OBW Patriot League Power Rankings v6

Don't look now but Army and Kyle Wilson are once again on the rise. Courtesy photo / Army Athletics
Don’t look now but Army and Kyle Wilson are once again on the rise. Courtesy photo / Army Athletics

We are now nearly halfway through the conference slate and how these teams will stack up in the Patriot League Tournament, and who will be cutting down championship game the nets and going dancing in March is as big a mystery as ever. The league lacks a truly dominant team – there are no Bucknells, Lehighs, or Holy Crosses of previous generations – but there is incredible parity, which means that every single night has made for incredibly entertaining basketball.

So here’s a look at how we see the teams stacking up right now in our latest OBW Patriot League Power Rankings. Don’t blink, our rankings will probably change on Wednesday.

1. Bucknell (11-10, 6-2 in PL)
Results: W 81-75 vs Army; W 75-61 at Loyola (MD); W 92-77 at Boston University.
This week: Wednesday vs Lehigh; Saturday vs Colgate
Don’t look now but Bucknell is picking up speed like a runaway freight train and has won four in a row. After struggling to survive a tough non-conference schedule, the young Bison seem to have found their footing and adjusted to their roles on the court. Oh, and, yeah, there’s that Chris Hass guy who has been absolutely lighting up from all over the floor. With home games against a suddenly resurgent Lehigh squad and a Colgate team that sits tied with them in the standings, if Bucknell can make it through this week unscathed they will be sitting squarely in the Patriot League driver’s seat.

2. Colgate (9-12, 6-2 in PL)

Results: W 65-53 at Navy; L 65-64 at Army; W 59-58 at Loyola (MD)
This week: Wednesday vs Lafayette; Saturday at Bucknell
Playing Navy and Army back-to-back on the road is about as hard a stretch as any Patriot League team can go through. Sure, there are better teams in the league year-in and year-out, but the service academies play so incredibly hard and so incredibly physical, it can be an experience akin to running back to back marathons, so the fact that the Raiders dropped the second game of that stretch isn’t a big cause for alarm. Damon Sherman-Newsome remains a dynamic scorer from the guard position, Austin Tillotson makes the offense go at the point, and several role players have been plugging the gaps.

3. Army (13-6, 4-4 in PL)
Results: L 81-75 vs Bucknell; W 65-64 vs Colgate; W 68-66 at American.
This Week: Thursday vs Boston University; Saturday vs Loyola (Md)
Don’t look now, but Army may be getting it’s second wind, knocking off Patriot League contenders Colgate and American by one and two points, respectively, in consecutive games. With teams selling out to stop star Kyle Wilson, Army has needed another reliable scorer and they appear to have gotten it in forward Tanner Plomb, who has scored 44 points in his last two games and 80 points in his last four games.

4. American (11-8, 4-4 in PL)
Results: W 62-59 vs Lehigh; W 78-76 at Lafayette; L 59-54 at Boston University; L 68-66 vs Army.
This week: Wednesday at Navy
The Eagles backcourt trio of seniors Jesse Reed, Pee Wee Gardner and John Schoof are leaving everything they have on the floor, ranking first, second, and third in the nation in minutes per game. That is astounding. And on most nights, that trio is good enough to carry the Eagles to a win. But to climb to the top of these rankings and become the Patriot League team to beat, American is going to need to at least get some consistency from the supporting cast, especially in the post.

5. Lehigh (7-8, 1-3 in PL)
Results: W 69-64 vs Holy Cross; W 61-47 vs Navy; W 75-71 at Lafayette
This Week: Wednesday at Bucknell, Saturday vs Boston University
How in the world did we get here? Just yesterday the Mountain Hawks looked like they were dead in the water, unable to generate any offense outside of 6’11” center Tim Kempton. Well, Lehigh seems to have finally found another scorer in sophomore guard Austin Price, who has taken advantage of Kempton’s double-teams by scoring 40 points over the last three games – all wins.

6. Boston University (8-11, 4-4 in PL)
Results: W 73-64 vs Navy; L 63-62 vs Lafayette
This Week: Wednesday at Colgate; Sunday at Loyola.
The Terriers have lost four of their last five, and yet, they haven’t looked THAT bad – and, perhaps equally important, it’s hard to say that anyone below them in these rankings has looked better. Junior shooting guard John Papale seems to finally be hitting his stride after spending much of the season adjusting to a completely new niche as a creator and facilitator on offense in addition to his traditional role as a long-range marksman, and sophomore wing Cedric Hankerson has turned into a legitimate star. If BU could get consistent play from role players like forwards Nate Dieudonne, Justin Alston and Eric Fanning, they’d be in very good shape.

7. Holy Cross (8-10, 3-5 in PL)
Results: L 69-64 at Lehigh; W 74-73 vs Lafayette; W 76-65 vs Navy.
This week: Thursday at Loyola (MD);
Rewind a few weeks, and Holy Cross was completely dead in the water. Rewind a few months, and the Crusaders looked like world beaters and the Patriot League team to beat. Now, the truth seems to fall somewhere in between the two extremes. The Crusaders do not score the ball efficiently, and their offense relies on creating turnovers with energy and pressure on defense, resulting in transition offense and, plain and simply, taking more shots than their opponents.

8. Lafayette (10-5, 2-2 in PL)
Results: L 78-76 vs American; L 74-73 at Holy Cross; L 75-71 vs Lehigh
This Week: Wednesday at Colgate; Saturday at Navy
The Leopards have come up just short in three-straight close games, losing to a good American squad by two at home, a floundering Holy Cross squad by one on the road, and, toughest of all, bitter-rival Lehigh by four at home. The Leopards still boast arguably the Patriot League’s top offense, with inside, mid-range, and outside scoring options, but they are struggling mightily to come up with stops on defense.

9. Loyola-Maryland (7-12, 3-5 in PL)
Results: W 91-86 (OT) vs Boston University; L 75-61 vs Bucknell; L 59-58 at Colgate.
This Week: Thursday vs Holy Cross; Saturday at Army.
The Greyhounds are incredibly young and incredibly inexperienced, but they are growing and learning and have played Patriot League frontrunners (at least for now) Colgate very tough on the road, and also beat a very solid BU squad in overtime. They aren’t ready to compete right now, but they are looking closer and closer to returning to relevance in the very near future.

10. Navy (7-13, 3-5 in PL)
Results: L 65-53 vs Colgate; L 61-47 at Lehigh; L 76-65 at Holy Cross.
This week: Wednesday vs American; Saturday vs Lafayette.
Worth Smith returned from injury as a man possessed, and Navy was suddenly playing inspired basketball. Then Smith went down with yet another in a laundry list of injuries and the Midshipmen sputtered. Smith has once again returned to the court, could another Navy resurgence be far off?

OBW Patriot League Player of the Week
Tanner Plomb, Jr., F, Army

Plomb scored 44 points and ripped down 14 rebounds in a pair wins over Colgate and American to help get the Black Knights back on track.

OBW Patriot League Rookie of the Week
Brandon Alston, G, Lehigh

Alston scored 24 points and dished out eight assists in a pair of big wins for the Mountain Hawks.

OBW Patriot League Fab Five
Cedric Hankerson Soph., G, Boston University
Nick Lidner, Soph. G, Lafayette
Damon Sherman-Newsome, Sr., G, Colgate
Dan Trist, Sr., F, Lafayette
Kyle Wilson, G, Jr., Army

OBW Patriot League Frosh Five
Cam Gregory, F, Loyola
Matt Klinewski, F, Lafayette
Nana Foulland, C, Bucknell
Kahron Ross, G, Lehigh
J.C. Show, G, Bucknell

After surviving non-conference, Bucknell basketball hitting its stride at perfect time

Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen guided his team through a tough non-conference and is seeing it pay big dividends. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen guided his team through a tough non-conference and is seeing it pay big dividends. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

Every mid-major coach faces similar struggles when it comes to scheduling games for their team: how to line up enough tough opponents to battle-test their squad during the non-conference, but not so many to crush their team’s spirits. And as this season was about to tip-off, Bucknell basketball head coach Dave Paulsen knew his team was about to walk into an ambush of sorts.

With games lined up all over the country each week, including nationally ranked squads Michigan and Villanova, along with heavy hitters like Wake Forest and Penn State, Paulsen’s focus was simply to make it to league play in one piece knowing the team has learned something from each game.

“I felt like with the schedule we played in non-league play, if we could get to the end of the first semester, get through exams in one piece, psychologically and physically, we feel like it’s gonna make us better during the second half of the year,” said Paulsen. “We played a brutal non-league schedule, not only in terms of teams we played, but the amount of travel. Just academically, keeping up with everything you’re doing academically and the travel, it takes a toll.”

On Dec. 31, when the team was gearing up to host American University, the Bison held a 5-8 record and was fresh off of a 73-71 road loss against Siena, a game the Bison feel should have resulted in a different outcome.

“We had a tough non-league schedule. I feel like we shouldn’t have lost to Siena, that was a tough game for us,” said junior guard Chris Hass.

“I was disappointed with our record but I wasn’t discouraged coming into [conference play],” said Paulsen.

No team goes into games expecting so lose, so it is understandable for any coach to be disappointed with his team being three games under .500 going into league play. Paulsen remained upbeat because he knew there was plenty of potential with the team he assembled.

“You could see guys starting to put two or three good plays together or four,” said Paulsen of his young squad. “See guys start to trust each other a little bit more.”

Those “guys” are three freshmen in center Nana Foulland and guards Stephen Brown and J.C. Show and sophomore John Azzinaro. With the exception of Brown, all players have played in at least 45 percent of the team’s minutes. Having such a youthful presence presents challenges, as they were largely trying to simply keep their heads above water while they adjusted to the pace of Division I ball.

Moreover, Paulsen’s team was able to make it to the other side of a brutal semester and come out of the gate on fire in terms of Patriot League play.

On Saturday, the Bison dealt Boston University, a team that appeared primed to turn the corner after knocking off American on Wednesday, a 92-77 loss on the Terriers’ home floor.

“I think in both ways we’re starting to evolve and get a little better,” said Paulsen. “We’re starting to figure out how to play with each other offensively.”

Hass was the star of the day, pacing the Bison with 28 points and five rebounds, shooting 10-for-16 from the floor and 6-for-7 from downtown, but several of the younger Bison played big roles as well.

“As other guys have gotten better offensively, they’ve made it better for Chris,” said Paulsen. “There’s other guys, Stephen Brown, getting to rim, hitting some threes, John Azzinaro, obviously Nana Foulland in the post. Earlier in the year – all of those guys I mention are freshman and sophomores – and they weren’t as reliable as scorers so there’s more of a focus on Chris. He got some open looks tonight because the other guys were able to score.”

Of the freshmen, one player who has made perhaps the biggest strides is Brown, who had to work perhaps harder than his freshmen counterparts to see the floor.

“Nana was right away, we felt that,” said Paulsen. “J.C. Show has been starting, he’s dealing with some injuries, he’s kinda back at a limited basis. Stephen Brown, I thought would be a really good point guard. I didn’t know if he’d be ready this year to be honest in terms of playing solid in the half-court setting.”

Being new to the Patriot League is not an easy adjustment for some players, especially if they are run and gun type of guys like Brown, who have the talent but just need to adjust to the pace and styles that Patriot teams employ.

“He’s just dynamic, and explosive, and he’s grown tremendously in that regard,” said Paulsen. “Again, you never really know how quickly it’ll all catch. You saw the talent, potential, and ability, putting it all together, it happens at a different pace for every guy. For most people the speed of the game is too fast for them, with it’s like you can’t go 100 miles per hour all the time, sometimes there’s cops out there and the roads are icy, you got to drive that sucker 55, that’s kind of what he’s adjusted to.”

Since entering conference play, the Bison have had the best offensive efficiency in the league, scoring over 113 points per 100 possessions, and their defense ranks fourth in its respective category with over 104 points per 100 possessions. The combination of the two are positive signs for Bucknell, but Paulsen and the Bison won’t get ahead of themselves just yet as they know there is plenty left to be determined on the hardwood and it is a grueling season.

“Just learning what it takes, this league is a grind,” said Paulsen on what his team needs to continue working on.

Hurricane Hass: Chris Hass has been a scoring storm all season

Chris Hass dropped 28-points on Boston University in Bucknell's 92-72 win. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Chris Hass dropped 28-points on Boston University in Bucknell’s 92-72 win. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

All season long, Bucknell’s Chris Hass has been a quiet storm — a hurricane of 3-pointers, jump shots and drives to the hoop. He reached land for the latest time Saturday afternoon in Boston, touching down at the Agganis Arena and promptly wreaked havoc, torching the Terriers for 28 points to help Bucknell stay atop the Patriot League standings with a 92-72 win.

The Bison’s fearless leader has been a steady contributor all season long and had a career-high 32 points against Villanova earlier in the season, but his play against BU during his team’s big road win was the difference maker and encapsulates the impact he makes on the floor for Dave Paulsen’s team.

Through the first half, Hass’ stat line was already shaping up nicely: 10 points, 4-for-6 shooting from the field, 2-for-2 from 3-point range, and four rebounds. In the first stanza, after being down by as much as 13, BU was able to come back and make it a competitive ball game going into the break, with Bucknell in the lead 42-40.

“Before, I hit like four or five, so I knew I was feeling alright before that and I just kind of shot it like I shot every other shot,” said Hass. “I didn’t think too much about it.”

In the second half, Hurricane Chris struck. Led by Hass, the Bison came out of the locker room looking to be aggressive, and immediately got on the board to start rebuilding their lead. Throughout the half, Bucknell would build a small lead but BU would battle right back and close in. However, each time BU would try and make the effort to tie or take the lead, Hass would deny them, hitting big shot after big shot.

The final and most impressive blow came with 8:46 left and Hass, while in mid-air, juggled the ball for a second and double-clutched a three-pointer to put the Bison up 73-63. At that point Hass was 5-for-5, and everyone at Agganis Arena knew January 24, 2015 would be his day.

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Chris Hass. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Chris Hass. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

Hass’ progression to the player he has become began years ago when he first began to play basketball, but in the last few months, he has experienced perhaps the most rapid growth of his career.

“It’s definitely different than last year,” said the 6-foot-5 junior. “I was under Cameron Ayers’ wings, and just filling my role.”

Bucknell began the 2014-15 season with a lot of inexperienced players taking the court, meaning players like Hass and senior forward Cory Starkey, who had primarily been role players, had to take over as leaders.

It was during the team’s summer trip to Europe last May where Hass felt like he began to flourish, and see that he has what it takes to lead his team in the future.

“We went over to Europe and we played well as a team, I played well personally and it was like hey, this is the standard,” said Hass. “That was good for my confidence, because I knew I had to take the role, but I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to fit it.”

Throughout the process of becoming one of the team’s leaders, Hass has not been alone. Paulsen, an energetic head coach, has been right behind him, pushing him since day one back in 2012.

“Coach has been always been on me, of course this year is a bit different,” said Hass, adding, “making that transition was tough because coach is definitely a guy that will get on me but I think I was ready for it.”

Following the trip, as a way to motivate Hass and help him with his ever-increasing role, Paulsen sent his star players some light summer reading.

“Coach sent me an article about how Greg Popovich treats Tim Duncan, and how he’s always on his butt, because coach is always on my butt, but we have a good relationship,” said Hass.

As a way to try and improve over the summer, Hass went back to his hometown of Pellston, Michigan and went right to work.

“I went home, kind of got my mind right. Being here is really stressful, it’s a grind, and it’s more like your job,” said Hass. “I tried to find workouts that were fun, and make it more fun. I also had to get ready to be the number one guy on the scouting reports because that’s definitely tough, so I had to get in better shape. I’m in better shape than I was last year.”

With less than two months remaining in the season, it appears that all of that work Hass put in during the summer is paying off. Hass’ average of 30.8 minutes per game is more than four minutes per game more from last year, and his scoring average has jumped from 11.1 points per game last year to 16.3 this season.

Hass’ season actually got off to a bumpy start when he and the Bison took on Marist and he shot just 2-for-10 from the field, scoring a total of five points and grabbing four rebounds. However, the next two games would be the Hass everyone has become accustomed to seeing. On the road against then-No. 24 Michigan, Hass scored 21 points, and grabbed four rebounds in 32 minutes of court time.

The next game was even more impressive as Hass put up 32 points on a 9-for-12 night from the floor against then-No. 12 (now No. 4) Villanova in a close 72-65 loss.

“We played four major schools and just having that 32-point game was big for my confidence,” said Hass. “I was coming off a 21-point game at Michigan so I had a bit of confidence, but that really showed me that I could play with anyone.”

Chris Hass. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Chris Hass. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

A thrilling night of Patriot League men’s basketball

Wednesday was one thrilling, chilling, and heart-palpitating rollercoaster ride for Patriot League men’s basketball, with four of the conference’s five games decided by four-points or less, including a come-from-behind overtime victory for Army, a buzzer-beating game-winning 3-pointer for American, and an exhilarating last-second comeback for Bucknell.

Here’s a quick look at the night’s action.

American 62 Lehigh 59

The Patriot League is truly a league where on any given night, anybody can play with anybody else in the conference, as evidenced by a downtrodden Lehigh squad giving defending conference champion American everything it could handle on the Eagles home court.

Six-foot-eleven sophomore center Tim Kempton was a monster for the Mountain Hawks, scoring 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, to go with 13 rebounds in 37 minutes of action, helping Lehigh claim a 37-24 advantage on the glass.

But it wasn’t enough.

American senior shooting guard Jesse Reed scored 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-7 from behind the arc, setting the stage for senior point guard Pee Wee Gardner’s heroics. Gardner scored just eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, but his final three made all the difference. With the game tied at 59 following Kempton’s short jumper with nine seconds remaining, the diminutive playmaker calmly pushed the ball the length of the floor, snuck around a screen from forward Charlie Jones at the top of the key and buried an NBA-range 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds left.

Gardner’s heroics followed up another clutch performance Saturday when he scored five points in the final 13 seconds of regulation in an eventual double-overtime win at Colgate.

American moves to 3-2 in league play while Lehigh drops to 1-4.

Army 72 Holy Cross 70 (OT)
In a battle between two teams that began the season looking like league frontrunners only to fall hard and fast over the past month, Army got a much-needed win while Holy Cross suffered a heart-breaking – and possibly devastating – defeat.

Dylan Cox’ lay-up with two seconds left in overtime pushed Army past Holy Cross on the Crusaders’ home court in Worcester, Massachusetts. Junior forward Tanner Plomb scored a season-high 28 points, including 25 in regulation, and junior guard Kyle Wilson added 22.

“This was a great win for our program,” Cox said. “We definitely responded today, I thought our defense was great at times, we got the stops when we needed to and were able to come away with the win.”

Freshman forward Mitchell Hahn scored 18 points in 26 minutes off the bench, hitting 5-of-8 shots and 3-of-5 from long-range, and junior guard Cullen Hamilton scored 14 points off the bench. While the Crusaders’ bench played great, their starters struggled, with Malachi Alexander the only starter to crack double figures, scoring 10 points on 2-of-6 shooting. None of Holy Cross’ starting five shot even 40 percent from the floor.

“Obviously it’s a tough way for the game to end for us. I was proud of the way we fought and got back into the game and took the lead. I thought both teams were being very aggressive,“ said Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown. “This is the third game for us in league play for us where we just come up one or two plays short. We’ve got to find a way to make one or two more winning plays – that’s the only way that winning is going to happen.”

Army led by 13 points with 14:38 remaining in the second half, but Holy Cross came roaring back to force overtime. Army led by four with just 34 seconds left in overtime, but big baskets from Hahn and Hamilton tied the game at 70 with 7 seconds remaining, setting the stage for Cox’ heroics.

Cox took the inbounds and pushed the ball the length of the floor – 94 feet – hitting a running lay-up with two seconds left for the win.

Army moves to 2-3 in league play, snapping a two-game conference losing streak, while Holy Cross falls to 1-4.

Bucknell 65 Navy 63

The Bison bounced back from an overtime loss against Holy Cross with a dramatic win over a Navy squad that had emerged as one of the surprises of the early conference slate.

Sophomore guard John Azzinaro scored 19 points in just 22 minutes, including a pair of late 3-pointers, shooting a blistering 6-of-7 from the field and an unconscious 5-of-5 from behind the arc. The diminutive point guard drilled a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the right wing with 1:17 left to tie the game at 61, and drilled another 3-pointer from the right corner with a little over 11 seconds left to grab the lead for good.

Navy won the rebounding battle 31-30, outshot the Bison from the floor (44.9 percent to 41.2 percent) and beat Bucknell at the free throw line (17-of-21 to 14-of-19), while also leading on the scoreboard for most of the game. But the Bison simply never quit.

“Navy out-played us for about 36-and-a-half minutes, but to our guys’ credit we didn’t panic,”said Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen. “Obviously Johnny carried us down the stretch. We made a change in the starting lineup tonight, and he handled it like a champ.”

Freshman forward Nana Foulland had 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, and senior guard Steve Kaspar added six assists off the bench for Bucknell. Navy was led by senior forward Worth Smith, who scored 14 points, and also got 12 points from center Edward Alade and 11 from guard Kendall Knorr.

Both teams now sit at 3-2 in league play.

Lafayette 69 Loyola (MD) 65
After Loyola gave them everything they could handle for the first 20 minutes of action, the Leopards made just enough plays in the second half to escape with a hard-fought win at home.

Lafayette senior Seth Hinrichs hit five 3-pointers en route to 22 points, while senior forward Dan Trist and senior guard Joey Ptasinski added 13 points apiece. Lafayette hung on despite being out-rebounded 37-31, beaten at the line (Loyola hit 14-of-17 free throws to the Leopards’ 10-of-15) and played virtually even from the floor and behind the arc.

“My teammates did a great job of finding me,” said Hinrichs.

“Getting into league, it’s just so much different, everybody is well-prepared for you,” said Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlon after the game.

Tyler Hubbard scored 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the floor, going 5-of-9 from downtown, freshman guard Andre Walker scored 17 off the bench, guard Eric Lester added 13, and freshman forward Cam Gregory ripped down 12 rebounds.

Colgate 62 Boston University 53
That one must have felt good for the Raiders, who snapped a 20-game losing streak against Boston University, while simultaneously grabbing sole possession of first place in league play.

Boston University came out of the gates like gangbusters, jumping all over the Raiders, 20-8, to open the game, but the Raiders responded, outplaying the Terriers from there on out.

Colgate senior shooting guard Damon Sherman-Newsome led all scorers with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-9 from downtown, while also pulling down seven rebounds. Guard Luke Roh added 13 points and forward Matt McMullen pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds to help the Raiders score a 33-28 advantage on the glass.

Colgate held Boston University to 37.3 percent from the floor and 27.8 percent from behind the arc, while shooting 47.8 percent and 39.1 percent, respectively.

The Terriers were led by Eric Fanning’s 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench, while freshman point guard Cheddi Mosely added 13 points and forward Nate Dieudonne added 10. Boston University’s leading scorer, Cedric Hankerson, who began the night averaging nearly 20 points per game, was held to just three on 1-of-8 shooting.

OBW Patriot League Power Rankings v5

Damon Sherman Newsome and Colgate are atop the latest Patriot League Power Rankings.
Damon Sherman Newsome and Colgate are atop the latest Patriot League Power Rankings.

If nothing else, this is shaping up to be one entertaining, unpredictable, anyone-can-beat-anyone, anything-that-can-happen-will-happen season in the Patriot League, which seems devoid of a true favorite or “team to beat,” but stocked full of hungry, hard fighting squads. Two weeks ago, you’d be hard pressed to find a single solitary soul who would have told you that four games into conference play Boston University, Colgate and Navy would stand atop the standings with identical 3-1 conference records. You’d be equally hard pressed to find anyone brave enough to proclaim that the trio of non-conference favorites Lafayette, American and Army would stumble against the likes of Bucknell, Loyola, and Lehigh, respectively. And yet, here we are. So without further ado, here’s a look at the latest OBW Patriot League Power Rankings, all but guaranteed to be in a state of flux at this same time next week.

1. Colgate (6-11, 3-1 in PL)
Results: W 74-60 vs Holy Cross; L 71-69 (2OT) at American.
This week: Wednesday vs Boston University; Saturday at Navy.
Honestly, picking a “true” number one at this point is an exercise in futility with three 3-1 teams that all have shown strengths but also big weaknesses, and several seemingly more talented squads below them in the standings. With that said, the Raiders seem to “get” what they can and can’t do on the court, play within themselves, and have a very nice inside-outside game going with guard Damon Sherman-Newsome and center Ethan Jacobs. Guard Luke Roh and forward Matt McMullen –men without true positions – hit the glass hard and do all the little things, and point guard Austin Tillotson remains a dynamic game-changer.

2. Lafayette (10-5, 2-2 in PL)
Results: L 79-69 at Bucknell; W 63-62 at Boston University.
This Week: Wednesday vs Loyola; Saturday vs American
The Leopards have looked uninspiring in losses to Navy and at Bucknell, but in fairness, point guard Nick Linder – the player who truly makes the Leopards go – was out with a separated shoulder and then readjusting to being back on the court. With Dan Trist in the paint, Seth Hinrichs knocking down mid-range jumpers and Joey Ptasinski draining threes, with Linder creating havoc off the dribble, this remains the most dangerous offense in the league.

3. Boston University (7-8, 3-1 in PL)
Results: W 73-64 vs Navy; L 63-62 vs Lafayette
This Week: Wednesday at Colgate; Sunday at Loyola.
If not for a blown coverage on a back door play with 2.1 seconds left, the Terriers would be standing at 4-0 in the Patriot League and atop the OBW Power Rankings. But here we are. Sophomore wing Cedric Hankerson has come into his own as a true star, capable of scoring from everywhere on the floor while also helping to facilitate offense by shouldering a bit of the point guard duties. But Hankerson has been outstanding all year long. The true change for BU has been the emergence of Nate Dieudonne and Justin Alston around the rim and on the glass, along with inspired play of late from freshman point guard Cheddi Mosely, which has opened the floor for Hankerson and sharpshooter John Papale. Sophomore tranfer Eric Fanning remains a bit enigmatic, but he has given the Terriers a viable scoring option and slasher off the bench.

4. Navy (7-9, 3-1 in PL)
Results: L 70-64 vs Boston University; W 75-66 at Army.
This week: Wednesday vs BU; Saturday at Army.
What a story Navy is turning out to be. It’s probably cliché to use words and phrases like “perseverance,” “heart,” “effort,” “never give up,” with a service academy, but boy has Navy embodied them. The Midshipmen began the year decimated by injuries losing eight of their first 10 games against Division I foes, but Navy never stopped fighting, and with the return of star forward Worth Smith and several other key reserves, the Middies have won four of their last five, including a HUGE road win over archrival Army. Smith has quickly established himself as Navy’s best player, capable of willing his way to the rim and rebounds over far larger post players, while allowing guards Tilman Dunbar and Brandon Venturini to excel as role players.

5. American (9-7, 2-2 in PL)
Results: L 56-53 (OT) at Loyola; W 71-69 (2OT) vs Loyola.
This week: Wednesday vs Lehigh; Saturday at Lafayette
American can really, really defend, and their back court of wings Jesse Reed, John Schoof and Darius “Peewee” Gardner are as good – if not better than – any in the league. If the Eagles can get anything out of their front court, they are going to climb these rankings, because even now, getting almost nothing from the four and five spots, they can play with anyone in the league.

6. Bucknell (7-10, 2-2 in PL)
Results: L W 79-69 vs Lafayette; L 65-62 OT) at Holy Cross.
This week: Wednesday vs Navy; Saturday vs Army.
With double-digit wins over both American and Lafayette, we should probably have the Bison higher on these rankings – and ff they can survive the gauntlet of Navy and Army this week, they will definitely see their stock climb (at least in our eyes). I suppose right now it is simply a matter of still not quite believing in such a young squad that doesn’t “wow” you in any one particular area. On the flip side, the Bison also don’t seem to have any serious deficiencies. With junior guard Chris Hass emerging as the team’s go-to scorer, bruising freshman center Nana Foulland getting buckets, blocks and boards and freshman point guard J.C. Show also emerging as instant offense, this is a team that could still have a great deal of growth left in it this year, and a ceiling still a good ways higher than it’s ranking.

7. Army (10-5, 1-3 in PL)
Results: L 71-60 vs Lehigh; L 75-66 vs Navy.
This Week: Wednesday at Holy Cross; Saturday at Bucknell.
Wow. A few weeks ago when I spoke with Army head coach Zach Spiker, he opened the interview by saying “A proud peacock today, a feather duster tomorrow.” Right now those words are proving prophetic in the worst possible way. Spiker has continued to tell his players that they can not be satisfied or they would get tripped up, so the Black Knights’ free fall certainly isn’t due to coaching oversight or resting on their laurels. Army simply hasn’t been the same since star guard Kyle Wilson went down on Dec. 21 after taking a shot to the head against Maine. Wilson has returned to the court, and is back to his scoring ways, but the Black Knights just look… different, completely unable to get out and pressure the ball on defense and turn it into transition offense. This team might finally be feeling the loss of do-everything sophomore forward Tanner Omlid, arguably it’s best defender and most selfless player, lost for the season due to a leg injury.

8. Loyola-Maryland (6-9, 2-2 in PL)
Results: W 56-53 (OT) vs American; W 65-60 at Lehigh
This Week: Wednesday at Lafayette; Sunday vs Boston University.
After a really rough opening two months, the Greyhounds have strung together a pair of wins, including an overtime thriller against American, and looked very sharp in doing it. Tyler Hubbard continues to put up points from behind the arc, and 6’6” wing Eric Laster has proved to be a great back court compliment, but the Greyhounds biggest impact has been coming from junior Jarred Jones and freshman Cam Gregory who are combining for nearly 15 rebounds per game.

9. Holy Cross (6-8, 1-3 in PL)
Results: L 74-60 at Colgate; W 65-62 (OT) vs Bucknell.
This week: Wednesday vs Army; Saturday at Lehigh.
The Crusaders finally ended their five-game losing streak with an overtime win at home against Bucknell, but it’s going to take a lot more if they are going to follow through on the preseason hype and early season expectations of competing for a league title. Head coach Milan Brown has shuffled the starting lineup, moving wing Eric Green, arguably the league’s top defender, and finesse-four Taylor Abt to the bench for 6’11” center Matt Husek and forward Malachi Alexander. That move allows forward Malcolm Miller to move from the middle of the paint to the wing, and use his length and athleticism to create mismatches, while also alleviating a bit of the Crusaders massive deficiency on the glass. Will it pay off long term? Stay tuned.

10. Lehigh (7-8, 1-3 in PL)
Results: W 71-60 at Army; L 65-60 at Loyola.
This Week: Wednesday at American; Saturday vs Holy Cross.
Six-foot-eleven center Tim Kempton is an absolute beast on the low blocks, and freshman point guard Kharon Ross does a great job of feeding him the ball. Unfortunately, the Mountain Hawks have yet to find any sort of offense that does not revolve around doing anything other than that. With defenses focusing on stopping Kempton at all costs, Lehigh has struggled mightily.

OBW Patriot League Player of the Week
Dan Trist, Sr., F, Lafayette

Trist scored 44 points and pulled down 16 rebounds while shooting 64.5 percent from the floor as Lafayette split a pair of games over the week, including a 24-point 11-rebound double-double in a big, last-second win at Boston University.

OBW Patriot League Rookie of the Week
Kharon Ross, G, Lehigh

Ross registered 24 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists , while shooting an even 50 percent from the floor (9-of-18)in two games, including 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting in a win at Army.

OBW Patriot League Fab Five
Cedric Hankerson Soph., G, Boston University
Nick Lidner, Soph. G, Lafayette
Damon Sherman-Newsome, Sr., G, Colgate
Dan Trist, Sr., F, Lafayette
Kyle Wilson, G, Jr., Army

OBW Patriot League Frosh Five
Cam Gregory, F, Loyola
Matt Klinewski, F, Lafayette
Nana Foulland, C, Bucknell
Kahron Ross, G, Lehigh
J.C. Show, G, Bucknell

OBW Patriot League Power Rankings v4

Welcome back Worth Smith indeed.
Welcome back Worth Smith indeed.

The final buzzer sounded on opening night of Patriot League play a few hours before the New Year’s Eve ball dropped, and we were all left stumbling around trying to pick up the pieces of what we had previously thought about the league’s hierarchy. Out of the five games played between the PL’s 10 teams, the argument could be made that the underdog, on paper, in each of the five grudge matches came out on top.

Boston University snapped out of its seemingly season-long funk to knock off a Holy Cross team that was supposed to be competing for a title; defending conference champion American was beaten soundly by a Bucknell squad still finding its way; Colgate went on the road to knock off a Lehigh squad that was looking like it could be a contender; a Navy team that looked dead in the water (no pun intended) just weeks earlier annihilated Loyola; and in the heavyweight headliner of the night, Lafayette went in to Army’s house and stomped the Black Knights.

So now what are we supposed to do with our previous perceptions and predictions? Crumple them up and throw them away.

Now two games into the conference slate – the “real season” so to speak – here is our best guesstimate of how the team’s stack up in the latest edition of the OBW Patriot League Power Rankings.

1. Lafayette (9-4, 1-1 in PL)
Results: L 96-69 at #10 Kansas; W 76-71 vs NJIT; W 92-78 at Army (PL); L 69-65 vs Navy (PL).
This Week: Wednesday at Bucknell; Saturday at BU.
So, yeah, we’re not totally comfortable with Lafayette atop our Patriot League Power Rankings, mainly because of the loss on their home court to Navy, but we’d be even less comfortable with any other team from the PL at the top. The loss to Navy certainly wasn’t good, but the Midshipmen are playing absolutely inspired ball right now and chances are, everyone in the PL is going to lose at least one game they should win… wait, check that, every team in the PL HAS lost at least one game they should have won with the exception of BU and Navy.

As for the Leopards, they are really scoring the ball from everyone on the court, with Aussie banger Dan Trist scoring in the post at a tremendous clip, Trist’s frontcourt mate Seth Hinrichs owning the mid-range game, and shooting guard Joey Ptasinski playing the role of the sniper from Saving Private Ryan from behind the arc. And it all starts with point guard Nick Lindner creating havoc off the dribble before zipping a perfect pass to the open man.

Right now, this team is as complete a squad as it gets in the Patriot League.

2. Army (10-3, 1-1 in PL)
Results: W 72-69 (OT) vs Maine; W 93-48 vs Coast Guard (Div. III); L 92-78 vs Lafayette (PL); W 77-53 vs Loyola.
This Week: Wednesday vs Lehigh; Saturday vs Navy.
The Black Knights engine, for the most part, is made up of many interchangeable parts that are all constantly revving in overdrive, withg head coach Zach Spiker subbing in a new wave of players every whistle to play a breakneck fast-break game on offense, and apply pressure on defense. Army is selfless, relentless, incredibly hard working, gets after it on the glass and shares the ball tremendously. However, for all their depth, it has become glaringly apparent that there is one part of the team’s sleek sports car that simply can not be replaced: Junior shooting guard Kyle Wilson. Wilson went down early against Maine with what was feared to be a concussion and didn’t return, and the Black Knights nearly flew off the racetrack. Wilson, an awkward looking but completely unguardable scorer as a 6’5” 2-guard, returned against Lafayette, but was clearly not himself. He looked much more comfortable against Loyola, going off for his usual, effortless 20-plus, but it is apparent just how important he is to the Black Knights: With him, they could win it all. Without him, Army is a scrappy squad that will fight with everything it has, but will struggle to finish in the top half of the league. Right now, they’ve got Wilson and that is a problem for the rest of the league.

With that said, anything less than a 2-0 week from Army this week and the Black Knights are definitely going to drop in our next rankings.

3. American (8-6, 1-1 in PL)
Results: W 46-45 vs Mount Saint Mary’s; L 59-47 at Stony Brook; L 57-47 at Bucknell; W 53-49 vs Holy Cross.
This week: Wednesday at Loyola; Saturday vs Colgate.
According to Kenpom, we should have American second, slightly above Army. We think of Kenpom as a bible of sorts when it comes to the game of basketball, but we also just can’t shake what we’ve seen from the Eagles, who rank fourth in the entire country in points allowed per game (52.9) and fourth from last in the nation in points scored (52.4). Simply put: despite having two wings in John Schoof and Jesse Reed who can score with the best of them, and a straw-that-stirrs-the-drink point guard in Darius Gardner, the Eagles play super, super slow. When they are going good, they are deliberate, get stops, work the clock and score at the other end. When they are not, their paper-thin front court gets dominated. We think their Kenpom rankings are slightly inflated by their style of play that is going to keep them close in just about any game against anyone, but think their frontcourt woes could hurt them against some of the Patriot League’s bigmen. We’ll see how we feel next week.

4. Boston University (6-7, 2-0 in PL)
Results: L 78-62 at Dayton; W 69-46 vs Wentworth (Div. III); W 75-72 (OT) at Holy Cross (PL); W 75-56 vs Lehigh (PL).
This Week: Wednesday at Navy; Saturday vs Lafayette.
Say what? The Terriers spent all of the non-conference slate towards the bottom of these rankings. Last week the Terriers were struggling to put away a Division III team at home, two games later their fourth in a very competitive Patriot League after. Serious? Yeah, seriously. That’s what happens when you open up league play going 2-0 and also begin to develop a true offense with low post options, slashes to the hoop, and the ability to open up and then knock down shots from the perimeter. The emergence of Eric Fanning as a scorer off the bench, and flashes from fellow first year transfer Blaise Mbargorba in the post give the Terriers two completely new dimensions. If both can keep raising their respective games, BU is going to be good.

5. Navy (6-8, 2-0 in PL)
Results: W 61-56 vs Towson; W 70-47 vs Loyola (PL); W 69-65 vs Lafayette (PL).
This week: Wednesday vs BU; Saturday at Army.
Say double what?!?! What-what?!?! Navy fifth in the league? Navy that opened the season losing four in a row and went 1-7 in its first eight games against Division I opponents? Yeah, Navy, right here, fifth. With Wednesday’s battle of undefeateds against BU, and Saturday’s showdown with archrival Army, a good week will send the Midshipmen’s stock soaring. No team was hit harder by the injury bug – more like the injury bout of the Black Plague – than Navy. The return of Worth Smith, along with several other key reserves, has completely changed the Midshipmen’s game, with Smith playing like an absolute manimal in the post, scoring at will and ripping down boards. Smith’s return has allowed his fellow senior Brandon Venturini to move into the role of Robin to Smith’s Batman, and the strong, tough-as-nails guard has provided scoring, playmaking, selfless leadership, and a sheer will to win. This could be a great story in the making.

6. Colgate (5-10, 2-0 in PL)
Results: L 78-43 at Syracuse; L 69-64 at Columbia; W 68-61 at Lehigh; W 68-62 vs Bucknell.
This week: Wednesday vs Holy Cross; Saturday at American.
It’s pretty crazy to think that two games into league play Colgate joins BU and Navy as the league’s only remaining undefeated teams. Point guard Austin Tillotson makes the Raiders go as both a dynamic playmaker (4.9 assists per game, 2.4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio) while also serving as a dynamic scorer. Tillotson’s partner in backcourt crime is senior Damon Sherman-Newsome, a 6’5” strong guard who scores from all over. Both Tillotson and Sherman-Newsome are shooting nearly 48 percent from the floor from the guard positions, and the Raiders big men are rebounding the ball and clogging the lane, a very good combination.

7. Bucknell (6-9, 1-1 in PL)
Results: W 88-65 vs Case Western Reserve (Div. III); L 60-53 at Wake Forest; L 73-71 vs Siena; W 57-47 vs American (PL); L 68-62 at Colgate (PL).
This Week: Wednesday vs Lafayette; Saturday at Holy Cross.
The Bison have found their go-to scorer and star in junior wing Chris Haas, who can score from all over the floor and isn’t afraid to take the big shot. They’ve also finally found a second option in bruising freshman big man Nana Foulland, who is finishing with ferocious authority around the rim. Questions still remain about point guard play and ability to consistently defend, but if a few more young players continue to mature, Bucknell could make a move towards the top of the league this year.

8. Lehigh (6-7, 0-2 in PL)
Results: L 80-65 at Quinnipiac; W 84-81 (3OT) at Arizona State; W 58-55 at UMBC; L 68-61 vs Colgate; L 75-56 at Boston University.
This Week: Wednesday at Army; Saturday vs Loyola.
Six-foot-10-inch sophomore center Tim Kempton remains a serious problem for opponents on the blocks, and an almost automatic double-double as long as he stays out of foul trouble. The problem is that teams are now selling out to stop Kempton – doubling and tripling him whenever he touches the ball – and thus far Lehigh hasn’t found a way to make them consistently pay for it. Freshman point guard Kahron Ross has been fantastic, averaging 5.5 assists and a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But a huge percentage of Ross’ assists come on feeds to Kempton, and Lehigh needs some other reliable scorers.

9. Holy Cross (5-7)
Results: This week: L 67-48 at Canisius; L 58-39 at Pitt; L 75-72 (OT) vs Boston University (PL); L 53-49 at American (PL).
This week: Wednesday at Colgate; Saturday at Bucknell.
This season is quickly running off the rails and turning in to a total train wreck in Worcester. The good news is that it’s still early in the Patriot League slate and the better news is that the Crusader’s talent and athleticism are really, really good. The bad news is that they have now lost four in a row and six of their last seven games and are playing at a very underwhelming energy level – energy being a key component for a team that doesn’t have a true low-post option and needs to win by pushing the ball on offense and pressuring it in the back court on D. This is a HUGE week for Holy Cross, one which could very well determine how the rest of their season will go.

10. Loyola-Maryland (4-9, 0-2 in PL)
Results: L 74-65 vs Mount Saint Mary’s; L 68-42 vs Saint Joseph’s; L 67-52 vs Stony Brook; W 61-59 vs Fairfield (OT); L 70-47 at Navy (PL); L 77-53 vs Army.
This Week: Wednesday vs American; Saturday at Lehigh.
The Greyhounds are young and rebuilding, and these growing pains are to be expected. The good news is that they haven’t quit on the season and are still playing hard. The better news is that they have some very talented young players and a great leader in redshirt junior Tyler Hubbard. Who has blossomed into a legitimate scoring threat every night. The bad news is that right now, they are just being outclassed by the rest of the league.

OBW Patriot League Player of the Week
Worth Smith, Sr., F, Navy

It’s been quite the comeback for Smith, who returned to action after missing all but the first half of the season opener. Smith averaged 19 points and 8.5 rebounds and was THE big reason that Navy took the Patriot League by storm, racing out to a 2-0 start to the conference slate.

OBW Patriot League Rookie of the Week
Nana Foulland, C, Bucknell.

Foulland averaged 13.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in Bucknell’s first two Patriot League contests. Foulland scored nine points on 4-of-9 shooting to go with five rebounds in a big 57-47 win over American, and followed it up with a career-high 17 points hitting 7-of-11 shots in a loss at Colgate.

Fab Five
Cedric Hankerson Soph., G, Boston University
Seth Hinrichs, Sr., F, Lafayette
Nick Lidner, Soph. G, Lafayette
Dan Trist, Sr., F, Lafayette
Kyle Wilson, G, Jr., Army

Frosh Five
Cam Gregory, F, Loyola
Matt Klinewski, F, Lafayette
Nana Foulland, C, Bucknell
Kahron Ross, G, Lehigh
J.C. Show, G, Bucknell

Challenged during tough non-conference, Bucknell puts it all together

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The non-conference season for Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen and the Bison was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride.

“We’ve had some really good performances, and we’ve had some less than great ones,” said Paulsen, whose team went 5-8 during the non-conference play. “We played a really challenging schedule in terms of who and amount of games. We have to use it as a learning device and stay positive. It will help us in league play.”

Paulsen certainly did challenge his team with the non-conference schedule he put together this year. After opening the season with a three-point victory over Marist, the team took on No. 24 Michigan and No. 12 Villanova. A few weeks later, they hosted Penn State, then went back on the road to face a tough Columbia team, and wrapped up non-conference play on the road against Wake Forest and Siena.

But while the Bison struggled to string together wins, according to Paulsen, they made several big strides in other areas, chief among them finding out who their go-to player would be: 6-foot-5-inch guard Chris Haas. Haas, a Pellston, Michigan native, leads the team at 16.9 points per game, and is shooting 42.4 percent from the floor, 41.8 percent from downtown and 88.3 percent from the floor.

Paulsen also seems to have found his supporting cast, with a pair of freshmen playing big roles. Local product J.C. Show, a 6’2” guard from Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, ranks second on the team in scoring at 7.5 points per game, and freshman center Nana Foulland a powerful and explosive 6’9” 220 pound center, is right behind him at 7.4 points per game. Foulland is shooting 50.6 percent from the floor and ranks second on the team in rebounds at 4.7. As is the case with any freshmen, Show and Foulland have had an equal amount of growth spurts and growing pains, but their talent has been apparent.

“We have two freshmen, they’ve been good, but they’re freshman so they’re going to be up and down,” said Paulsen.

During their better moments, both Show and Foulland have shown flashes that indicate success in the future.

“J.C. Show had his best game at Siena,” said Paulsen. “He can really shoot, he can score in a variety of ways and brings real toughness.”

“Nana Foulland gives us legit low-post threat, when he’s playing well and consistently, can score around basket and gives team consistency.”

“We have to get better defensively, and become a more consistent offensive team,” said Paulsen. “Finding consistency in scoring is going to be a process as we develop them and get returning guys to contribute. When we’ve struggled it’s because we don’t have a consistent second scorer to support Haas.”

But when the Bison tipped off their conference slate on New Year’s Eve against defending Patriot League Champion American, Paulsen found something else: A complete team effort in a complete game, ending in a resounding 57-47 win in which Bucknell outplayed the Eagles in every facet.

Maybe there was something to that tough non-conference schedule after all.