Patriot League Tournament Recap: 1st Round

Favorites reigned in the Patriot League on the first night of college basketball’s postseason:

7. Navy 56, 10. Army 52 — The Midshipmen missed their first nine three-point attempts on Tuesday, but Zach Fong swished the 10th, wide open off a kick-out from Brandon Venturini, to break open a tied game in the final minute. Navy held on for its third win over Army this season and its first postseason victory since 2001.

A day after being named first-team all-conference, Worth Smith scored just four points on 2-15 shooting, his worst offensive performance of the season. But Smith contributed on defense, collecting 11 rebounds, three steals and three or four additional deflections. Will Kelly (13 points) and Tilman Dunbar (11) picked up the offensive slack in a low-scoring battle.

Army, picked second in the preseason poll, managed just .83 points per possession to close an underwhelming season. The Black Knights also struggled from three-point range (4-20) and had 11 shots blocked. A Patriot League Tournament-record eight of those came from Kelly, none bigger than this denial of Tanner Plomb (complete with a staredown):

Video via the Patriot League Network
Video via the Patriot League Network

8. Holy Cross 62, 9. Loyola (MD) 45 — In a less thrilling contest, the Crusaders jumped out to a 15-4 lead and led wire-to-wire. Loyola shot poorly from two-point range (16-42), worse from beyond the arc (2-15), and even struggled from the free-throw line (7-16). The hosts weren’t outstanding on offense, but 1.05 ppp were more than enough, led by matching 10s from Malcolm Miller, Matt Husek, Cullen Hamilton and Robert Champion.

Holy Cross has all the makings of a dark horse — the Crusaders have talent, they’ve now won five of seven, and they beat each of the top five seeds once this season. Four of those wins came at home (and the fifth in nearby Boston), however, and Holy Cross will play its remaining games on the road, where it went 2-7 in league play.

Updated Bracket:

1. Bucknell vs. 8. Holy Cross

4. Lafayette vs. 5. Boston University

3. Lehigh vs. 6. American

2. Colgate vs. 7. Navy

Call To The Post As Patriot League Race Set To Begin

Yes, there has been some variety, but unlike many other conferences this season the Patriot League has played fairly close to form in the non-conference slate. Perhaps because of that, you can make a case for several horses in the field of 10 to cross the wire first at the end of the league race, which begins on Wednesday when the conference gate opens. Continue reading “Call To The Post As Patriot League Race Set To Begin”

A Healthy Worth Smith Critical to Navy’s Future

On a rebuilding roster rife with inexperience, many pundits aren’t expecting much out of the Navy Midshipmen for the 2013-14 basketball season. That much was evident with the lack of media attention they received at the Patriot League Media Day, after being selected to finish dead last in the coach’s preseason poll. Even though American University is returning far less and has a rookie head coach on its sidelines, Navy’s 2-12 conference record last season simply couldn’t be ignored.

Despite the morose expectations, Navy head coach Ed DeChellis has a history of turning programs around in his third year. After inheriting a seven-win East Tennessee State team, DeChellis guided the Buccaneers to 17 wins in only his third season. Later on, at arguably the toughest place to coach in the Big Ten, Penn State enjoyed an eight game swing from season two to three under DeChellis.

Can the Mids continue the trend in DeChellis’ third season?

“We have a chance. We can’t have injuries to key guys,” answered DeChellis. “If we can stay away from injuries, I think we have a chance to be better. I know we’re better. We just had two scrimmages – two years ago, one year ago we couldn’t play with either team – now we can play with those teams and win some halves.”

After producing the tenth best assist rate in the country as a rookie, point guard Tilman Dunbar is viewed by most as the eventual savior of the downtrodden program. While he’s incredibly important, many are overlooking one player who could be just as critical in getting Navy back to respectability. That player is junior forward Worth Smith.

After enduring two oft-injured seasons at the Naval Academy, Smith is poised to break out after undergoing successful surgery to repair a torn labrum in the offseason. The junior played through the pain of an injured shoulder as a sophomore, and while it’s unknown how much it affected his play, the condition was more than likely restricting him on the court.

Worth Smith must be more assertive if Navy wants to climb out of the Patriot League cellar. (Photo credit - Washington Times)
Worth Smith must be more assertive if Navy wants to climb out of the Patriot League cellar. (Photo credit – Washington Times)

“I’m not really sure, just randomly at times I’d play and forget about it and I’d be playing fine,” said Smith when asked about the condition of his shoulder last season. “Then (the shoulder) would pop out and go back in, and I would think about it.”

Unfortunately for the 6’6” forward, his shoulder “popped out” on more than one occasion. Even with the shoulder instability, though, Smith managed to lead the Mids in scoring (10.2 ppg), rebounding (5.2 rpg), steals (35) and blocks (37). Now with a clean bill of health, the onus falls on Smith to be more assertive on the floor. He is, after all, one of the more mature players of a team that was 338th nationally in experience last season.

Smith is certainly cognizant of his importance. “I’m definitely working on coming into that role. I’ve never been the main scorer. I was always a good player but never the main go-to-guy, but this year Coach is telling me to ‘take more shots, take more shots.’ I’ve been doing that, taking more control of things and I feel like this year should be a great year.”

“It’s time for him,” echoed DeChellis. “He’s shooting the ball with more confidence, he’s shooting free-throws with much more confidence. He’s a better player and that’s why hopefully we’ll be a better basketball team. Worth Smith is a young guy who can do a lot. Sometimes you gotta really jump-start him. You have to go out and hook up the clamps and jump-start him because he just doesn’t have that DNA. He’s a very soft-spoken young man.”

Soft spoken or not, Smith must be leaned upon more than ever. The versatile “stretch four” needs to have his best season yet if Navy has visions of breaking their two-year run as the last place team of the Patriot League.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride