By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
As the Patriot League men's basketball schedule kicks off tonight with five games, the 2014 league season will certainly pose a different look than last year.
Arguably the two best players in league history have moved on in Lehigh's C.J. McCollum, the No. 8-pick in the NBA draft, and Bucknell's Mike Muscala, who was drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Hawks. Their teams, the top two in the league over the past four years, are both dealing with major graduation losses in addition to the draft picks.
Two new teams enter the league this year as Boston University and Loyola (Md.) begin their first season.
The Terriers (7-6) have the biggest win posted by a Patriot League school, winning on the road at Maryland. Boston might posses the most dynamic backcourt in the league this season. Sophomore Maurice Watson, Jr., leads the team at 15 points per game, while point guard D.J. Irving, a senior, averages 12.3 points per game. Dom Morris, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, provides a post presence for Boston at 12.7 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game.
Loyola (Md.) is struggling entering its first season in Patriot League play. The Greyhounds (5-6) began the season 4-0, but have lost six of their last seven games. Loyola does have the sixth leading scorer in the nation; senior guard Dylon Cormier is averaging 22.9 points per game, but he's the lone Greyhound player in double figures.
Bucknell (5-6) gets a chance to get off to a good start in Patriot play with two games at Sojka Pavilion to open the league season. The Bison open tonight at 7 with American before hosting Colgate at 2 p.m. Sunday.
American (4-7) is the lone Patriot League squad with a new coach this season. Mike Brennan, who spent two years earlier this decade as an Eagles' assistant under former coach Jeff Jones, returned as the head coach after four years as an assistant to John Thompson II at Georgetown. American had lost its last three games before beating Maryland Eastern Shore on Sunday. The Eagles have four players averaging in double figures led by guards John Schoff (12.5) and Jesse Reed (12.4).
Colgate (6-5) is just one of three Patriot League schools -- joining Lehigh and Boston -- to finish the non-conference schedule above .500. The Red Raiders, who finished in the bottom of half of the Patriot League, are a darkhorse for the league title this season. Colgate is shooting 50 percent from the field this season. After relying on Murphy Burnatowski last year, the senior forward now has a bit of help. The Patriot League's leading returning scorer isn't even the leading scorer on his own team this season.
Monmouth (N.J) transfer Austin Tillotson leads the team with 14.1 points per game. The sophomore guard played scholastically at Eastern York.
Like Bucknell, both the Lehigh Valley schools have huge shoes to fill. Lafayette (4-7) won seven consecutive games last season en route to a Patriot League Tournament final appearance against Bucknell, but the biggest catalyst in that run -- All-Patriot League guard Tony Johnson -- has graduated. The Leopards have been playing better of late, after starting the season 0-5, but they lost the last two games without guard Seth Heinrichs.
The 6-foot-7 junior leads the team with 20.2 points per game and is shooting 47 percent from behind the 3-point line.
In addition to McCollum, Lehigh (7-6) lost forwards Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner to graduation. The Mountain Hawks lost a senior class the led the team to three 20-win seasons and three national postseason appearances, including an upset of No. 2-seed Duke in 2012. Point guard Mackey McKay is the top returning player for Lehigh and he leads the team at 13.5 points and 5.8 assist per game s. The Mountain Hawks, which won five in a row before a two-point loss to Bryant on the road on Sunday, have also received a lift from freshman Tim Kempton, who is averaging 12.6 points and 6 rebounds per game. Kempton, a 6-foot-10 center, is the son of former NBA player Tim Kempton.
Both military academies with have to overcome youth to contend this season.
Army (4-7) completed its best season since the mid 1980s, finishing above .500. This year the Black Knights will be led by last year's Patriot League freshman of the year, sophomore guard Kyle Wilson. He leads the team 18.3 points per game, but Army has just one senior on its roster.
Navy (5-6), under former Penn State head coach Ed DeChillis, is a bit older than the Black Knights. The Midshipmen have just two seniors and eight freshmen on the roster this year.
Holy Cross (6-6) which finished seventh in the Patriot League last year, has chance to be much-improved under fourth-year coach Milan Brown. The Crusaders are led by senior Dave Dudzinski. The forward leads the team at 17.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest.