Crashing the Party: Boston University / Patriot League Preview

This is the second part of Beanpot Hoops’ preview series. Read yesterday’s story on Harvard and stay tuned this week for Northeastern and Boston College.

burosterBoston University’s 2013-14 team photo includes nearly all of the same faces as last year’s. (Photo via GoTerriers.com)

Only 22 Division I basketball teams were less experienced than Boston University last season, per Ken Pomeroy’s measurement. Of the ten players to make head coach Joe Jones’ rotation, four were freshmen, three were sophomores, and exactly zero were seniors. Teams with that much youth often struggle: Not counting power-conference teams like Kentucky and Texas — who relied on young players for entirely different reasons — the teams with less experience than BU combined for a .355 winning percentage last season.

For two months, the Terriers’ season unfolded the same way, as several one-possession defeats cursed them to a 6-9 start. But things clicked from that point forward, as they won 11 of their next 13 games to finish second in the America East. Now, last year’s inexperience will become this year’s … well, experience — an asset that could make the Terriers rude guests in their Patriot League debut.

BU couldn’t have picked a better season to join the Patriot League. The Terriers avoid competing with Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum and Bucknell’s Mike Muscala, but they’ll benefit from the afterglow of the exposure brought upon the conference by those stars, who were both drafted by NBA teams last summer. And they’ll enter the conference with a wealth of proven players — enough to put them atop the conference poll before playing a Patriot League game.

Chief among those returning players is senior D.J. Irving, the preseason Player of the Year favorite. A prolific scorer who averaged 14.4 points per game in 2012-13, Irving also finished among the Terriers’ top three in rebounds, assists and steals. “He’s a reason why we’re picked to win this thing,” Jones said at the Patriot League’s media day.

Dom Morris, who shot 73 percent in the Terriers’ final eight games, will be another senior leader — but one of the biggest keys to the season will be the performance of Irving’s backcourtmate Maurice Watson, one of the biggest beneficiaries of last year’s youth. Handed a starting role as a rookie from day one, the point guard blossomed in the second half of the season, averaging 6.1 assists over BU’s final 15 games.

Of the mid-majors that were as inexperienced in 2011-12 as BU was in 2012-13 — a list that, for the record, included Florida Gulf Coast, which became the coolest team in history — those teams improved by an average of three wins the following season. If this year’s Terriers can match that, they’ll end up at 20 wins and have a good chance of making good on their preseason ranking.

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Patriot League preview:

As shown here Monday, adding BU and Loyola (Md.) should make the Patriot League considerably stronger. While no individual team is likely to match the heights reached by Lehigh and Bucknell in recent years, the league as a whole should be middle-of-the-pack or better among mid-major conferences, with only a couple of weaklings on the schedule.

BU is the consensus preseason favorite, and with a strong track record and lots of roster continuity, it should at least be in contention all season long. Lafayette surprisingly beat out Lehigh for second place last season and could finish near the top again despite the graduation of point guard Tony Johnson. The most intriguing team this year, however, is Bucknell — do-everything center Mike Muscala and two of his top teammates depart, but this is still a team that went 28-6 a season ago, and senior Cameron Ayers is Irving’s top challenger for Player of the Year. The computer rankings like Bucknell as a title contender, while the humans are more turned off by the key graduations.

If the Bison don’t reload, expect one of the middle-of-the-pack teams to leap up and contend for the Patriot championship. Army could be that team, but it will miss Ella Ellis nearly as much as the Bison miss Muscala, and the departure of Kyle Toth after a strong rookie season adds to the challenge. Lehigh and Loyola are the other teams most likely to surprise, with the other four teams a tier or two below entering the season.

Who’s returning?

The chart below shows the percentage of returning possession minutes for each Patriot League team in 2013-14. Introduced (I think) by John Templon of Big Apple Buckets, returning possession minutes is a statistic that weights a team’s returning players by both the number of minutes they played and the number of possessions they used when on the court, representing the amount of continuity on its roster. Teams listed in order of 2013 finish, with new additions at the end.

Patriot_League_Returning_Possession_Minutes_2013-14

Polling the polls

The composite Patriot League prediction, including polls and rankings from all corners of the Internet:

  1. Boston University, 99 pts (9 first-place)
  2. Lafayette, 77
  3. Army, 73 (1)
  4. Lehigh, 68
  5. Bucknell, 68
  6. Loyola (Md.), 56
  7. Holy Cross, 38
  8. Colgate, 35
  9. Navy, 19
  10. American, 17

All-Patriot selections:

  • Cameron Ayers, Bucknell (5 votes)
  • D.J. Irving, BU (5)
  • Dylon Cormier, Loyola (4)
  • Dave Dudzinski, Holy Cross (4)
  • Mackey McKnight, Lehigh (4)

Patriot Player of the Year:

  • D.J. Irving, BU (4 votes)

Rankings and/or All-league selections from: Patriot League media poll, Mid-Major Madness, Big Apple Buckets, ESPN.com, Dan Hanner, Ken Pomeroy, College Basketball Talk, City of Basketball Love, College Chalk Talk, Sports Network,TeamRankings.com.

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