If the opening weekend of conference play was any indication for how the rest of the season would go, the Patriot League’s lone automatic Big Dance invitation will still be up in the air come championship week. All eight teams have a legitimate shot at claiming the title, making the Patriot League once again one of the nation’s most competitive conferences.
Leading the league at the end of the non-conference season was Army (10-5, 0-1), thanks in part to three road victories at Princeton, Farleigh Dickinson, and Buffalo. The Black Knights have faced an easy non-conference schedule, scheduling no opponents from any of the major conferences, which might pose a problem in Patriot League play, when they square up against more tested opponents.
Bitter rivals, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks and the Lafayette Leopards, are tied for second each with the record of 9-6. Both opened their league schedules with victories, over American and Holy Cross, respectively. Not surprisingly, these two Pennsylvania schools rank in the top two in scoring offense and three-point percentage. Lafayette boasts four starters that average double-digits points per game, whereas Lehigh has spread the playing time around, featuring eleven players with ten or more minutes per game. The Mountain Hawks’ deep bench should serve them well during the grind of the Patriot League season.
A team that has exited the Patriot League tournament in the first round each of the last eight seasons, the Navy Midshipmen (7-9, 1-0) look to reverse their fortune this season. Despite the graduation of all-league guard Kaleo Kina, the Mids once again have a solid backcourt, led by the conference’s leading scorer, senior Chris Harris. Twice this season, Harris has gone for at least thirty points, but his teammates have yet to make significant contributions on the offensive end. If Navy is to finally get an elusive conference tournament victory, their forwards will need to take the scoring pressure off of their guards.
After starting the year with nine consecutive losses, the Colgate Raiders have begun to turn a nightmarish season around. Although the games will still show up as losses, the Raiders will benefit from playing Big East powers Syracuse and Connecticut. An overtime victory against league-leader Army to open their conference schedule proves that Colgate could be a force come March.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the young season is the continued struggles of the conference’s darling, the Bucknell Bison (5-12, 0-1). After suffering their program’s worst season in 2008, many expected the Bison to seriously compete for the league title. Bucknell has a strong mix of experience, with senior Patrick Behan down low and junior Darryl Shazier at point guard, and youth, with freshman Bryson Johnson and Joe Willman getting important minutes. However, this balance has not translated into victories.
In the midst of rebuilding their programs, the American Eagles (3-13, 0-1) and the Holy Cross Crusaders (3-13, 0-1) have fallen to the bottom of the conference. After meeting in last season’s Patriot League Tournament final, both have struggled to replace key parts from their programs last season. Despite his outstanding track record as an assistant, first-year Crusader head coach Sean Kearney has not found the same success as his predecessor, Ralph Willard, who resigned last season to fill an assistant coaching vacancy at Louisville.
American also faced a tough task in replacing their entire starting five that led the Eagles to consecutive NCAA tournaments in 2008 and 2009, including two-time Patriot League Tournament MVP Garrison Carr. Junior transfer Vlad Moldoveanu has given the Eagle frontcourt a much-needed lift, averaging 18 point per contest despite missing his team’s first nine games.