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Patriot League Preseason Power Rankings: Is this the year to unseat Bucknell?

Lehigh and Boston University could both do it.

NCAA Basketball: Lehigh at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Change is the order of the day in the Patriot League. In recent years, Bucknell has ruled, but this season, the picture is not nearly as clear. Lehigh is the favorite. Boston University and Holy Cross will be heard from. Bucknell? The Bison will still be formidable and will not cede their title willingly. The battle for Patriot League supremacy figures to be one to watch all winter long.

Patriot League Preseason Power Rankings

1. Lehigh Mountain Hawks (16-14, 11-7 Patriot)

If there is a team to unseat Bucknell from the Patriot throne, it could be the Mountain Hawks. They won eight straight down the stretch last season and return an experienced veteran cast. Among the returnees of note is Lance Tejada. The 6’2 guard scored a team-leading 14.7 points per game while canning 45 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. James Karnik, the team’s top rebounder (6.5 rpg), is back for his sophomore season as well. Brett Reed’s club is not one sneaking up on anyone. They have enjoyed winning seasons in nine of the last 10 campaigns and are poised to make a run at the top.

2. Boston University Terriers (15-16, 10-8 Patriot)

Last February, Joe Jones saw his Terriers struggle through a five-game losing streak. They righted the ship to finish with two regular-season victories and a first-round tournament win over Lehigh. It all ended at the hands of eventual champion Bucknell in the semifinal, however. BU is a legitimate threat in the Patriot race. Jones has several veterans, led by 6’8 Max Mahoney, a 61 percent field goal shooter. Assist leader Tyler Scanlon is also back. And optimism abounds regarding the newcomers. Jones welcomes Texas Tech transfer Alex Vilarino. In addition, 6’9 Jack Hemphill, a highly regarded recruit from North Carolina, should contribute.

3. Bucknell Bison (25-10, 16-2 Patriot, NCAA Tournament First Round)

They have been the dominant group in the Patriot League, winning seven of the last eight regular season titles. Last March, the Bison cruised to the conference championship by blowing out Boston University and Colgate. In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, they gave Michigan State a serious run before bowing out in a close contest. Graduation hit hard and this season there are a lot of different personnel in key roles for coach Nathan Davis. Among those Davis will count on are senior guard Kimbal MacKenzie, who missed a good part of last season, and junior guard Avi Toomer. It is a year of change, yet Bucknell isn’t going to fade away.

4. Holy Cross Crusaders (12-19, 8-10 Patriot)

The Crusaders return an experienced cast that made it to the conference semis last March before falling to Colgate. Coach Bill Carmody returns almost all of his firepower from last season. The leader among them is 6’8 senior Jehyve Floyd. A 12.2-point-per-game scorer, Floyd also earned Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year accolades. Carmody also has a talented back court at his disposal as the Crusaders are favorably balanced inside and out. Expect an improvement on last year’s 12 wins. Still, a lot would have to fall into place for Holy Cross to contend for the conference title.

5. Colgate Raiders (19-14, 12-6 Patriot, CBI First Round)

Leading scorer Will Rayman (14.6 per game) is back, and having the 6’8 junior in the fold is good news for a team coming off a 19-win season. Jordan Burns, an All-Patriot Rookie Team selection will join him. While there is optimism in Hamilton, New York, there are also questions that coach Matt Langel must address. One of the most daunting will be who will replace outstanding lead guard Sean O’Brien, who paced the Patriot in assist to turnover ratio. O’Brien’s steady presence allowed the Raiders to post the league’s best turnover rate (16%). How his absence is spelled will go a long way in determining Colgate’s season.

6. American Eagles (6-24, 3-15 Patriot)

Last season can be chalked up to “freshman orientation” as the Eagles were painfully young. The results reflected their youth and inexperience. Expect improvement by virtue of a roster being a year older and more experienced. Coach Mike Brennan will look to junior guard Sa’eed Nelson, runner-up in the league in scoring (18.6) and assists (5.1) per game for production and veteran leadership. Among the rookie crop of last year, All-Rookie Team member Sam Iorio (14.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg) was an immediate factor. Though not a contender by any means, the Eagles will be much improved and are heading in the right direction.

7. Lafayette Leopards (10-21, 7-11 Patriot)

“Guarded optimism” is the term used these days in Easton. Alex Petrie, the Patriot Rookie of the Year, is back with his 15 point-per-game average. There are several prospects at the lead guard spot, prominent among them is sophomore Justin Jaworski, another double-digit scorer. The frontcourt is a different story. Coach Fran O’Hanlon replaces leading scorer Matt Klinewski with a untested cast. How quickly they gel will determine if the Leopards improve their win total for a third straight season.

8. Army Black Knights (13-17, 6-12 Patriot)

Last season, the Black Knights beat American on Feb. 3, then did not post a victory again. The season ended on six consecutive regular season losses, followed by a first-round exit in the conference tournament at the hands of Loyola. Four starters are back, led by junior guard Tommy Funk, the Patriot assist leader at 5.7 per game. For Army to move up, it will have to improve on a 106.5 defensive efficiency — second to last in the Patriot.

9. Navy Midshipmen (20-12, 11-7 Patriot)

Victories in five of their last six games gave the Midshipmen some momentum as they entered conference tournament play. Alas, they were one-and-done, bowing to Holy Cross in the opening round. Ed DeChellis has increased his win output in six straight years in Annapolis. He will be hard-pressed to keep that streak going as one third of his offense has graduated. The leading returnee is senior guard Hasan Abdullah, who averaged 9.9 points per game.

10. Loyola (Md.) Greyhounds (9-22, 6-12 Patriot)

This is not an easy situation to walk into. Tavaras Hardy, a former Georgia Tech assistant, takes over a struggling program that lost an all-league player in guard Andre Walker. A year ago, the Greyhounds had the second-lowest offensive efficiency (98) and the worst defensive efficiency (108) in the Patriot. Hardy has to address issues on both ends of the floor. The new coach has a young roster, affording an opportunity to instill his culture for the next several years.