By Kevin Sweeney
Few leagues played more close games night in and night out than the Patriot League did a season ago– per KenPom, almost 28% of conference games were decided by 4 points or fewer (or in OT). As a whole, the league has lots of parity, and the talent level steadily continues to rise. It should be a fun year:
#1. Colgate– There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the job that Matt Langel has done at one of the tougher jobs in the northeast. The Raiders made yet another jump a season ago thanks to the addition of Rapolas Ivanauskas (Northwestern) as an uber-skilled inside presence and the continued growth of Jordan Burns as one of the best point guards in mid-major basketball. Now, Colgate virtually runs it back from a team that sent quite the scare through Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament, and should be seen as one of the bigger “Giant-Killer” threats come March. This group runs great offense, has tons of shot-makers, and has all the experience you want.
#2. Loyola (MD)– One of the bigger potential risers in the nation, Tavaras Hardy hit the gold mine in international recruiting to set this roster up incredibly well for this season. With superstar athletic wing Andrew Kostecka and a few nice role players already in tow, Hardy and assistant Ivo Simovic went into Spain and landed a guy in Santi Aldama who’d likely be a 5-star recruit if rated by the traditional recruiting services. Aldama is a game-changer at the Patriot League level– a highly-skilled forward who can shoot, handle, and defend multiple positions. He should immediately be one of the conference’s best players and serve as quite the second option to Kostecka.
#3. Bucknell– It has been “next-man-up” for Bucknell in recent years, and it’s hard to believe that the losses of Kimball MacKenzie and Nate Sestina will derail things no matter how impact those two were a season ago. This year’s breakout guy: Andrew Funk, a well-regarded recruit out of high school who showed flashes as a freshman and should step into a role similar to MacKenzie’s next to high-level point guard Jimmy Sotos. Also critical will be finding a steady frontcourt force next to Bruce Moore– Paul Newman is the likeliest piece to step up.
#4. Boston University– Losing Tyler Scanlon a year early to Belmont is a blow, but this group does bring back a lot of talent and gets back a talented wing in Walter Whyte who missed the 2018-19 season. The departure of Scanlon matters particularly due to the team’s PG woes a season ago– without a true lead guard on the roster, a lot of this team’s offense ran through Scanlon. Also critical will be improvement on the defensive end: the interior of this unit was a sieve last season with Max Mahoney anchoring things.
#5. American– Sa’eed Nelson is the best mid-major guard most have never heard of, a dynamic lead guard who is proficient in creating shots for himself and others. While Nelson loses running mate Sam Iorio, Mike Brennan brings in a new backcourt piece to pair Nelson with in Minnesota transfer Jamir Harris. Harris struggled at the Big Ten level, but shouldn’t be as athletically challenged in the Patriot League and can really shoot the ball. The Eagles defend the three well and run good offense– it feels like they are one piece away from getting over the hump.
#6. Lehigh– It’s hard to imagine the Mountain Hawks lighting it up from outside as much as they did a season ago: three of four 40+% 3-point shooters from a season ago have departed the program. The duo of Jordan Cohen and James Karnik is a darn good place to start though, and I am a big fan of athletic forward Jeameril Wilson’s upside at the four. Also, watch out for freshman guard Reed Fenton, an elite-level shooter with all kinds of craftiness who should fit right in with Brett Reed’s system.
#7. Army– The Black Knights were putrid on offense a season ago, struggling to shoot the ball and failing to get to the line much en route to putting together a bottom-50 offense nationally per KenPom. Tommy Funk is the epitome of a steady mid-major point guard, but Jimmy Allen’s bunch needs more out of the backcourt to climb up the Patriot League standings.
#8. Lafayette– Fran O’Hanlon’s bunch relies heavily on its two star guards: Justin Jaworski and Alex Petrie. Jaworski is truly terrific, an elite-level shooter who could push for a 50-40-90 season as a junior, while Petrie is a grade A chucker– taking 40% of his team’s shots when in the game. Making progress from last season’s 10-20 season will be reliant on fixing a defense that was horrific in virtually every way a season ago.
#9. Navy– Ed DeChellis’ bunch loses a pair of critical pieces from a season ago in sturdy point guard Hasan Abdullah and productive forward George Kiernan, significant losses when you consider how much the Midshipmen struggled to score in 2018-19. Navy needs a breakout star– perhaps sophomore John Carter could be that guy, but he’s not the natural point guard needed to replace Abdullah.
#10. Holy Cross– Bill Carmody retired late in the coaching cycle after a rough 2018-19 season, and a pair of key cogs in Jacob Grandison and Caleb Green departed the program early in the aftermath of the coaching change. The departure of Grandison is particularly impactful– an athletic wing who could get his own shot who is now off to Illinois to play for Brad Underwood. Without that duo and talented big man Jehyve Floyd having graduated, former Marquette assistant Brett Nelson inherits a a rebuilding job in Worchester. Veteran wing Austin Butler will have to have a big year.
All-Conference First Team:
- Jordan Burns (Colgate)
- Sa’eed Nelson (American)
- Andrew Kostecka (Loyola-MD)
- Santi Aldama (Loyola-MD)
- Rapolas Ivanauskas (Colgate)
Player of the Year: Andrew Kostecka (Loyola-MD)
It wasn’t talked about enough just how good Kostecka was a season ago. After two years as a sturdy 3&D wing with decent athleticism, Kostecka exploded in his junior season under Tavaras Hardy into one of the top mid-major players in the country and a fringe NBA prospect. Now paired with a talent like Santi Aldama, Kostecka should get more easy looks and truly thrive in his senior campaign.
Breakout Player: Andrew Funk (Bucknell)
Funk is the type of guard that thrives in the Patriot League– smart, crafty, with the ability to shoot from the outside. He should step in nicely at the two for Kimbal MacKenzie and assert himself as one of the better shooting guards in the conference
Newcomer of the Year: Santi Aldama (Loyola-MD)
A pretty easy choice here, Aldama is an incredibly rare talent at the Patriot League level. His star grew this summer with his play at the FIBA U18 European Championships, where he led a Spain team that features a future lottery pick in Usman Garuba and other top talent to the gold with a huge overall display. Tavaras Hardy got an absolute steal who should impact the Patriot League for as long as he stays in school.