Preseason favorite Navy faces a wide-open Patriot

Mids open league play against Bucknell tonight

College Basketball

January 10, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Navy's basketball team was a consensus preseason choice to regain the Patriot League men's championship this season, but entering tonight's league opener against Bucknell at Alumni Hall, coach Don DeVoe isn't exuding a lot of optimism.

"I haven't been really impressed with this Navy basketball team considering the experience we have," DeVoe said. "We haven't played with the confidence I thought we might. No one asked me who the favorite should be. Lafayette [the defending titlist] certainly would have been my pick."

But the Leopards are missing their two most prolific scorers from last season's NCAA tournament team, Brian Ehlers and Stefan Ciosici, and guard Brian Burke suffered a punctured lung last month and is out of the lineup indefinitely. As a result, the Leopards have struggled, leaving the Patriot race looking like a potentially mad scramble.

The Midshipmen have ceded the top pre-league record to a somewhat surprising Holy Cross team that is off to its best start (10-4) since 1989-90, has the biggest team in the conference with 7-foot Josh Sankes in the middle and has bolstered a bench that was so thin last season the team wore down in a number of league games. In addition, Holy Cross is offering basketball scholarships, a decided advantage in the Patriot League.

There are trouble signs elsewhere as well. Army is stronger inside and more balanced. Tonight's foe, Bucknell, is inexperienced but talented; Colgate has Pat Campolieta back and is starting Howard Blue (the first freshman to start for the school since Adonal Foyle) at guard; and Lehigh should improve steadily and be in a position to pull off its customary upset in the league tournament.

So, despite playing host to the postseason tourney, where Navy last won the league in 1998, the Midshipmen have no guarantees. Winning the regular-season race would assure that they would not have to leave their own facility for the title game.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see four or five teams knocking at the door," said DeVoe, who is looking for more offensive production and better overall rebounding.

"I think Chris Williams [preseason Patriot Player of the Year] has to continue to get better and help all the others get better because we're going to play 11 guys. The scores so far indicate other teams are picking it up. We have to be ready."

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