Men’s Basketball: Patriot League Preview

By Hannah Yoshinaga 

The Patriot League returned to some sense of normalcy to begin the 2021-22 season with non-conference games back on the schedule and fans back in the stands for all 10 teams. Whether that will continue through the beginning of league play with a nationwide rise in COVID-19 cases is a different question, but the return of conference games is sure to be interesting either way.

Boston University (9-4)

Last season: The last time we saw the Terriers in action, they were defeated by eventual champion Colgate in the Patriot League quarterfinals 77-69. The loss concluded a relatively underwhelming season for the Terriers in which they finished 7th after winning a title the season prior and returning much of the same roster.

Additions: F Malcolm Chimezie (freshman), F Nevin Zink (junior transfer from the University of South Carolina Upstate)

Losses: F Jack Hemphill (grad transferred to St. Francis College), G Alex Vilarino (graduated), G Andrew Petcash (graduated)

Returning players: G Ethan Brittain-Watts, G/F Walter Whyte, G Jonas Harper, G Tarkan Taboglu, G Javante McCoy, G Garrett Pascoe, G Michael Quinn, F Tim Uzoegbu, G/F Fletcher Tynen, F Sukhmail Mathon, G Daman Tate, G Caelan Jones, F Andrew Patnode, G/F Anthony Morales, G Miles Brewster

Where they stand: The Terriers have quickly asserted themselves as the top dogs in the conference when they’re at their potential, with their one-possession loss to Florida State standing out as an example of what they can do even with injuries on the roster. Multiple-time All-Patriot League selection Javante McCoy is rolling with 17.2 points per game, while center Sukhmail Mathon has made strides controlling the paint for BU. The Terriers still boast the conference’s best record despite top forwards Walter Whyte and Nevin Zink having played only five and six games respectively. Key guard Ethan Brittain-Watts has also only featured in four games thus far but should factor in when BU kicks off league play against Bucknell on January 1.

BU can expect its success to continue as it begins to face conference opponents, and the Terriers’ matchup with Navy on January 4 is an early must-watch.

Naval Academy (7-4)

Last season: Navy captured the best record in the Patriot League, narrowly edging Colgate by one win, but fell in the conference quarterfinals to a Loyola Maryland team led by future NBA draft pick Santi Aldama and hot-handed Jaylin Andrews.

Additions: G Lysander Rehnstrom (freshman), G Kam Summers (freshman), G Mac Macdonald (freshman), G Amir Whitlock (freshman), C Myles Evans (freshman), F Mitch Fischer (freshman), C Jaime Hernandez (freshman)

Losses: G Cam Davis (graduated), F Alec Loehr (graduated), F Luke Loehr (graduated), C Zach Kelch, F Aaron Davis

Returning players: G John Carter Jr., G Sean Yoder, F Tyler Nelson, G Christian Jones, F Jaylen Walker, G P.J. Roach Jr., G Greg Summers, G Patrick Dorsey, G Cam Davis, F P.J. Fenton, G Christian Silva, F Daniel Deaver, F Nate Allison, F Richard Njoku, C Zach Kelch, G Austin Inge, G Trae Broadnax, F B.J. Knight, G Charles West, F Tony Atkinson, C Ejai Washington

Where they stand: Navy has had an up-and-down two months to begin the season as the Mids adapt to life without first-teamer Cam Davis for the first time in four years. However, the loss has opened the door for senior guards John Carter Jr. and Greg Summers to take charge of the offense, which they lead with 13.5 PPG and 9.5 PPG respectively. Senior forward Richard Njoku, an All-Defensive Team selection last year, has been effective off the bench, along with junior forward Jaylen Walker.

The Mids have also impressed on defense, limiting opponents to 30% shooting from the field and just 58.9 points per game — both of which are the lowest marks in the conference. They’ll be put to the test right off the top, as they play three of the Patriot League’s top four offenses (Bucknell, BU and Colgate) in the first two weeks of their conference schedule.

Loyola Maryland (6-5)

Last season: Loyola surprised many across the league when it reached the Patriot League Championship game after going 4-10 in conference play, though the Greyhounds were defeated 85-72 by Colgate. Forward Santi Aldama built his draft stock with a monstrous season, scoring 30 or more points three times in just 17 games, and was taken 30th in the draft by the Utah Jazz.

Additions: G Nick Marshall (freshman), F Veljko Ilic (freshman), G Chris Kuzemka (freshman)

Losses: F Santi Aldama (NBA Draft), G Luke Johnson (graduated), G Isaiah Hart (graduated), G Garren Davis (transferred to Clarendon College), G Brandon Bradsher (graduated), G Ethan Norton (graduated), F Brent Holcombe (graduated)

Returning players: G Jaylin Andrews, F Golden Dike, G Cam Spencer, F Markese Redding, F Casmir Ochiaka, G Daraun Gray, G Kenneth Jones, G Wade Jackson, F Alonso Faure

Where they stand: The Greyhounds have the third-best record in the conference thus far but don’t have a tremendous amount of quality wins to show for it. What’s particularly concerning is the trouble they’ve had shooting the three-ball — Loyola has made only 31.3% of its attempts from beyond the arc and ranks last in the Patriot League.

On the positive side, Cam Spencer’s season has been anything but a sophomore slump. The guard is averaging 17.6 points per game and turning the ball over fewer than one time a game, both marks that head coach Tavaras Hardy has to be happy with. Senior guards Jaylin Andrews and Kenneth Jones are orchestrating the offense, while junior forward Golden Dike continues to anchor the defense. Loyola has the pieces even without Santi Aldama, but need to put them together versus tougher Patriot League competition before it becomes clear where they truly fall in the standings.

Army West Point (6-6)

Last season: After being one of the only Patriot League teams to play a non-conference schedule last year, Army’s conference season ended with a four-point loss to Loyola MD. The Black Knights continued to the CBI Tournament but fell to Bellarmine 77-67. Guard Josh Caldwell took home Defensive Player of the Year, in addition to an All-Patriot League second-team selection.

Additions: F Griff Lamb (freshman), G Isaiah Caldwell (freshman), G Blane St. Clair (freshman), G Blake Barker (freshman), F JT Dougherty (freshman), G TJ Small (freshman), F Nolan Naess (freshman), G Luke Benson (freshman), F AJ Allenspach (freshman)

Losses: G Mark Madden (graduated), G Tucker Blackwell (graduated), F Nick Finke (graduated), G Lonnie Grayson (graduated), F Alex King (graduated)

Returning players: G Josh Caldwell, G Brendan Thiele, F Chris Mann, G Aaron Duhart, G Jordan Coleman, F Ben Kinker, G John Scully, F Ben Jensen, G Jalen Rucker, G Noah Jager, G Zach Lezanic, G Kwabena Davis, G Jared Cross, F Charlie Peterson, F Matt Dove, G Zach Rocco, F Abe Johnson

Where they stand: Army has weathered the storm against some tough opponents, including Duke and South Carolina. While the Black Knights did not come away victorious in either contest, the games showed which players are capable of matching up with top defenders and shooters. To no surprise, senior guard Josh Caldwell and 2020-21 All-Rookie Team pick Jalen Rucker led the team in scoring in both games. Caldwell, a key piece of the Black Knights’ defense, is averaging 12.8 points and 1.8 steals per game. Rucker has come into his own as a second-year player with 14.8 PPG and 38.5% shooting from deep.

Where Army could certainly stand to improve is free-throw shooting, as the Black Knights have made only 58.3% of their free throws across 12 games. They must be able to take advantage of free points, especially with tough games against Colgate and BU coming up quickly on the schedule.

American University (4-8)

Last season: American was hampered early by COVID-19 troubles, having multiple games canceled to begin the season. The Eagles played only nine games en route to a 4-5 record and were handily defeated by Army 89-66 in the first round of the playoffs.

Additions: F Matt Delaney (freshman), G Elijah Stephens (freshman)

Losses: G Jamir Harris (grad transferred to Seton Hall), F Jesse Little (graduated)

Returning players: G Stacy Beckton Jr., G Jamir Harris, F Connor Nelson, G Marvin Bragg, F Josh Alexander, G Ben Lubarsky, G Christian Sutton, G Victor Brown Jr., G Lorenzo Donadio, G Chris Gleaton, F Christian Lorng, F Johnny O’Neil, F Matt Rogers, G Colin Smalls

Where they stand: Fifth-year forward Stacy Beckton Jr. continues to be a superstar for American, serving as one of the best two-way players in the conference. While he may not have the same splash factor as some of the Patriot League’s top sharpshooters, he fits in well with the Eagles’ balanced system and can be counted on when the moment comes. Three sophomores — Johnny O’Neil, Matt Rogers and Colin Smalls — have made the leap and round out American’s offense.

Yet, the problem is just that — despite solid numbers from Beckton, O’Neil, Rogers and Smalls, the Eagles score the second-fewest points in the league behind last-place Lehigh. American gets a bit of a break to begin the season with games against some of the Patriot League’s lowest-ranked defenses, giving the team an opportunity to ease into conference play, but will be tested when it faces BU on January 10.

Colgate University (4-9)

Last season: After slipping against BU in the 2020 Patriot League Championship game, Colgate came back with a vengeance last year and finished 11-1 in conference play, one win shy of taking the top seed. Colgate made it to the title game for the second consecutive year anyway, defeating Loyola MD to secure an NCAA Tournament berth against Arkansas. Perennial star Jordan Burns was awarded Patriot League Player of the Year and MVP of the Patriot League Tournament.

Additions: G Nicolas Louis-Jacques (freshman)

Losses: G Jordan Burns (graduated), G David Maynard (graduated), F Nicholas Evtimov (injury)

Returning players: G Nelly Cummings, G Zach Light, G Pearson Parker, G Ryan Moffatt, G Jack Ferguson, F Keegan Records, G Tucker Richardson, F Malcolm Bailey, G Oliver Lynch-Daniels, F Blake Henry, F Sam Thomson, G Alex Capitano, C Jeff Woodward

Where they stand: Colgate’s record is hardly representative of the potential the Raiders offer. Two of Colgate’s losses came by only three points each against ACC opponents NC State and Pittsburgh, and the Raiders’ 100-85 win versus Syracuse cannot go unmentioned. The loss of Jordan Burns certainly stings, but fifth-year guard Nelly Cummings is more than a sufficient replacement. Cummings is averaging 17.6 points per game on 50% three-point shooting and grabbing 1.7 steals per content, casting himself into the Player of the Year conversation early. Senior guard Tucker Richardson is continuing the upward trend he’s been on the last few seasons, playing a key role in the Raiders’ offense despite facing some mild scoring troubles.

If Colgate’s numbers lack anywhere, it’s on defense, but it’s hard to read much into that when they’ve faced arguably the most difficult non-conference slate in the league. While Colgate and BU don’t match up until January 29, the contest could be a Patriot League Championship preview.

Lafayette College (3-8)

https://twitter.com/LafayetteMBB/status/1469745616695795712?s=20

Last season: The Leopards finished in third place behind their high-powered offense, but it wasn’t enough against Bucknell in the Patriot League quarterfinals. Lafayette dropped 92-84 to Bucknell, despite getting 28 points from All-Patriot League first-teamer Justin Jaworski.

Additions: G Isaiah Thompson (freshman), G CJ Fulton (freshman), G Devin Hines (freshman), F Chris Rubayo (freshman)

Losses: G Justin Jaworski (graduated and entered 2021 NBA Draft), G E.J. Stephens (grad transferred to the University of Minnesota), G Alex Petrie (graduated), F Dylan Hastings (graduated)

Returning players: G Tyrone Perry, G Jay Vaughn, F Leo O’Boyle, F Neal Quinn, G Ryan Zambie, G Eric Sondberg, F Kyle Jenkins, G Jon Brantley, F Tomas Verbinskis

Where they stand: Behind Colgate, Lafayette has also had one of the hardest non-conference schedules in the Patriot League, with games against Syracuse and Duke. While both were blowouts, the experience ought to prove valuable for a Leopards team still finding its footing without Justin Jaworski and E.J. Stephens. Junior forward Neal Quinn and senior guard Tyrone Perry have taken advantage of the opportunity to take charge of the offense and currently lead the team in points per game, while sophomore forward Kyle Jenkins has proven himself to be a reliable scorer even against the Orange and Blue Devils.

The Leopards have some work to do on the boards and in terms of ball protection, but overall, they are in a solid position to begin conference play.

Bucknell University (3-9)

Last season: A middle-of-the-line 4-6 conference season for the Bison ended in disappointment when Colgate blew out Bucknell 105-75 in the Patriot League semifinals. However, the loss was only the beginning of more issues for Bison, with five players choosing to transfer after the season concluded.

Additions: F Ian Motta (freshman), G Elvin Edmonds IV (freshman), F Brock Newton (freshman), G Josh Bascoe (freshman)

Losses: C Paul Newman (grad transferred to the University of Albany), G Walter Ellis (transferred to Grand Canyon University), G Jordan Sechan (grad transferred to the College of Charleston), F John Meeks (grad transferred to the College of Charleston), G Miles Latimer (entered transfer portal)

Returning players: F Malachi Rhodes, G Andrew Funk, G Xander Rice, F Jake van der Heijden, C Alex Timmerman, G Deuce Turner, G Josh Adoh, C Andre Screen, G Alek Delev

Where they stand: The Bison have had some ugly losses as internal turmoil within the Bucknell program continues to distract from the team’s on-court product. The Bison put up their worst defeat of the season in their second-to-last non-conference game against Richmond — during which they were down only 10 with eight minutes to go but ended up losing by 31 and scoring just 50 total points.

Andrew Funk has been a bright spot for the Bison with 17.3 PPG, third-best in the Patriot League. Xander Rice and Jake van der Heijden have been effective starters as well, but Bucknell hasn’t had any other consistent starters despite most players on the roster playing in all or nearly all of its games. The Bison need more continuity on and off the court to have a chance at success versus Patriot League competition, but whether that will happen in time is a major concern. 

College of the Holy Cross (2-10)

Last season: The Crusaders posted a respectable 5-11 record last year, picking up a few key wins against BU and Army. However, a positive COVID-19 test within the program’s Tier 1 group forced Holy Cross to pause all basketball activities, including participating in the Patriot League Tournament.

Additions: G Kyrell Luc (freshman), G Tomer Oron (freshman), G Nolan Dorsey (transferred from the University of New Mexico), F Austin Lewis (freshman), G/F Caleb Kenney (freshman)

Losses: G Ryan Wade (transferred to Central Michigan University), G Austin Butler (grad transferred to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte), G Joey Reilly (transferred to Sacred Heart University), F Matt Faw (grad transferred to the New Jersey Institute of Technology)

Returning players: F Gerrale Gates, G Malcolm Townsel, F D.J. Hart, G R.J. Johnson, G Bo Montgomery, F Michael Rabinovich, G/F Judson Martindale, F Louth-M Coulibaly, G Dajion Humphrey

Where they stand: Freshman guard Kyrell Luc has been a huge bright spot for the Crusaders throughout their tumultuous non-conference slate. The former NEPSAC Class AA Player of the Year ranks 10th in the conference in scoring and is the only rookie currently in the top 30. Luc is also Holy Cross’ leading scorer and has been active on defense with 18 steals in 12 games. Sophomore forward Judson Martindale has been another consistent figure for the Crusaders, averaging 11.3 points per game.

However, Luc and Martindale are two of only four players to play in all 12 of Holy Cross’ games. Player availability has been one of many concerns for the Crusaders since early November, not to mention their struggles putting together 40 solid minutes of basketball. While Holy Cross undeniably has the talent to finish as at least a mid-level seed, the Crusaders need to turn good stretches of play into entire games of their best effort to compete for a favorable seed.

Lehigh University (1-9)

https://twitter.com/LehighMBB/status/1473495111011024898?s=20

Last season: Despite getting another good season from guard Marques Wilson, the Mountain Hawks finished last in the conference last year. Lehigh then fell 69-58 to 7-seed BU in the first round of the Patriot League Tournament.

Additions: G Keith Higgins Jr. (freshman), F Burke Chebuhar (freshman), G Tyler Whitney-Sidney (freshman), G Ben Knostman (freshman)

Losses: F Ben Li (turned professional)

Returning players: F Jakob Alamudun, F Jeameril Wilson, G Jake Betlow, G Andrei Arion, G Evan Taylor, G Marques Wilson, G Reed Fenton, C Nic Lynch, G Jalin Sinclair, G Luke Traina, G Jayshen Saigal, F/C Dominic Parolin, C JT Tan

Where they stand: While Lehigh experienced perhaps the least turnover of any team in the conference, the Mountain Hawks also have the clearest deficiencies of any Patriot League squad. They rank dead last in offense and shoot just 31.8% from the field, compared to 40.8% from their opponents. They also turn the ball over a league-leading 16.6 times per contest. Although Evan Taylor and Dominic Parolin have been solid on defense, Lehigh does not have a player averaging 12 points per game or higher.

The Mountain Hawks open against American on January 1 but get a challenge in their second game, which is against Colgate.