Army can only go up

(Note: This is the first in a series of team-by-team previews we will post over the next week or so. They are in no particular order. Not alphabetical. Not predicted order of finish. Like the universe, they will be quite random, so don't read anything into your team's spot in the rotation.)

Jim Crews says his Army basketball team will be better this year.

Even hardcore Navy fans hope he is right.

Last year’s Black Knights were not just bad, they were awful. Army finished with a 3-24 record, just one of those wins – what can only be described as a freak upset over Navy—against a Division I team. The Cadets were outscored by an average of 12 points per game (67.9-55.9), a margin that grew even wider when they got into league play (67.8-53.7). This despite a weak non-league schedule that included only three teams in the top 200 in the RPI (195 Albany, 168 Fairleigh Dickinson and 73 Notre Dame).

Suffice to say the Cadets final RPI of 327 (out of 330) was a surprise only because it is hard to imagine three teams being worse.

For the league’s sake, Army simply has to be better. And it should be, at least on paper. If for no other reason than the fact that Crews has some size this year. Last season’s roster included only one player, 6-11 junior Jimmy Sewell, over 6-6. Sewell started only 14 games, and averaged only 15 minutes per game last season. His lack of contribution meant most of the time Army had 6-6 Colin Harris on the floor surrounded by four undersized guards.

The guards, led by second team all-league pick Matt Bell (14.3 ppg) will still be Army’s strength. Bell, junior Cory Sinning(7.6 ppg) and 6-4 sophomore swingman Corban Bates (7 ppg) give Army a decent returning backcourt, with several other players who saw lots of playing time providing some depth.

Out of eight freshmen, four are out of U.S. Military Academy Prep School., making them the equivalent of redshirt freshmen. Three of those MAPS newcomers are frontcourt players (6-7 Doug Williams, 6-9 Brandon Brandewie and 6-5 Kenny Brewer). Another 6-7 regular freshman, Curtis Koszuta, is also on board, giving Crews some badly needed size.

“We got some good size with that (the MAPS freshmen) and a little more athletic ability and a little more bulk, especially for freshmen. They have nice bulk for freshmen,” said Crews.

“Collectively, we have a lot better size. But what is interesting, as you start putting five guys out there, maybe we are not as tall as we want to be. But when you look at our whole team, we have size right now. But a lot of it is young.”

Even the returnees are young. Army has only one senior on its roster.

Still. compared to last season’s roster, which included 11 sophomores and six freshmen, this year’s Army squad is a veteran crew.

“We are still young, but not as young. We still only have one senior, but we have six juniors,” Crews said.

Despite the added size, it is tough to envision Army doing much better in the league. Realistically, the most optimistic prediction would be that the Cadets might manage to scrape past Lafayette to escape the league cellar. But doubling last season’s one league win will be a challenge, given the strength of the top six teams in the league.

Army's strength is in the backcourt, but the Black Knights guards simply are no match for Bucknell's, or Holy Cross', American's. Colgate's. Lehigh's, Navy's or even Lafayette's.

Army’s best hope for increasing its win total this season probably lies in its weak out of conference slate. Aside from a preseason NIT meeting with Temple and a November 29 date in Hartford with UConn, the Cadets non-con schedule would be considered cream-filled if Army was even a middle of the pack sort of team.

The seven other opponents (VMI twice, The Citadel, Columbia, Sacred Heart, Cornell, Brown and Dartmouth) had a combined record of 64-119 last year, with an average RPI of 268. None of them finished higher than 210 in the RPI and two – VMI (316) and Sacred Heart (325) were in the bottom 15.

Four foes-- VMI (Big South), The Citadel (Southern Conference), Sacred Heart (NEC) and Columbia (Ivy)—are picked to finish last in their conference. Brown is picked seventh, just ahead of Columbia in the Ivy.

Certainly the opportunity to improve on last season’s futility would seem to be there, though Army is probably at least another year away from making serious noise in the Patriot League.

Still, said Crews, “We are excited. We are excited about the young guys and we are excited about the guys who have invested a couple of years in the program. We are making some strides.”

Army schedule
Army roster

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