- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 11, 2009

AMERICAN

Coach: Jeff Jones (10th season)

2008-09 record: 24-8, 13-1 Patriot

Returning starters: None

Other notable players: G Nick Hendra (6.3 ppg), F Stephen Lumpkins (3.4 ppg)

Highlight game: Jan. 23 vs. Holy Cross. It’s a rematch of last year’s Patriot League title game, and it happens to match the Eagles against this year’s conference favorite. After playing seven of its previous eight on the road, American will be eager to return to Bender Arena.

Breakout player: F Vlad Moldoveanu. The junior transferred from George Mason in the middle of last season and will not be eligible for the first nine games. But at 6-foot-9 and 215 pounds, Moldoveanu has both the frame and the game to emerge as one of the Eagles’ best players immediately.

Outlook: After consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, AU probably isn’t going to dominate its league again this season. But in eight seasons in the Patriot under Jones, the Eagles always have finished in the top half of the league. Graduation created a lot of holes, and it will take some time to acclimate a seven-man freshman class. Nevertheless, the Eagles could contend in the balanced Patriot League once January arrives.

GEORGE MASON

Coach: Jim Larranaga (13th season)

2008-09 record: 22-11, 13-5 CAA

Returning starters: G Cam Long (11.7 ppg), F Louis Birdsong (6.4 ppg)

Other notable players: F Ryan Pearson (7.0 ppg), G Andre Cornelius (5.5 ppg), F Mike Morrison (4.0 ppg)

Highlight game: Jan. 2 vs. Old Dominion. It won’t be far into the conference schedule before the Patriots know where they stand. The Monarchs, led by forward Gerald Lee, were the preseason pick to win the Colonial Athletic Association. It’s also the first of four home dates in five games to open the new year.

Breakout players: Cornelius and Pearson. After some crucial losses to graduation, both sophomores will be asked for more after promising debuts. The 5-foot-10 Cornelius will complement Long in the backcourt, while the efficient Pearson has a chance to become the latest undersized forward to thrive in Fairfax.

Outlook: Even when graduation takes a toll, George Mason never seems to tumble too far in the Colonial. It’s a credit to Larranaga’s methods, as well as the Patriots’ ability to hit much more often than they miss in recruiting. George Mason will be defensively sound and precise on offense, especially once league play arrives. While the CAA is superb, it would be no surprise if the Patriots again at least reached the league title game.

GEORGE WASHINGTON

Coach: Karl Hobbs (ninth season)

2008-09 record: 10-18, 4-12 Atlantic 10

Returning starters: F Damian Hollis (13.4 ppg), G Tony Taylor (6.6 ppg), G Travis King (6.2 ppg)

Other notable players: C Joseph Katuka (4.4 ppg), G Tim Johnson (freshman), F Dwayne Smith (freshman)

Highlight game: Nov. 28 vs. Oregon State. There are few more fascinating teams the Colonials could have brought to the District; the Beavers are coached by Craig Robinson, the brother-in-law of President Obama. Oregon State is also much improved and will be an impressive test for GW.

Breakout players: Johnson and Smith. Both are freshmen who attended prep school last year, and both started the Colonials’ exhibition game last weekend and will be counted upon to provide immediate help. Another freshman, Lasan Kromah, scored a team-high 14 points in the exhibition.

Outlook: After missing the A-10 tournament in consecutive seasons, the Colonials are going young this year. It invariably could lead to some rough patches this season, but it’s also an investment in laying a foundation for future success. If Hollis can emerge as a more consistent force and the freshmen mature quickly, GW could see some improvement over their recent frustrations.

HOWARD

Coach: Gil Jackson (fifth season)

Record: 8-23, 6-10 MEAC

Returning starters: G Kevin Riley (9.4 ppg), F Paul Kirkpatrick (7.8 ppg), G Curtis White (5.9 ppg), F Kandi Mukole (4.2 ppg)

Other notable players: G Calvin Thompson (6.3 ppg), F Adam Walker (4.7 ppg)

Highlight game: Jan. 9 vs. Morgan State. The Bison will receive an early gauge in conference play against the Bears, who reached the NCAA tournament a year ago. It’s also in the middle of three straight home games after playing at Burr Gymnasium just once before New Year’s.

Breakout player: It could be Thompson, a sophomore who missed most of last season but scored 11 points in an exhibition game against Marymount. Certainly, there is room for someone to emerge after the departure of Eugene Myatt (15.8 ppg).

Outlook: Like last year, size isn’t a problem for the Bison. But utilizing bigs is difficult when you average 16 turnovers, as Howard did last season. If Riley, Thompson and White can form a steady backcourt and the Bison can avoid injuries during their usual early-season road trip, it’s possible to move closer to the top half of the MEAC.

NAVY

Coach: Billy Lange (sixth season)

Record: 19-11, 8-6 Patriot

Returning starters: G Chris Harris (15.4 ppg), C Mark Veazey (7.9 ppg), G O.J. Ovworo (5.2 ppg)

Other notable players: G Romeo Garcia (5.2 ppg), G Jordan Sugars (3.2 ppg)

Highlight game: Dec. 6 vs. George Washington. The Midshipmen have a local rivalry with American, and their home-and-home with Army is always significant. But as Navy continues to build, the opportunity to play in the BB&T; Classic for a second straight year is significant. It’s the Mids’ ninth game in 24 days, but it certainly will be noticed more than the rest.

Breakout player: Garcia. It’ll be more of a re-emergence for the Texan, who established a reputation as a defensive stopper as a freshman before battling hamstring injuries a year ago. He might not be a prolific scorer — that’ll be Harris’ job — but Garcia should be a crucial piece this season.

Outlook: Navy must replace the leading scorer in the Patriot League for the second straight year. The Mids ably handled the loss of Greg Sprink last year, and it’ll be curious to see whether they can do the same now that Kaleo Kina is gone. Harris might amplify his scoring to make up for some of the difference, but the real linchpin is Veazey, a 6-foot-11 junior who could help lift the Mids into contention if he continues to progress.

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