Annapolis Capital-Gazette

As Navy regroups for next season, keep something in mind about the Patriot League Tournament

The Navy men's basketball team wasn't able to make a run in the Patriot League Tournament. This is common knowledge, so why even bring it up? A history lesson sharpens the nature of the challenge staring at the Midshipmen as they settle into their offseason.

The past two seasons of Patriot League men's basketball have been wild -- really wild.

The league has been tightly bunched together. There was an awareness entering the conference tournament that anything could -- and would -- happen. Nobody was unaware of the potential for bracket chaos in March. A mad scramble ensued throughout the winter, and at the end of the journey, the wildest rollercoaster rides of all produced sharp turns and abrupt plot twists.

In 2015, a 4 seed faced a 6 seed in the Patriot League Tournament championship game, as the leapin' Leopards of Lafayette fended off American. This past March, Holy Cross did the unthinkable, even in a climate which was ripe for some bracket Madness. The Holy Cross team which lost 19 regular season games; didn't win a single regular season road game in the conference; and had to start in the preliminary round while the top six seeds received byes, simply won four straight road games to cut down the nets and celebrate an NCAA tournament appearance. Bill Carmody -- who never could make the NCAAs at Northwestern -- notche his first tournament berth since 1998, when he was at Princeton. He won his First Four game, thereby winning his first NCAA tourney contest since the very same 1998 season when Princeton beat UNLV.

Do you recall anything else about the 1998 NCAA Tournament, by chance?

Oh, right -- that just happened to be the last time Navy played on the big stage and had one of the (then-) 64 (now 68) Dance cards. If Bill Carmody could snap an 18-year drought, Navy can do the same.

Seeing this from a Navy perspective, it might be easy to get wrapped up in the immediacy of the present moment and think, "Gee, if only WE could get hot over the course of one and a half weeks in early March and make our way to the Big Dance. If only our shooters could get hot and stay hot, too. We could party like it's 1998, just as Bill Carmody did."

The sentiment is natural and understandable.

The idea of Navy and other Patriot League challengers having the same level of access to the conference's auotmatic NCAA bid might not be incorrect in a strict structural sense... but it does have to be given some context.

It shouldn't be clung to with too much emotional urgency.

Yes, the past two seasons of Patriot League basketball have been wild and crazy rides, but don't let those two seasons lead you to ignore the much longer and broader sweep of Patriot League basketball history.

The Patriot's season-ending tournament began in 1991. Would you believe (especially based on the past two seasons) that from 1991 all the way through 2014, a regular season champion (more than one when it was shared) always made the tournament final? That's right. For the better part of 24 seasons, a 1-versus-2 seed matchup was the norm in the Patriot. A 1 seed was a constant presence in the title game, and if a 1-2 clash didn't happen, the next most common matchup was a 1-3 final. 

These past two seasons, with a 4 and a 9 winning it all, are distinct aberrations. 

It only makes sense, too. Home court for higher seeds should produce more chalk in brackets. It would be -- if not a mistake -- a risky move to think the past two years are going to be representative of Patriot League basketball the next several seasons.

Navy can't just bank on being great in the space of one and a half weeks.

More to the point, the Midshipmen also can't depend on "getting hot and staying hot."

Why? Consider Holy Cross's journey to the championship.

The Crusaders did not win with their offense -- they found a groove on defense and rode that edge to the title.

Yes, teams don't just develop a rhythm on offense; they can just as easily acquire a smooth flow at the defensive end of the floor. After Holy Cross won a 72-67 opening-round game in the Patriot League Tournament, it never scored more than 60 points in regulation over its remaining three games (quarterfinals, semifinals, and final). The Crusaders didn't attack so much as they blunted the opponent's advances. 

Holy Cross didn't get hot and stay hot -- it kept all its opponents cold.

No, this isn't a granular examination of Navy basketball, but all these contextual details about Patriot League hoops and the conference's season-ending tournament should be thought about this offseason. Holy Cross did take an unconventional path to victory, but this doesn't necessarily mean Navy must follow -- or stray from -- that path. 

Holy Cross's title doesn't mean history will continue to unfold as it has over the past two seasons. 

Navy and Ed DeChellis need to be mindful of a bigger picture and a larger landscape.


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