As teams around the nation transition into conference play, it’s time to take a look at how the four leagues with Boston Area teams look two months into the season. First up: the Patriot League.
As a whole, the Patriot League is currently 21st in Ken Pomeroy’s conference rankings, which would match its third-best finish since 2003 — not bad after losing two NBA Draft picks in Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum and Bucknell’s Mike Muscala. Plus, the Patriot has upside to move up in the remainder of non-conference play, as its Pomeroy rating is closer to 13th than 22nd. Preseason favorite Boston U. still looks the part, but the top contenders have changed in the last two months.
1. Boston University (7-5)
Preseason consensus: 1st
Pomeroy Ranking: 129 (2nd in Patriot League)
Patriot League opener: Jan. 2 vs. Holy Cross
Like last year, the Terriers shoot a lot of three-pointers; 42 percent of their shots have come from beyond the arc, 24th in the nation. Point guard Maurice Watson, Jr. has the nation’s second-best assist rate, setting up nearly half of his teammates’ buckets when he’s on the floor — and when those passes aren’t going to Dom Morris in the paint, they usually go to three-point shooters. Though BU returned most of its roster with another year of experience, the Terriers’ three-point shooting is down three percentage points from last season — making behind-the-arc accuracy an easy area for improvement. Here’s how BU’s shooters have been so far (ranked by number of three-point attempts this season):
2. Bucknell (5-5)
Preseason consensus: 5th
Pomeroy Ranking: 118 (1st)
Patriot League opener: Jan. 2 vs. American
Through five games, the Bison were blowing away preseason expectations, upsetting Penn State and nearly doing the same to Stanford and St. John’s, all on the road. Since then, however, it’s been a much different story, as Bucknell is 2-3 with losses at Mount St. Mary’s and Marist. One easy fix for its offense: shoot more three-pointers. The Bison has made 42.2 percent of its threes and just 46.5 percent of its twos, yet it’s taken 70 percent of its shots from two-point range. The effect of Muscala’s graduation has been more prominent on the other end, where Bucknell has blocked just 1.7 percent of opponents’ shots — dead last in the nation.
3. Holy Cross (6-5)
Preseason consensus: 7th
Pomeroy Ranking: 146 (3rd)
Patriot League opener: Jan. 2 at Boston U.
I see a significant drop-off after the top two teams, as the rest of the league has yet to beat anyone ranked in Pomeroy’s top 140. But nobody in the Patriot League will relish playing the Crusaders, who have the conference’s top forward in Dave Dudzinski. The 6-9 senior logs heavy minutes (and commits few fouls) for a post player, allowing him to lead the league in rebounds (7.6 per game) and rank fourth in scoring (17.1). And the Crusaders aren’t a one-man team — despite Dudzinski’s least effective game of the season, Holy Cross played an eight-point game at UNC thanks to stingy defense.
4. Lafayette (4-6)
Preseason consensus: 2nd
Pomeroy Ranking: 196 (5th)
Patriot League opener: Jan. 2 vs. Army
The Leopards are about four possessions away from having an 8-2 record and an eight-game win streak, as their last four losses have come by three points or less, two in overtime. They’re an extreme version of a classic mid-major archetype — a team that shoots extremely well but is good at little else. Lafayette’s effective field goal percentage is 55.4 percent, 23rd best in the nation, and all five primary starters have an offensive rating above 108, but the Leopards have held only one Division I opponent below a point per possession. If they become even passable defensively, they’ll challenge for the conference championship — but given their history under Fran O’Hanlon, don’t hold your breath.
5. Lehigh (7-5)
Preseason consensus: 4th
Pomeroy Ranking: 202 (6th)
Patriot League opener: Jan. 2 at Colgate
Not only did the Mountain Hawks lose McCollum — who was injured for the majority of last season anyway — but they also lost forwards Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner, two other dependable scorers, to graduation. With only Mackey McKnight returning as a key weapon, Lehigh’s offense has fallen off considerably, and the Hawks are getting killed on the glass. Lehigh has won five straight games, but four were at home, and only Quinnipiac looks like a solid team. Three games next week will provide a much better test — at Bryant, at Colgate and home to Boston U.
6. Colgate (6-4)
Preseason consensus: 8th
Pomeroy Ranking: 169 (4th)
Patriot League opener: Jan. 2 vs. Lehigh
After going 11-21 last season, the Raiders have outperformed low expectations so far, but most of their opponents have been either very good or terrible. As a result, it’s hard to get a great read on Colgate — and, in particular, what to make of its shooting. The Raiders have the nation’s best three-point accuracy (46 percent), and they’ve leveraged that extremely well, taking more treys than all but two other teams. I’m not convinced this will last, however — transfers Ethan Jacobs and Austin Tillotson have helped, but this team still shot a pedestrian 34 percent on threes last season. With early-January dates at Bucknell, Holy Cross and Boston U., we should find out soon enough.
7. Loyola (Md.) (5-5)
Preseason consensus: 6th
Pomeroy Ranking: 241 (8th)
Patriot League opener: Jan. 2 vs. Navy
Senior Dylon Cormier has used 32.9 percent of Loyola’s possessions while on the court, 10th-highest in the nation. And of the nine players ahead of him, only North Dakota’s Troy Huff has a higher offensive rating than Cormier’s 114.3. Cormier’s pure shooting ability is nothing special for a guard, but he’s remained efficient by avoiding two-point jumpers, getting to the rim and taking great care of the ball. But he hasn’t had enough help to make the Greyhounds’ offense very good overall, and though they’ve been competitive in games against UConn and Stony Brook, they haven’t won any notable games yet.
8. American (3-7)
Preseason consensus: 10th
Pomeroy Ranking: 219 (7th)
Patriot League opener: Jan. 2 at Bucknell
In the first year under head coach Mike Brennan, only 17.6 of the Eagles’ shots have been mid-range jumpers (according to Hoop-Math.com), fewer than all but a dozen D-I teams. The benefits and costs have been predictable — American has made 56 percent of its two-point attempts, but in trying to get shots at the rim so frequently, the Eagles have turned the ball over on nearly a quarter of their possessions. They’ve returned the favor with quite a few steals on the other end, but like pretty much the entire bottom half of the league, they’ve yet to beat a quality team.
9. Army (3-7)
Preseason consensus: 3rd
Pomeroy Ranking: 278 (9th)
Patriot League opener: Jan. 2 at Lafayette
After going 16-15 last year for their first winning season in a generation, the Black Knights had high hopes entering 2013-14. Starting with early-November losses to Air Force and NJIT, however, those hopes quickly became fantasy. Led by Kyle Wilson, Army’s offense has been okay, but it allowed an average of 85 points per game during a five-game losing streak earlier in the season. According to John Templon of Big Apple Buckets, Army substitutes more frequently than anyone else in the nation — an amazing 12 Knights average at least five minutes per game.
10. Navy (5-5)
Preseason consensus: 9th
Pomeroy Ranking: 299 (10th)
Patriot League opener: Jan. 2 at Loyola (Md.)
The Midshipmen have had a similar season as their West Point rivals, with a better win-loss record mainly the result of a weaker schedule, but it’s felt more positive due to their recent trajectory — after winning just three games in 2011-12 and eight last year, a 5-5 record is pretty nice. Navy has played a lot of bad teams, but its wins have come handily, and even the majority its losses have been close. As in past years, the Midshipmen’s offense has been bad, but they can play defense and have a young core.