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2006-07 Preview: Lehigh Mountain Hawks

6 November, 2006

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As a freshman, he hit the winning shot to lead Lehigh to the NCAA Tournament. As a sophomore, he became the team’s top scorer. As a junior, he was first team All-League and took 411 shots. What can Jose Olivero do to cap off his Patriot League career? Score 20 points per game? Take 500 shots? It’s a hard concept to understand, but with the graduation of Joe Knight and Mitch Gilfillan, Olivero is expected to take even more of the offensive load for Lehigh year. He’ll have a couple of experienced sidekicks and a freshman point guard to help out, but Lehigh’s success will largely rest on Olivero. The Mountain Hawks find themselves a bit of an underdog in the Patriot League, with every expert picking them below Holy Cross and Bucknell, but they have the most consistently excellent scorer in the league, and that alone will take them a long way.

Point
Marquis Hall comes to the Lehigh Valley with as strong a track record as Patriot League point guards can have. He was a McDonalds All-America nominee and was named MVP of the Oregon/Washington All-Star Game. However, Hall is still a freshman, and he’s being dropped into a game that’s a lot bigger and faster than he’s played before. The top half of the Patriot League is full of tough defensive point guards who will not let Hall dominate the court the way he did in high school. It’s entirely possible that after a transition period, Hall will get comfortable leading the Lehigh offense, but freshman point guards are guilty until proven innocent. Hall will have to earn the respect of the rest of the league, but he has the talent to do so.
Rating: O1/2

Wing
Jose Olivero significantly stepped up his efficiency last year, posting career highs in field goal percentage (43.6) and three-point percentage (40.8). Olivero showed that even when defenses key in on him, he still can’t be stopped. Olivero is Lehigh’s leading returning assist man, a fact that Hall is hoping to change. Last year, Olivero had to run the point when Joe Knight was ineligible, and it slowed the production of the offense. Hall and fellow freshman Matt Shamis will get chances to run the point, but if both struggle and the Mountain Hawks have to lean on Olivero again, the rest of the offense will suffer. In addition to his offensive abilities, Olivero is a good perimeter defender, though again Lehigh is hoping for Hall to defend opponents’ best perimeter players so Olivero can move around less and therefore stay on the court longer.

Olivero’s backcourt-mate Kyle Neptune developed into a scoring threat last year, scoring 11.1 points per game on 40.6 percent shooting. Neptune will be the number-two option for Lehigh on offense, and he’s shown the ability to hit shots and pound his way to the basket. In a way, Neptune is the Scottie Pippen to Olivero’s Michael Jordan, and like Pippen Neptune can do a little bit of everything. Neptune posted 5.1 rebounds, 0.84 steals and 0.49 blocks per game last year. He’s a tenacious defender with the size and quickness to play inside and outside.
Rating: OOOO

Post
Junior Bryan White moved to the starting power forward role last year and played very well. White scored 6.7 points per game and led the team with 5.4 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game. Like last year, White will be a secondary option on offense, expected to clean up for the backcourt most of the time. At 6-7 and just 200 lbs., White can be overpowered on defense by some of the large power forwards in the league, but he has the quickness to make those larger players pay on the other side of the court.

After a strong sophomore season two years ago, Jason Mgebroff took a step back last year. Mgebroff posted 8.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per game as the starting center in 2004-05, but lost his starting spot to the now-graduated Mike Fischman last year when he arrived from the summer out of shape. Lehigh fans are hoping to find a leaner Mbegroff this year, one that can put the ball in the basket more often. If Mgebroff can regain his sophomore-season form, Lehigh will have an imposing frontcourt to pair with its dangerous perimeter scorers. If he can’t, he will provide a weak point for Chris McNaughton, Tim Clifford and Brayden Billbe to attack.
Rating: O1/2

Bench
If Hall struggles running the point, fellow freshman Matt Shamis will get a shot. Shamis is a good point guard and very strong outside shooter who may also see time at off-guard alongside Hall. Sophomore Matt Szalachowski will see increased minutes this year behind Olivero and Neptune. He’s a sure-handed defender and passer, who doesn’t offer much in the way of a shooting game. Freshmen Paul Bayer and Dave Buchburger and little-used senior Adam Hyncik will also get time off the bench. Bayer is a big guard who can knock down long-range shots. Buchburger has a good scoring touch, and Hyncik brings energy and hustle to the court.

Greg Page, the likely first man off the bench for the frontcourt, played a tough defense last year as a freshman but had trouble scoring. He will look to improve his field goal percentage from 32.8 last year. Seven-foot sophomore John Gourlay was unable to adjust to the college game last year. The Mountain Hawks are hopeful that he will turn the corner this year and develop into a reliable post presence. Freshman Zahir Carrington is lean and fast, and will improve Lehigh’s interior defense. Sophomore Philip Anderson showed good outside shooting last year, but will have to improve his defense to crack Lehigh’s rotation.
Rating: OO

Coaching Track Record
Billy Taylor has had the golden touch since he landed in the Lehigh Valley. In his debut in 2002-03, he turned the Mountain Hawks around from a 5-23 record to go 16-12. The next year he brought Lehigh to the NCAA tournament. Since Taylor came on board, Lehigh is 36-20 in league play, and the Mountain Hawks have never placed in the second division. Taylor has a big task ahead of him as he tries to give Hall on-the-job training at point guard. If Lehigh returns to the top of the Patriot League with a freshman at point, it will be a testament to Taylor’s coaching ability.
Rating: OOO

Schedule
Lehigh opens the season at Oregon, but aside from trips to Notre Dame and Princeton, they have a mostly easy non-conference schedule. Games with Cornell, Sacred Heart, Harvard and Haverford pepper Lehigh’s November and December schedules, as Taylor looks to adapt Hall and Shamis to the college game and develop Mgebroff and Gourlay. Once league play starts, the Mountain Hawks have it easy for a few weeks, until a series of road games at Bucknell, Holy Cross and American starting Jan. 24. Aside from that stretch, Lehigh has a favorable league schedule.
Rating: OOO

Overall
A lot of pressure will be on Hall to run the offense as a freshman, but Lehigh has a group of reliable upperclassmen in Olivero, Neptune and White. They don’t have the depth to outplay the top teams, but they’re also too good to lose to the Patriot League dregs.

Best-case scenario: Hall has a freshman season as good as Derrick Mercer’s last year, Olivero is an unstoppable scorer, and Lehigh runs to an 11-3 league record.

Worst-case scenario: Injury befalls Olivero, opposing defenses clamp down on Neptune, and no one else can put the ball in the basket, as Lehigh skids to a 4-10 season.

Most likely scenario: Hall and Shamis have ups and downs, Olivero leads the Patriot League in scoring, Neptune and White do what’s expected of them, and Taylor’s club again finds the top half of the league with an 8-6 record.
Rating: OO1/2

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