Do you hear that? It's the popping of stadium popcorn, the bouncing of basketballs on the hardwood, and the swishing of jumpers going through the net. In other words, it is college basketball season! So to prepare you for the upcoming year, VAVEL USA's Ben Anderson, Tyler Bennett, and Peyton Wesner gave their view on which teams and players will thrive during the 2015-2016 Patriot League season.
1. In recent years, the Patriot League has housed NBA talents such as C.J. McCollum and Mike Muscala. Are there any current players that have next-level ability?
No doubt about it, Tim Kempton Jr. from Lehigh has the potential to make the jump. The big man, son of former NBA journeyman Tim Kempton, was a beast as a sophomore for the Mountain Hawks with 15.3 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. Kempton Jr. won the 2014-2015 Patriot League POTY, and will undoubtedly be a candidate this year. As for his scouting report, his ceiling has not yet been reached as he's just a junior this year. He is the new Mike Muscala of the Patriot League, so keep him on your radar.
The popular choice is Tim Kempton of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, but it’s his teammate who could very well be the top NBA prospect in the conference. Point guard Kahron Ross was a freshman last season, but he didn’t play like it. Ross averaged 10.4 points, 5.8 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game in his first year of competition. He could very well be the next great point guard in the conference, following in the footsteps of former Lehigh star C.J. McCollum. As a sophomore in 2015-16, he has yet to reach his sky high potential and will continue to develop into a star over the course of his collegiate career.
Like father, like son! Tim Kempton Jr., son of former NBA power forward Tim Kempton Sr., is on his way to becoming the next Patriot League NBA player. The six foot, ten inch big has continued to progress as a player after a fantastic freshman season (13.0 PPG & 7.1 RPG) by improving his shooting at the charity stripe (70.5% his Sophomore season) and ability to pass out of the post. While the "jazzy junior" will not tickle the twine from outside, Kempton is capable of posting a double-double on a nightly basis and will be a candidate for Patriot League Player of the Year.
2. Newcomer (Freshman or Transfer) of the Year?
Bucknell is already going to be near the top of the conference with BMOC Chris Hass at the rim. But he's going to have to get some help in the backcourt from a variety of players. One that I expect to rise above is Canadian freshman Kimbal Mackenzie. The combo-guard played AAU ball for CIA Bounce, a program that has had magnificent players like Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, and Tyler Ennis. Mackenzie really was a steal for the Bison, as he's a natural shooter with a sweet stroke. While he has some improvements to make on defense, he should be right in the thick of things for Newcomer of the Year.
A trend in the Newcomer of the Year category will be Canadians, and Bucknell’s Kimbal Mackenzie is another player from the Great White North who can take his respective conference by storm this season. He is a combo guard who has a ton of talent on the offensive end of the floor. He is a natural shooter and can hit shots from all over. Entering the season for the Bison, the addition of Mackenzie will take some pressure off of Chris Hass, and give both players more opportunity to be successful. Having seen him play several times over his high school and AAU career, his play on the defensive end needs to improve. If he can become a better defender, his game will go to another level while running away with this award.
Very tough question! After having one of the best conference seasons in recent history (12-6), the Colgate Raiders will need to attend to the fact that only one of their top six leading scorers (Austin Tillotson-10.7 PPG) returns. Therefore, with no expectations of anykind, I see Bradley transfer Jordan Swopshire emerging as a contributor for Colgate. Even though Swopshire, a native of Missouri, did not have good stats from his days in Peoria, Illinois, the sophomore does have talent. Not only was the six foot, seven inch forward a McDonalds All-American candidate during high school, but a 22 point, 7 rebound per game contributor at SportsQuest Academy in Virgina (junior stats) and a member of the 2011-2012 USA Basketball Men's Development National Team.
3. By sprinkling powerhouses like Florida, LSU, Kansas, Kentucky, and Syracuse on non-conference schedules, the Patriot League will receive some early national attention this year. While the odds of defeating one of the following are minuscule to none, which team has the potential to start off hot and compete at the top?
A sense of parity gave the Patriot League a fun feeling last year. In terms of a team that could set the pace early in the season, the Army Black Knights look primed for an uprising. Led by two elder statesmen forwards in Kyle Wilson and Tanner Plomb, the high scoring squad from West Point is in the 'sleeper' category this year. Army has an intriguing non-conference schedule, and they could be in shape to shock the George Washington Colonials, a team that just lost their second leading scorer Kethan Savage to transfer (Butler). Their toughest challenge will be against Tennessee in Knoxville, but if Zach Spiker's Army team can improve on defense, they may stick around in that game. I see the team with the best record of any Patriot League squad coming into conference play.
One team that stands out in the conference won’t take down the top teams in the conference, but they have the potential to upset a power conference team or two before it’s all said and done. The Bucknell Bison always seem to find themselves in contention in Patriot League play, and they could roll into conference action with a strong record to their name. Their toughest challenges come by the way of road contests against Penn State and NC State, both of whom should give the Bison some troubles. However, with freshman Kimbal Mackenzie joining the likes of Chris Hass and Nana Foulland, don’t be surprised to see Bucknell with an upset or two. The Bison also welcome teams like Wake Forest, Siena, and Columbia to their own home floor, giving the team plenty of opportunities to enter Patriot League play on a roll.
Despite the Lehigh Mountain Hawks having the 2014-2015 Patriot League Player of the Year in Tim Kempton, the squad was shocked by American University in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament last season. Yet this year, they will dominate from beginning to end! No, that does not mean they will come up victorious against Syracuse, Virginia, or Purdue, but playing these tough opponents shall bring preparation for the future. Combine the following with the fact that four of their five starters return from last season and the Mountain Hawks have the potential to roost at the top of the standings.
4. Patriot League Player of the Year?
It is really hard to deny Tim Kempton Jr. here, but Cedric Hankerson spikes my curiosity. The Miami native has Boston University in a good position going into the year, and a lot of pressure is on the junior to lead the Terriers to the promised land. Hankerson is a 6'5" bowling ball of a guard that zips into the paint for easy scores. He's a catalyst that is steadily improving on defense by grabbing quite a few rebounds a game. He was heavily recruited by Power 7 conference schools, but landed at BU to give the Terriers a steal. If Hankerson can get his team off to a good start, expect him to dominate in conference play, pushing himself over the heavy competition into the POTY award.
Picking Tim Kempton would be the easy way out as he is the reigning Player of the Year in the conference. But Army forward Tanner Plomb is a player who could surprise people this season with his play on the hardwood. Picking Plomb is a bit of a stretch, in terms of the talent around the league as a whole, but he can compete with the best players in the conference. Last season, Plomb averaged 15.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest while starting in all 30 games. Army West Point had a down year last year, yet the team is expected to contend in the conference this season and Plomb is a big reason why.
Dear Tim Kempton Jr., you may need to spend some time reprganizing your trophy case because next March, a second Patriot League Player of the Year honor will have your name engraved on it. Now before you pinpoint me as biased in favor of Lehigh, which I am not, allow me to explain. My eyes tell me this award is going to be a three man race between Kempton, Bucknell's Chris Hass, and Army's Kyle Wilson considering all are fantastic players. To go even further, whoever's team enters the conference tournament with the best chance to punch their ticket for the train ride known as the NCAA Tournament deserves to win this award. Thus, Lehigh's Tim Kempton Jr. will win it.
5. The team who receives the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament will be...
I think that whoever wins this conference has the potential to be a true 'Cinderella' this year. The conference is talent laden, and should be followed by all fans of college basketball. All in all, I can't imagine any team upheaving Lehigh in the race for the Patriot League crown. Tim Kempton Jr. needs a spotlight on him, and he is hungry for hardware. Austin Price leads a sneaky backcourt that could be overlooked by opposing teams. Kahron Ross is a brilliant facilitator that keeps the cogs moving, and can weave into traffic and score as well. We could be in for another strong Mountain Hawk run this year. Can they upset a team like the Duke Blue Devils again in the NCAA tournament? The possibilities are endless with Dr. Brett Reed's team.
It’s tough to pick against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks when they return virtually all of their key contributors from last season. Kempton, Ross, Price and Justin Goldsborough will lead the Mountain Hawks to a successful season in the Patriot League. The Mountain Hawks burst onto the scene in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, when they eliminated Duke in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament as a 15-seed. This season, they have the talent to make some more noise in the "Big Dance" and pull off another massive upset. Now, the team has to get there first, and being a clear-cut favorite for the 2015-16 season already puts a ginormous target on their back.
Don't you have an inkling by my past responses? Yes, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks will return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012! With Kempton dominating the paint, Kahron Ross slashing the lanes to drop dimes, and Austin Price drilling treys from beyond the arc, why wouldn't I believe they will be crowned champions. While the Bucknell Bison are a very good team that will be competiting in the NIT or CIT following Selection Sunday, the thought of "stud sophomore" Nana Foulland shutting down Kempton is far-fetched while Ross and/or Price containing, not stopping but containing, Chris Hass is within the realm of possibility.
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