Navy 83, American University 68   (Team Stats)
NAVY 25-63 39.7 15-38 39.5 18-22 81.8 30 15 15 18 8 2 10 20
AMER 24-50 48.0 6-15 40.0 14-21 66.7 39 25 14 13 21 4 3 19

In The Last Amateurs, John Feinstein made it clear that rest of the Patriot League didn’t like Navy. At the time the book was written, Navy was the powerhouse team in the conference, had the newest, flashiest arena, and generally just won a lot of basketball games. Other teams resented Navy, and that resentment manifested itself in many ways. Navy was the best team in the conference for most of the ’90s, but it has never had a conference Player of the Year. But things are different now. Now Bucknell has a new arena of their own and has set the new high water mark for accomplishment in the Patriot League. Holy Cross won the conference last year, and beat Notre Dame in the first round of the NIT in 2005. Navy, on the other hand, is just starting to emerge from what might have been the worst stretch in program history. Nobody seems to have the same disdain for Bucknell and Holy Cross that they once had towards Navy. The hard feelings towards the Mids must have thawed by now, right? Well, maybe. Greg Sprink only made second-team all-conference last year despite putting up solid numbers. As the league’s best returning scorer and all-around player, he was shunned for Preseason POY honors in favor of Holy Cross’ Tim Clifford. Now maybe Navy never had anyone that should have been named Player of the Year. Maybe Sprink didn’t deserve first-team recognition last year. And maybe league coaches and SIDs figured that Holy Cross would be the league favorite this year, so they just named the best player on the best team as their preseason POY. Maybe. But if Greg Sprink doesn’t win Patriot League Player of the Year for 2007-2008, you’ll know that it’s rigged.

In the most important Navy basketball game in over half a decade, Sprink had one of his finest performances. Navy took down American last night, 83-68, to grab a share of first place in the Patriot League with one game left to play. Navy now owns the tiebreaker with AU and can clinch the regular season title with a win in the season finale or an American loss. With the regular season champion ensured a place in at least the NIT, Navy has a chance to earn its first postseason appearance in a decade. Greg Sprink led the team in scoring (34), rebounding (5), and assists (7). He hit 6 3-pointers, worked inside to get to the free throw line, and kicked the ball out to open shooters. It was a complete game.

The same can’t really be said for the Mids as a whole. Reading the wrong stats in the boxscore can give you a very different impression about how this game went. American dominated Navy on the glass early, and ended up with a 39-30 rebounding edge. The Eagles shot a whopping 48% from the field to Navy’s 39.7%, thanks in large part to several way-too-easy buckets scored by American players standing all alone underneath the basket. But Navy took much better care of the ball. American had 21 turnovers, while Navy had only 8. 10 of those turnovers were the result of Navy steals. The Mids were less efficient than AU when it came to shooting the ball, but thanks to their defense, they had more opportunities. On this night, quantity was better than quality.

This wasn’t the first time this year that turnover differential has been the deciding factor in a Navy win. In fact, it has been the norm in conference play. Why is that? I think I have an answer. Navy is a team that has rarely had an inside presence. Athletic big men are the most scarce commodity in all of basketball, and unless they are either undersized (Hassan Booker), very unpolished coming out of high school (Sitapha Savane), or prone to growth spurts (David Robinson), those types of players have much higher-profile offers than from Navy. Offensively, it’s easy to see how Coach Lange makes up for this; by running and shooting threes. On the other end of the court, it’s a little tougher. Most undersized teams try to mask their deficiency by hunkering down in a 2-3 zone to try to make it difficult for their opponents to get the ball to their big men. Lange takes the opposite approach. Rather than attempt to cover up his team’s lack of an inside presence, he concedes it. Navy doesn’t play underneath the basket. Instead, the Mids push their defense to the perimeter. This is why Navy stinks at defensive rebounding– we don’t have anybody around the basket. It’s also why the numbers aren’t nearly as bad on the other end of the court. Navy is outrebounded by an average of 2.3 boards per game on the defensive glass. But on the offensive end, that differential is only .6 rebounds/game. The Mids are in better position on offense.

There aren’t really any big men to exploit Lange’s strategy in the Patriot League other than Tim Clifford. While the Holy Cross center lights up the scoreboard whenever he plays the Mids, the rest of the league doesn’t have much more of an inside presence than Navy does. Navy’s defense gives up some easy backdoor layups sometimes–and a lot of rebounds– but it also generates 9.2 steals per game, good for 1st in the conference and 20th nationally. Rather than try to hide his team’s weaknesses, Billy Lange has chosen to take the fight to his opponents by emphasizing Navy’s strengths. And now he’s one game away from putting Navy back on top.

That loss to Howard feels like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?


16 thoughts on “OH HELLS YEAH

  1. Gary

    Do you think the Mids have a serious chance to take the league and get that at large spot?
    I would love to see them get there and knock off some giant program.
    I know we will never see another David Robinson type March ever but why do I still feel that we may even lose our first playoff game too?

  2. football dad dan

    If Navy wins the Patriot League post-season tournament, they will receive one of the automatic bids to the NCAA “Big Dance”.
    They have absolutely zero chance at an “at large” invite.

    Like tbd said, If Navy is the Patriot League regular season champ, they will get an invite to the NIT (regardless on how they fare in the PL tournament).

    Personally I would rather see Navy in the NIT, … where there is a legitimate chance they can win a round or two. As a most probable 16th seed, in the NCAA, the liklihood is getting trounced by a #1 seed.

  3. Gary

    Thanks Guys!
    I forgot that they get auto invite but what I meant to say is that the PL seems wide open and despite being in first there is no dominating-automatic winner..like when HC or Colgate was expected to win and did.
    I dont follow hoops but I know we were not expected to do anything…..
    I cant stand the NIT- Nobody goes to the games here-the coverage is laughable and its treated like the ABA was against NBA……but Dads right-that would be more appropriate and it would beat playing the # 1 seed.
    Hey this aint football we are talking about so how far can we realistically expect to go.

  4. thebirddog

    No offense guys, but that’s about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. You don’t turn your nose up at a conference tournament championship and an NCAA berth just so you can maybe win a game against some 15-15 team in the NIT. That’s insane. I assume that you wouldn’t turn down the Rose Bowl because you think you have a better shot at winning the GMAC Bowl.

  5. football dad dan

    Whoa … Whoa …! —> Not saying that Navy should (nor would) turn down an invite to participate in the “Big Dance”. Not withstanding the prestige associated with earning a spot in the coveted “64”, … what I said that it would be MY personal preference to see Navy be somewhat competative in a post season tournament to the extent that I would enjoy the chance to see them potentially play more than one or two rounds & “extend” their season, … rather than getting pitted against the likes of a UCLA or Kansas out west & get completely outclassed by 30+ points.
    That’s not “stupid” … It’s my expressed personal opinion on what I would prefer to see, … And frankly not at all that outlandish. If you can get into a post season tornament, or into a bowl game on a potentially periodic basis, … it’s a heck of a lot nicer to be able to win a game or so once in a while.

    Why does Navy schedule a 4-4-4 in football when it could fill it’s schedule with the top profile teams from the BCS conferences??? —> Because it’s healthy for your program to show it can win & be competative.

    GO NAVY!!!

  6. thebirddog

    There is a huge difference between regular season scheduling philosophy and postseason goals. Yes, you want to set yourself up for a few wins. But you do that in the hopes that it will set you up for a shot at something bigger–like a bowl game– down the road. Once you reach that point, then you DO want to play the top profile teams on the biggest stage. I would much rather have a shot at the Rose Bowl and come up short than win the GMAC Bowl.

    And again, I’m really, really not trying to be harsh here… But it is stupid to prefer the NIT over a conference championship.

  7. jgish92

    Dad Dan,

    Understand that it is your opinion and preference, so I will refrain from using the word “stupid”. I am astonished and flabbergasted that anyone would seriously rather participate in the NIT than the big dance. Maybe Duke will consider an NIT bid since they probably won’t win the NCAA tournament, but would have a real good shot at winning the NIT. Comparing it to NCAA regular season football scheduling doesn’t make much sense either. I hope, for your sake, that this topic filters its way down TBD blog scroll so others don’t see your comment.

  8. football dad dan

    tbd, … I don’t disagree with you in any way, shape, nor form in your logic. I guess the way I look at things is that if I had the opportunity to play in a bowl game periodically, … I would want to be competative and win some percentage of them (vice play in the Rose Bowl every time & not have any reasonable chance).
    I know that the success Navy b-ball had in ’86 & ’87 NCAA (Robinson’s Youngster & Jr seasons) kinda makes my argument obe now, … but earning the right to get to the Big Dance periodically as the #16 seed loses it’s luster, … and we yearn for a reasonable chance to compete for a tournament title (even if it is the “2nd fiddle” one). Not trying to sell it as NAAA “doctrine”.

    Just to make sure we are both reading from the same sheet of music here … when you say “conference championship”, are you referring to the NCAA Tournament, or the Patriot League conference? Hypothetically, couldn’t Navy win the PL championship & still decline an invite to the Big Dance in lieu of the NIT? Maybe just a question of semantics, … not trying to be argumentative for arguement’s sake.

  9. football dad dan

    To steal Coach Doyle’s (Gene Hackman) line from the movie “Hoosiers” … “I apologize for nothing!”.
    I’m neither ashamed to post an opinion/contribute, nor really care if it is read by the masses (who may very well have a differing stand than I). If tbd feels that I am overly disruptive, or casting negative vibes about the relevance of his blog, … then he can either block me, delete my post, or ask me to not contribute anymore.
    Thanks for your concern about my well being.


  10. thebirddog

    There is the regular season Patriot League, then the Patriot League tournament. The PL tournament winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAAs. The NCAA owns the NIT now, so I don’t think we can turn down one tournament in favor of the other.

    Upsets happen in the NCAA tourney all the time. It’s what every small school dreams of. What if George Mason felt that they didn’t have a shot a couple years ago? There is only one way to find out. Of course it’s a huge longshot, but that’s part of the fun. The same with the bowl game analogy.

  11. Gary

    Late to the dance as usual…..I was “miscommented” or whatever the new term is……
    I was never saying go to the NIT – thats barely high school level and has zero benefits….that the PL championship and chance at March Madness is the best possible.
    I have heard possible NIT offers to Navy when they were in the better days and would think that if it were offered- why not – what the heck…
    Hey guys- I am no huge hoops fan (but will be probably go the the semi final if Navy is in @ Christl) but I too would understand the “shock” value of us beating a Memphis-UCLA or some other factory giant.
    Thats the ultimate we can hope for.

  12. Gary

    Ugghhhhh where have I seen this picture before?
    Looks like we will end up playing Colgate in the PL final @ Colgate-shades of Adonal Foyle……………looks like we dont match too well with them at the gate?

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