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Patriot League Preview: Can anyone challenge Bucknell?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Patriot League.

The 2016-17 season in the Patriot League was one dominated by the Bucknell Bison, with Nathan Davis’ team winning the regular season title for the sixth time in the last seven years. Led by Patriot League Player and Defensive Player of the Year Nana Foulland, the Bison were the best team in the league with regards to both offensive and defensive efficiency and won the regular season title by three games. After winning 26 games and reaching the NCAA tournament as a 13-seed, the question for Bucknell entering the 2017-18 season is what can this group do for an encore.

The good news for Bucknell is that all four double-digit scorers from last season, led by Foulland and forward Zach Thomas, are back on campus. Foulland averaged 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game last season, with the versatile Thomas leading the Bison in scoring with an average of 15.9 points per contest. Add in guards Stephen Brown and Kimbal Mackenzie, and Bucknell has a rotation that won’t lack for talent or experience.

Given Bucknell’s recent track record and their returning contributors, there’s a simple question for the rest of the Patriot League: which team is best equipped to make a run at the Bison? One could argue that up to four teams are in the conversation, with there not being much to separate them on paper.

Despite losing an outstanding front court presence in Tim Kempton and another productive senior on guard Austin Price, Lehigh is one of those teams. Head coach Dr. Brett Reed will call upon an experienced backcourt to lead the way, with junior Kyle Leufroy averaging nearly 12 points per game last season and senior Kahron Ross leading the league in assists last season. The Mountain Hawks also add one of the Patriot League’s top newcomers in guard Lance Tejada, who sat out last season as a transfer after playing the first two seasons of his college career at East Carolina. With regard to the front court, the progression of sophomore forward Pat Andree will be key if Lehigh is to threaten Bucknell.

Also in the mix is Colgate, with head coach Matt Langel welcoming back six players who made at least 14 starts a season ago. At the top of that list are sophomore forward Will Rayman and senior guard Sean O’Brien, with Rayman being the Patriot League’s top freshman last season. In Rayman, O’Brien and Jordan Swopshire the Raiders return three double-digit scorers, and if Colgate can become a more efficient team on both ends of the floor look out.

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Navy and Boston University should also be heard from in the Patriot League conversation, with the Midshipmen being led by senior guard Shawn Anderson. Ed DeChellis’ team won’t lack for depth, with the team’s top five scorers from a season ago back in Annapolis. As for the Terriers, Boston University has to account for the loss of two of the Patriot League’s best players in Eric Fanning and Justin Alston but the cupboard isn’t bare. Guards Cedric Hankerson and Cheddi Mosely return, as does all-rookie team forward Tyler Scanlon, which should make for a good foundation on which to build a possible contender.

Loyola (MD), Lafayette and Army West Point will look to fight their way into the upper half of the Patriot League standings, with the Greyhounds returning one of the Patriot League’s best guards in senior Andre Walker. Lafayette returns three of its top four scorers, led by the Patriot League’s top returning scorer in senior forward Matt Klinewski. And in his second season as the head coach at Army West Point, Jimmy Allen will look to make strides with a team that won 13 games in 2016-17. Guard Jordan Fox is back for his junior season, and in total five of Army’s top six scorers are back.

American, which won just eight games last season, returns its top two scorers in sophomores Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini. However, the Eagles do have to account for the loss of one of the top defenders in the Patriot League in wing Charlie Jones. Holy Cross, which won 15 games last season, will have to account for the loss of its top two scorers in Robert Champion and Malachi Alexander. Head coach Bill Carmody will look to juniors Karl Charles and Pat Benzan to step forward, but with no seniors on this season’s roster it will take the Crusaders some time to develop into a Patriot League contender.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON PATRIOT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nana Foulland, Bucknell

Not only was Foulland the Patriot League’s best player in 2016-17, but he was also its best defender. Foulland averaged 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game as a junior, shooting 63.0 percent from the field.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE TEAM

  • Kahron Ross, Lehigh: Ross led the Patriot League in assists (5.3 apg) last season while also scoring nearly ten points per game. With Tim Kempton gone, Ross will have more opportunities to score within the Lehigh offense.
  • Andre Walker, Loyola (MD): Walker averaged 14.6 points, 3.9 assists and 3.6 rebounds per night for the Greyhounds last season, and he also shot 38.0 percent from three.
  • Shawn Anderson, Navy: The 6-foot-4 senior guard saw his field goal percentage dip as a junior (41.8 percent after shooting nearly 50 percent as a sophomore), but he still averaged 12.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per night.
  • Zach Thomas, Bucknell: Thomas led the Bison in scoring (15.9 ppg) last season, while also averaging 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per night. His ability to score both inside and out will be key for Bucknell.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @PL_MBB

PREDICTED FINISH

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

Four conferences sign on to basketball officiating alliance

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Four more Division I conferences will join a men’s basketball officiating alliance formed last year by the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and Colonial Athletic Association.

The Big South, the Ivy League, the Northeast and the Patriot League are joining ahead of the 2017-18 season, according to announcements from the leagues Thursday. The alliance launched last summer for conferences to work together on officiating matters and enhance training, development, recruitment, retention and feedback for officials.

John Cahill, the Big East’s supervisor of officials, and Bryan Kersey, the ACC’s coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, will continue to lead the alliance operations.

ACC commissioner John Swofford says the new additions to the alliance “provide an even greater opportunity to build chemistry and quality” across the officiating ranks.

Bucknell announces hiring of former assistant Nathan Davis as head coach

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Bucknell has found its replacement for Dave Paulsen, who left the program last month to become the head coach at George Mason. Sunday evening the school announced the hiring of Nathan Davis, who makes his return to Bucknell after serving as the head coach at Randolph Macon for the last six seasons.

Prior to taking his first head coaching job Davis was an assistant at Bucknell from 2003-08, and during that period the program won NCAA tournament games in 2005 (vs. No. 3 Kansas) and 2006 (vs. No. 8 Arkansas) and also achieved its first ever Top 25 ranking during the 2005-06 season. With Davis returning, Bucknell will look to remain a major player in the Patriot League.

“I am extremely excited to be coming back to Bucknell,” Davis said in the release. “Having worked there for five years, I know what a special place Bucknell is. It is an ideal place to coach, because you have student-athletes who are committed to excellence on and off the court.

“I have remained a huge fan of the Bison and followed the team closely, and I hope to continue to build on the success that Dave Paulsen and his staff have achieved over the last seven years.”

Davis, who will be formally introduced by the school Tuesday afternoon, won more than 78 percent of his games as head coach at Randolph Macon. And with the talent expected to return next season, his debut campaign at Bucknell sets up to be a successful one as well.

The Bison’s top six scorers, led by rising senior guard Chris Hass (16.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and rising sophomore center Nana Foulland (10.2, 5.4), return after winning the Patriot League regular season title (13-5 record; 19-15 overall) in 2014-15.

Reports: Holy Cross to name Bill Carmody head coach Thursday

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A little less than two weeks after deciding to relieve Milan Brown of his head coaching duties, it’s been reported by multiple outlets that Holy Cross has found his replacement.

According to reports from Andy Katz of ESPN.com and Jennifer Tolland of the Worcester Telegran and Gazette, the Patriot League school will announce Bill Carmody as its new hire on Thursday. Carmody, who has been a Division I head coach at Princeton and Northwestern, was named special assistant to Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson in late January.

In his 17 seasons as a head coach Carmody has led his teams to two NCAA (both at Princeton) and six NIT (four at Northwestern) appearances. Carmody was relieved of his duties at Northwestern at the end of the 2012-13 season, ending a 13-year run at the Big Ten school.

In five seasons under Brown’s leadership the Crusaders made just one postseason appearance, as they played in the CIT last season.

Ralph Willard, who served as head coach at Holy Cross from 1999-2009, led his alma mater to four NCAA tournaments and one Postseason NIT. The hope is that Carmody is the man who can push Holy Cross basketball back in that direction. Holy Cross loses its top two scorers from this past season’s team, as Malcolm Miller and Justin Burrell are both out of eligibility.

Introducing Cinderella: Meet the Lafayette Leopards

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Conference: Patriot League

Coach: Fran O’Hanlon

Record: 20-12 (9-9)

Ratings and rankings:

Kenpom: 197
RPI (per NCAA): 126
AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding: Look for the Leopards to land on the 16-line come Selection Sunday.

Names you need to know: Dan Trist (17.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Seth Hinrichs (13.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.5 apg), Nick Lindner (12.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 5.4 apg), Joey Ptasinski (9.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg)

Stats you need to know: The Leopards will be one of the better offensive teams in the field, as they entered Wednesday averaging 74.5 points per game and shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 41.0 percent from beyond the arc. The Leopards are also one of the best foul shooting teams in the country, as they’re making 76.5 percent of those attempts. The defensive end is where the concerns lie however, as they ranked in the bottom half of the Patriot League in many of the major statistical categories.

Tendencies: Lafayette scores more than 32 percent of its points by way of the three-point shot, and despite their performance from the foul line only 17.6 percent of the Leopards’ points have been scored from the charity stripe. They take care of the basketball (1.47 assist-to-turnover ratio as a team; seventh nationally), and nearly 60 percent of their field goals have been assisted. Defensively the Leopards have looked to use both man and zone looks, but as noted above that end of the floor is where they’ve had trouble.

Big wins, bad losses: Lafayette opened the season with a 77-50 win over Robert Morris, which will represent the Northeast Conference in the NCAA tournament, and they also had a non-conference win over Princeton. In conference play the Leopards beat regular season champ Bucknell twice, the second of which coming in the Patriot League semis, and they also picked up a win over Colgate. As for dubious losses, the Leopards did go 9-9 in league play and losses include Navy, Holy Cross and Boston University.

How’d they get here?: Lafayette has won four straight games since losing to Colgate February 25, with the final three wins coming in the Patriot League tournament. The biggest win came against Bucknell, as Nick Lindner scored 23 points and Dan Trist added 21. Lindner scored 25 and dished out four assists in the title game victory over American, at one point going shot for shot with American’s Darius “Pee Wee” Gardner during the second half. Lindner’s been outstanding of late for Lafayette, as he’s scored 23 points or more in each of the last three games.

Outlook: Lafayette is unlikely to knock off a one-seed (no 16 ever has), but getting to the tournament is quite the achievement for seniors Hinrichs, Trist and Joey Ptasinski (Lindner’s a sophomore). If they wind up making the trek to Dayton this is a team that can win, especially given their efficiency on the offensive end.

How do I know you?: Lafayette last reached the NCAA tournament in 2000, when they fell to Temple in the first round.  That was the second of two straight NCAA appearances the Leopards made under O’Hanlon, who played his college basketball at Villanova (1967-70). Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon attended Lafayette during the 1970s, and coaches such as Dr. Tom Davis, Butch van Breda Kolff and Gary Williams all spent time working at Lafayette during their respective coaching careers.

Holy Cross fires head coach Milan Brown after five seasons

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Less than 24 hours after their season came to an end with an overtime loss in the Patriot League quarterfinals to Bucknell, Holy Cross announced that it has decided to replace head coach Milan Brown.

Brown, who arrived at Holy Cross in 2010 after leading the program at Mount St. Mary’s, spent five seasons at Holy Cross and put together a record of 69 wins and 83 losses. Holy Cross finished the 2014-15 season with a 14-16 overall record, going 8-10 in Patriot League play.

“I am disappointed that we must make this change, but the success of our men’s basketball program has not been commensurate with our competitive expectations under Coach Brown’s leadership,” Holy Cross athletics director Nathan Pine said in the release. “I thank Coach Brown for all his efforts at Holy Cross and his many contributions to the College community, especially his care and concern for our student-athletes.”

Next season the Crusaders will have to account for the loss of their top two scorers from this year’s team, as forward Malcolm Miller and guard Justin Burrell are both graduating. Their top scorers who have eligibility remaining are forward Malcolm Alexander (8.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg as as sophomore in 2014-15) and guard/forward Eric Green (6.5, 3.2 as a junior).