Army-Navy Rivalry: Hardwood Edition

ANNAPOLIS, MD - JANUARY 02: Navy Midshipmen guard Cam Davis (22) realizes that Navy has clinched the win over the Lehigh Mountain Hawks during the game between the Lehigh University Mountain Hawks and the Navy Midshipmen on January 2, 2020 at Alumni Hall in Annapolis, Maryland (Photo by Nicole Fridling/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

When many people hear about the Army-Navy rivalry, it is almost instinctive to think about football. The football piece of the rivalry is heavily advertised and usually has the most fanfare. However, USAA sponsors the Star Series, which keeps tabs on all athletics events between Army and Navy. The basketball portion of the rivalry tips off this Saturday. The game in West Point in February will count towards the Star Series. However, all games matter. Navy leads the Star Series 6-3-1, as well as across all sports with a record of 8-4-1 this athletic year.

Army-Navy Rivalry Hits the Hardwood

History

Army Basketball Tradition

To put it bluntly, Army basketball does not have too much of a storied past. The program has a few national championships by way of season-ending polls in the 1910s, but that’s about it. In fact, Army is one of four original Division I programs to have not made the NCAA Tournament. The Black Knights do have eight NIT appearances, though the last one came in 1978. Their only postseason tournament of any kind since then was a 2016 first-round loss in the College Insider Tournament.

One thing that West Point basketball has produced are two Hall of Fame coaches. Bob Knight’s coaching career began at Army, where he coached from 1965-1971. Knight went 102-50 in his short stint in West Point, with the Black Knights getting as high as 14th in the AP Poll during his final season. Four of Army’s NIT appearances came under Knight, making it to the semifinals three times.

Mike Krzyzewski was a player under Knight and also started his coaching career at Army. Krzyzewski coached the Black Knights from 1975-1980, going 73-59 with one NIT appearance. We’ll never know what the future might have held if either coach had stayed longer. Knight went on to Indiana and Krzyzewski to Duke where they both won multiple national titles.

Navy Basketball Tradition

The Naval Academy has had a little more basketball success than their rivals from New York. The Midshipmen have made 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, including three Elite Eight finishes. Their most recent Elite Eight came in 1986, while their last tournament appearance came in 1998. That was also their last appearance in any postseason tournament.

The staple piece of that 1986 tournament run was center, David Robinson. Robinson attended the Naval Academy from 1984-1987. During his time in Annapolis, Robinson was a three-time CAA Player of the Year as well as a Wooden and Naismith Award winner. He still remains the all-time leading scorer in CAA (and Navy) history. He went on to be the number one overall pick of the San Antonio Spurs in 1987, though he had to fulfill his mandatory service first. Robinson served two years as a Civil Engineer Officer before starting his Hall of Fame career in 1989 for the Spurs.

Army-Navy Basketball Series

Navy leads the all-time series 80-51. Given the overall success of Navy compared to Army, this is not necessarily surprising. Since the 1949-50 season, Navy’s longest winning streak in the series is 13 games from January 8th, 1997 to January 26th, 2002. Army’s longest in that stretch is eight games from February 29th, 1964 to February 27th, 1971.

Over the last 15 years, the series has been a little evener. Navy still holds a 17-13 edge, but the longest win streak has only been five in a row. That means that this year’s Army-Navy rivalry should be just as exciting.

Current Season Overview

2019-20 Army Black Knights

This season is following in the footsteps of past seasons at Army. The Black Knights are currently 7-10 overall and 2-4 in Patriot League play. They are sub-280 in both offensive and defensive efficiency according to KenPom. They are also ranked 352nd in free-throw percentage and block percentage. Due to service academy requirements, a lack of height is not surprising.

Seniors Thomas Funk and Matthew Wilson lead the way for Army. Funk averages 14.6 points and 6.5 assists per game. Wilson also averages 14.6 points per game while grabbing 7.9 rebounds per game. Funk has been on a tear for a little over a month, scoring in double figures for 13 straight games.

Army’s most notable result this season came in their season-opener, losing to Villanova by 43 points. The Black Knights have a conference road game against Lafayette before playing their rivals on Saturday.

2019-20 Navy Midshipmen

Given the youth of the Navy team this year, you could argue they are overachieving up to this point. The Midshipmen currently sit at 10-7 and 4-2 in the Patriot League. Navy is about average offensively and defensively, ranking 240th in offensive efficiency and 200th in defensive efficiency. They are also one of the slowest paced teams in the nation. Navy ranks 350th in tempo, with an average possession lasting 20.2 seconds and opponents’ average possession lasting 18.8 seconds. Defense is this team’s calling card, giving up just 61.1 points per game, 22nd best in the country.

Cam Davis is Navy’s go-to scorer, averaging 16.2 points per game. He’s been even better in league games, scoring 20 or more in four of their six games while averaging 18.8 points per game in league play. Greg Summers plays a supporting role, averaging 9.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

Navy’s notable results came against NCAA Tournament hopefuls Virginia and Liberty. The Midshipmen played them close, losing by nine to Virginia and seven to Liberty, both on the road. Navy has a conference road game against Boston University before hosting Army on Saturday.

Army-Navy Outlook

While Navy appears to be the better team on paper, rivalries always cause records and statistics to get thrown out the window. Navy could enter Saturday’s game in second place just behind Colgate. Army would love nothing more than to play spoiler to their rivals’ chances at a Patriot League regular-season title. This game will come down to pace and experience. Army wants to play fast and has the older team. Navy will have the home-court advantage and will look to slow the game down. No matter the outcome, there is a good chance this one will come down to the final possession. That’s just the nature of the Army-Navy rivalry.

You can catch this game on CBS Sports Network at 1:30 PM on Saturday (January 25th).

 

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