The rivalry between the Army West Point Black Knights and the Navy Midshipmen is well-known around the sports world. On the gridiron, the teams meet each year and the showdown is televised to a national audience.
While the rivalry on the hardwood isn’t followed as much as the annual Army-Navy football game, the rivalry is just as big, and a win for either school means a ton to the respective players. The battle for the gold star takes place on Saturday afternoon, and what better place to host the rivalry game than inside the historic Madison Square Garden.
The Midshipmen come into Saturday afternoon having won three straight games in the rivalry, and are looking to extend their winning streak in conference play. On the flip side, the Black Knights are looking to land a big conference win to get them back on track, and they may have to do so without their top scorer and top rebounder.
Even with the dreaded snow storm threatening the East Coast, there isn’t a better game to watch on Saturday afternoon. One of the NCAA’s best rivalries takes to the hardwood in the world’s most famous arena, and with the talent on both sides of the court, you can bet this will be a good contest.
Take a look below to get yourself ready for Saturday’s showdown.
Time: 2:00pm EST
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Spread: Army (-4.0)
Navy Midshipmen (15-5, 6-1)
After Army and Navy traded wins in the battle for the gold star, the Midshipmen have since seized control of the series. Navy has won the last three meeting between the two schools, including a season-series sweep last year.
With the way Navy has been playing as of late, they have a great chance to make it 4 straight wins over their rival, and 7 straight in Patriot League play.
After falling to the Bucknell Bison in their conference opener, 88-58, the Midshipmen have raced to the top of the Patriot League standings. Six straight wins have propelled the Midshipmen into a tie with the Bison at 6-1 in conference play.
They have had to fight down to the wire in several of their games, as four of their six wins have been decided by 8 points or less, including an overtime win over the Colgate Raiders on the road.
Winning the close games has boosted the confidence of the team as a whole, and they know that they can come away with a win if they find themselves in a close game in the closing minutes.
On offense, Navy won’t blow you away with their offensive production (66 ppg), and they have only topped the 70-point mark 8 times in 20 games this season. However, as a team, they are effective from the floor, shooting 44.9% from the floor as a cohesive unit.
Five players are shooting 45% or better on the season.
Center Will Kelly has the potential to put together a big game for the Midshipmen, especially if a key member of the Black Knights misses another game due to injury. Kelly has been effective on both ends of the floor this season, averaging 9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per contest.
Over his career, Kelly has emerged as a reliable force in the paint for the Midshipmen. He has scored in double-figures in four of his last five games, and flirted with a triple-double in their win over Colgate (12 points, 8 rebounds, 7 blocks). Look for Kelly to be an impact player on both ends of the floor for Navy on Saturday afternoon, disrupting shots from the Black Knights, and making high-percentage shots around the basket on offense.
Add in the back court trio of Tilman Dunbar, Kendall Knorr, and Shawn Anderson, and Navy has a group of guards who are filled with both experience and talent. Both Dunbar and Knorr are capable of running the offense, while Anderson can take the lead in terms of scoring offense. The three guards work well together, and have Navy rolling into Madison Square Garden.
Projected Starting Lineup
Guard: Tilman Dunbar (SR, 8.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.4 apg)
Guard: Kendall Knorr (SR, 3.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Guard: Shawn Anderson (SO, 12.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.9 apg)
Forward: Tom Lacey (SO, 4.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.3 apg)
Forward: Will Kelly (SR, 9.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.9 bpg)
Army West Point Black Knights (12-7, 3-4)
The 2015-16 season has been a tale of two halves for the Army West Point Black Knights. In non-conference play, the Black Knights were an impressive 9-3 overall, and cracked the CCR Mid-Major Power Rankings on a few occasions.
Army closed out non-conference play with an impressive win over the Monmouth Hawks, 91-84, and then followed that up with a win over the pre-season favourite in the Patriot League, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks.
Just when it looked as though Army had asserted themselves as a top contender for the Patriot League title, the walls seemed to slowly start to crumble all around them.
Since their win over Lehigh, the Black Knights enter Saturday afternoon’s showdown having two of their last three games, and four of their last six overall. Losses to the likes of the Lafayette Leopards, the Colgate Raiders, and most recently the Holy Cross Crusaders have people scratching their heads about Army. They have the talent to win the conference title, but things simply haven’t gone their way.
To throw salt on the wound, Tanner Plomb (21.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) has missed the last three games, while big man Kevin Ferguson (11.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg) has missed the last two games. Their absence from the lineup has hurt the offense overall, as the Black Knights have averaged just 65.6 points per game as a team over their past three games (1-2 record).
It’s still unclear whether or not Plomb and/or Ferguson will suit up against Navy on Saturday. If they are unavailable, head coach Zach Spiker will need others to step up in their absence.
With Plomb out of the lineup, freshman John Emezie has filled the void in the starting lineup. In limited action, Emezie has averaged 5.7 points and 1.3 rebounds per game while replacing Plomb. The production is nowhere near that of their leading scorer, but Emezie is slowly gaining confidence, and could put together a breakout performance at any time.
The bulk of the scoring has fallen to Dylan Cox over the past three games, as the guard has averaged 11.3 points per game over that span (7.8 ppg on the season). Cox has also gone 12-of-21 from the floor in his past three games. Add in 7.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per contest, and Cox has done a commendable job in the absence of Plomb and Ferguson.
It’s no secret that Army is a completely different team without Plomb and Ferguson in the lineup. They are the top two contributors for the team, and the team’s recent downfall could be linked back to the loss of the two stars. Army still has a good team, and is more than capable of knocking off Navy on Saturday afternoon. Others will have to step up if they want to win the gold star.
Projected Starting Lineup
***under the assumption Tanner Plomb and Kevin Ferguson will NOT play***
Guard: Jordan Fox (FR, 3.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 2.7 apg)
Guard: Dylan Cox (SR, 7.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 5.0 apg)
Guard: Kyle Wilson (SR, 16.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.6 apg)
Guard: John Emezie (FR, 3.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 0.7 apg)
Forward: Larry Toomey (SR, 6.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.4 apg)
Navy 76, Army 69