Checking in On… the Patriot LeaguePosted by KDoyle on November 23rd, 2011
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and author of the weekly column “The Other 26”. You can find him on Twitter at @KLDoyle11.
The Week That Was:
Grading Langel and DeChellis—It is very early in their time at their new schools, but both Matt Langel and Ed DeChellis have both gotten off to solid starts. At Colgate last season, Emmett Davis did not achieve his second win of the season until January 17, Langel already has two. Meanwhile at Navy, DeChellis has the Middies sitting at 2-3, with competitive losses to Siena and Tulane. To truly assess both Langel and DeChellis, one needs a greater sample size. We’ll have a better idea how each coach has done after the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Charles Hinkle Steps Up—Entering the season, Jeff Jones knew that his senior transfer from Vanderbilt would have to shoulder much of the scoring load that Vlad Moldoveanu left behind upon his graduation, and Hinkle has delivered in a big way. Through five games, Hinkle is averaging 24.8 points and hitting 9.6 free throws per contest, both are top five nationally.
Jim Mower Reaches 1,000—Lafayette senior guard Jim Mower surpassed the 1,000 point mark in the Leopard’s 85-74 victory of Fairleigh Dickinson. It was a night that Mower will not soon forget as he dropped in 37 points and drilled 10 three points, in conjunction with joining the 1,000 point club. Mower has flourished in Fran O’Hanlon’s offense that is largely built upon outside shooting.
Mid-Major Top 25—Bucknell received six votes in the latest Mid-Major Top 25 poll, a significant drop-off from where they began the season. Tough 12-point losses to Minnesota and Vanderbilt to begin the year can be attributed to the drop, but the Bison have gotten back on track with two straight wins. Expect to see them teetering on the Top 25 in the coming weeks.
Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology—In his latest Bracketology (November 9)—it really is far too early to take this seriously, but is fun to look at anyways—Lunardi has Bucknell as a 15 seed in the Midwest region playing Pittsburgh in the second round. Considering Pittsburgh recently lost to fellow mid-major Long Beach State, and the Bison have upset the Panthers just several years ago, this may be a decent match-up for Bucknell.
Team of the Weeks (Nov. 7-Nov. 23): Lehigh—Dr. Brett Reed and Co. had St. John’s on the ropes for much of its opening game, but a late Red Storm run proved to be too much to overcome. Despite losing to St. John’s—a game that many would claim Lehigh should have won—the Mountain Hawks currently sit at 4-2 with solid wins over Liberty and Eastern Kentucky. The margin of victory is what has been very impressive in their four victories as they have outscored opponents by an average of 17.75 points per game.
Player of the Weeks (Nov. 7-Nov. 23): Charles Hinkle—Hinkle has done it all for Jeff Jones and the Eagles. American was in desperate need of a reliable scorer entering the season and Hinkle has been just that. In American’s latest game against Quinnipiac, Hinkle poured in 31 points and hit 15 of 19 free throws to lead the way.
Previous Two Weeks: L Minnesota 70-58, L Vanderbilt 80-68, W St. Francis (PA) 73-42, W Marist 74-68
Next Two Weeks: 11/25 Princeton, 11/26 West Alabama, 11/27 Morehead State, 11/30 @ George Mason, 12/3 @ La Salle, 12/6 @ Binghamton
Although the Bison do not sport an impressive record at 2-2, their games against Minnesota and Vanderbilt were both very competitive well into the second half, and they have taken care of business rather easily against St. Francis (PA) and Marist. Their upcoming schedule is less daunting than the first two games of the season were so expect Bucknell to get back to their consistent winning ways in the coming weeks.
Previous Two Weeks: L St. John’s 78-73, L Iowa State 86-77, W Fairleigh Dickinson 72-61, W William & Mary 82-57, W Liberty 90-80, W Eastern Kentucky 76-51
Next Two Weeks: 11/28 Quinnipiac, 12/1 @ Fordham, 12/3 @ Cornell, 12/7 St. Francis (PA)
As previously mentioned, Lehigh has arguably been the most impressive team to begin the year as they have a 4-2 record with all four of their wins coming by double digits. Against St. John’s and Iowa State, Lehigh was a few made shots and fortuitous bounces away from winning both games. Everyone knew that C.J. McCollum would be the star of the team and rack up his fair share of points, but consistent contributions from his teammates has Lehigh looking like a legitimate contender for the Patriot League crown.
Previous Two Weeks: L Richmond 66-56, L Maryland Eastern Shore 64-62, W Florida Atlantic 62-56, W Columbia 66-58, W Quinnipiac 74-73
Next Two Weeks: 11/27 @ Cornell, 11/29 Howard, 12/1 UMBC, 12/4 St. Joseph’s, 12/7 Hampton
Many expected, including myself, that American would struggle early in the season after losing Vlad Moldoveanu and Stephen Lumpkins from last year’s team, but Jeff Jones—one of the better coaches in the history of the Patriot League—has American ahead of schedule and playing good basketball. An early season loss to Maryland Eastern Shore was an indication that American may be in for a long year, but posting three straight victories—one being against a solid Florida Atlantic squad—has the Eagles looking like an upper-tier team in the Patriot League. It doesn’t hurt that Charles Hinkle has been one of the most prolific scorers in the nation.
Holy Cross (2-3)
Previous Two Weeks: L College of Charleston 79-68, L Harvard 73-64, W Boston College 86-64, L Fairfield 73-52, W Hartford 80-66
Next Two Weeks: 11/27 @ Maine, 11/29 @ Providence, 12/3 New Hampshire, 12/6 @ Columbia
When looking at Holy Cross’ first four games, an 0-4 start seemed inevitable. Games against potential NCAA Tournament teams in Charleston, Harvard, and Fairfield, along with an in-state game against ACC foe Boston College was not easy task. The Cross’ easiest game ended up being against the team from the BCS conference in Boston College as Milan Brown’s crew dismantled the young Eagles. Defense continues to be a pressing issue for the Crusaders as the man-to-man has been shaky at times and a zone defense has been largely ineffective. Tightening up the holes on defense will make the Crusaders a more formidable group as the talent and ability is certainly there.
Previous Two Weeks: W Binghamton 78-74, L Wisconsin 68-41, L Syracuse 92-47, W St. Francis (PA) 74-66
Next Two Weeks: 11/26 @ Marist, 11/29 @ Fordham, 11/1 Eastern Michigan, 11/7 @ Albany
While being run right off the court by Wisconsin and Syracuse was certainly not fun for anyone wearing maroon and white, Colgate competed in both games—especially against the Badgers—something that did not always happen last season. Furthermore, their games against Binghamton and St. Francis (PA) are two contests that may have been losses last season. Suffice to say, the Raiders are making strides under first year coach Matt Langel. Colgate will be a factor come Patriot League play—you heard it here first!
Previous Two Weeks: L La Salle 79-53, W St. Francis (PA) 84-81, W St. Francis (NY), 79-73, L Wagner 76-70, W Fairleigh Dickinson 85-74
Next Two Weeks: 11/26 @ Delaware, 11/30 @ Princeton, 12/5 Long Island, 12/7 @ Penn State
Lafayette is in a similar situation that the American Eagles find themselves in: How will they respond after losing their best, and only legitimate big man, to graduation? Jared Mintz was the big man on campus (literally) for four years and the Leopards needed to fill a void in the middle this season. While they haven’t been able to replace Mintz’s role within their offense, if Jim Mower and the rest of Lafayette’s sharpshooters continue to shoot at such a high percentage they will be just fine. To date, there are six Leopards averaging over one triple made per game, which is remarkable.
Previous Two Weeks: W Longwood 78-70, W Penn State Altoona 88-54, L Siena 65-56, L Quinnipiac 78-54, L Tulane 57-55
Next Two Weeks: 11/25 @ Albany, 11/27 Mount St. Mary’s, 11/30 @ Maryland Eastern Shore, 12/3 @ Elon, 12/6 Monmouth
Like Matt Langel at Colgate, Ed DeChellis is finding his way at Navy in his first year as the Middies head coach. The only difference being that DeChellis took a step down from Big Ten basketball, while Langel is in his first year as a Division 1 head coach. DeChellis breezed through his first two games, but has stumbled in the next three. Navy was competitive with Siena, and nearly knocked off unbeaten Tulane before succumbing to both. Big time production from Jordan Sugars and J.J. Avila is vital for any success that Navy will have this year.
Previous Two Weeks: L Air Force 87-71, L The Citadel 83-72, W Marywood 95-40, L Central Connecticut State 67-51, W Bryant 69-65
Next Two Weeks: 11/26 Yale, 11/30 NJIT, 12/3 @ Binghamton, 12/7 @ Marist
Army is arguably the most difficult Division 1 school to consistently win at in the nation, and second-year coach Zach Spiker looks to have his hands full once again this season. While Ella Ellis has developed into one of the best scorers in the Patriot League, the Black Knights simply yield too many points on the defensive end to remain in many games. Fortunately for them, their non-conference schedule is not particularly difficult, and there will be opportunities to steal a few games.
Critical Upcoming Games:
Bucknell vs. Princeton—An intriguing non-conference battle that pits last year’s Patriot League and Ivy League champion against one another. Princeton appears weaker than last year, but with Doug Davis still in the starting five the Tigers are a formidable test for Bucknell.
Bucknell @ George Mason—Another great non-conference game—the Bison have really challenged themselves in this portion of the schedule—as Bucknell travels to Fairfax, VA to take on a new look George Mason squad with Paul Hewitt at the helm. Although Hewitt replaces long-time coach Jim Larranaga, the Patriots are still led on the floor by Ryan Pearson who is an early season candidate for the CAA Player of the Year. Defensive specialist Bryan Cohen will presumably have his hands full with Pearson as Cohen customarily draws opposing team’s top offensive threat.
Lehigh vs. Quinnipiac—The Mountain Hawks have displayed in the early going that C.J. McCollum is not the only player that knows how to dribble and shoot a basketball. With forwards Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner having productive years, Lehigh is much more than a one-trick pony that many thought they were last season. Lehigh will be tested by Quinnipiac, who are one of the favorites to win the NEC.
Holy Cross @ Providence—The Crusaders picked the right year to have two traditional New England rivals on their schedule. Providence, like Boston College, appears to be having a down year having lost integral pieces from last year’s team. Holy Cross already wiped the floor with BC by the tune of an 86-64 drubbing, and Providence may be next on the list, although the Eagles are much weaker and have less depth than the Friars.
American vs. St. Joseph’s—The Eagles are out to an impressive start considering all they lost from last year’s team, thanks in large part to Charles Hinkle. They will be tested by Carl Jones and St. Joseph’s who, despite their youth, already boast big wins over Georgia Tech and Tulsa.
A Deeper Look: Holy Cross’ Rebounding and Steals
Sports Illustrated’s Andy Glockner crafted an interesting article over the summer months about Holy Cross’ luck—or lack thereof—during their past two seasons. The Cross recorded back-to-back single-digit win seasons and fell in a multitude of close games in the process. According to Kenpom.com, HC was the unluckiest team in the nation for two straight years, and Glockner’s piece further investigates what Kenpom’s numbers state. Rather than simply attribute Holy Cross’ consecutive disastrous seasons to luck, let’s look at two critical statistics: rebounding and steal percentage. The preceding categories were a staple of Holy Cross teams coached under Ralph Willard, but they have both dropped off significantly in the past few years.
During the 2006-07 season, Holy Cross actually led the nation in steal percentage at 15.1% and was stayed above 12% (still top 40) until his departure. Likewise they maintained one of the highest offensive rebounding percentages in the country while they typically had one of the better defensive rebounding percentages in the country. However, as soon as Willard left their numbers plummeted most notably their steal percentage, which has been in the low 6% range the last two season, which puts them in the bottom five in Division I.
It is hard to fathom that Holy Cross led the country in steal percentage—Willard was a strong advocate of deflections on defense, a statistic he tracked every game—and sunk to virtually dead last in consecutive seasons as soon as he left. Granted, the Crusaders were fortunate enough to have one of the best defensive players in Patriot League history during the 2006-07 season in Torey Thomas, but such a significant drop indicates a change in defensive philosophy and habits.
Under Willard, the Crusaders played a stingy 2-3 match-up zone that flustered opponents on the offensive end. Since then, Holy Cross has adopted a more man-to-man philosophy that has clearly not generated the desired results on the defensive end. While Glockner’s article and Kenpom’s numbers are both compelling, there maybe another reason why Holy Cross was regarded as the unluckiest team in the country for two straight seasons.