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Patriot League Preview: Lehigh looks to end unpredictable trend

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Patriot League conference.

The Patriot League has been unpredictable.

Case in point: Holy Cross winning four straight road games to win the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. The Crusaders, who capped the regular season with an 83-68 drumming from Boston University, had five total league wins all season.

A year earlier, Lafayette finished 9-9 in conference play before going on a run that ended in the field of 68. Before that, American, pegged to finish ninth in the preseason poll, won the league in 2014.

Lehigh, the clear-cut favorite again this season, looks to end the 2016-17 season where it will begin: atop the conference. Led by Tim Kempton, the two-time Patriot League Player of the Year, and Kahron Ross, another all-Patriot League performer, the Mountain Hawks have great balance. The 6-foot-10 Kempton is a presence on both ends of the floor, while Ross, Austin Price and Kyle Leufroy all shot the ball well from beyond the arc. That should help offset the departure of Jesse Chuku. The backcourt is bolstered by the return of Brandon Allston, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Lehigh has the best big man in the conference and one of the best set of guards.

The title of best perimeter in the Patriot League should go to Boston University. The Terriers return Eric Fanning, a first team all-league guard in 2015-16, welcome back Cedric Hankerson, who appeared in only one game last season while recovering from a torn ACL, and return Cheddi Mosley and Kyle Foreman. This depth allows BU to play in a variety of ways. Losing John Papale hurts, but Joe Jones has a core guards who will accept roles and know what it takes to win games.

Holy Cross, a year after winning an NCAA Tournament game (defeating Southern, 59-55, in the First Four) with a losing record, should finish near the top of the conference standings this season. The Crusaders return three double-digit scorers in Robert Champion, Malachi Alexander and Karl Charles. What fueled Holy Cross’ postseason run was a 1-3-1 defensive that was implemented during the season and got better with time. Per kenpom.com, the Crusaders were among the worst in the league in defensive efficiency. That shouldn’t be the case this season. On offense, they should continue their methodical pace led by senior point guard Anthony Thompson. The 5-foot-11 point guard will have no shortage of 3-point options when the shot clock winds down.

It’s hard to label Bucknell as a sleeper. The Bison have won the regular season title in each of the last two seasons. However, they graduated Chris Hass. Nana Foulland has the chance to not only be the focal point of the offense, but emerge as one of the league’s best players. The 6-foot-9 forward has started both years he’s been on campus and has made an impact on both ends of the floor. Stephen Brown is the other returning starter for Nathan Davis. Like Foulland, it’s reasonable to believe that Brown can make the jump in a leading role this season. If that’s the case, then Bucknell should contend once again.

The freshmen and sophomores outnumber the upperclassmen, but Navy should be in the mix this winter. The Midshipmen return leading scorer Shawn Anderson, who posted 13.2 points per game last season. Some of the underclassmen will need to step up after Navy graduated key pieces in the backcourt and the frontline. American started out conference play 0-6, but closed out the season winning nine of its last 12 to finish in the top half of the league with a 9-9 record. Bringing back reigning Patriot League Rookie of the Year, Delante Jones, only adds to the optimism for the Eagles entering this season. Colgate graduated Austin Tillotson, but Jordan Swopshire is more than capable of being a breakout star in the Patriot League this season. The Raiders also return Tom Rivard, who also scored in double figures last season. In an unpredictable league, mark down Colgate as a sleeper.

Andre Walker and Jarred Jones both averaged more than 13 points per game last season for Loyola. Part of a trio of returning starters, the Greyhounds could surprise some this year. Lafayette took its bumps last season en route to a last-place finish. Nick Linder, a senior point guard who averaged 13.3 points per game, will anchor a team whose roster is still dominated by freshmen and sophomores. Army lost all five starters, including two of the league’s top scorers in Tanner Plomb and Kyle Wilson, from a season ago, and saw head coach Zack Spiker leave to fill the Drexel vacancy. New head coach Jimmy Allen has some talented underclassmen, but they should be expected to go through growing pains this season.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Lehigh center Tim Kempton (32) is defended by Virginia center Mike Tobey (10) during an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday Nov. 25, 2015, in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff)
(AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff)

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

Tim Kempton, the two-time reigning Patriot League Player of the Year, is the runaway favorite for this year’s honors. The 6-foot-10 center averaged 17.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game as a junior. The presence Kempton commands on the block helped the Mountain Hawks lead the Patriot League in 3-point percentage at 39 percent last season.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON PATRIOT LEAGUE TEAM:

  • Malachai Alexander, Holy Cross: The 2016 Patriot League Tournament MVP averaged 11.8 points. 5.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.
  • Eric Fanning, Boston University: During the absence of Cedric Hankerson, the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 15.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
  • Nana Foulland, Bucknell: The second team all-Patriot League selection from a season ago should have a strong case for player of the year honors, posting 11.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as a sophomore.
  • Kahron Ross, Lehigh: One of the top mid-major point guards, Ross averaged 11.2 points, shooting 38 percent from three, and averaged 6.1 assists (to 1.9 turnovers) per game.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @PL_MBB

PREDICTED FINISH

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

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.