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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Patriot League Tournament Preview

Click here for a complete index of all the conference tournament previews.

The Patriot League featured a decent race for the regular-season title, but it ended much the same way most people projected, with American winning the championship. The Eagles lost just one conference game all season, back on January 24 to Holy Cross. The Crusaders, who lost two of their last five games, finished in second, two games back of American. Only one other team, Navy, was above .500 in conference play, with four teams finishing 5-9 or worse.

Favorite: Heading into the year, American was the odds-on favorite to get back to the NCAA Tournament after winning the auto-bid last year and giving Tennessee trouble in the first round. Nothing has changed – the Eagles have won 16 of their last 17 games and are playing very good basketball. Their backcourt is fantastic, with Garrison Carr shooting the ball and Derrick Mercer doing a bit of everything. Brian Gilmore is the main option in the frontcourt. This team plays outstanding defense, as well.

Contender: Holy Cross went toe-to-toe with American for much of the season, before fading slightly down the stretch. Each of the Crusaders’ Patriot League losses was by exactly six points. They are a balanced group, with guard R.J. Evans the lone double-figure scorer. Forwards Andrew Keister and Colin Cunningham are solid, while Andrew Breinart can really shoot the ball.

Sleepers: Navy is the next likely candidate after Holy Cross to compete with American. The Midshipmen lost to the Eagles twice by a combined six points and also beat Holy Cross. They push the ball very well, and have a variety of options. Kaleo Kina is one of the best all-around guards in the league, and shooter Chris Harris is an excellent sidekick. Adam Teague is a versatile forward up front. Army is the No. 4 seed, but the Black Knights are really the only other team with a puncher’s chance. They are 6-5 in their last 11 games, and won their last two games. They are not efficient offensively, but are very solid at the other end. Guards Cleveland Richard and Josh Miller will have to carry them.

Prediction: In the preseason, I thought American was the clear-cut best team in the conference, and I think the same now. Yes, Holy Cross beat them and Navy has been competitive, but the Eagles have too much experience and talent for anyone else. Mercer and Carr are an outstanding backcourt, and are normally enough most nights. This team could be a threat in the first round of the Big Dance again. If Gilmore is producing and the defense is playing well, look out.


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