Hoop Time Notebook (Media Day edition)

A couple of notes from Thursday’s media day event:

INSOMNIAC – American coach Jeff Jones is worried about his team’s chances in the Patriot League this season. With five freshmen and a couple of transfers, his team is a mystery to him at this point.

“I really don’t know a whole lot about my team,” said Jones. “It is safe to say we are, and will be for some time, a work in progress.”

Jones said worrying about the rest of the league is costing him sleep.

“The other night I woke up at 3 a.m. thinking about how good Bucknell was going to be, and Holy Cross and Colgate,” Jones said.

Bucknell coach Pat Flannery, who missed a few games last season due to now well-publicized stress related ailments had some advice for Jones.

“The docs told me just take a couple Paxils,” Flannery said with a laugh.

NEWBIES – With the recruitnix crowd, it is fashionable to speculate on how good some of the freshmen in the league this season might be. With the league getting a higher grade of recruits now that most schools give athletic scholarships, and with several teams needing some of those freshmen to step up and make a contribution if their team is to contend for the title, that is understandable.

Those folks expecting big things out of freshmen might be wise to remember that when freshmen play a lot, it usually tells you more about the weaknesses of your upperclassmen than it does about the strengths of the freshmen.

Rare is the freshman that makes a big impact his first season. In fact, in 15 seasons, only one frosh has made the All Patriot League team (Adonal Foyle in 1995). Only five (Foyle, Navy’s Brian Walker in 94, Colgate’s Pat Campoleita in 99, HC’s Kevin Hamilton in 2003 and Lehigh’s Jason Mgebroff in 2004) have been on the all-tournament team at the end of the season.

Army coach Jim Crews has eight first year players on his squad, and he knows he will need some of them to contribute if the Black Knights are to improve on last season’s dreadful 3-24 season.

At the same time, though, Crews is realistic.

“They are freshmen and it is a whole new ballgame for them. The floor is 10 feet longer. All the other guys on the team are Division I players. They are not the top dog anymore,” Crews said.

Jones understands the concern. American has what Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard called the best recruiting class in the league, with five well-regarded freshmen on the roster. Yet Jones said realistically, his goal is to have the Eagles competitive enough to “surprise some people” come tournament time.

“We are very excited to have (the five freshmen) in the program. But taking that step from high school to Division I sometimes takes a while,” said Jones.

That is one reason Bucknell is such a prohibitive favorite this season. While every other team in the league, with the exception of Colgate, which has only one freshman, is going to need some freshmen to step up if they are going to be contenders, Bucknell has six guys back who started at least 13 games last season and nine of last season’s top 10 in the rotation return.

‘RAY BUCKNELL – None of the league’s other seven coaches are willing to concede the title to Bucknell without playing the games. All seven of them, though, were full of praise for the Bison and all seven are quick to anoint them the favorites.

It’s not because the Bison are head and shoulders above the rest of the league in terms of physical talent. Yes, they probably are the deepest team in the league and there is no shortage of outstanding players in that lineup. But it’s the mental attitude they expect the Bison to have after a year like last season that elevates Bucknell in most coaches’ eyes.

After a season like that, said Colgate coach Emmett Davis, a team develops a different outlook.

“It is an expectation that every time you step on the floor you are going to win. . . . It just becomes a belief,” Davis said.

Davis said all the top teams he has been around over the year that have been very good have all had that mental edge.

That difference, said Willard, “is huge.”

“They have proven they can go in and beat people. They are certainly not going to be intimidated by anyone,” Willard said.

PICKING A WINNER – Bucknell’s win over Kansas surprised a lot of people. Ralph Willard was not one of them.

“In my estimation, that wasn’t a big upset. I told a bunch of kids on my team I thought Bucknell would beat Kansas,” Willard said.

“I thought they would have a great opportunity to win that game because of their defense”

Willard said in his estimation, when you play that kind of defense, the difference between the top 20 and the Patriot League is not as great as folks might think.

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