Every year it seems there’s one low-major conference whose tournament blows up entirely, resulting in a truly bizarre automatic bid. That was the Patriot League last year, as Holy Cross (5-13 in conference) won four road games en route to an improbable conference championship. Last year’s top finishers Bucknell and Lehigh are back this year, as they hope to dominate the regular season and finally finish in March.
Patriot League Power Rankings
Lehigh finished second in the Patriot League last season, just one game behind Bucknell. The Mountain Hawks are poised to be contenders again, as they will return four starters, including senior big man Tim Kempton (17.1 points per game). Kempton is a two-time Patriot League Player of the Year and was a unanimous first-team all-league selection. In the backcourt, guard Kahron Ross returns as well. Ross led the team in assists, at 6.1 per game, and ranked 23 nationally in the category.
Bucknell has been a dominant force in the Patriot League since 2011, taking the regular season title four of the last five years. The Bison will be competitive again this year with five significant contributors returning. Unfortunately for Bucknell, one of the key losses is leading scorer Chris Hass, though the blow is softened by the return guys like Nana Foulland and Zach Thomas.
3 Boston University
BU coach Joe Jones had high hopes for the Terriers last season. The Terriers were picked to finish third in the Patriot League, and that’s exactly where they landed. Looking forward, there are several question marks surrounding BU as the 2016-17 season nears. The Terriers will need senior Eric Fanning on the floor as much as possible. Fanning led BU in scoring last season, both in total points scored and in points per game, despite serving a suspension that caused him to miss six games. Patriot League all-rookie selection Kyle Foreman also returns after leading the team in assists last year.
4 Holy Cross
Holy Cross may have had a losing record in the regular season, but the Crusaders were able to string together a series of gutted-out wins to win the Patriot League tournament, then beat Southern University in the First Four to earn their first NCAA Tournament win since 1953. Holy Cross will return the majority of its players from that remarkable run. Four out of five starters return, including the Crusaders’ three leading scorers and assist makers. Holy Cross should enter this season feeling confident after its tournament success, and should be able to pick up right where it left off.
Navy has been in the middle of the Patriot League pack for the past several seasons. The Midshipmen lose two key players, Tilman Dunbar and Will Kelly, but retain leading scorer Shawn Anderson, who nearly doubled his production from his freshman to sophomore season. Navy will also look to three sophomores, who join the team after playing for the Navy developmental team as freshmen.
The upcoming season appears as if it will be a transitional one for the Black Knights, as all five starters from last year have graduated. Role players Kennedy Edwards, Adam Roe, and Luke Morrison will assume larger roles, but it may be a tough road for Army to make serious noise in the Patriot League.
Delante Jones had a strong freshman year for the Eagles, averaging 12 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. The Eagles also welcomed junior transfer Paris Maragkos from George Washington last season, and Maragkos settled into Patriot League play nicely, landing as American’s third-leading scorer. There was somewhat of a logjam in the middle of the Patriot League last season, with four teams recording 9-9 records in conference play (Army, American, Navy, and Colgate). The Eagles have challenging matchups against Maryland and Villanova to get themselves ready to stand out before league play begins in January.
Colgate will certainly feel the loss of Austin Tillotson this season. Tillotson scored 454 total points for the Raiders last season, outscoring the next player on the roster (Jordan Swopshire) by a whopping 135 points. Last season was Swopshire’s first at Colgate, having transferred from Bradley. Colgate will look to him for more production, but appears to be in danger of slipping in the rankings.
Size is a premium in the Patriot League, and so the Loyola Greyhounds are surely excited to see 7-foot freshman Dylan Gollihar. Gollihar was named his district’s defensive player of the year as a high school senior — a welcome addition for a Greyhound team that allowed nearly 76 points per game last season. Loyola will look to improve on its nine-win season by integrating freshman talent with its two leading scorers, Andre Walker and Jarred Jones.
Lafayette has bounced around the Patriot League standings in the past couple of years. Last season, the Leopards finished at the bottom of the pack, winning only six games in total, with a 3-15 conference record. Lafayette will return three of five starters this season, including its two top scorers. The Leopards will also look to several underclassmen for increased productivity, including sophomore pair Auston Evans and Paulius Zalys. To stay out of the cellar, they’ll also need a spark from one of their seven incoming freshmen.