Taking a deeper look at the Patriot League player of the year race

We are just hours from when the league will announce its Patriot League awards. The Patriot League tournament, which is more wide open than ever, begins Tuesday. It’s been a wild and whacky season with more twists and turns than a winding mountain road, so don’t expect the expected when awards are announced. That said, we did some number crunching and have come to this conclusion: Sa’eed Nelson should be named Patriot League player of the year. We think the four other players here are deserving of joining Nelson on the first team, although cases could also be made for the likes of Kimbal Mackenzie, Lance Tejada and Jehyve. We break it down below.

Sa’eed Nelson vs. Andrew Kostecka
Offense: These two were the best offensive players consistently in the league from early January to early March — there’s no doubting that. Kostecka led the Patriot League in scoring (22.3ppg) while Nelson was second (20.7ppg). Among players who used at least 28% of their team’s possession, Kostecka had the second-best O-rating, 112.5, (behind BU’s Max Mahoney, 115.4) while Nelson had the third-best, 110.3. Despite both players taking a high volume of shots, they scored efficiently and both placed in the league’s top 20 in e-FG% — Kostecka 58.5%, Nelson 55.4%. Nobody got to the line more in the league than Nelson (57.7% FT rate), while Kostecka shot them better (81% to 74.8%). Where Nelson has a clear advantage is distribution: he ranked fifth with an assist rate of 32.2% and third with 5.4apg, while Kostecka’s numbers (15.5% assist rate, 2.3apg) pale in comparison. Of course, Kostecka isn’t a point guard, so this isn’t surprising. But it also speaks to Nelson being able to do more (score AND distribute) at a higher level.

Defense: I wouldn’t be surprised if both these guys are all-defense for the impact they made on that end and their ability to turn good defense into easy offense. Kostecka helped Loyola steal a game with a bevy of late steals and layups at American. Nelson consistently created easy bucket for the Eagles with his quick hands. Kostecka led the league in steals (3.3spg) and steal percentage (5.49%) while Nelson was second in both categories (2.5spg, 4.14%). Maybe as impressive, both players were good shot-blockers despite their positions. The 6-foot-4 Kostecka was seventh in the league with 1.1bpg and had a block percentage of 3.5% (8th), while the 6-1 Nelson was 14th (0.7 bpg) and 19th (1.86%).

Conclusion: If you were to base the award solo on numbers, Kostecka would get the nod. But the fact of the matter is this — Nelson plays for a team that finished in the top half of the league; Kostecka leads a team that needed a win on the last day of the regular season to avoid the bottom of the standings. It would be one thing if Kostecka’s numbers blew Nelson’s out of the water, but they don’t. Therein lies the case for Nelson.


Sa’eed Nelson vs. Rapolas Ivanauskas (Colgate)
Offense: Ivanauskas put up an O-rating of 110% (nearly identical to Nelson’s) while scoring in double-figures in all but two PL games (one of those being the teams’ first meeting). He tied for third in scoring in the league (17.9ppg) and was one of the best inside-outside players in the conference, shooting 56.1% on twos and 43.7% on threes. Ivanauskas won Colgate the game in overtime at American by taking Mark Gasperini to the perimeter and scoring over him or going around him. Like Nelson, he’s one of the toughest players to guard in the Patriot League. Ivanauskas also made 77% of his free throws.

Defense: This is where Nelson has a clear advantage. While Ivanauskas got it done on the boards, pulling in 6.9 per game (3rd in the league), he wasn’t a factor as a shot-blocker (with the same 0.7bpg as Nelson) despite his size, 6-foot-10. He was a presence and had the lateral quickness to guard different positions, but he wasn’t the playmaker Nelson was throughout the season.

Conclusion: My first take is that Ivanauskas might not even be the best player on his team. That could go to Jordan Burns, who would be in this discussion if not for missing five Patriot League games. Ivanauskas’ case is made stronger by him being an all-around, versatile player on Colgate’s first-ever 20-win team and co-league champions (not to mention the No. 1 see in the tournament). No team is hotter going into the postseason than Colgate, which has won eight straight. Ivanauskas is a big reason. Still, Nelson has done more with less and used 6% more of American’s possessions. He’s also played the most minutes in the league (37.2mpg), a whopping seven more minutes per game than Ivanauskas. The big man has been great and is a huge reason for Colgate’s championship, but his imprint just isn’t quite as big as Nelson’s.


Sa’eed Nelson vs. Nate Sestina
Offense: Similar to Ivanauskas, Sestina used about 25% of Bucknell’s possessions and scored 16.3ppg. Sestina played in all 18 PL games and was held to single digits just three times. He had six 20-plus-points games including 32 points on 11-for-11 shooting (a PL record) vs. Holy Cross. When Sestina used possessions, he was efficient. His e-FG of 62% was fifth in the conference, and his two-point FG of 65.2% was fourth. Sestina also shot a respectable 36.9% from 3 and American fans will remember the two he hit late in Bucknell’s comeback win over AU in January. Sestina, like Ivanauskas, was a versatile big who could score in myriad ways. Sestina also had the sixth-best offensive rebounding percentage of 9.4%. His 2.2 ORBs/game was good for third in the league.

Defense: Sestina made his impact felt the most on this end on the boards. The 6-foot-9 big was second in the Patriot League in rebounding (8.7rpg). His defensive rebounding percentage of 25.4% was third in the league. Sestina also deserves credit for helping Bucknell finish as the league’s best defense, allowing just 99.9 points per 100 possessions (the only team to allow fewer than 100 points per 100).

Conclusion: You can’t ignore the best player on yet another Bucknell team that found a way to grab a share of the league title, its eighth in nine years. Considering what the Bison lost from last year’s team, what Sestina — a role player a year ago — was able to do in helping this team win 13 league games is incredibly impressive. But Sestina wasn’t even the leading scorer on his team. That goes to Kimbal Mackenzie with 17.9ppg. And while he rebounded well, his defense impact doesn’t match Nelson’s. Sestina is deserving of first-team recognition, just not POY status.


Sa’eed Nelson vs. Max Mahoney (Boston U)
Offense: Nobody was more efficient offensively than the Terriers’ big man, who was the only constant on a young team that struggled to put together back-to-back good showings all year. There’s a reason Boston had two four-game losing skids during PL play. The junior’s 115.4 O-rating was the best of anyone in the league who used at least 28% of their team’s possession. His e-FG of 59.5% was ninth best, and Mahoney’s 16.9ppg were fifth-best. Mahoney was also the second best the best offensive-rebounder in the league, with a 13% ORB percentage and 3.0 ORBs per game. He was strictly an inside force, though, as he didn’t attempt a 3 on the season.

Defense: Mahoney was a bit undersized at 6-foot-8, so it’s not too surprising that he isn’t at the top of the list of defensive rebounders (14th in defensive rebounding percentage at 18.5%) and didn’t make an impact as a rim-protecter either (block rate of 3.37%, ninth best in the league). Boston was dead last in defense, giving up 112 points per 100 possessions, which is a big reason the Terriers finished 7-11 in the league.

Conclusion: Mahoney’s case would be stronger if he weren’t on such a mediocre team. That ends the argument right there. Similar to Nelson the past two years, he played on a team that didn’t have a lot of options and often seemed to be the only consistent threat. He was often double-teamed and still found a way to score. Still, BU was built around him and he didn’t do enough on both ends to elevate the Terriers into the top half of the league like Nelson did for AU. It will be interesting to see if he gets a first-team nod or if someone like Mackenzie or Lehigh’s Lance Tejada (16.2ppg) gets it.