Patriot League Wrap & Tournament Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2011


Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. The PL is among the first of this season’s conference tournaments to tip, with action set to start tonight.

Tournament Preview 

If Holy Cross somehow wins the Patriot League Tournament and advances on to the NCAA Tournament, they would have the worst winning percentage ever of a team in the field. Their 11-20 record would give them a winning percentage of .355. Currently, the team with the lowest percentage that competed in the NCAA Tournament was George Washington who entered the 1961 Tournament with a 9-16 record (.360). It really is not all too farfetched that the Crusaders win the Patriot League Championship. Five of their seven league losses came by four points or less, and both of their games with Bucknell went into the final minute.  Speaking of the Crusaders, junior guard Devin Brown has been one of the best scorers in the league as of late, and is just two points away from reaching the 1,000 mark for his career. In his last nine games, Brown is averaging 23.2 points a game.

In my “Other 26” column, I remarked that Army is the only team in the country who is in last place in their league to have defeated the team in first place. By virtue of this occurrence, every team in the league—even those in the bottom half—should feel like they have a chance at attaining the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Best chance for an upset in the first round: Colgate over American. I am really going out on a limb with this one, but Colgate is a team that is surging—their record would not indicate it—as they have been taking the better teams in the league to the brink. Aside from a disastrous 20-point loss to Navy, the Raiders lost to Holy Cross by two and Bucknell by eight; they had an opportunity to win both games in the final minute. May they catch American looking ahead to a semifinal date with Holy Cross or Lafayette?

Predicted Champion: Bucknell. How can the Bison not be the clear favorite heading into the tournament? Aside from a hiccup at Christl Arena, Bucknell has been the most consistent team in the league and has some impressive non-conference wins to boot. Assuming Bucknell does in fact win the Patriot League, they are most likely looking at a 14-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Many things would have to fall in Bucknell’s direction and other teams would have to lose in order for them to receive a 13-seed.

A Look Back

Bucknell’s Youth —As good as Bucknell’s upperclassmen have been with the superb point guard play of Darryl Shazier, the spark off the bench from G.W. Boon, and emotional leadership from Stephen Tyree, a good deal of the Bison’s success can be attributed to their younger guys. Specifically, the sophomore class has taken the Patriot League by storm. Mike Muscala and Joe Willman make for a formidable frontcourt and Bryson Johnson is the league’s best shooter from distance. The future is definitely bright for Dave Paulsen and Bucknell. If Paulsen can continue to bring in impressive recruiting classes like he has with the current sophomores, Bucknell will find themselves in the upper tier of the league for the foreseeable future.

New Coach, Similar Results —For Holy Cross, the last few years have been some of the most trying during the scholarship era. Last year’s 9-22 debacle with Sean Kearney was a season many purple faithful would like to forget. When looking at the records alone, one would be inclined to believe that the basketball program is in no better state with Milan Brown at the helm than they were with Kearney. Currently, the Crusaders stand at just 8-20, but their play as the season has progressed has been markedly better. This progress, albeit slow progress, is something that was not seen last year. The jury is still out on Brown, but the future does look brighter.

How’d I Do? – Prior to the season beginning, here is how I saw things shaking out (preseason on the left, final standings on the right):

  1. Bucknell (10-4)     1.   Bucknell (13-1)
  2. Lafayette (9-5)      2.   American (11-3)
  3. Holy Cross (8-6)    3.   Holy Cross (7-7)
  4. American (8-6)      4.   Lehigh (6-8)
  5. Lehigh (8-6)          5.   Navy (6-8)
  6. Colgate (5-9)         6.   Lafayette (6-8)
  7. Navy (5-9)             7.   Colgate (4-10)
  8. Army (3-11)          8.   Army (3-11)

Although the Patriot League is one of the most competitive conferences around the nation from top to bottom, I expected the top five teams in the preseason to be closely bunched together with each other, rather than Bucknell and American distancing themselves from the pack in such a way. I did not think the Bison would receive such significant production from their underclassmen, and definitely underestimated the impact Vlad Moldoveanu would have playing his first full season for the Eagles. With that being said, however, neither Bucknell nor American are head-and-shoulders above the other six teams.

All-League Team (statistics from conference games only)

  • F Vlad Moldoveanu, American (19.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 85.9 FT%)
  • F Mike Muscala, Bucknell (16.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.6 BPG)
  • F Andrew Keister, Holy Cross (14.1 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 54.1 FG%)
  • G Jordan Sugars, Navy (16.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG)
  • G C.J. McCollum, Lehigh (23.2 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 2.4 SPG)

All-Rookie Team (statistics from conference games only)

  • F J.J. Avila, Navy (13.2 PGP, 5.5 RPG, 2.6 APG)
  • G Cameron Ayers, Bucknell (7.6 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.4 APG)
  • G Mackey McKnight, Lehigh (7.1 PPG, 3.0 rebs, 3.9 APG)
  • G Josh Herbeck, Army (5.9 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 45.7 3PT%)
  • G Isaiah Roberts, Navy (5.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.1 APG)

Player of the Year: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh—After the unbelievable season McCollum had as just a freshman in 2009-10 leading Lehigh to the PL Championship, much was expected of him as a sophomore. While Lehigh has not had the same success they had as a collective unit like they did last year, McCollum shined individually as he averaged the most points and second-most rebounds in the league. I still cannot fathom how a 6’3 guard was just over a rebound away from averaging a double-double in conference play. McCollum is a special player that will give opposing teams fits for another two years.

Coach of the Year: Dave Paulsen, Bucknell—Ever since losing to Wagner in the middle of their non-conference schedule to move to a disappointing 2-6 on the season, Paulsen led the Bucknell to a 20-2 record the rest of the way. During this stretch, Bucknell posted impressive victories over Boston University, La Salle, Richmond, and American twice. The 20-point loss to Army sticks out like the sorest of thumbs, but leading Bucknell to a 13-1 league record—their best record since the 2006-07 season—makes him hands down the Patriot League’s Coach of the Year.

Rookie of the Year: J.J. Avila, Navy—No other freshman in the league has meant more to his team or has put up the kind of numbers on a consistent basis than the imposing Avila has. Whether it is making smooth moves while in the post or driving through the paint or stepping outside to drill a three, Avila has carved up the opposition in a variety of ways. Through the completion of games on February 21, the Patriot League has honored Avila a total of eight times as the Rookie of the Week.

Game of the Year: Bucknell 74, Holy Cross 72 (January 16)—A Mike Muscala baseline jumper with just seconds remaining thwarted a comeback in the second half by Holy Cross and gave Bucknell a dramatic victory in the Patriot League’s best basketball rivalry.

Most Improved Player: Jeremy Hence, Army—It is not too often that a player who has acted primarily as a role player for his first three years enters his senior year and becomes the teams go-to guy, but this is exactly what Jeremy Hence has done for Army. As a young plebe, Hence saw action in only eight league games scoring one basket, but by his junior year he was a regular in the rotation averaging five points a night. In his final year with the Black Knights, the senior from Virginia exploded onto the scene averaging just shy of 17 points a game during PL competition.

Unsung Hero: G.W. Boon, Bucknell—By definition, an unsung hero is: “a person (esp. a man) whose heroism or achievements are unacknowledged or little-known.” Senior G.W. Boon’s contributions to Bucknell during their impressive run in the PL are often overshadowed by some of the flashier players, but those who keenly follow the Bison understand Boon’s importance. As a senior, Boon has undoubtedly helped several of the Bison’s underclassmen mature as basketball players.

Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Bucknell (1) (22-8, 13-1)

Previous Two Weeks: W Colgate 77-69, W Lehigh 72-55, W Army 78-64

Bucknell’s last game of the regular season will also be their first game of what they hope to be a lengthy postseason as they host the Army Black Knights. While it is always easy—almost natural—for the top seed in any tournament to overlook the bottom seed, I can guarantee that Bucknell will not take Army for granted after they were blown out by them not too long ago. Dave Paulsen will unquestionably harp on the outcome of that game in the days of preparation leading up to the game.

2. American (2) (21-8, 11-3)

Previous Two Weeks: W Holy Cross 64-60, W Navy 69-58, 2/26 W Lafayette 95-92 (2OT)

Behind the experience of Jeff Jones coaching in the Patriot League tournament—he is the league’s second-longest tenured coach behind Lafayette’s Fran O’Hanlon—and the ever-tough Vlad Maldoveanu, American looks to capture the Patriot League crown for the third time in four years. They were clearly the second best team in the league, but were far from world beaters as many of their games went down to the final minutes. The Eagles are also on the tougher side of the bracket—compared to Bucknell—as they face Colgate in the first round and then either Holy Cross or Lafayette in the second. While they have defeated HC and Lafayette both times they have played them, the margin of victory was slim against both teams. The home-court advantage of Bender Arena will definitely help AU though.

3. Holy Cross (4) (8-20, 7-7)

Previous Two Weeks: L American 64-60, W Colgate 77-75, W Lehigh 89-76

I do not think any team in the league wants to face the Crusaders in the tournament. Despite their lackluster 8-20 record and mediocre league record of 7-7, Holy Cross is very capable of getting hot for three games. Senior Andrew Keister, after watching him play in the second half of league competition, is clearly on a mission to get back to the NCAA Tournament (Keister was a member of the Holy Cross team that advanced to the Dance in 2007 as a #13 seed against Southern Illinois, but was sidelined due to an injury) and Devin Brown is arguably the most explosive scorer in the league. Against American, Holy Cross lost both games by a total of seven points, and against Bucknell they lost both games by six points. Milan Brown appears to have turned the corner with his squad full of talent, now it is a matter of stringing three complete games together. If their offensive onslaught against Lehigh is any indication of what is to come in the tournament, the rest of the league better take notice.

4. Lehigh (3) (15-14, 6-8)

Previous Two Weeks: W Lafayette 67-66, L Bucknell 72-55, L Holy Cross 89-76

Having the consensus Player of the Year on your team is sometimes simply not enough. C.J. McCollum, as good as he is, can only carry the Lehigh Mountain Hawks so far; that has been a common theme in many games this season. As the opposition continually keys on McCollum throughout the game, it is up to his supporting cast to rise to the opportunity, which has not always been the case. Despite all of this, Lehigh still managed to finish in the upper half of the league. Whenever C.J. McCollum is playing on your team, it is impossible to be counted out.

5. Lafayette (5) (11-18, 6-8)

Previous Two Weeks: L Lehigh 67-66, W Army 67-46, L American 95-92 (2OT)

The Leopards suffered two brutal losses in their last three games which was the difference between finishing 8-6 and as the three seed and 6-8 and the six seed. Lafayette is always a threat to advance in the Patriot League tournament though for two reasons: when shooting well, the three-point shot can always keep them in a game, and they have Fran O’Hanlon standing on their sideline. By many Patriot League followers, O’Hanlon is the best in-game coach and gets the maximum amount of talent out of his team.

6. Navy (7) (11-19, 6-8)

Previous Two Weeks: W Army 75-58, L American 69-58, W Colgate 75-55

This was supposed to be the year that Navy developed into a legitimate contender in the Patriot League. They returned four seniors who have made sizable contributions throughout their careers, and head coach Billy Lange brought in a few talented freshmen to complement the upperclassmen. The senior class has, by and large, underperformed and Navy has had a very up-and-down season thus far. They did finish the regular season winning three of their last five games, but now they have to travel to Bethlehem for their first-round game against a Lehigh squad that has defeated them twice this year.

7. Colgate (6) (7-22, 4-10)

Previous Two Weeks: L Bucknell 77-69, L Holy Cross 77-75, L Navy 75-55

In order for Colgate to avoid their first single-digit win season since the 1990-91 season, the Raiders would have to win the Patriot League Championship. While the chances of that happening are beyond slim, Colgate can find solace in their performance during the second half of this season as they played markedly better basketball. In the first round of the tournament, Colgate appears to have a fighter’s chance against American as both of their losses to the Eagles came by nine points. Colgate has played much better since Mike Venezia’s return from an injured knee and certainly has the ability to shock AU if Vlad Moldoveanu has an off-night.

8. Army (8) (11-18, 3-11)

Previous Two Weeks: L Navy 75-58, L Lafayette 67-46, L Bucknell 78-64

Ever since their surprise blowout victory against Bucknell, Army has lost seven straight games to fall to last place in the league. Zach Spiker looked like he could be in line for the Coach of the Year award as he had his team greatly exceeding expectations in the early going, but things have spiraled out of control in the second half of Patriot League play. The fact that Army has already beaten Bucknell—the only team in the Patriot League to have done so—will give them a modicum of confidence heading into their game with the Bison.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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