With a season opener approaching, the Lehigh men’s basketball team will look to out-perform its initial Patriot League preseason ranking.
After finishing third in the Patriot League and making it to the semifinals of the Patriot League tournament last season, Lehigh was ranked seventh out of the 10 teams in a preseason poll taken by the Patriot League men’s basketball coaches and sports information directors.
Senior center Jack Lieb said Lehigh’s low ranking was likely based on the team’s young roster and lack of experience. The team lost guard Kyle Leufroy, forward Pat Andree and guard Lance Tejada, three of the team’s starters and biggest contributors to last year’s success.
But despite losing talent, Lieb, who will serve as a co-captain this year, said he is still optimistic about the upcoming season.
“We have a new culture that is very resilient,” Lieb said. “This year feels different, and I’m excited to see where we can go.”
Coach Brett Reed said the rankings cannot be completely written off, but added the players should view the poll as motivation instead of a discouraging factor.
Although Lehigh’s basketball program has historically enjoyed success, Reed said this season will be especially difficult because the Mountain Hawks will have to prove themselves as a team.
Predictions aside, Reed said the team’s preseason performances have shown promise.
“The team has a very good chemistry and, to some level, a higher level of work ethic and intensity than we were able to display before,” he said.
Sophomore center Nic Lynch agreed with Reed’s sentiment, adding that Lehigh’s underwhelming placement in this year’s preseason poll should inspire the team even more.
But regardless of Lehigh’s seventh place position, Lynch said “these rankings don’t matter that much.”
Lehigh is also returning two core players — senior guard Jordan Cohen and junior guard James Karnik, who were a part of last season’s third place Patriot League finish — and is introducing six freshmen.
Reed said the new talent he recruited has meshed with the strong nucleus of returning players who are eager to step into their new roles and have already done so successfully during preseason.
The instant chemistry between the players, Reed said, is a product of their aligning attitudes and beliefs.
Reed said the coaching staff and returning players have been helping the new players understand the values of the program — teamwork, toughness, commitment and family — and how they translate to the team’s performance on the court.
Lieb said he hopes to use his position as co-captain to instill greater accountability among his teammates, as well as motivate them.
He said he wants to set a standard for himself and the Mountain Hawks to consistently play at a high level and to harness an understanding of their respective roles on the team. To have a successful season, he said, each player has to buy into the team’s core values.
“(We) expect to win a championship and make a name for ourselves not only in the Patriot League, but on a national level,” Lieb said. “We’re going to prove some people wrong this year, and I’m very excited to get it started.”
Lehigh will play in its 2019-2020 season opener at home in Stabler Arena against Monmouth on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m.