Checking In On… the Patriot LeaguePosted by KDoyle on December 9th, 2011
The Week That Was
- Grading the Patriot League: Currently, the Patriot League is the 22nd-rated conference in the country according to KenPom.com, a pretty good mark considering the fact that the average rating of the league since 2003 is 24.67.
- Maryland-Eastern Shore vs. The PL: Maryland-Eastern Shore has seen only stints of success since the turn of the century (averaging less than eight wins a year) and the 2011-12 campaign hasn’t shown much promise for the Hawks thus far. Sitting at just 2-8, UMES may be on their way to yet another single-digit win season. However, the Hawks have found success against the Patriot League as their two wins have come against American and Navy. Their only other game against a Patriot League foe comes at Lehigh and something tells me their success ends against the Mountain Hawks.
- Mid-Major Top 25: After losing their first two games of the season to Richmond and Maryland-Eastern Shore—the latter being a disappointing letdown — American has reeled off eight straight wins and garnered votes in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25 poll. Seven of the Eagles’ wins came against fairly pedestrian opponents, but their victory over a solid St. Joseph’s team suggests that Jeff Jones will have his squad in the thick of the PL title race come March.
- Team of the Week (Nov. 24 – Dec. 7): American – Overshadowed by Pat Flannery and Ralph Willard for much of his career in the conference, American’s Jeff Jones hasn’t quite received the credit many believe he deserves. This year, however, Jones is doing his best job yet, as the Eagles have gotten off to an impressive 8-2 start. Jones’s greatest attribute? His coaching in tight games. American is 3-1 in games decided by one possession so far this season. Many projected American to finish in the middle of the pack this year, but Jones has the Eagles playing like a team vying for the Patriot League crown.
- Player of the Week (Nov. 24 – Dec. 7): Charles Hinkle – Hinkle is doing it all for American. Over American’s last five games, the senior guard averaged a shade over 22 points to lead the Eagles to a perfect 5-0 mark. In a 66-60 win over St. Joseph’s — American’s best win of the season — Hinkle had his most dominant performance of the year as the senior guard rolled off 32 points on 5-9 shooting from three. For the season, Hinkle ranks sixth nationally in scoring (23.5 PPG).
1. Lehigh (7-3) (Last Week: 2)
Previous Two Weeks: W Quinnipiac 86-75, W Fordham 78-60, L Cornell 81-79, W St. Francis (PA) 71-50
Next Two Weeks: 12/10 @ Wagner, 12/12 Arcadia, 12/22 @ Michigan State
Attentive college hoops fans — not just fans of the Patriot League — are all well aware of the talented C.J. McCollum (20.4 PPG/5.2 RPG). Ever since his first game as a freshman, McCollum has been a force for the Mountain Hawks. While the junior from Canton, OH often gets much of the credit for Lehigh’s success, Lehigh wouldn’t hold the top spot in these rankings if it wasn’t also for Gabe Knutson (14.3 PPG/5 RPG) and Holden Greiner (13.3 PPG/7 RPG) manning the frontcourt. The junior big men are combining for more than 27 points and 12 rebounds per contest, and are shooting better than 50% from the floor. Although Lehigh has looked like arguably the best team in the league thus far, their best win is against a mediocre Quinnipiac squad. Games against Wagner and Michigan State will be very telling.
2. American (8-2) (Last Week: 3)
Previous Two Weeks: W Cornell 65-63, W Howard 77-66, W UMBC 69-58, W St. Joseph’s 66-60, W Hampton 74-72
Next Two Weeks: 12/10 @ St. Francis (PA), 12/17 @ Georgetown, 12/22 @ Villanova
Easily the biggest surprise in the Patriot League so far, American has been one of the hottest teams in the nation after running off eight straight wins. Much was uncertain with the Eagles as Vlad Moldoveanu and Stephen Lumpkins are no longer on the roster, but American has found a way to get it done thanks to the efforts of Charles Hinkle and others. While many of American’s wins would not go under the “impressive” category, winning eight straight is still noteworthy. And it’s is not just Hinkle who has been carrying the load. Guard Troy Brewer has been in the mix as well, averaging 13.2 points per game. Hinkle and Brewer, both transfers, combine to average well over half of American’s points.
3. Bucknell (6-4) (Last Week: 1)
Previous Two Weeks: W Princeton 62-56, W West Alabama 87-50, W Morehead State 54-50, L George Mason 61-57, L La Salle 78-52, W Binghamton 77-63
Next Two Weeks: 12/17 Richmond, 12/20 @ Syracuse, 12/22 @ Boston University
The big news out of the Bison camp in the past week was not the drubbing they took at the hands of La Salle, the near upset of George Mason, or the perfect 3-0 record they had at the Legends Classic held on Bucknell’s campus. Rather, Bryson Johnson’s knee injury had the Bison faithful holding their collective breath. Originally, there was speculation that Johnson (9.4 PPG/3.3 RPG) tore his ACL, which would certainly indicate he would be done for the remainder of the season. But, test results showed no tear in his injured knee, instead deemed a bad sprain. Although Johnson has been struggling to find his near flawless shot, (the sharpshooter hit 45% of his three point attempts last season) his absence hurts the Bucknell offense as teams no longer have to respect the threat of a perimeter standout. The looming question now is: How effective will Johnson be once he returns to the lineup?
4. Lafayette (4-5) (Last Week: 6)
Previous Two Weeks: L Delaware 81-78, L Princeton 69-54, L Long Island 82-80, W Penn State 61-57
Next Two Weeks: 12/11 @ Sacred Heart, 12/21 @ Vanderbilt
The Leopards avoided having a disastrous two weeks by knocking Penn State. No one will argue that the Nittany Lions are a strong team this year, or anything like the team that earned an at-large bid to last year’s NCAA Tournament, but any win for a Patriot League team over a school from the Big Ten is impressive nevertheless. Lafayette needed this win in the worst way as tough losses to Delaware and Long Island no doubt hurt the team’s confidence, but veteran Fran O’Hanlon rallied the troops to salvage an otherwise tough stretch of games. The Leopards’ offense never seems to be an area of concern for Lafayette, yet their defense and rebounding have let them down on many occasions, as the the graduation of center Jared Mintz is showing its effects.
5. Holy Cross (3-6) (Last Week: 4)
Previous Two Weeks: L Maine 72-60, L Providence 82-77, W New Hampshire 62-57, L Columbia 46-45
Next Two Weeks: 12/9 Sacred Heart, 12/18 @ Connecticut, 12/22 San Francisco
What an enigma this Holy Cross basketball team is. The Crusaders blew out an ACC team, (albeit an extremely weak one in Boston College squad), played Providence to a five-point game, yet completely unraveled against Maine and Columbia. Against Maine, the Cross led 29-17 with five minutes left in the first half, but were outscored 55-31 the rest of the way. In their latest game against a hot Columbia team coming off of a cross-country trip from California, the Crusaders led 35-15 in the early stages of the second half, but the Lions ended the game on a 31-10 run to win by just a point. There are numerous questions that need answering, but where does one start? The team has talent—there is little doubt about that. Holy Cross would not have blown out Boston College and played the College of Charleston, Harvard, and Providence to single-digit losses if the roster was talentless. Whatever Milan Brown deems is the ultimate reason for the poor result — offense, defense, rebounding, mental toughness, etc. — it must be answered and corrected soon as Patriot League play is just around the corner.
6. Colgate (3-5) (Last Week: 5)
Previous Two Weeks: L Marist 81-73, L Fordham 79-69, W Eastern Michigan 74-70, L Albany 87-63
Next Two Weeks: 12/10 St. Francis (NY), 12/19 Dartmouth, 12/22 @ Hofstra
In a previous article, I remarked that Yaw Gyawu is “the motor that makes the Raiders go.” Unfortunately, Colgate was without their “motor” for four games and suffered as a result, going 1-3 over this stretch. To go along with the cheesy car analogy, Gyawu had a “flat tire”— code for a sprained ankle — which was why he was sidelined. In his first game back in the lineup, Gyawu had the best game of the season, dropping in 14 points on 6-10 shooting against Albany. Although this came in a blowout loss, Gyawu’s performance is a good sign as Colgate will need his services the rest of the year.
7. Navy (3-7) (Last Week: 7)
Previous Two Weeks: L Albany 69-62, W Mount St. Mary’s 64-56, L Maryland Eastern Shore 59-46, L Elon 51-48, L Monmouth 69-67
Next Two Weeks: 12/10 @ Missouri, 12/22 @ Presbyterian
Close but no cigar has been the case all too often in six of Navy’s seven losses to begin the season. Excluding a 24-point setback against Quinnipiac, the average margin of defeat in the Middies’ six other games is a slim six points. Consecutive one-possession losses are not easy for first-year coach Ed DeChellis to swallow, but I can guarantee that a one-possession loss to Missouri in Navy’s next game would probably be acceptable. A major part of the problem for Navy has been the erratic play of Jordan Sugars (10.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG), who is shooting just 34% from the floor and 29% from beyond the arc. Navy needs much more production out of their All-League performer if they are to find any success in the Patriot League.
8. Army (3-6) (Last Week: 8)
Previous Two Weeks: L Yale 84-75, L NJIT 54-53, W Binghamton 70-50, L Marist 59-56
Next Two Weeks: 12/10 @ La Salle, 12/18 Texas Pan American, 12/21 Dartmouth
Having already used many different starting lineups — nine different players have started games for Army — Zach Spiker is pushing all the buttons in order to find the best “five” for his Black Knights. Sporting a 3-7 record with their most impressive win coming against lowly Bryant, it looks to be another long year along the Hudson for Army. If Ella Ellis (15.8 PPG), Julian Simmons (10.2 PPG), and Josh Herbeck (9.8 PPG) begin to play better basketball on a more consistent basis — they’re all capable of it — Army can surprise some teams (see: 90-70 win over Bucknell last year).
Critical Upcoming Games:
- 12/9 — Holy Cross vs. Sacred Heart —On the surface, this appears to be a run-of-the-mill game between two mid-major New England colleges. However, for Holy Cross, this may be their biggest game of their non-conference schedule. Coming off of a collapse of colossal proportions against Columbia, the Crusaders are in dire need of a win. Expect the Cross to play with a great deal of emotion and energy in this one.
- 12/17 — American @ Georgetown —Assuming American gets past St. Francis (PA), they will have run their winning streak to nine games heading into their contest against cross-town rival (not exactly a rivalry, but we’ll call it that) Georgetown. The Hoyas have surprised many this year and are a legitimate Top-25 team. The streaking Eagles probably falter in this one, but with the way Charles Hinkle has been playing you never know. Stranger things have happened.
- 12/17 — Bucknell vs. Richmond — A real “make-or-break” game as Bucknell nears the end of their non-conference schedule. The Bison’s best win to date is against an average Princeton team, and defeating Richmond for the second straight season would give Bucknell — and the Patriot League as a whole — their best win of the year. Also, just because it was one of the best moments of last year’s college hoops season, let’s relive Mike Muscala’s buzzer beater:
- 12/20 — Bucknell @ Syracuse —They’ve done it before, right? Back in 2006, Bucknell shocked Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, 74-69, before a stunned Orange crowd. However, that was then and this is now. That Bison team was the most successful in Patriot League history as they earned a #9 seed in the NCAA Tournament and defeated Arkansas in the First Round. Times have changed as Syracuse is a Top-5 team and Bucknell won’t have Abe Badmus, Charles Lee, or Chris McNaughton on the floor.
- 12/22 — Lehigh @ Michigan State —Lehigh has arguably been the best team in the Patriot League thus far, and a strong shower at Sparty would further the statement that they are the team to beat. The Mountain Hawks failed in their first two tries to pick up a win against a BCS opponent, losing to St. John’s and Iowa State (although both games were up for grabs in the final five minutes). If this is the case against Michigan State — job well done, Lehigh.