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2006-07 Preview: Navy Midshipmen

4 November, 2006

by

The winds of change are blowing in Annapolis. Navy has won just 19 games since Don DeVoe’s departure two years ago, but Billy Lange returns a young, experienced group of players, all of whom will be back next year except for one little-used backup. Navy is undersized and without a real point guard, but they make up for it with a series of dangerous wing players. The Midshipmen match up poorly on paper with most of the Patriot League, but every team will be on the lookout for ‘one of those nights’ where the Navy backcourt catches fire. Lange’s squad won’t claim that many victories this season, but they will make a lot of teams sweat as the Middies lay the groundwork for a return to respectability.

Point
Junior Corey Johnson, not a natural point guard, will be playing the distributor role most often in Billy Lange’s offense. Johnson proved himself a versatile player last season, averaging 9.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 19 games (he missed some midseason games for a knee injury). Reports say Johnson lost weight in the offseason, which should help him become more consistent on perimeter defense. Johnson is a good wing player, but he will have to become a better decision-maker. If Johnson blossoms into a true point guard, the Midshipman offense becomes one of the best in the league. If he continues to play like an off-guard, Navy will remain chock full of potential but eminently stoppable.
Rating: O1/2

Wing
Navy’s top leading scorer and rebounder last year was Greg Sprink, a 6-5 deadly shooter. Sprink took 97 more shots than the second-most prolific shooter, and will continue to be the focus of the offense. If the rest of the offense can step up and draw defensive attention, Sprink will have a chance to improve his 36.3 percent three-point shooting. Sprink was also a great free throw shooter last season (85.6 percent). If he pushes the ball on offense and gets to the line frequently, he can dominate games offensively.

Navy’s other wing Kaleo Kina will also occasionally share point guard duties with Johnson. Like Johnson, Kina is a good scorer who’s not terribly proficient at running an offense. Also like Johnson, if Kina can improve his decision-making on offense, the Midshipmen backcourt will be much more dangerous. Last season, Kina shot better from beyond the arc than from inside it. On a team without a strong passing game or inside presence, Kina and Sprink are going to need to take the ball to the hoop, move around on offense, and push the ball in transition to win ballgames. Navy’s backcourt is talented but they’re going to have to do a lot to carry the team.
Rating: OO1/2

Post
Navy will start Adam Teague at the power forward position. Teague is 6-8 but plays like a wing. With Matt Fannin graduated, Teague is going to be asked to play closer to the basket and take more interior shots. In a generally undersized league, though, Teague will have quite a few favorable matchups in the post. If he can become a reasonably reliable interior scorer, the perimeter game for Sprink and Kina will open up significantly. Teague is a good defender, and Navy’s leading returning shot blocker. He should continue to play tough inside and slow opposing frontcourts.

Ben Biles, a 6-10 forward, will be the other interior starter. Biles played just 5.0 minutes per game last year, behind Fannin, Carlton Baldwin and Casey Reed. Biles is a fair offensive player, but hasn’t shown many post moves in the past. Because of his limited court time in the past, it’s tough to tell what Biles will bring to the team, but he should be able to grab a few rebounds and be a big defensive presence, if nothing else.
Rating: O1/2

Bench
Clif Colbert will reprise his sixth-man role this season. Colbert is an athletic defender and fair shooter. Like Sprink and Johnson, Colbert is a very good rebounder for a perimeter player, and also a good ballhawk. Bryce Brigham will see some backup time at the wing as well. Brigham is a strong outside shooter and reliable passer (Brigham is the only returning Middie with a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio), and he will occasionally man the point for Lange. Freshmen guards Chris Harris and Derek Young will also see court time. Young is an athletic defender, and Harris is a good spot-up shooter.

A group of freshmen will back up Teague and Biles in the frontcourt, led by Trey Stanton. Stanton is a good shooter for a big man, and a tough defender with good instincts. When Stanton plays alongside Teague, Navy will be playing five guys who can shoot from the outside. Scott Brooks is also a versatile interior player, and a quick defender, but at 6-6 undersized for the power forward position. Freshmen T.J. Topercer and Bobby Fenske, as well as lone senior Calvin White, will likely only see garbage time unless they impress Lange.
Rating: O1/2

Coaching Track Record
It’s tough to evaluate Billy Lange through two seasons. His squads haven’t been that good, but they also haven’t been Lange’s players. Now the Midshipmen are mostly players Lange recruited. The Middies need to begin to turn it around this year, and set themselves up to contend next year, or Lange will start to feel some heat. By all accounts, Lange is a clever strategizer and good leader, but Navy needs to improve on its 3-11 league record to keep supporters satisfied with the coach. A good showing and a few upsets of top-level Patriot League teams can buy Lange a few more years to bring size and depth to the program.
Rating: OO

Schedule

Navy has a few very tough games, traveling to Villanova and Georgetown and hosting Penn. Most of the Middies’ non-conference schedule, however, consists of opponents like William & Mary, Stony Brook, Maryland Eastern Shore, Howard, Yale and NJIT. This kind of schedule will help Lange improve his win total, but it won’t provide for many good tests for Navy leading into league play. Navy’s third Patriot League game, hosting Lafayette on Jan. 13, will be an early indicator of how much the Middies have improved.
Rating: O

Overall
Navy should be improved from last year. Johnson is back and healthy, and Kina and Sprink should be improved. If someone steps up to replace Fannin’s frontcourt production, Navy will make a big leap in the standings.

Best-case scenario: Johnson develops into a distributor, Stanton and Biles play effectively in the post, and Navy takes a big leap to a 7-7 season.

Worst-case scenario: The freshman-heavy frontcourt can’t handle big minutes, and an injury to Sprink or Kina cripples the offense, as Navy goes 1-13 and falls to last place.

Most likely scenario: Outside shooting dominates some games but disappears in others, Biles and Teague get worn down by logging so many minutes up front, and Navy improves to a 4-10 Patriot League season.
Rating: O1/2

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