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Patriot League Preview: Can anyone catch Lehigh?

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Patriot League.

The Patriot League is a conference with many familiar faces in 2015-16, which should make for a competitive race, one that could involve a handful of teams.

Lehigh should be pegged as the preseason favorite. The Mountain Hawks bring back four starters, none bigger than Tim Kempton, the 6-foot-10 junior who took home Patriot League Player of the Year honors last season. Kempton is joined by Kahron Ross, a playmaking point guard who led the league in assists, and Austin Price, the team’s second leading scorer from a season ago. Justin Goldsborough adds some support on the frontline, but the Lehigh back court took a hit this fall with Brandon Alston tore his ACL.

After seven seasons and a pair of NCAA tournament appearances, Dave Paulsen left Bucknell for George Mason. Nathan Davis, a former Bucknell assistant, steps into a good situation with four starters back from a team that won the regular season title in 2014-15. Chris Hass is one of the more gifted scorers in the league and anchors the perimeter, which includes Ryan Frazier and Stephen Brown. Nana Foulland, a 6-foot-9 forward who started every game last season, could be in for a monster sophomore campaign.

Boston University and Army both have their entire starting fives back from a season ago. The Black Knights didn’t have the season in envisioned, but the duo of Kyle Wilson, who has led the league in scoring at 17.5 points per game, and forward Tanner Plomb, who scored in double figures in all but three league games, can skyrocket them up the Patriot League standings. The Terriers have two double-digit scorers of their own in Cedric Hankerson and Eric Fanning. BU’s supporting cast should be more comfortable in their roles this season. Hankerson, who is recovering from an ACL tear, could be back in December, Joe Jones told ESPN.

Jesse Reed will attempt to lead American to another Patriot League Tournament title game (winning in 2014, losing in 2015), but he’ll have to do so without Pee-Wee Gardner. The Eagles could benefit from transfers Paris Maragkos and Leon Tolksdorf. Lafayette, the reigning champion, will likely take a step back, but guards Nick Lindner and Bryce Scott could keep things interesting in league play.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “I would say Lehigh. Anytime you bring back the player of the year, it’ll obviously give you an advantage. Having him (Tim Kempton) along with the rookie of the year, Kahron Ross, I think those two are one of the best tandems in the league.”
  • Sleeper: “Colgate. With some of the guys they had sitting out, I’d probably say them. They’re going to be so different compared to what they had last season. With so many new faces those guys will come in and provide meaningful stuff for them right away.”
  • Star to watch: “To me, it’ll be Kyle Wilson. In our league, he’s one of the most talented scorers. He can score in so many different ways.”

PRESEASON PATRIOT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tim Kempton, Lehigh

The reigning Patriot League Player of the Year returns following a sophomore campaign averaging 15.3 points and a league-high 8.7 boards per game. Not many can handle the 6-foot-10 big man on the block. Adding to the mismatch, Kempton can also do damage with his mid-range game. Kempton and point guard Kahron Ross make for a lethal one-two punch in the Patriot League.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON PATRIOT LEAGUE TEAM:

  • Chris Hass, Bucknell: Ten times Hass went for 20 or more. Six happened in league play. Two more happened in back-to-back games: 21 against Michigan and 32 vs. Villanova.
  • Nick Lindner, Lafayette: The Patriot League Tournament MVP averaged 12.5 points, 5.2 assists per game.
  • Jesse Reed, American: The Eagles may be relying on new pieces this season, but they will expect the same offensive production from Reed, who averaged double figures in each of the last two seasons. The 6-foot-5 guard was a marathon man for American in 2014-15, never coming off the floor in 16 games.
  • Kyle Wilson, Army: The 6-foot-4 senior led the league in scoring the past two seasons.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @PL_MBB

PREDICTED FINISH

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

Patriot League Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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Despite losing both games to Colgate, Bucknell still managed to claim the Patriot League regular season title by one game over the Raiders. That should tell you how competitive this week’s tournament should be. Lehigh routed Bucknell one week ago and Lafayette, another contender, has notched wins over each of the top three teams in the league. Leading the list of dark horses were two of the preseason favorites, American and Holy Cross.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology | The updated top 25

The Bracket

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When: March 3, 5, 8, 11

Where: Campus sites (higher seed)

Final: March 11, 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

READ MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

Favorite: Bucknell

The Bison won the regular season title league for the fourth time in six years. Bucknell made noise early in the season, giving Villanova, now considered a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, a scare. But the Bison began league play 2-2 before rallying off win streaks of five and six games to win the Patriot League outright. It’s a young roster, but the Bison will hold home court and will have the guidance of Dave Paulsen, looking to take his third team to the NCAA tournament.

And if they lose?: Colgate

We’ve seen how important guard play is in March. The Raiders have a talented perimeter attack with senior scoring guard Damon Sherman-Newsome, Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Luke Roh and junior Austin Tillotson. Colgate has also shown it can win on the road with victories at Lehigh, Lafayette and Bucknell.

Sleepers:

  • Lehigh: The Mountain Hawks went 1-2 down the stretch, but that win was a 19-point win over league favorite Bucknell and those two losses — to fourth-place Lafayette and second-place Colgate — were by a total of eight points. A young roster got battle-tested in the last week of the season and they could use that, and the play of big man Tim Kempton, to make  a run this March.
  • American: Let’s not count out the defending champion. The Eagles still have Jesse Reed and Pee Wee Gardner. They also defeated three of the top four teams at least once this season.

Player of the Year: Dan Trist, Lafayette

The senior forward was conference’s top scorer at 17.7 points per game while grabbing 6.7 boards a night, good for fourth in the Patriot League. He went for 20 or more in both games against first-place Bucknell, including 29 points and 11 boards in a 84-74 win on Feb. 4. He also had strong outings against Colgate and Lehigh, the other two teams ahead of the Leopards in the league standings.

Coach of the Year: Dave Paulsen, Bucknell

The Bison were slotted to finish in the middle of the pack in the Patriot League preseason poll. Paulen, in his seventh season at Bucknell, took a young roster — seven freshmen and sophomores compared to two seniors who see significant minutes — and led them to the top spot in the standings, the fourth time the Bison have won the regular season title during his tenure.

All-Patriot League Team:

  • Trist
  • Tim Kempton, Lehigh: The sophomore big man was the league’s top rebounder (8.6) while averaging 15.1 points per game. He recorded six of his 13 double-doubles during Patriot League play.
  • Damon Sherman-Newsome, Colgate: The 6-foot-5 senior guard led the Raiders to a second-place finish, pacing the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game.
  • Cedric Hankerson, Boston University: The Terriers experienced a lot of turnover from last year. Hankerson embraced a larger role, increasing his scoring average by nearly 10 full points at 15.9 points per game. He also averaged 4.6 boards and 2.6 assists per game.
  • Chris Hass, Bucknell: The junior scoring guard scored 15.4 points per game, fifth in the Patriot League.

CBT PREDICTION: Bucknell over Lehigh

American’s Pee Wee Gardner hits game-winning three with Cal Ripken Jr. in attendance (VIDEO)

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American senior guard Pee Wee Gardner had himself quite a day on Wednesday, which he capped with a game-winning three with eight tenths of a second remaining to give the Eagles a 62-59 win over Lehigh. Gardner finished the game with eight points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals…and one fist bump from baseball Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken Jr.

The fist bump was shared after Gardner tallied one of his three steals earlier in the game. Gardner served as an intern for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation last summer according to CSN Washington, so obviously there is some familiarity there. Following the game baseball’s “Iron Man” posed for a photo with Gardner, John Schoof and Jesse Reed, who have been nicknamed “The Iron Men” due to their averaging more minutes per game than any other player in college basketball.

All three are averaging at last 39 minutes per game, with Schoof (39.4 mgp) ranked first followed by Reed (39.3) and Gardner (39.1).

Improved American team ready to defend Patriot League title in 2014-2015

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Moments after losing to Wisconsin, 75-35, in the NCAA tournament, first-year American head coach Mike Brennan gathered his team inside the Bradley Center locker room. His message was similar to the one he gave the team when he took over the program 11 months earlier.

“The biggest thing he told us after the game was we still had a lot to improve on,” starting point guard Darius “Pee Wee” Gardner told NBCSports.com last month. “We had a big year, but we had to take away from this season was that we still had more to improve on.”

That focus has carried over into the offseason workouts and into practice, as the Eagles shift from a surprise team that defied preseason polls in 2013-2014 to the reigning champion with a target on its back this season.

At this time last season, American was slotted ninth in the Patriot League’s preseason coaches poll.

“Last year we had a lot of doubts,” leading scorer Jesse Reed said. “We had a new coach and a bunch of new players who hadn’t had much play time. There was a lot unknown, but we had confidence that we could have a good season. It was an internal thing.”

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American kicked off Patriot League play with 10 consecutive wins, including a 30-point home win over Boston University. But as the law of averages evened out over the course of the next five games, the Eagles dropped four of five, relinquishing first place to BU in the process.

“I think we snuck up on some teams,” Brennan told NBCSports.com. “Second time around through the league was a little more difficult. Teams had a better sense to what we were doing.

The Eagles regrouped to reverse that trend, winning four of the last five to put them into the championship game. On the road in the Patriot League title game, American held BU, which shot threes at a 39 percent clip, to just 36 points, and forced the Terriers into a 1-for-17 shooting night from beyond the arc.

The key piece to that team defense — ranked 51st in that nation in adjusted defensive efficiency — was Tony Wroblicky, the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year and first team all-league selection. The 6-foot-10 center is the only starter Brennan lost, but he’ll need a committee to replace him.

“Tony was special for us,” Brennan said. “He did a lot of things for us. We have some other guys who are pretty good basketball players. They won’t fill Tony’s shoes, but they’ll be able to contribute in their own way.”

Jonathan Davis and Kevin Panzer join the program after sitting out last season following their transfers from George Washington and Nevada, respectively. Zach Elcano, the 6-foot-11 sophomore, saw time in 16 games as a freshman while Gabe Brown, a 7-foot freshman, adds depth to the frontline. Like last season, as the offense adjusted to the Princeton offense, incorporating four new bigs into its defense will take time.

“[Tony] was a big part of our defense,” Reed added. “I’m hoping those guys will have a similar impact, protecting the rim and being in help-side defense. It’s going to take a lot of work getting our defense back in the swing of things.”

Those newcomers in the middle surround the four returning starters, which include Reed, the team’s leading scorer at 13.4 points per game, Gardner, a second-team all-Patriot League selection and John Schoof, the third returning Eagle to average double figures last season.

The words Brennan said seven months ago in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — on the heels of a 40-point blowout — resonated with his perimeter attack of upperclassmen. Yes, it was an accomplishment to reach the NCAA tournament (the third time for American in six years), but the Badgers bludgeoned the Eagles en route to a Final Four appearance. The consolation for American was it provided the perfect blend: the thrill of postseason play and the bitter taste of a nationally-televised beatdown. That mixed feeling has been integrated into the offseason workouts because like they know first-hand, the Patriot League is always up for grabs.

“Look at us last year, “Reed said. “We weren’t suppose to challenge anyone.”

2014-2015 Season Preview: American is the favorite in a competitive Patriot League

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Last season, the Patriot League had five teams recorded 10 or more conference wins. In the end it game down to a pair of 20-win teams in the Patriot League Tournament championship game, as preseason favorite, Boston University, hosted the league’s surprise team, American. The Eagles ended up punching their ticket to the school’s first NCAA tournament since 2009.

It was a great first season for American head coach Mike Brennan, taking a team picked ninth in the league’s preseason poll to the Big Dance, and for Year 2 he’ll have the bulk of his roster back, including Jesse Reed, Darius ‘Pee Wee’ Gardner and John Schoof. American’s only lost one key piece, but it is a huge loss as Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Tony Wroblicky graduated. The Eagles will look to several newcomers to the program to help fill the void in the Eagles’ defense.

Holy Cross, like American, exceeded expectations, finishing third and earning a bid in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The Crusaders also lose a top player in forward Dave Dudzinski, but the Crusaders do bring back seven players from last season’s rotation, including Malcolm Miller and Anthony Thompson. Lafayette has the tools to make a jump back up the conference standings with arguably the league’s top player in Seth Hinrichs, as well as Nick Lindner, a 2013-2014 All-Rookie team selection.

Bucknell won six of its final seven games last season, and while the Bison lose Patriot League Player of the Year Cameron Ayers, they do have Chris Hass, an all-league caliber player. The only loss Bucknell suffered in those final seven games was to Army, which finished fifth in the conference standings last season. Kyle Wilson and his league-leading 18.4 points per game is back for the Black Knights.

Last season’s preseason favorite, BU, graduated D.J. Irving and Dom Morris while losing Mo Watson to transfer. The Terriers do have John Papale and adds transfers Blaise Mbargorba (SMU) and Eric Fanning (Wagner).

PRESEASON PATRIOT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Seth Hinrichs, Lafayette

The 6-foot-8 forward was averaging 20.2 points and 5.7 boards through the first nine games of the 2013-2014 season before a knee injury sidelined him for the next 10. Upon his return he recorded a pair of double-doubles en route to 16.3 points and 6.1 boards per game, earning third team all-Patriot League honors. The versatile forward is one of three returning starters for a conference contender.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON PATRIOT LEAGUE TEAM:

  • Jesse Reed, American: The leading scorer and top returning rebounder for the reigning Patriot League champion.
  • Kyle Wilson, Army: The 6-foot-4 junior guard was a unanimous all-Patriot League first team selection last season, averaging a conference-leading 18.4 points per game.
  • Darius ‘Pee Wee Gardner, American: The 5-foot-9 floor general averaged 11.3 points and 4.2 assists per game for the Eagles; earned second-team all-league honors.
  • John Papale, Boston University: With the departure of Watson, Irving and Morris, the 6-foot-3 junior guard will be asked to carry a heavier load for the Terriers.

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PREDICTED FINISH

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

No. 2 seed Wisconsin cruises to victory over No. 15 seed American

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MILWAUKEE — After a slow start that saw No. 15 seed American jump out to an early first-half lead, No. 2 seed Wisconsin settled down, made some shots and got the pro-Badger crowd involved as the Badgers breezed to a 75-35 win on Thursday in the opening Round of 64 West Region game in Milwaukee.

With the nearly-full Bradley Center turned into Kohl Center East on Thursday, the Badgers slowly grew comfortable defending American’s methodical Princeton-style offense and cruised to victory once they started knocking down shots and forcing turnovers.

The Wisconsin (27-7) defense held American (20-13) to 29 percent shooting (11-for-37) — including 15 percent shooting in the second half (3-for-19) — as senior guard Traevon Jackson led the Badgers with 18 points while senior guard Ben Brust added 17 points and sophomore forward Sam Dekker added 11 points.

After jumping out to a 19-13 lead with 8:53 remaining in the first half, the Eagles only mustered 16 points the last 28:53 of the game as American struggled to knock down shots and turnovers became a factor. Wisconsin’s defense forced 17 American turnovers and also tightened up after allowing some easy looks from the Eagle offense off of dribble hand-offs early in the first half.

The Eagles were led by junior guard John Schoof and senior center Tony Wroblicky, as they each finished with 11.

Wisconsin now moves on to face the winner of the No. 7 seed Oregon and No. 10 seed BYU game on Saturday at the Bradley Center.