Patriot League Power Rankings (Week 1)

Throughout the conference season, we'll provide our Patriot League power rankings tracking all the teams in the league. We'll use statistical analysis, the eye test, and more to evaluate where the 10 teams stand from week to week. The efficiency margin tool does not determine our rankings but rather helps guide us in our analysis. For example, do we believe American is the second-to-worst team in the league? No. KenPom's model isn't favorable to the Eagles. See below for our rankings, and of course feedback is welcomed. 

1. Lehigh (6-5) — The only real blemish from non-conference play is a loss against Stony Brook, when the Mountain Hawks managed a season-low 57 points. Other than that, Lehigh's losses came against teams no lower than 130 in the KenPom rankings. What's scary for the rest of the league is that the Kempton/Ross/Price/Leufroy quartet has plenty of help. Pat Andree made national news for knocking down his first eight and 10 3s total against St. Francis, and look at the combined shooting of Andree, Matt Holba, Brandon Alston, and backup point guard Jordan Cohen. This team is a legitimate eight deep.

2. Bucknell (8-5) — Surprise, surprise, Bucknell is balanced and primed for a crack at a sixth regular-season title in seven years. The Bison have six players who, when on the floor, take at least 23% of their team's shots and no one takes more than, surprise, Nate Sestina's 27.7%. Meanwhile, Nana Foulland has taken the jump. The junior is the best conference post player outside of two-time POY Tim Kempton and is shooting a ridiculous 76% at the rim, per hoop-math. His only weakness, and one to watch out for, is 48% shooting from the FT line. 

3. Boston (5-7) — The Terriers limp into league play, having dropped six of their last seven. For a team that attempts 43% of its shots from 3, 33.8% isn't good enough from long range. The Terriers' shooting woes start with Eric Fanning (8-27, 29%), who probably should just stop launching from deep. More surprising is Chedi Moseley (21-62, 34%), whose touch has dropped precipitously since hitting 39% as a freshman. Speaking of youngsters, 6-7 freshman Tyler Scanlon boasts the second-best O-rating on the team and is a respectable 35% from deep. A freshman to watch in league play.

4. Holy Cross (6-7) — There's nothing surprising here. Holy Cross is old, with a bench that plays just 20.4% of minutes (350th out of 351 teams nationally). Holy Cross is slow and deliberate, averaging just 61.8 possessions per game (348th). And the Crusaders rely heavily on the 3, attempting 45.7% of their shots from deep and connecting on a pedestrian 35.3%. Holy Cross already has three games in which it hit double-digit 3s, including 14 in an insane last-minute loss to Monmouth. As our guy Sam Healy pointed out, what makes the Crusaders tough to guard on the perimeter is that it's their big guys hitting 3s as opposed to small guards. Robert Champion (6-6), Karl Charles (6-6), Malachi Alexander (6-7) and Matt Husek (6-11) are the main shooters, and you can see who's using the Crusaders' possessions in different lineups below.

5. Army (6-6) — Say what you want about Army and its weak non-conference schedule, but the young Black Knights deserve to be ranked in the league's top half and are one of the most intriguing teams going into league play. Freshman forward Matt Wilson is helping Army fans move on from the Kevin Ferguson era. Despite playing just 17.1mpg, Wilson is averaging 11.2ppg on 65% shooting. It will be interesting to see how teams match up with Army's fast attack (their 73.5 possessions per 40 minutes is 46th nationally). 

6. Loyola (6-5) — KenPom projects a 63-62 Loyola win over American tomorrow in the league opener, and we're going to barely side with the Greyhounds here, too. Of course, positions could be flipped come Monday. I have a hard time understanding how bad of a scorer Andre Walker can be when it seems like every time I look up, the junior is making a game-winning shot. He's clutch — give him that. AU's emphasis should be on making him leave the 3-point arc, which has been his only efficient scoring area this year. Only two Greyhounds have shot better than 50% on two-pointers this season. 

7. American (3-8) — The X-factor for the Eagles in league play will be Lonnie Rivera, who's just finding his form after not playing in six of the Eagles' first eight games. Nobody attacks the rim better, where Rivera attempts 57.9% of shots and makes 63.6% of them. And what Rivera adds defensively and rebounding with his length, too, will be a key for American going forward. To get a better feel for Rivera's contributions, see his numbers per 40 minutes. 

8. Navy (5-7) — Navy impressively beat a pretty good Penn team. On the other hand, the Midshipmen got destroyed by a bad Furman team by 33 points and most recently lost to Hartford (319 KenPom). What's clear if you compare this Navy team against last year's is that the defense has fallen off:

Navy 2015-16 (all games): 102 D-rating, 48.8 E-FG%
Navy 2016-17 (non-conference): 106.3, 57.8# (336th nationally)

Navy must miss Will Kelley, whose block rate of 13.0% was second nationally. The team's two-point defense has fallen from 45.9% to 56.5%. A bit tougher to explain is how opponents are shooting 39% compared to 35% from 3. Regardless, teams will be able to score much easier on Navy in league play this year.

9. Colgate (2-11) — The Red Raiders have beaten just one Division I team, Cornell way back on Nov. 16. If there's a silver lining it's that of Colgate's 11 losses, seven have been by single digits. They're not just getting blown out. A player to watch in league play — freshman Will Rayman. The 6-8, 200-pound freshman can score inside and out, having reached double figures in nine of his first 13 games including 28 vs. Penn State.

10. Lafayette (4-7) — The good news: The Leopards' defense per 100 possessions is better than last year. The bad news: it's still really poor (111.0 vs. 114.8 a year ago). As was the case last year, there's simply not enough firepower on the roster to overcome such poor defense. Fran O'Hanlon hasn't had a defense finish in the top 300 nationally in efficiency since 2013. 

American basketball 2016: five takeaways 9 games in

With the kids' heads deep in books for final exams week and eight days in between games, I think it's a good time to take a look back at the first month of American's season and some key takeaways.

1. Sa'eed Nelson is American's best freshman since...
This shouldn't come as a surprise to any loyal follower of the Eagles, but it's still worth mentioning because of how huge it is for this program. American got a steal in Nelson. Where do we start? Through nine games, Nelson is averaging:

16.9ppg (team-high) on 51.3% E-FG. He's 53% on twos; room for improvement: 30% on 3s.

4.3rpg, impressive for a 6-1 guard. 

2.9spg, which is 9th in the country. His steal percentage of 4.7 is 31st nationally.

37.2mpg, which is tied for 5th nationally. Even more, his production hasn't slipped late in games. 

Nelson's assists-to-turnovers ratio (2.8/2.6) could and should be improved, and anyone who's watched his handle knows that he will get better there. I knew about 2 minutes into the Maryland game that Nelson was a keeper when he fearlessly attacked the Terps bigs for AU's second field goal. His clean steal of possible All-American Melo Trimble and finish at the other end cemented it. 

Mike Brennan has repeatedly praised Nelson's high school, championship-winning upbringing at St. Augustine as a reason for his freshman's poise on the court, and it will be even more beneficial for the Eagles once Patriot League play starts and the games really matter. 

The biggest question going forward: Will the freshman who has already played four 40-minute games fatigue in January or February?

2. Lonnie Rivera's minutes should — and we think will — increase
If you saw American's most impressive outing of the season Saturday, its 77-62 picking-apart of Youngstown State, you surely noticed that sophomore Lonnie Rivera made quite the impact in 14 minutes. He shot 4-for-4, scoring nine points, grabbed four boards, and was all over the court. On one sequence, Rivera snatched a defensive rebound, dribbled the length of the court, made a pass, got the ball back, and finished a jump hook with his off left hand. 

Rivera started a season that held great promise for him injured, which, according to Brennan, set back his development. The result was not playing in six of American's first eight games. But now, AU's coaching staff has no reason not to consistently play a guy who is much more athletic than starter Leon Tolksdorf, who might be American's best finisher at the rim against bigs, who can defend and rebound well, and who even — finally — showed his shooting touch with a corner 3, his first attempt from deep of the season, up against the shot clock Saturday. 

If American's to challenge for the league, Rivera will be a key cog — whether off the bench or eventually starting. 

3. Delante 2.0 a work in progress
For much of the past month, Delante Jones could be labeled a disappointment. Let's not forget that he came out of last season red hot — scoring in double figures his last 10 games, including that game-winner at Holy Cross. That helped set high preseason expectations — including Patriot League first-team — for a player whom Brennan has always spoke highly of. Jones has struggled for a variety of reasons. 

He's worked a lot on it, but his vision and passing leave plenty to be desired. His 24.5 turnover rate is second worst on the team, and he has four games with at least four giveaways. For a player who has used 28.2 of American's possessions, better ball security is a must. 

Jones has also struggled with his shot. He's shooting just 30% (11-36) from 3, a steep drop from his 36-percent perimeter work last year, and is just 27% on 2-point jumpers. 

The good news is it's still early and there are some logical explanations for Jones' struggles. He's gone through a couple stages of this sophomore adjustment. First, everyone thought he would definitively be the man for the Eagles and he'd have to deal with that pressure. Jones said in preseason, “It’s gonna be hard. It’s definitely gonna be a whole new experience. … I’m as ready as I can be I guess but I guess you don’t figure out until you play.” Then, Sa'eed Nelson happened and while Jones still uses the most AU possessions, it doesn't seem that way. Nelson has the ball in his hands with the shot clock running down. So Jones is adjusting to that. 

Despite 0-for-5 shooting from 3 vs. YSU, Jones looked as good as he had in three games — attacking the rim with a variety of moves to both sides of the basket. He also rebounded and defended. What AU can't afford going forward is for offensive poor play to affect Jones' defense, which has been an issue last year and into the early part of this season. 

4. Cimino eligibility pushes Matic aside
Mike Brennan said this of Andrija Matic in the preseason, giving us the sense Matic would play big minutes at power forward: “It won’t be so much pressure on him to touch the ball constantly and have to make decisions and it’ll help us be bigger. I think that’s sort of been a problem that we’ve had — personnel, style of play. I’m excited about that, too. It’s different for him so he’s gonna go through some growing pains. He’ll be like a bigger 4 — I guess it’s been Charlie. Charlie’s been our big forward. We’ll actually have a big, big forward.”

Andrija Matic's minutes through nine games: 21 total. 

What happened is simple. GW transfer Matt Cimino unexpectedly became eligible and freshman Mark Gasperini (who takes a team-high 31.3% of AU's shots when on the floor) has been really good, thus relegating Matic to a third big role. Also unexpectedly, Leon Tolksdorf started at the four and while he's struggled shooting (23% from 3), he's been otherwise serviceable, and Charlie Jones has filled the rest of those minutes at power forward. 

Is it still possible we see Matic in a consistent role? Barring an injury, doubtful. As many have pointed out, the AU coaching staff wants to give Cimino — ranked 78th nationally by Scout coming out of high school — a real opportunity to play his way into shape from the foot injury that kept him on GW's bench last season. While he hasn't been great thus far (2.1ppg, 1.6rpg in 10.3mpg), he's shown flashes with his sweeping hook shot and outside quick-release from 3. Brennan also called him a better defender than Gasperini (his 3.1 block rate, while paltry, is best on the team). 

All this to say that with Gasperini set into the main big man role, Cimino improving, Rivera likely trending upward at the four, and Charlie Jones Mr. Consistent, Matic — while intriguing — will likely be saved for emergency situations during league play. 

5. This is a very different 2-7 team
“It’s a different feeling. Last year it was more like we were losing, we didn’t really know if we were getting better — it was just deflating. But we fought through. This year it’s like we’re losing but at the same time everybody’s in good spirits because we know that we’re all getting better.” — James Washington 

This is a much better American team that's still figuring out what it is, sure, but has much more of an identity than the 2015-16 group at this time. A year ago, and even in mid-January 2016, Brennan admitted to trying anything to try to get his team going. At one point, we legitimately wondered if the team would win a league game. The Eagles, of course, made a huge turnaround to win nine. With this team, I'll surprised if they don't win one of their first two. 

AU has a star-in-the-making in Nelson. Will he struggle at times? Sure. But don't expect long funks. Delante Jones will be better in league play as he settles into his shifting role. James Washington is much better than a year ago in all facets — he's locked in defensively, his handle is leaps and bounds improved (he has a team-best 8.3% turnover rate), and he's finishing at the rim over bigger defenders (63% at the rim). Gasperini (12ppg, 5rpg) has already become that big the Eagles can throw it to early and often when nothing else is there. I mentioned Rivera and Cimino, and we know what Charlie Jones will bring on both ends.

Two of the biggest questions as league play begins will be:
A) Can AU and its small lineups rebound with and defend against the likes of Lehigh and Tim Kempton and Bucknell and Nana Foulland? AU has allowed opponents an ORB% of 29.6 (middle of the pack nationally). The Eagles got crushed on the boards by the likes of Maryland and Akron; but they also showed how they can win the battle on the glass Saturday, with six players snaring at least four rebounds. That's something to watch going forward. And how will AU defend the Patriot League's best? It's no secret that we have yet another American team sans a shot-blocker. Brennan's never really been one for zoning, either, particularly with a young team. 

B) And how will AU play against zone defenses? The Eagles were a mess vs. a soft Howard 2-3. Brennan said after the blowout loss that the silver lining was getting to experience a zone. I'm sure American will see similar coverages in the Patriot League. Senior Jalen Rhea doesn't have much of a rotation role right now, but I wouldn't be surprised if he helps bust a zone — particularly if, say, a Navy goes to its 1-3-1 — with corner 3s. Keep an eye on how many non-man to man coverages teams throw at AU. 

1.18.16 Notebook — Breaking down the Eagles' struggles, best chance for win No. 1

The American University Eagles fell 65-45 to Army Sunday, their 10th consecutive loss and sixth straight to open Patriot League play. The Eagles are 346th out of 351 teams in KenPom's statistical rankings. Only five other teams have worse records. The Eagles are one of just nine D-1 teams with two or fewer victories.

In summation, there is more than enough evidence now — both from simply watching every game and numbers — to conclude that this team is very bad and likely won't drastically improve in its final 12 games.

Instead of a one-hour podcast this week to dissect the team's ills, here is a shorter blog that might be easier to stomach and at least take up less of your time.

First off, which upcoming game offers the Eagles the best chance, according to KenPom, to pick up that first elusive Patriot League victory?

American's upcoming opponents
At Lafayette Wed. (KenPom: 15%)
vs. Holy Cross Sunday (37%)
at Navy (5%)
at Colgate (7%)
Bucknell (17%)
at Lehigh (9%)
at Boston U (9%)
Army (15%)
Lafayette (37%)

Lafayette is the second-worst team in the league, and Holy Cross has lost three in a row.

Why AU can beat Lafayette (on the road)
Sure it's a road game and sure Lafayette still has that Nick Lindner guy, but the Leopards don't have much after that. In particular, they're awful on defense — giving up 1.06 points per possession vs. Patriot League opponents, 8th in the league. Additionally, Lafayette is the worst team in the league at turning opponents over  with a turnover rate of just 15.9, which could aid the league's worst in that category (even in the Patriot League, AU's 21.2% rate is dead last). Finally, the only thing Lafayette has done relatively well in league play is shoot the 3 (36%); that's also the one area of the floor the Eagles have defended OK (33.4%).

Why AU can beat Holy Cross (at home)
First off, it's Phil Bender Day and it's Mike Brennan Bobblehead Day. If you don't get up for that then stick a fork in these Eagles! In all seriousness, the Crusaders are in all-out struggle mode after starting league play 2-1. In three consecutive defeats, they have lost by an average of 20 points — sound familiar? — and are now dead last in the league defensively, giving up 1.09 points per possession, and allowing opponents an E-FG% of 55.5 and 43% from 3.

Also, Holy Cross is at least close to the Eagles in the lack of experience category with average experience of 1.66, according to KenPom, compared to AU's 1.49. Freshman Karl Charles has been one of the Crusaders' go-to guys for most of the season, but the youngster seems to have hit a wall during the losing streak — scoring just two and nine points the last two times out.

I'm not saying AU will win either of these — predicting an Eagles victory at this point isn't a smart exercise — and if they drop them both, expect AU to be looking at 0-14 in the league when it faces Lafayette in a rematch at Bender Feb. 17.

Now let's jump into a few reasons why American sits in this predicament, winless in the league and losing their PL games by an average of 15 points a game.

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Second half shooting woes
American has actually been in most of their Patriot League games at halftime, and was even tied 22-22 with Army Sunday. The Eagles' deficits after 20 minutes in its five other games:

Loyola 33, AU 28 (-5)
Colgate 23, AU 20 (-3)
Bucknell 35, AU 31 (-4)
Lehigh 35, AU 26 (-9)
Boston U 32, AU 27 (-5)

Total first half scoring difference: 26, 4.3ppg

So while being ahead at the break would be nice, the Eagles have absolutely been in every game. But for whatever reason, they've forgotten how to shoot in the second halves of games; their deficits have increased; and then when the Eagles get sped up facing double-digit holes, the shooting percentage gets worse.

American's second-half FG totals its last four games:

Bucknell: 8-32, 1-7 from 3
Lehigh: 9-30, 3-13 from 3
BU: 7-28, 3-17 from 3
Army: 7-21, 1-4 from 3

When you are facing a deficit, getting outrebounded, and turning the ball over, this is a recipe for getting blown out of games. And that's exactly what's happening.

I'll get into senior Jesse Reed's struggles in a minute, but first here are the shooting splits in league play for AU's second- and third-leading scorers Paris Maragkos (9.5 ppg) and Delante Jones (8.9 ppg).

First halves
Maragkos: 15-30 FGs
Jones: 12-22

Second halves
Maragkos: 11-24
Jones: 7-26

The numbers aren't glaring, but they give a glimpse of the Eagles' offensive slippage in second halves and how they're not getting the ball to two of their most productive offensive players in positions to score.

Jesse Reed's offensive struggles
By now it's clear that Jesse Reed is not a No. 1 player on a team. That's not a knock against the senior, who is leading the Eagles in scoring at 11.5 ppg, but simply a truth. Reed thrived as a No. 3 or No. 4 guy the past two seasons playing on the wings of a spaced offense, hitting spot-up 3s and slicing and dicing his way to the basket.

Reed was expected to come in and be a leader on this team as its best player and one of just two seniors with Marko Vasic. That simply hasn't happened. It's not his style or demeanor. And while Vasic is more of a natural leader, he doesn't do enough on the floor and hasn't simply played enough to effectively assume that role on a squad with four freshmen in the rotation.

To his credit, nobody has played harder than Reed and no one has taken more hits and bruises throughout the season (in the opening minutes against Boston U, he took an elbow to the head that seemed to affect him the rest of the game), but my biggest knock against Jesse is that he hasn't looked for his offense in most games until it is too late. Here are the numbers:

Last 5 games:
Colgate: 36 min, 3-7 FGs, 8 pts (2 pts first 30 min)
Bucknell: 39 min, 5-12, 13 pts
Lehigh: 38 min, 4-12, 13 pts (4 pts in garbage time)
BU: 39 min, 1-5, 4 pts (4 pts in garbage time)
Army: 38 min, 4-8, 11 pts (7 pts in garbage time)

Too often, Reed is deferring during the first 30-plus minutes of games. Most blistering, he doesn't force the issue when American is going through the early second-half droughts that have been its demise. Those are the situations in which Reed needs to pull the trigger on 23-foot 3s from the wing (he's shooting a solid 36.8 percent from 3), or come off a down screen and curl into the lane for a pull-up or to create contact.

Unless American gets the ball to Maragkos early in the shot clock — his 56.5 e-FG% is a team-best — Reed has to be the late shot-clock guy or the guy who demands the ball when things are breaking down, and that hasn't happened nearly enough.

Thus American's brutal scoreless stretches as opponents take over games.

Where's Charlie?
Something's clearly ailing Charlie Jones, and his minutes are dwindling — quickly. There's no doubting that Jones is American's best pound-for-pound defender as evidenced by Brennan subbing him in for the first time vs. Army Sunday in the final seconds before halftime solely to guard Kyle Wilson. Jones has the best steal and block rates on the team and the third-best defensive rebounding percentage.

Yet Jones' offense hasn't been there all year. Really, he hasn't looked for it. His stroke is still there, as we saw when he swished a turnaround 3 right before the halftime buzzer vs. Boston U, but he's not looking to shoot when he receives the ball on the perimeter and it's clear, too, that with the season not en route to a Patriot League championship, coach Mike Brennan favors getting as much experience for the freshmen Delante Jones, James Washington, Lonnie Rivera and Andrija Matic as possible as opposed to playing Charlie Jones or Vasic, whose minutes have fluctuated greatly but not slipped as much as Jones'.

Lehigh 65, American 50: +/- for AU's lineups

American fell to Lehigh 65-50 at home Saturday afternoon, dropping the Eagles to 2-13, 0-4 in the Patriot League. During the game, the AU Hoops Podcast tracked the 23 combinations American used.

Starting lineup: James, Delante, Jesse, Charlie, Paris -1
James, Delante, Jesse, Charlie, Leon: -7 ... WORST
James, Delante, Jesse, Lonnie, Leon: -5
James, Delante, Jesse, Marko, Paris: +7 ... BEST
James, Delante, Jesse, Leon, Marko: -1
James, Jalen, Jesse, Marko, Paris: -5
Jalen, Delante, Jesse, Marko, Paris: even
Jalen, Delante, Jesse, Leon, Marko: +3
James, Delante, Charlie, Marko, Paris: -5
James, Jalen, Delante, Charlie, Paris: even
Jalen, Delante, Jesse, Charlie, Paris: even
Jalen, Delante, Jesse, Lonnie, Paris: +1
James, Delante, Jesse, Lonnie, Paris: even
James, Delante, Jesse, Lonnie, Andrija: -1
James, Jalen, Jesse, Lonnie, Andrija: even
James, Jalen, Jesse, Lonnie, Paris: +2
James, Jalen, Delante, Jesse, Paris: -3
Jalen, Delante, Jesse, Leon, Paris +3
Jalen, Delante, Jesse, Lonnie, Andrija: -1
Jalen, Delante, Jesse, Charlie, Leon: even
James, Jalen, Delante, Charlie, Lonnie: -2
James, Jalen, Delante, Jesse, Andrija: -2
Jalen, Delante, Jesse, Leon, Andrija: +2

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+/- of all players
Paris Maragkos +1, 24:17
Marko Vasic -1, 11:33
Andrija Matic -2, 2:23
Jalen Rhea -2, 14:44
Leon Tolksdorf -5, 13:52
Lonnie Rivera -6, 12:44
Jesse Reed -8, 37:59
Delante Jones -12, 35:43
Charlie Jones -15, 13:04
James Washington -23, 32:54

Bucknell 72, American 54: +/- for AU's lineups

American fell 72-54 to Bucknell Wednesday night to drop to 0-3 in Patriot League play. As he has talked about recently, head coach Mike Brennan is tinkering with several lineups to try to find some that work for the struggling Eagles (2-12 overall).

I tracked throughout the game the combinations Brennan used — 13 total. See below for which fives worked best for the Eagles, and we'll see what the staff goes back to as AU tries to get its first win Saturday at home vs. Lehigh.

Starting lineup: James, Delante, Jesse, Charlie, Paris +2
Delante, Lonnie, Jesse, Marko, Leon: +1
James, Lonnie, Jesse, Marko, Leon: -3
BEST: James, Delante, Jesse, Leon, Marko: +6 (+4/+2)
James, Delante, Jesse, Marko, Paris: -2
James, Jalen, Jesse, Leon, Paris: -3
James, Jalen, Jesse, Leon, Marko: +3 (+3/0)
WORST: James, Jalen, Delante, Jesse, Leon: -7 (-4/-3)

(  ) indicate first half vs. second half

------- 2ND HALF NEW LINEUPS

James, Delante, Jesse, Charlie, Leon +2
Delante, Charlie, Jesse, Leon, Marko -3
Jalen, Charlie, Jesse, Leon, Marko -3
James, Jalen, Jesse, Marko, Paris -4
James, Delante, Lonnie, Jesse, Leon +1

*Stopped tracking when American started fouling at 62-52 Bucknell in the closing minutes.