… in basketball. Yeah, this game doesn’t hold the revered status in sports culture that the annual football scrap does. But a rivalry is a rivalry, and you can bet this game means a bit more to each team than, say, playing Colgate. And some fans are talking, even if most still seem focused on football.
I’d love to give an insightful preview to this game, however I have yet to actually see either of these teams play. So it’d be a bit disingenuous to break this one down too much. But I can give you the facts.
So, so close: For starters, Army is having a helluva year by Army standards. Under new coach Zach Spiker, the Black Knights started strong before splitting their first two Patriot League games. At 12-6, they only need three more wins to ensure themselves a winning season for the first time in 25 years. Yes, 25 years. With 10 regular season games left and at least one Patriot League tournament game, the Black Knights need to finish the regular season 15-13 to stay above .500. So barring a colossal collapse down the stretch by Army, this should be the year!
Salt in the wounds: The game is in Annapolis, and Navy will be honoring its Texas Bowl-winning, Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy-retaining football team at halftime. Given Navy’s recent dominance over Army in football, Spiker should have his team watch this ceremony at halftime, just in case his cadets need another incentive to want to throttle the Mids.
BMOC: For Navy (8-11, 2-2), guard Chris Harris is the engine of the offense. The senior is averaging a Patriot League-leading 20 points per game. He’s made more 3-pointers than anyone in the league (52) and hit more free throws (114) than anyone in the Patriot. Perhaps his best moment of the season came on this early season buzzer beater against Quinnipiac.
Sophomore Jordan Sugars has emerged as another consistent threat on offense for Navy. He’s avergaing 14 points per game, second on the team to Harris. Sugars is also second in the conference in rebounding, averaging 8.2 boards per game.
Perfectly matched? Army’s strong defense could spell trouble for an inconsistent Navy offense. The Mids have made more 3-pointers than any team in the Patriot. But they’re sixth in the league in 3-point field goal percentage and last in overall field goal percentage. Meanwhile, Army has the best field goal percentage defense and the best 3-point field goal percentage defense. Army is also first in the league in steals and in rebounding defense, while Navy — with the exception of Sugars — has struggled on the boards this season.
In other words, Navy will have to step up its offensive game on Saturday.
On the other hand, Army’s offense scares no one. It doesn’t rank particularly high in any offensive category, and is next-to-last in scoring and last in the league in assists. Three players — Julian Simmons, Cleveland Richard and Josh Miller — all average double figures in scoring, but defense is clearly the focus of Spiker’s strategy.
Fair and balanced: Unlike the lopsided football rivalry, Army and Navy have been very competitive the last few years in basketball. They’re 6-6 in the last 12 games against each other. Only once during that time was there a double-digit margin of victory.
Win or lose, at least you’re not: Air Force. Looks like its going to be another tough, tough year for the Falcons, who probably wish they were playing the Patriot League right about now.