Navy came into this season without its top scorer from last year and the top scorer in the Patriot League, Kaleo Kina. New team leader Chris Harris is doing his best to make the transition seamless.
The senior guard is the top scorer in the conference, averaging 19.9 points through 12 games, as the Midshipmen attempt to re-establish the offensive clout they brought to the court last year.
Harris is hardly alone, aided by the surprising play of sophomore Jordan Sugars, a menace on the glass with an average of 8.4 boards per game, tops in the conference.
Despite the strong play of Harris and Sugars, Navy hasn't quite put it all together. Billy Lange's team still suffers from spotty defense and has played mediocre basketball despite a relatively easy non-conference schedule.
Lange's strategy is to run the floor, put a lot of pressure on the opposing defense and score quickly. The problem with that run-and-gun attack is it leaves open lanes for opposing shooters.
Chris Harris stepped in some big shoes following the graduation of Kina, and thus far he's done his job. But he needs help, and some stops on the defensive end, for the Mids to make a run in 2010.
--Chris Harris leads the Patriot League in scoring, averaging 19.9 points per game, and is second in free-throw percentage (.885).
--Defense in the low post has been a problem for the Mids, but coach Billy Lange's team does a nice job protecting from beyond the arc. Opposing three-point shooters hit just 30.6 percent of their shots, second best in the conference.
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: Navy rode through the conference last season following a philosophy of an offense that shoots often. The strategy worked surprisingly well, to the degree that Bucknell is using much the same approach. The two teams will meet Jan. 9 in what should be a high-scoring affair.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If you weren't here, you're going to see that Navy loses 94-56. What people aren't going to understand is we actually had a chance. But not in the last 15 minutes." -- Head coach Billy Lange, following his team's loss to Seton Hall on Dec. 22.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The overriding theme of the Mids' season has been players stepping up. Chris Harris assumed the scoring mantle left vacant from departing senior Kaleo Kina, and Jordan Sugars has also quickly assumed a leadership role on the Mids. The sophomore was a force in the early going of the season, rocketing to the top of the conference's rebounding list.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Jordan Sugars, G Chris Harris, G Romeo Garcia, G O.J. Avworo, C Mark Veazey. Key Subs -- F T.J. Topercer.
Maryland Eastern-Shore 82, Navy 70
Wofford 73, Navy 62
Seton Hall 94, Navy 56
vs. Coppin State, Wednesday, Dec. 30
vs. Elon, Saturday, Jan. 2
at Howard, Monday, Jan. 4
at Bucknell, Saturday, Jan. 9
vs. Lehigh, Thursday, Jan. 14
IN FOCUS: The start of conference play will be a nice tuneup for the offense-minded Mids. Opening league play against the poor defense of Bucknell and Lehigh should allow Navy some confidence as the schedule gets tougher.
--Romeo Garcia struggled with a nagging hamstring last season, but he has stepped up in 2009. Garcia is second on the team in rebounding.
--Junior O.J. Avworo (5.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.0 apg) has been named a candidate for the Cousy Award, given to nation's top point guard.