Tim Kempton (above) returns to Lehigh as defending Patriot League Player of the Year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of CoBL's 2015-16 College Season Preview, which will run from October 2-November 13, the first day of games. For the complete rundown, click here)
2015-16 Lehigh Mountain Hawks Season Primer
Coach: Brett Reed, Ninth season (145-105, .580)
Last Year: 16-14 overall, 10-8 Patriot League; lost in Patriot League quarterfinal (American, 68-62)
For the last two years, Lehigh has been one of the younger teams not just in the Patriot League but around the country, with a number of underclassmen that have had to play big minutes right away to begin their college careers. And that inexperience showed last season, which had a few high points but also a few stretches that showed there was still plenty of work to be done in Bethlehem.
But now the Mountain Hawks are growing up, and expectations are high. Lehigh might not have the singular star player that it had in C.J. McCollum a few years back, but Reed has no fewer than three student-athletes with first team all-league capability, and some very talented role players to back them up. They’re not incredibly deep, so staying healthy will be of utmost importance, but if this group can do that and continue to improve, they have a chance of making it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since McCollum and Co. shocked Duke back in 2012.
Key Losses: SG Corey Schaefer (4.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg), SG Stefan Cvrkalj (1.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg), PG Miles Simelton (3.7 ppg, 1.3 apg)
While none of the departed players’ statistics really jump off the page, there’s no doubt that collectively it’s a group whose absence will loom large this season. Schaefer was the only starter of the trio, with 125 games’ worth of experience under his belt, but after averaging 8.3 ppg in 32 minutes as a junior he wasn’t needed to contribute offensively as much last year with the Mountain Hawks’ developing group of talented youngsters. Cvrkalj also saw his scoring output and minutes played drop in half from his junior to senior year, but it didn’t help that his 3-point percentage went from 41.7 percent to 22.9 percent in that same span.
While Schaefer and Cvrkalj’s graduations were expected, Simelton’s departure was a bit more surprising. The 6-foot-tall point guard would have found it tough to break the starting lineup, for sure, but his minutes and points per game doubled from freshman to sophomore year, and he would have benefitted from many of the minutes that Schaefer and Cvrkalj left open. Simelton gave Reed a veteran guard to bring off the bench, and now instead the coach will have to lean on someone with much less experience in 2015-16.
New Faces: F Matt Holba (Guerin Catholic, Ind.), G Kyle Leufroy (Prolific Prep, Cali.), C Caleb Sedore (Pulaski HS, N.Y.)
Reed brings in a trio of freshman from around the country, continuing Lehigh’s national feel that has players from 10 different states and three different countries on its 14-man roster. The coaching staff was very high on Holba, a 6-7 combo forward, but a ruptured ligament suffered during the summer is going to keep him out to start the season, and it’s not known when he’ll return or if it’ll even be this year. Sedore, a 6-11 post from central New York, will find it tough to break into a frontcourt rotation that includes the conference player of the year and two seniors that can all play 30-plus minutes. So the most immediate impact of the three seems highly likely to come from Leufroy, a 6-3 guard from Pasadena who knows how to score the basketball.
Starting Frontcourt: F/C Tim Kempton (15.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg), PF Justin Goldsborough (7.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
Maybe the scariest moment for the rest of the Patriot League came in a Lehigh win over Lafayette last year, when Kempton knocked down a clutch late 3-pointer. That was his only long-range attempt of the season--but if the 7-footer with a father who played in the NBA develops that as a weapon, he might win the Player of the Year honor for a second and third time after taking it home as a sophomore. As he continues to get stronger and mature, his production should only continue to increase for the next two seasons, and the NBA might call his name by the time it’s all said and done.
With Kempton the star in the frontcourt, it’s easy to overlook the contributions of Goldsborough, but the senior big man put together a very solid season as a junior. After starting the year off on the bench, Goldsborough worked his way into the start rotation with a number of efficient performances, like 10 points and 13 rebounds in 40 minutes of action in the triple-OT win over Arizona State. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward doesn’t have quite the face-up skills of Kempton, but he’s a more-than-capable rebounder and shot blocker who can catch and finish on the block.
Austin Price (above) was the second-leading scorer on Lehigh a year ago. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Starting Backcourt: PG Kahron Ross (10.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg), SG Austin Price (11.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg), SG Devon Carter (0.9 ppg, 0.6 rpg)
Despite being limited to just 18 minutes in his college debut thanks to foul difficulties, Ross still managed to impress--but that’s what happens when you put up seven assists (and just one turnover) against Villanova, making some big plays to keep the Mountain Hawks very much in the game against an eventual No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That was a sign of what was to come for the eventual Patriot League Rookie of the Year, who led all rookies nationally in assists per game and never seemed to tire as the year went on.
Big things will be expected of Ross and Price, who upped his scoring average by three points over his freshman year and could do the same again as a junior. The smooth 6-3 scoring guard put up nice numbers shooting the ball overall (.433) and from 3-point territory (.385), and he’s becoming more of a playmaker as well, doubling his assist total while managing to squeak his assist-to-turnover ratio just over one. The final starter would likely have been sophomore Brandon Alston, but the 6-5 wing will miss the year due to injury; Carter, a 6-4 senior guard who’s struggled with injuries in his career and only has 129 minutes to his name--but has apparently had a very strong preseason--thus gets the nod.
Bench: PF Jesse Chuku (5.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg), G Tyler Jenkins (2.8 ppg, 1.0 apg), F Matt Holba, G Kyle Leufroy
With Alston’s injury, the Lehigh bench suddenly gets a little thin; beyond Chuku, it’s just unproven youth, and Reed might have to go with a seven-man rotation this season if the youngsters can’t cut it. Chuku, a 6-8 forward who can score inside and out, lost his starting spot to Goldsborough midway through last year but will still be a big piece for Lehigh this year, either as Goldsborough’s backup or as an oversized wing.
Jenkins’ numbers above are somewhat misleading, as the sophomore guard only played a total of 23 minutes in his freshman campaign. But the 6-1 guard from Indiana is the most likely beneficiary of Simelton’s departure, and has a chance to play alongside Ross to spell Chuku as well.
Three Games to Watch
1. @ Syracuse (Nov. 13). Lehigh’s non-conference schedule features a slew of tough opponents and big names -- and the team gets right to it with a season-opener at the Carrier Dome. The Mountain Hawks return a lot of key parts and are hungry to show they can play with anyone. If the Orange -- who lost leading scorer Rakeem Christmas -- expect a cakewalk in their season opener, they probably won’t get it. Lehigh played Villanova close in its season-opener last year and scored road wins over DePaul and Arizona State, so this is not uncharted territory for Reed’s bunch.
2. vs. Stony Brook (Dec. 22). In the Mountain Hawks’ final out-of-conference tuneup, they’ll face a Stony Brook team that won 23 games last year. Stony Brook was also sixth in the country in rebounding last season, grabbing 39.8 per game. Jameel Warney averaged 16.4 points and 11.7 rebounds per game last season for Stony Brook and should be an interesting matchup for Kempton, while 6-8 Chester grad Tyrell Sturdivant is expected to see a big rise in production alongside him in the Seawolves frontcourt.
3. @ Bucknell (Feb. 10). The Bison are the defending Patriot League regular-season champs, and when Lehigh travels to Lewisburg later in the season, it could have major impacts on the conference race. Bucknell returns its top two scorers in senior guard Chris Haas and sophomore forward Nana Foulland and is expected to finish near the top of the league after winning it with a 12-6 record a season ago. The two teams split their season series last season, and the last four games between the two sides played in Sojka Pavilion have all been decided by six points or less.
Three Keys to Success
1. Establishing depth. Reed has a good idea of what to expect from the top four players in his rotation: Ross, Price, Kempton and Goldsborough. But, especially with Brandon Alston lost to the year with injury, Lehigh will need a few more players to provide productive minutes. Reed mentioned senior Devon Carter as someone who he expects to see more time this season, and added freshman guard Kyle Leufroy will get on the court.
2. Surviving the non-conference. Lehigh’s schedule in November and December is one of the toughest in the country with road trips to Syracuse, Virginia and Purdue. Reed said he wants the schedule to bring out three things in his team: competitiveness, consistency and togetherness. The slate could certainly bring out all three in a group that features a lot of veterans. But if the losses start piling up, it could send the Mountain Hawks into the Patriot League on a sour note.
3. Ross continues to blossom. Ross burst onto the scene last season as one of the top point guards in the league, earning honors as Patriot League Rookie of the Year. The speedy sophomore might have surprised some teams the first time they saw him, but he’s going to be circled on scouting reports this season. The key to slowing down Lehigh, for a lot of teams, will be slowing down Ross. But he is going to have a more polished game this year after an offseason that featured work in the weight room, more time to figure out his teammates and growth as a leader.