* * *
Gone is the mid-January start of conference play as well as the traditional one game break in February that the programs had grown accustomed to.
Instead, all 10 teams tipped-off the new year with PL action on Thursday and play twice a week for the next nine weeks.
“It remains to be seen what challenges this schedule brings because it is a new experience that we haven’t faced yet,” said Lehigh coach Brett Reed early in the 2013-14 season. “Irrespective of a longer non-conference schedule or a shorter non-conference schedule, we would be going through the same learning curve we are going through.”
The 10 programs have played between 11 and 13 games in the OOC portion of their schedule — enough of a sample size to make some revised conclusions on how they might fare in PL play.
Let’s re-examine the programs and give each one a stock up, stock down or status quo rating at this juncture.
Pre-season pick: 8th
OOC wins: Cornell 81-58, St. Francis-PA 81-64, @Tulane 98-86, @Binghamton (93-64), @Albany 69-60, Ursinus 78-52.
OOC losses: @Wake Forest 89-78, @Syracuse 69-50, @Georgetown 61-55, Fordham 77-73, Columbia 76-70 (OT).
Observations: The addition of transfers Austin Tillotson (Monmouth) and Ethan Jacobs (Ohio) has paid immediate dividends for the Raiders. Tillotson is averaging nearly 15 points and 5 assists per game and is second in the nation in 3-point FG percentage at 62.1%. Colgate played tough in close losses to Georgetown and Fordham, so look for those long trips to Hamilton, N.Y. to be tough ones this season.
HOLY CROSS (6-6)
Pre-season pick: 7th
OOC wins: Sacred Heart 122-118 (2OT), @Fairfield 63-49, @Hartford 80-55, @UNH 63-52, Albany 62-57, @NJIT 74-55
OOC losses: @Harvard 82-72, @North Carolina 62-54, @Belmont 81-70, @Hartford 90-78, Canisius 83-73, @Michigan 88-66
Observations: Dave Duzinski was a known quantity for the Crusaders as a preseason first team PL pick. Coach Milan Brown’s squad has received a boost from freshman Milachi Alexander who is averaging 10 points and four rebounds off the bench. Alexander has captured three PL Rookie of the Week awards, but Holy Cross needs a healthy return of Cullen Hamilton who missed six games after starting off the season strong. Crusaders played well at Chapel Hill before falling 62-54 to UNC.
Pre-season pick: 6th
OOC wins: Rider 92-78, @Texas Southern 67-63, Sacred Heart 76-64, @St. Francis-PA 57-50, UMBC 70-68, LIU-Brooklyn 76-69, Quinnipiac 69-58
OOC losses: @Minnesota 81-62, @Fordham 80-72, @Houston 80-66, @Pittsburgh 77-58, @South Dakota State 74-61, @Bryant 70-68
Observation: Not to diminish the contributions of veterans Mackey McKnight and Corey Schaefer, but graduation and injuries have opened the door to playing time for a quartet of newcomers. Forward Tim Kempton and guard Austin Price have already brought home ROW awards and sophomore Jesse Chuku and frosh Shane Whitfield have made solid early impressions as well. Kempton is the most polished offensive post player as a freshman in the PL in recent memory. And yes, that includes Mike Muscala.
BOSTON UNIVERSITY (7-6)
Pre-season pick: 1st
OOC wins: Northeastern 72-69, UMass-Lowell 91-65, @UC-Irvine 74-68, @LIU-Brooklyn 72-57, St. Peters 66-65, @Quinnipiac 69-66, @Maryland 83-77
OOC losses: @Connecticut 77-60, @Eastern Washington 80-68, Harvard 79-68 (OT), @George Washington 70-60, Norfolk State 86-83 (OT), @St Josephs 73-67
Observations: The Terriers are who we thought they were. Coach Jones’ squad owns arguably the league’s best win following a 83-77 victory at Maryland. Boston University also fell in overtime to highly-regarded Harvard in early December. Bottom line is that the lightning-quick backcourt of DJ Irving and Maurice Watson Jr. coupled with the increased emphasis on hand-checking will cause PL defenses fits while trying to keep up.
Pre-season pick: 4th
OOC wins: @Penn State 90-80, St. Francis-PA 72-50, @Albany 77-64, @Kent State 66-59, Columbia 57-52
OOC losses: @Stanford 72-68, @St. Johns 67-63, @Mt. Saint Marys 69-64, Princeton 66-53, @Marist 69-51, Fairfield 73-64
Observations: Two weeks in to the season, Bison were probably slated for “stock up” after a road win at Penn State and good performances at Stanford and St. Johns. Recent history trends toward “stock down” however as an 18-point loss at Marist and a home setback to Fairfield are a mystery. Status quo is probably the best analysis for now for the uneven performance thus far as Bucknell looks for more consistent offense.
Pre-season pick: 9th
OOC wins: UMBC 63-61 (OT), @St. Francis-PA 75-43, Howard 76-53, @Maryland-Eastern Shore 71-58
OOC losses: @George Mason 63-60, @Ohio State 63-52, @Mount Saint Marys 68-64, @Columbia 61-47, Brown 72-67, @St. Marys 59-44, San Francisco 77-69
Observations: Balanced American offense has four players averaging in double figures. Offense is led by guards John Schoof and Jesse Reed who combined for 25 ppg. Junior transfer Darius Gardner (Stephen F. Austin) has also provided a spark in his first year of eligibility. Eagles have had some respectable performances in losses at George Mason and Ohio State, but until they start to win the close games it is hard to expect bigger things.
Pre-season pick: 10th
OOC wins: Goucher 98-47, @Binghamton 68-50, UMBC 73-58, Maryland-Eastern Shore 67-59, Citadel 79-74
OOC losses: @Towson 72-45, @St. Francis-PA 60-57, @Virginia 67-42, @Bryant 90-80, @No. Kentucky 72-65, @UMBC 63-48
Observations: Midshipmen have been tough at home (4-0) and rough on the road (1-6). Nowhere is that more evident than a home-and-home against UMBC, with each team winning by 15 points on their home floor. An overtime loss at Bryant was encouraging but an early season loss at PL whipping boy St. Francis (PA) is discouraging. Point guard Tilman Dunbar showed flashes of emerging as an all-league caliber player with a 28 point, 8 rebound and 7 assist performance in win over Citadel.
Preseason pick: 3rd
OOC wins: @Citadel 84-69, St. Francis-NY 67-54, @Maine 90-80, Coast Guard 68-48
OOC losses: @Air Force 79-68, NJIT 89-85, Delaware 89-74, @Notre Dame 93-60, Houston Baptist 74-72 (OT), @Columbia 81-64, @Rutgers 75-72
Observations: Unfortunately for the Black Knights, I saw them twice during a five game losing streak in late November and early December. As Kyle Wilson’s stroke has improved so have the Black Knights fortunes as they head in to the New Year having won three of their last four games. No coincidence that Wilson has led the team in scoring in each of those games as he has upped his average to 18.3 ppg.
Preseason pick: 2nd
OOC wins: Penn 79-76, @Wagner 77-65, @Sacred Heart 86-79, Immaculata 79-54
OOC losses: @Villanova 75-59, Robert Morris 90-81, @Princeton 81-80 (OT), @NJIT 91-88, Yale 79-76, @St. Francis-NY 65-62, @Seton Hall 90-58
Observations: Leopards faithful would be quick to point out that the team could have four more wins if not for a pair of overtime losses and another two setbacks at the buzzer. Nick Lindner is doing his best to fill the big shoes of graduated Tony Johnson at the point, but injuries to Dan Trist (shoulder), Alan Flannigan (knee) and Seth Hinrichs (knee) have slowed Lafayette’s progress. Trist is back and Flannigan is expected to return soon, but if Hinrichs is out for an extended period of time the Leopards will find it difficult to replace his rebounding and 20 ppg.
Preseason pick: 5th
OOC wins: @Binghamton, @Cornell 93-89 (OT), Fairfield 59-52, @UMBC 89-83 (OT), Catholic 87-75
OOC losses: @Connecticut 76-66, @West Virginia 96-47, Mount Saint Marys 70-58, Stony Brook 76-69, St. Josephs 88-77, @Miami 71-48.
Observations: Things started out great as the Greyhounds raced to a 4-0 start under new coach GG Smith, but the squad has limped to a 1-6 start since. Dylon Cormier has been as advertised, leading the PL in scoring at 22.9 ppg, but the big concern for Loyola is who besides sophomore Jarred Jones steps up to support the go-to guy when teams inevitably begin keying on Cormier.