Army's most impressive characteristic this season has been its resilience. The Black Knights have followed up their two losses with wins, but it's the way they have earned their wins, allowing fewer than 60 points in each.
Former Cornell assistant Zach Spiker took over the Black Knights late in the summer, but the team has already adopted a swagger as if he had been working the sidelines for years.
Guards Cleveland Richard (13.2 points per game) and Julian Simmons (12.8) have given Army a consistent offense. In fact, Army's top five scorers are all guards.
Scoring was a big problem for the Black Knights last season, and while they aren't yet setting the world on fire (their 62.9-point average is sixth among Patriot League contenders), they have become the team nobody wants to play. Aside from excellent defense, they are grinding out wins.
Over the last few seasons, Army has made strides in the Patriot League, twice earning wins in the league tournament. With American taking a step back, the Black Knights look poised to take over the top perch. On the precipice of conference play, they have done exactly that.
--The Black Knights had high hopes for bench stalwart Julian Simmons. The guard, in his sophomore year, is second on the team with 12.8 ppg.
--Army has a consistent pressure defense that has stifled conference opponents. The Knights' 56.5 points per game allowed is best among Patriot League teams.
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: The Black Knights have an interesting first month of conference play, taking on two teams many expected to be at the top of the league. They travel to Holy Cross on Jan. 13, then are home against American on Jan. 20. The Eagles, in particular, appear to be in a transition year, and in many ways, an early conference win would give coach Zach Spiker and his team the confidence that they are in for a changing of the guard at the top of the conference.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our margin for error in terms of offensive execution isn't as big as we would like. We know that we need to sit down and guard people. They have done a terrific job with it." -- Coach Zach Spiker on his team's commitment to defense so far this season, as told to the Times-Herald Record.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Black Knights have allowed more than 70 points just twice all season. With Julian Simmons and Cleveland Richard having emerged as two of the most dynamic players in the conference, Army cruised through non-conference play, but critics (and conference opponents) will inevitably question how good they really are, taking into account a favorable first-half schedule.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Cleveland Richard, G Marcus Nelson, G Josh Miller, G/F Julian Simmons, F Chris Walker. Key Subs -- F Jeremy Hence.
Army 59, Dartmouth 46
Army 62, Mount St. Vincent 56
Army 54, New Hampshire 46
at Southern Methodist, Wednesday, Dec. 30
at Portland, Saturday, Jan. 2
vs. Brown, Wednesday, Jan. 6
at Colgate, Saturday, Jan. 9
at Holy Cross, Wednesday, Jan. 13
--In September, Army added freshmen Ella Ellis to the roster. Ellis, a 6-6 forward from Houston, Texas, played at the U.S. Military Academy Prep School last season. He was named the USMAPS most improved player and was listed among the top 100 players in the state by both RCSSports.com and TexasHoops.com. He is averaging 3.3 points and 1.4 rebounds off the bench.
--After missing six straight games with an ankle injury, Tyrell Thompson was back in action against New Hampshire on Dec. 22. He played just one minute and didn't register a point.
The TSX Files - 12/29
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