeks, scoring 4.0 points and grabbing 4.3 boards per game. His play backing up Clifford and Alex Vander Baan has brought consistency to the Crusader frontcourt.

Trey Stanton, who has started every game since touching down at Navy, has slowed from his torrid pace in non-conference games, but is still averaging 6.0 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. His long-range shot has gone cold recently, but as he showed in November, he’s a candidate to light it up and carry his team to victories from the arc.

A key to Army’s turnaround has been the solid frontcourt play of Chris Walker, who is posting 2.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Though, like Stanton, Walker has slowed down from his great start in non-conference play, he’s established himself as something for opposing defenses to worry about in the interior.

Hall’s teammate Zahir Carrington saw an increase in minutes when starting center Jason Mgebroff went down to injury, and he’s been up to task, posting 4.6 points, 3.3 boards and nearly 1 block per game off the bench. He’s been effective at drawing fouls, going to the free throw line 21 times compared to 19 field goal attempts.

Lafayette’s Jesper Andersson is a 6-7 long-range threat, a match-up nightmare. While still adjusting to the American style of play (the nation, not the school), Andersson is providing 4.0 points per game in very limited minutes.

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