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2013-2014 Patriot League Preview: A new face at the top

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click hereTo see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Bucknell and Lehigh have owned the Patriot League for the past four seasons each claiming the league crown twice, but that figures to change as both graduated several impact players — specifically Bucknell’s Mike Muscala and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum. Boston University, who was ineligible to win the league championship in their final season as a member of the America East last year, is the prohibitive favorite to win the Patriot League. Joe Jones’ squad returns four players who earned America East honors from a season ago — D.J. Irving (First Team), Dom Morris (Third Team), Maurice Watson (Third Team and All-Rookie Team), and John Papale (All-Rookie Team).

Irving and Watson make for the league’s top backcourt, and Morris is an immovable, yet skilled body in the middle. In a league that does not feature a bevy of proven forwards of the 6-foot-9 and taller variety, especially with graduation claiming Muscala, Stephen Lumpkins, and Gabe Knutson, Boston University will be able to mask their dearth of big bodies in the frontcourt.

Speaking of guard play, Lafayette graduated the always steady Tony Johnson, but returns their top scorer from a year ago in Seth Hinrichs, along with versatile big man Dan Trist. While much easier said than done, if Fran O’Hanlon is able to find a suitable replacement for Johnson — most likely either sophomore Bryce Scott or freshman Nick Lindner — the Leopards have the offensive firepower to challenge Boston University.

One of the best stories of last season was Army posting a 16-15 record and 8-6 mark in league play — the above .500 record in league play was the first time in the 20+ year history of the league that the Black Knights finished above this mark. With Kyle Wilson, last year’s Rookie of the Year, returning along with Dylan Cox, Army figures to be in the mix in the upper half of the league again.

Both Bucknell and Lehigh figure to regress after graduating two of the best senior classes ever to come through the Patriot League. Don’t be surprised if Navy, a team that has a combined record of 2-28 in the league over the last two seasons, makes a big jump forward in year three of the Ed DeChellis era. Tilman Dunbar and Worth Smith make for a very nice inside — outside combo. Loyola (Maryland) saw Jimmy Patsos take some highly touted incoming recruits with him to Siena, first year coach G.G. Smith will be in minor rebuilding mode, but has Dylon Cormier back to run the point.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Boston University, Loyola (Maryland)
Out: None

PRESEASON AMERICA EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: D.J. Irving, Boston University

Irving (14.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.4 spg) has been a fixture in the Terriers’ starting lineup starting all but five games in his career. As a freshman, Irving went to the NCAA Tournament with current Penn State coach Pat Chambers coaching Boston University; he will look to lead the Terriers back there in this Joe Jones’ third season.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Dave Dudzinski, Holy Cross: One of the league’s best inside players, Dudzinski runs the floor like a small forward but finishes well among the trees.
  • Cameron Ayers, Bucknell: For Bucknell to have success, Ayers will have to develop a scoring mentality, something he hasn’t had to do in his first three years.
  • Murphy Burnatowski, Colgate: Perhaps the league’s top scorer, the transfer from Maine, now in his second season with Colgate, can score anywhere in the halfcourt.
  • Dylon Cormier, Loyola (Maryland): An All-MAAC First Teamer last season, Cormier will be a force in the Patriot League for his lone season.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @HoopTime

PREDICTED FINISH

1) Boston University
2) Lafayette
3) Army
4) Bucknell
5) Lehigh
6) Loyola (Maryland)
7) Navy
8) Colgate
9) Holy Cross
10) American

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.