ANNAPOLIS -- Navy entered last season's Colonial Athletic Association tournament having lost 12 of 14 games, but by the end of the weekend the Midshipmen had knocked off the league's top seed and come within minutes of playing in the title game.
Navy, which finished the season 8-21, can credit its final-weekend surge to its run-and-gun offense -- with the three-point shot as the first option -- that produced 84.1 points per game. This season the Midshipmen will unleash their tempo game in the newly opened Alumni Hall, and against some new opponents in the Patriot League.
Coach Pete Herrmann will have a lot of size to play with when the Midshipmen open the season Saturday at Hofstra, but his big question is whether sophomore Victor Mickel will be able to fill the shoes of last season's do-everything All-CAA point guard, Erik Harris (20 points, 6.2 assists per game). Mickel looked tentative on offense in backing up Harris and the scrappy Mel Davis last season, but Herrmann says he'll rise to the challenge.
"When you say to a player, 'You're going to do this,' I think they respond knowing they have that responsibility," Herrmann said. "He's not as good a scorer as Erik, and he's not going to have the year that Erik had as a sophomore. But he's bigger, he's a good defender and he's worked hard on his ball-handling. He'll do an adequate job."
If Mickel can handle the point, Navy still will need to improve its shooting and defense. The Midshipmen shot just 41.2 percent from the field, compared with opponents' 50.2 percent and 88.8 points per game.
It would appear Navy has the players to boost both its scoring and its shooting percentage. Forward John Haase probably is the team's best returning shooter and has recovered from the broken foot that forced him to miss the last nine games. Other outside support should come from guard Michael Burd, who can only improve on his 31.9 shooting percentage; forward Sam Cook and plebe guard Mark Majick, a second-team All-Ohio pick last year.
On the inside, senior center Nick Marusich (8.2 points, 8.5 rebounds a game) was probably the most improved big man in the area. He'll only be better playing alongside 6-foot-6 Derrick Wall, who may be the league's top freshman.
"Derrick came in at 185 and he's now 207. He's only going to get bigger and stronger," Herrmann said. "He had good teaching in high school and he's a fearless type of player. He'll be good in the post."
Herrmann also realizes that someone will have to fill the void left by Eddie Reddick, who grabbed 8.5 rebounds a game and was always pounding the boards. Sophomore forwards Brad Cougher and Kevin Havens and junior Chuck Robinson, who hopes to reach his potential after recovering from a broken foot last season, may be called on to supply a physical presence.
"Last year we had as many rebounds as the leader in the Colonial League, but we were last in rebounding," Herrmann said. "We've got to pick up that differential and cut down the amount of shots other people get."
Still, Herrmann says he has enough bodies this season to correct the problem.
"We've got more depth and good depth -- the younger kids are pretty good -- and I think we're going to improve as we go along. It just seems like we're hungrier.
"We're still going to shoot the three, and we think we're going to go up in scoring," Herrmann added. "There were so many games last year that were very close. We think the kids know the system now."
In the end, it will come down to Mickel's knowledge of the system. And Mickel says he learned the ropes from a pretty good player.
"It's the toughest job, but I gained a lot of experience" watching Harris, Mickel said. "I feel myself going into more of a leadership role this year.
"We're going into a new league, we're going into a new building and we basically have a new team," he added. "Hopefully we'll have a new season -- a winning season. Maybe we all can grow together."
Navy at a glance
Coach: Pete Herrmann, sixth season (57-88)
1990-91 record: 8-21, 2-12 in the CAA (will play in Patriot League this season)
Home court: Alumni Hall (6,000)
Radio: WNAV (1430 AM)
Make tournament plans if: The Midshipmen hit close to 50 percent of their shots in their run-and-gun offense, and if Victor Mickel develops into a productive point guard.
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. RETURNEES Name .. .. .. .. .Class Pos. Ht. .. Wt. 1990-91 statistics
Michael Burd .. ..Jr. ..G .. 6-2 .. 190 ..7.6 ppg, 1.3 rpg
Robert Catten .. .So. ..C .. 6-9 .. 190 .. .played 1989-90
Sam Cook .. .. .. Sr. ..F .. 6-8 .. 200 ..7.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg
Brad Cougher .. ..So. ..F .. 6-8 .. 215 ..1.1 ppg, 1.1 rpg
John Haase .. .. .Jr. ..F .. 6-4 .. 208 .11.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg
Kevin Havens .. ..So. ..F .. 6-4 .. 215 ..2.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg
Mark Manno .. .. .Jr. ..G .. 6-0 .. 175 ..2.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg
Nick Marusich .. .Sr .. C .. 6-9 .. 235 ..8.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg
Victor Mickel .. .So. ..G .. 6-3 .. 183 ..1.0 ppg, 1.1 apg
Rob Polvino .. .. Sr. ..G .. 5-10 . 165 .. .. did not play