CALGARY, Alta. — In recent years, several stars have left their mark on the Patriot League, and the NCAA as a whole.
Heading into the 2017-18 season, that appears to be the case once again. While some of the conference’s biggest names have moved on to the next chapters of their respective basketball careers, whether that be in the professional ranks or as a transfer in the NCAA, there is a plethora of talent coming back that will make the race for the conference title one to watch.
There may be a clear-cut favourite as the season approaches, but it’s anyone’s game when it comes down to the conference tournament. Any team can get hot at the right time, pull of some upsets, and make a post-season run to the Big Dance.
Below are ten players to keep an eye on in the Patriot League for the upcoming season. With ten teams, it only makes sense to pick one player per program.
Karl Charles – Holy Cross Crusaders
2016-17 Stats: 9.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.6 spg; 42.6% FG
Heading into the 2017-18 season, the Crusaders will be without their top two scorers from a season ago. Both Malachi Alexander and Robert Champion have graduated from the program, and they took their double-digit scoring averages with them.
Enter junior forward Karl Charles, who will look to assume the role of ‘go-to guy’ on offense for the Crusaders. As a sophomore last season, he averaged 9.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per contest, while shooting 42.6% from the floor and 37.5% from beyond the arc.
Without Alexander in the front court alongside Charles, the native of Roselle, NJ will become the focal point of the front court rotation.
While Charles limped out of the gate last season, combining for 14 points across the Crusaders’ first three games of the season, he found his groove as the year moved along. After his slow start, he recorded seven double-digit performances over the next 10 games.
He flirted with a pair of triple-doubles towards the end of November. Against the South Carolina State Bulldogs on November 25th, he recorded 14 points, nine assists and five rebounds in a 16-point win for Holy Cross. Two nights later, in a three point loss to the Monmouth Hawks, he recorded 12 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds.
Cam Gregory – Loyola (MD) Greyhounds
2016-17 Stats: 9.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.0 apg. 0.9 bpg; 63.8% FG
All of the buzz surrounding the Greyhounds for the 2017-18 season focuses on star guard Andre Walker, which should come as no surprise. He led the Greyhounds in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points per game. With the graduation of Jarred Jones, more eyes will be focused on Walker in the back court.
With Walker being the focal point for opposing defenses, more opportunities will open up inside for senior big man Cam Gregory, whose play will be just as important to the success of Loyola (MD) as Walker’s this season.
Last season, Gregory shot 63.8% from the field, finishing inside the top 20 in the nation in the category. The 6’8” forward from Waldorf, MD averaged 9.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks per contest.
As the 2016-17 season wore on, Gregory hit his stride and became an impact player for the Greyhounds. He put up double-digit points in 18 of the Greyhounds’ final 25 games (none in their first eight), and recorded seven double-doubles over that stretch.
Sa’eed Nelson – American Univ. Eagles
2016-17 Stats: 14.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2.4 spg; 44.1% FG
Sa’eed Nelson may have only been a freshman last season, but he played like anything put one over the course of the season.
Out of the gate, he put up back-to-back 12-point performances against the Maryland Terrapins and Texas A&M Aggies. After a down game in his third contest of the year (seven points), he put up back-to-back 24-point performances, which was his season-high.
For the year, Nelson averaged a team-high 14.9 points per game, along with 4.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.4 steals per game. He had 25 games with double-digit points, and seven games where he scored 20 points or more.
The one knock on his performance last season was his free throw shooting, as he shot just 56.2% from the charity stripe. If he can improve his free throw shooting and capitalize on his ability to get to the line, his scoring numbers will improve considerably.
Bryce Dulin – Navy Midshipmen
2016-17 Stats: 9.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.8 spg; 41.3% 3PT
Fans of the Midshipmen can circle January 21st, 2017 on their calendars as the day that Bryce Dulin emerged as a star for the program.
After playing just over 10 minutes a game in each of his first two seasons in Annapolis, the 6’4” guard averaged close to 28 minutes per game as a junior, and while it took some time, he made it all worthwhile.
On the 21st, the Midshipmen took on the Army West Point Black Knights in a rivalry game. The contest went to overtime, where the Midshipmen took over and rolled to a 16-point victory, 96-80. Dulin was a big factor in the win on both ends of the floor, recording a double-double of 21 points and 17 rebounds. In 33 minutes of action, he was 6-of-7 from the floor, and 8-of-14 from the free throw line.
That performances started a stretch of seven games that saw Dulin reach double-digit points on six occasions. He closed out the season with an average of 9.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per contest, while shooting 46.0% from the field and 41.3% from beyond the arc.
If Dulin can pick up right where he left off this season, the Midshipmen will be in a great position in the Patriot League standings and can contend for a title once again.
Will Rayman – Colgate Raiders
2016-17 Stats: 14.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.7 spg; 44.4% FG
Last season, Colgate finished with a record of 8-10 in conference play, and in a tie for 6th spot with Loyola (MD). That’s about to change for the Raiders, who return four of their top five scorers from a year ago, which happen to all be forwards, and all of whom averaged at least 7.0 points per contest.
The biggest piece of the puzzle, both literally and figuratively, is sophomore big man Will Rayman. The 6’8”, 200-pound forward, and Malcolm Regisford, are the two tallest of the four core forwards returning. Rayman had a remarkable freshman season, and is looking to better that in 2017-18 as he gains more experience in the NCAA.
Rayman, a native of New York, NY, averaged a team-best 14.6 points per contest, while also pulling down 4.6 rebounds and dishing out 1.0 assists per game. He can stretch the floor and shoot the long ball, finishing the season shooting 39.6% (65-of-164) from beyond the arc.
In just his fourth collegiate game, Rayman went 10-of-16 from the floor, en route to 28 points on the road against the Penn State Nittany Lions. His season high for points was 34, which he recorded in conference play against the Lafayette Leopards. He had seven games in which he put up at least 20 points.
If Colgate can contend for a Patriot League title, and Rayman keeps up his strong play, he is a legitimate sleeper candidate for Patriot League Player of the Year.
Nick Havener – Boston Univ. Terriers
2016-17 Stats: 5.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.1 apg; 64.2% FG
The Boston University Terriers will look a bit different this season. Star guard Eric Fanning is off to begin his professional career in Hungary, while Justin Alston has also graduated from the program. Senior guards Cedric Hankerson and Cheddi Mosley are back to lead the way, but there are some openings for others to step up and have a career year.
One of the players who is in a prime position to take a lead role with the Terriers is senior forward Nick Havener. With the departure of Alston up front, there are minutes to be had, and Havener will have his opportunity to showcase his abilities.
He has had a relatively quiet three years at Boston University so far. Last season, in 17 minutes of court time per contest, Havener averaged 5.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, while shooting a stellar 64.2% from the field. His shooting may have been a small sample size (61-of-95), he was still extremely effective from the field, and has led to a high level of optimism for his senior season.
The 6’8” native or Sarasota, FL showed flashes last season of what he can do on the hardwood. A 13-point, 12-rebound performance against the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds in November was one of his finer performances of the season. He put up a season-best 16 points against Loyola (MD) in January.
Havener hasn’t put up the best of numbers over his career to date, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. With an increase in playing time almost expected this season, look for Havener to end his career at Boston University on a high.
Matt Klinewski – Lafayette Leopards
2016-17 Stats: 16.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.5 bpg; 51.3% FG
Nick Lindner has graduated from Lafayette, which leaves a big hole in the back court for the Leopards in 2017-18. Fortunately for their fans, the front court is in great hands with the return of both Paulis Zalys and Matt Klinewski.
Klinewski is one of the top forwards in the Patriot League, and like another forward on this list, he doesn’t garner the level of attention that he deserves on a national scale.
Last season, he led the Leopards in scoring, averaging 16.0 points per game, while shooting above 50.0% from the field for the first time in his career. In each of his three years at Lafayette, he hasn’t shot worse than 46.5% from the field, while averaging double-digit points in each of the last two seasons.
Klinewski wasted little time in having an impact last season. Over his first seven games, in which he scored in double-figures in all of them, he averaged 19.3 points per contest. He put up 25 double-digit performances over the season, and a pair of 30+ point games over the course of the year.
He can score in bunches, and he makes his mark inside the arc and around the basket. If he can improve his presence on the glass as a 6’8” forward, he will become a household name in the nation by December.
Thomas Funk – Army West Point Black Knights
2016-17 Stats: 9.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.8 apg, 0.8 spg; 35.4% FG
The Patriot League was filled with stellar freshmen during the 2016-17 season, all of whom will look to build off of their early successes and produce as sophomores.
One of those players is Army West point guard Tommy Funk, who happens to have one of the better last names in all of college basketball. The 6’0” guard averaged 9.1 points and 4.8 assists per game in his first year, and looks like Army West Point’s star point guard for the next three seasons.
While he doesn’t score a whole lot (season-high of 16 points on two occasions), he has the potential to be a more efficient scorer. He shot just 35.4% from the field, and 29.9% from three point range, last season. If he can take smarter shots, or find better opportunities for his teammates on more occasions, which he did well last season, his game will go to another echelon.
Funk showcased his passing abilities and high basketball IQ last season when operating the offense. He dished out double-digit assists on a pair of occasions, including a season-high 12 assists on January 18th against Holy Cross. Funk recorded at least four assists in 23 games last year.
Kyle Leufroy – Lehigh Mountain Hawks
2016-17 Stats: 11.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.4 spg; 46.4% FG
In recent years, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks have produced their fair share of top-tier talent. The biggest names that come to the minds of most people are forward Tim Kempton, who graduated following the 2016-17 season, and CJ McCollum, who is one of the NBA’s top rising stars with Portland.
Enter Kyle Leufroy, who will be the next big thing to come from Lehigh.
Leufroy, a native of Pasadena, CA, has only played two seasons with the Mountain Hawks, but he has amassed a total of 690 points over his career so far. He averaged 11.4 points per game last season, and is the team’s top returning scorer with the departure of both Kempton and Austin Price.
The 6’3” guard does a bit of everything for Lehigh. He can score from all over the floor, he can rebound, and he can impact the game on the defensive end. He shot 46.4% from the field, 41.9% from three point range, and 85.7% from the free throw line as a sophomore.
The 2017-18 season will be Leufroy’s coming out party with the Mountain Hawks. He is now the team’s go-to guy on the offensive end of the floor, and he will be given every opportunity to lead the team back to the NCAA Tournament.
Zach Thomas – Bucknell Bison
2016-17 Stats: 15.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.1 spg; 47.4% FG
Once again, the Bucknell Bison appear to be the clear-cut favourite in the Patriot League. They return a plethora of talent, headlined by big man Nana Foulland. If you don’t know the name Nana Foulland by now, you should be ashamed of yourselves.
One name on the Bucknell roster that doesn’t garner the attention he deserves is senior forward Zach Thomas. Often overshadowed by Foulland, the native of Ijamsville, MD has improved in each of his three seasons with the Bison, and he will look to do that once more in 2017-18.
His minutes have increased each year, and his production has increased with it. Last season, Thomas led the Bison in scoring, averaging 15.9 points per contest. The 6’7” forward pulled down 6.6 rebounds, and dished out 3.4 assists per game.
He has the versatility to stretch out the offense, and can step out to the three point arc and his shots at a strong clip (40.9%). From his freshman year to last season, Thomas has continually improved.
2014-15 (Fr.) – 7.5p, 3.8r, 0.9a; 45.9% FG
2015-16 (So.) – 10.3p, 5.7r, 1.4a; 46.6% FG
2016-17 (Jr.) – 15.9p, 6.6r, 3.4a; 47.4% FG
With Thomas, Foulland, and Canadian guard Kimbal Mackenzie leading the way, the Bison are the favourites in the Patriot League for the 2017-18 campaign.
– T. Bennett