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Service Academy Basketball Update: It’s Time for Conference Play

All three service academy teams have wrapped up the non-conference slate, as they begin Patriot League and Mountain West play this week

NCAA Basketball: Air Force at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Non-conference play is over for all three men’s service academy basketball programs and each school will head into conference play looking for more consistency. Here’s a quick rundown of how both the Patriot League as well as the Mountain West conference teams have performed so far this season, as well as a breakdown of the first week’s matchups for Air Force, Army, and Navy.

Patriot League:

Holy Cross, which was predicted to finish fifth in the conference in the preseason, is currently sitting atop the standings with a 9-4 mark and some quality mid-major wins against programs like UMass, Canisius, Siena, and Iona. They have shown this year they can close out games, winning every single contest that has been decided by single digits. Holy Cross is the best defensive team in the Patriot League so far, holding opponents to just 65 points per game.

Lehigh, who just eeked out Bucknell in the preseason poll for first place has had a solid non-conference as well, sitting at 7-4, with three of their four losses coming to major conference opponents. In their last outing, they gave perennial NCAA tournament power West Virginia all they could handle before ultimately falling 78-68. They are a high scoring team, averaging nearly 77 points per game so far, with a huge part of their success coming from the fact that they are making almost 45 percent of three point shots. They spread the ball around as well, with four players averaging double figures in scoring this year.

Colgate, American, BU, and Bucknell round out the teams sitting at .500 or better heading into Patriot League play. After some early season struggles, Bucknell has been playing great basketball of late, with the Bison having taken Ohio State to the brink before losing by two and beating a good Rhode Island team before obliterating UNLV by 25 out in Honolulu on Christmas Day.

Both Army and Navy are in the bottom half of the conference so far, with Army sitting 7th and Navy dead last as we get ready to tip off later tonight.

Army (5-8 overall)

Army has only played once since our last update, finishing up their non-conference games before Christmas with a loss to Niagara back on December 22nd. Despite leading by two points at the half, the Black Knights were outscored down the stretch and eventually fell by a score of 78-66. Typically an inside out scoring team, Army relied heavily on the three in this contest, making 14 treys for their highest output in over a year in that category. Army had four scores in double figures with Jordan Fox and Alex King scoring 12 each and Tommy Funk and Lonnie Grayson adding 10 a piece.

Army will have their hands full in their Patriot League opener as they welcome the Bucknell Bison to town tonight to kick off conference play. Like I mentioned above, Bucknell has been playing very well of late, and will no doubt be challenging for the PL title come tournament time. If Army can somehow figure out a way to slow down the Bison and come away with a huge opening night win, they will set themselves up well to go 2-0 their first week of conference action as they host Lafayette on Saturday. The Leopards have struggled to a 3-8 record in the early going.

NET Rank (as of 1/1): 271

Games this week: 1/2 vs. Bucknell; 1/5 vs. Lafayette

Team Leaders: PPG - Matt Wilson 14.5; RPG - Wilson 7.6; APG - Funk 6.4; SPG – Josh Caldwell 1.2

Navy (3-8 overall)

Navy has played twice since our last update, losing both games to end their non-conference season. They dropped a pre-Christmas matchup against George Mason 84-63 before falling to Cornell last time out 61-50. George Kiernan led the way against Cornell with 15 points and 7 boards and Hasan Abdullah and Cam Davis chipped in 12 points each. Navy kept it close, but an inability to close out games has plagued the Mids all year and continued against the Ivy League foe.

Navy has a tough schedule to open up conference action as they take on four teams in the top half of the standings in their first four games. They will open up against Colgate tomorrow night before taking on conference leader Holy Cross at home on Sunday. Splitting this week and starting out 1-1 would be a realistic goal with both games at home.

NET Rank (as of 1/1): 293

Games this week: 1/3 vs. Colgate; 1/6 vs. Holy Cross

Team Leaders: PPG - Davis 11.5; RPG - John Carter, Jr. 5.9; APG – Hasan Abdullah 3.4; SPG - Abdullah 1.8

Mountain West:

There is no doubt who the cream of the crop is in the Mountain West this season. Everyone is pretty much playing for second as the Nevada Wolfpack remain undefeated at 13-0 and are currently sitting at #6 in the AP Poll. They are not just the best team in the MW but one of the best teams in the entire country.

Behind them though are three teams that are also playing great basketball. Utah State, Fresno State, and San Diego State seem to be the second tier of the Mountain West with each team at least five games above .500.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess and Air Force will have a great chance to work their way into the top half of the conference. The Falcons have been up and down so far this year, but will have just as good of a chance as anyone to end up behind the top 3 or 4 teams in the Mountain West

Air Force (5-7 overall)

Air Force has played twice since our last update, hanging tough with the now number 2 team in the country in Michigan before ultimately dropping 71-50 to the Wolverines. They followed that up with a 72-60 win against UC Riverside to finish up their non-conference schedule.

Ryan Swan led the way with 16 points, reaching double figures for the ninth time in 12 games this season. Chris Joyce came off the bench to score nine points and grab a team-high eight rebounds.

The Falcons will welcome New Mexico to Colorado Springs to open their Mountain West games tonight. The Lobos are 6-6 and will be a tough first game for the Falcons, but then they have to travel to Logan to take on a 10-3 Utah State team that has only lost to Arizona State, BYU, and undefeated Houston. The best chance for Air Force to get a victory in the first week of conference play is at home against New Mexico and 1-1 is probably their realistic hope heading into the week.

NET Rank (as of 1/1): 255

Games this week: 1/2 vs. New Mexico; 1/5 at Utah State

Team Leaders: PPG – Swan 12.1; RPG – Swan and Lavelle Scottie 5.3; APG – Sid Tomes 2.6; SPG- Swan and Scottie .75