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Men’s Basketball Notebook: A successful season for the academies

The postseason wins may not be there but the promise of a strong future is.

As we cap another basketball season for the academies, some may look at it as a disappointment.

Once again, there were no postseason appearances. Hell, only one team won a game in its conference tournament and that was 21-win Navy. But you’d be lying if you said this season was full of negatives.

Navy picked up its most wins in the 21st century and did it with no singular star player.

Army had an amazing start to Patriot League play, opening 4-1, as a sophomore took nearly a third of the team’s shots.

And a young Air Force program doubled its win total and started the season 7-1. With that, they didn’t finish in last place and beat a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations.

To close our book of notes on the 2022 basketball season, it wasn’t as bad as some may think it would be. Navy had another outstanding season and the other two showed bright signs.

Navy

Many people will remember the 2021-22 Navy Midshipmen for its season-opening win against Virginia and not its 20 other wins. The defense was elite and the program was only 40 minutes away from making its first NCAA Tournament since 1998. So much more happened than just one win to open the season.

It was another two wins in November that will stick out in my mind. Taking a trip down to Greenville, South Carolina, the Midshipmen gave up 99 points against two very good mid-major programs. To finish the season, that defense ranked in the top 100 of nine KenPom categories.

In the first game of its trip, Navy rolled Radford by a score of 47-33 giving up only eight first-half points. Both those numbers were the lowest for an opponent since box scores became available in 1951-52.

They followed that up with a win at Furman, a team who finished only two spots behind Virginia in KenPom. Those wins began a five-game win streak, finishing non-conference play with a 7-4 record.

Navy would add on as they opened conference play winning four straight but struggled to find consistency after that, closing league play with a 12-6 record, getting swept by both Lehigh and Colgate.

Navy would beat American in the Patriot League quarterfinals and followed it with a thrilling win against Boston University in the semifinals. A little sidenote, that semifinal game was one of the best basketball games that I had ever watched live. Javonte McCoy took over late but the Midshipmen gritted it out in double overtime to make its first Patriot League title game since 2001.

They would not make their first NCAA Tournament since 1998 but with two consecutive 12-win conference seasons, I can assure that Midshipmen fans are happy.

Army

The 2021-22 season was a rollercoaster for the Army Black Knights but the number “27” will be remembered forever.

It was a Saturday afternoon in Annapolis and not much was thought of the annual Army-Navy basketball game after 20 minutes. The Black Knights fell behind by as much as 27 in the first half, trailing 40-18 at the break.

They overcame that deficit, winning in overtime. It was the sixth-largest comeback in NCAA basketball history and the largest in Patriot League history. The only problem was they couldn’t capitalize off it, losing seven of the next eight.

It was truly a shame for an Army team who got off to a strong 4-2 start. They would finish the season 15-15, losing to Lehigh in the Patriot League quarterfinals. A team that once looked like they could host multiple conference tournament games didn’t even host one.

Josh Caldwell won his second consecutive Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year award but who knows if he will return as he finished his senior season. Jalen Rucker was playing outstanding basketball, scoring double-digits nearly every night while taking 31.3% of the team’s shots. He has a bright future.

If they return next season, the Patriot League is officially on notice.

Air Force

Air Force had a young team, don’t let the 11-18 record fool you.

The Falcons were one of the darlings of the college basketball world after its 7-1 start. They opened with a close loss against South Dakota but bounced back winning seven straight, beating the likes of Army, Texas Southern, and Tulsa.

Now, you may laugh at that list but it’s something. They had only two non-conference wins the season before and five before that. Only one of those seven was against a Top 200 team, the latter two on that list are so.

Another cool thing about this season was that it was more than just AJ Walker. You couldn’t say that for the past couple.

Nikc Jackson and Cameron Vander Zwaag were some of the best defenders in the country, helping the Falcons to top rankings in three-point defense and non-steal turnover percentage. It was a big help in their Mountain West opening upset victory over Utah State, 49-47.

The Falcons would lose 13 of 15 after that and nine straight, but conference play was where the freshman grew and performed.

Three earned freshman of the week honors and probably would’ve all made the all-freshman team if there was one. Lucas Moerman got one to end the season, Jake Heidbreder got one to start the new year, and Ethan Taylor won the award four times and was the first Air Force player to ever get a triple-double.

The losses may be there but so is the hope for the future.