By Kevin Sweeney
The Patriot League was very balanced last season, with the top 8 teams all winning at least 8 conference games and 9th place Holy Cross winning the conference tournament. 4 teams reached the postseason, while a fifth in Lehigh was deserving but likely declined an invite to a third tier tournament. Holy Cross’s incredible run in the conference tournament included wins over the top 2 seeds, clearly demonstrating how much parity is in this league. Now, many of the league’s best teams bring back all-conference-level talent, a recipe for exciting action and a competitive league night in and night out.
- Boston University
- Holy Cross
- Loyola (MD)
Champions: Lehigh- If someone asked me how I would start a college basketball team, I would reply “a dominant big man, a good point guard, and 3-point shooting on the wing”. In many ways, that is what Lehigh has developed. There’s Tim Kempton, the 2-time Patriot League Player of the Year who will most likely average a double double this season at the center position. Point guard Kahron Ross is the engine that makes the Mountain Hawks go and had one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the country last season. Austin Price and Kyle Leufroy each provide shooting and scoring punch at the guard position. The question for the Mountain Hawks is depth, as after that core, just 2 players who played last season return. The 5-man incoming freshman class will be looked to for much-needed depth. If they can produce, Lehigh has a chance to run away with the Patriot League.
Dark Horse: Holy Cross- It’s certainly odd to call the defending conference tournament champions dark horses, but with Holy Cross, the term definitely applies. We simply don’t know which Crusader team will show up: the one that swept through the conference tournament, or the one that won just 10 regular season games all season. It was Malachi Alexander’s emergence into a superstar that supercharged Holy Cross’s run through the conference tournament, as he averaged 20.8 points and 7.5 rebounds during that 4 game stretch. If he turns in that type of performance all season, the Crusaders should be a contender in the Patriot League.
Preseason First Team:
- F: Tim Kempton-Lehigh
- F: Nana Foulland-Bucknell
- G: Eric Fanning-Boston University
- G: Andre Walker-Loyola
- G: Cedric Hankerson-Boston University
Player of the Year: Tim Kempton- In many ways, this season for Kempton is about developing his legacy. For one, he must reach the NCAA Tournament, something mid-major stars are often judged upon. He has a chance to be the first player in conference history to earn 3 Patriot League Player of the Year awards. He also could become the second Lehigh player ever to score 2,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds. His numbers have increased each season of his career, and I expect another season of improvement, with Kempton improving his ability to space the floor. Kempton is definitely a player to watch that could burst onto the national scene in March.
Newcomer(s) of the Year: Army’s Freshmen- This season looks like a rebuilding one for the Black Knights. After a 2015-16 season that saw the team win its most games since 1977, when Mike Krzyzewski was the head coach. However, all 5 starters are gone, as is head coach Zach Spiker, who took the same position at Drexel. The Black Knights will have to rely on an 11-man freshman class, of which 4 will likely redshirt, to contribute right away. If the freshmen can make an immediate impact, the Black Knights should be able to stay out of the cellar in the Patriot League.