2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Patriot League

Posted by KDoyle on October 17th, 2012

Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find him on Twitter at @KLDoyle11

Top Storylines

  • C.J. And Moose: You’ve read about them all summer, and will continue to do so even more during the season. C.J. McCollum and Mike Muscala have developed into household names in the college basketball community on a national scale, not just in the charming land of mid-major basketball. McCollum has garnered more press, understandably, due to Lehigh’s victory against Duke in the NCAA Tournament. His decision to test the waters of the NBA Draft — he smartly did not hire an agent — gave him the opportunity to return to Lehigh. Muscala has earned his fair share of press as well, being named as a Top 100 player by CBS Sports and a Mid-Major All American by NBC Sports’ College Basketball Talk.
  • A Two-Bid league? An ambitious thought to be sure, but a possibility, albeit a small one. Prior to delving into what has to break right for either Bucknell or Lehigh to garner an at-large berth, let’s take a look at Bucknell’s 2005-06 resume: RPI of 42, 2-3 versus the RPI top 50 with wins over Syracuse and St. Joseph’s, 23rd-ranked non-conference schedule, and the only loss that could be considered a “bad loss” was to Santa Clara, which had an RPI of 184. The Bison went on to defeat Holy Cross in the Patriot League championship, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, but what if Bucknell had lost? With their resume, they would have almost assuredly earned an at-large bid. Fast forward seven years, and one has to wonder if a similar scenario may play out. Could Lehigh or Bucknell earn an at-large bid? It’s more likely that Bucknell would, considering the Bison’s non-conference schedule is better than Lehigh’s and there are more opportunities to pick up resume-building wins, but one thing is certain: It is possible for a Patriot League team to earn an at-large bid. The notion that it all comes down to “three games in March,” while the case most years, may not be the case in 2012-13.

C.J. McCollum (left) and Mike Muscala are two of the many reasons why the Patriot League is one to watch this season.

  • Reed, Paulsen Moving Up? Doctor Brett Reed (side note: Reed received his PhD from Wayne State University in Instructional Technology) and Dave Paulsen have proven to be exceptional recruiters and developers of talent, and the results on the court speak for themselves. Complete conjecture, but it seems they both are on the inside track to move up in the coaching world, especially with their respective star players graduating in the spring of 2013. Reed, a native of Waterford, Michigan, was rumored to have been a candidate for the Central Michigan job (Keno Davis is now the head man for the Chippewas) along with other MAC jobs, while Paulsen was speculated to be a candidate for the Dayton job in 2011. Paulsen, however, was awarded with a five-year extension to his contract last year, so it looks like he will remain in Lewisburg for the foreseeable future. Paulsen has won everywhere he has coached: St. Lawrence, Le Moyne, Williams, and now Bucknell. Reed is one of the brighter young basketball minds in the coaching ranks, and in my mind the smoothest and most eloquent speaker in the game.
  • Pivotal Season for Brown, Holy Cross: Although Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown has a less than stellar mark of 23-35 record in his first two years at the helm, he nearly doubled his win total from year one to two (8-21 in 2010-11, 15-14 in 2011-12). As such, it is imperative that he builds upon the success the Crusaders had during conference play last year — Holy Cross won its final six games of the regular season — and continue this upward trend. Brown has made it known he wishes to push the ball up the floor on offense whenever the opportunity presents itself, and to instill a high-pressure man-to-man defense. With two recruiting classes now under his belt, Holy Cross should be more apt in implementing Brown’s offensive and defensive systems. Despite those two recruiting classes on campus, it will be slightly more difficult to build on the success as R.J. Evans elected to use his final year of eligibility at Connecticut. (Hard to blame Evans for his decision as he hails from the Nutmeg State and watched the Huskies win two national titles growing up.)  
  • American Loads Up: It should come as no surprise to astute Patriot League fans that Jeff Jones is a fan of adding talent in more ways than just traditional recruiting out of high school. Whether it is attracting talent from overseas, junior colleges, or transfers from other Division I schools, Jones always puts a quality team on the floor; he has never finished below .500 in conference play and holds an 82-44 overall record in the Patriot League. The 2012-13 edition of American basketball will feature Rutgers transfer Austin Carroll and the return of Stephen Lumpkins (Lumpkins played minor league baseball in the Royals’ farm system, but had little success and is now back with AU.). Jones also brought in Darius Gardner, a transfer from Stephen F. Austin, who will sit out the 2012-13 season.
  • Year Two for DeChellis, Langel: It was a tough first year, to say the least, for Ed DeChellis at Navy and Matt Langel at Colgate. DeChellis won his first two games — though they came against Longwood and Penn State Altoona — but then had just one victory the rest of the way, and his best player, J.J. Avila, was dismissed from the academy due to academic reasons. Up in Hamilton, New York, Langel got off to a nice 5-5 start in the non-conference slate, but Colgate would drop 17 of its final 20 games. It didn’t help that Yaw Gyawu, arguably Colgate’s best player, was hindered most of the season with an ankle injury. The rebuilding effort will most likely continue for at least another season at both schools.
  • Boston University and Loyola University (Maryland) in 2013: Conference realignment is not just for the big schools. Boston University and Loyola (MD) are set to join the Patriot League for all sports beginning in the fall of 2013. Not only will the Terriers and Greyhounds enhance the basketball profile of the league, but they will also considerably improve the minor sports of the conference, specifically lacrosse. From a basketball perspective, the PL also becomes a stronger conference as a result of the move. Loyola won the MAAC last season, and BU the America East in 2010-11. The looming question is how both teams will adapt to the Academic Index, which will no doubt make recruiting a bit more challenging.

Reader’s Take I

 

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Bucknell (12-2)
  2. Lehigh (11-3)
  3. American (9-5)
  4. Lafayette (7-7)
  5. Holy Cross (7-7)
  6. Army (4-10)
  7. Colgate (3-11)
  8. Navy (3-11)

Preseason All-Conference Team (statistics from the 2011-12 season)

  • Guard: Tony Johnson — Lafayette (8.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 4.3 APG, 3.40 A/T ratio) — Johnson sported the second best assist-to-turnover ratio in the country last season (North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall was the only player better at 3.48), and is hands down the best point guard in the Patriot League. Lafayette’s success will largely depend on Johnson’s health and play. He missed the entire non-conference slate last year and played in just 12 games, but is the best facilitator and game manager in the league.
  • Guard: C.J. McCollum — Lehigh (21.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.60 SPG) — Not much of an explanation or reason needed here. One point though, many like to harp on McCollum’s offensive prowess with his ability to get to the rim and great mid-range game, but let’s not overlook his defensive ability. His 2.60 steals per game ranked fifth nationally.
  • Forward: Ella Ellis — Army (17.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 83% FT) — He is a relative unknown, but Ella Ellis has quietly become one of the better basketball players in the New York area. An efficient scorer, Army will lean heavily on Ellis this year. Don’t be surprised if he averages 20+ PPG as Army graduated their second leading scorer in Julian Simmons.
  • Forward: Gabe Knutson — Lehigh (12.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.1 APG, 51% FG) — An integral part of Lehigh’s magical run last year, Knutson has been a staple in the Mountain Hawks’ frontcourt since his freshman year. In Lehigh’s wins over Bucknell (Patriot League Championship) and Duke (NCAA 2nd Round), Knutson averaged 20 points and 7.5 rebounds. Look for him to have an even greater scoring output this year.
  • Center: Mike Muscala — Bucknell — (17.0 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, 85% FT) — Similar to McCollum, no explanation needed for Muscala. He has already made the Patriot League All-League team twice and established himself as one of the best big men in all of college basketball. Unlike many big men, Muscala is an exceptional free throw shooter as he earned nearly six points a game at the stripe.

Sixth Man: Cameron Ayers — Bucknell — (11.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.8 APG, 47% 3PT) — This is “6th man” in name only as Ayers could very well find himself on the All-League team at year’s end. A lethal shooter from the outside, Ayers is another weapon that Bucknell has in their offensive arsenal.

Impact Newcomer: Stephen Lumpkins — American — (2010-11: 13.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, .5 APG, 59% FG) — This is more of a “welcome back” rather than an “impact newcomer” for American. Lumpkins’ return to the Eagles’ frontcourt, after a sabbatical year to pursue a career in professional baseball, is a critical one as he provides additional stability around Tony Wroblicky and Kyle Kager, who figures to see more minutes. As a junior, Lumpkins made the All-Patriot League second team.

Don’t discount the impact Cameron Ayers could have on Bucknell’s NCAA Tournament chances (nevadaphotosource.com)

Predicted Champion

Bucknell (NCAA Seed: #13): Lehigh may be the popular pick to win the Patriot League after beating Duke in the NCAA Tournament and returning C.J. McCollum, but let’s remember that Bucknell won the Patriot League regular season title last year and had a nice win in the postseason as well by beating Arizona in the NIT. Truth be told, one could flip a coin between Bucknell and Lehigh — the teams are that close, but, I’m siding with the Bison. If Bucknell does have any uncertainty, it is at the point guard position. Dave Paulsen used Ayers, Steven Kaspar, and Ryan Hill at point guard last season, but seemed to settle on Hill as the starter as the year progressed. One would think it would be Hill’s job to lose entering the 2012-13 campaign, but don’t rule out Kaspar and freshman Ryan Frazier to compete for minutes as well. Frazier will have to demonstrate he is a good on-ball defender and distributor if he is to see minutes, though. On the flip side, you won’t find a better frontcourt in the Patriot League than Muscala and Joe Willman, and Bryson Johnson and Ayers are two of the best outside shooters in the league. With such a challenging non-conference schedule, if Bucknell picks up some big wins over the likes of Purdue, George Mason, La Salle, and Missouri they may be able to elevate themselves to a more favorable seed come Selection Sunday time.

Top Contenders

  • Lehigh (NIT)—With C.J. McCollum still on the team, Lehigh will, of course, contend for a Patriot League title. I almost hesitate to place Lehigh in the “top contenders” category because they are right on par with Bucknell. But, for the sake of this exercise, I had to select a champion and Bucknell was the recipient. The Mountain Hawks will feel the repercussions of losing John Adams and Justin Maneri perhaps more than some would think. While mere role players, they were critical parts of the frontcourt. Factor in that Lehigh’s top recruit and incoming forward, Jesse Chuku, is ineligible for his first year (more on that later), and their frontcourt is relatively thin. The senior class, however, is battle-tested and is a group of proven winners. They went to the NCAA Tournament as a #16 seed in 2010 and gave Kansas a good game and, of course, followed that up by beating Duke last year. They know how to win, and that is something that cannot be taught.
  • American—After the conclusion of the 2011-12 season, it looked like American would be nothing more than an average Patriot League team. With no prominent scoring threat remaining on the roster after Troy Brewer and Charles Hinkle had graduated, things looked bleak for Jeff Jones. Then, midway through the summer, Austin Carroll transferred from Rutgers to AU, and shortly thereafter Stephen Lumpkins decided to return as well. My oh my, how the tables drastically turned for the Eagles. They’ll be in the thick of things in the Patriot League—they always are.

Reader’s Take II

 

Patriot League Television Schedule (CBS Sports Network)

  • Jan. 12 – Holy Cross at Lehigh, 2 p.m.
  • Jan. 20 – Navy at Army, Noon
  • Jan. 23 – Lehigh at Bucknell, 6 p.m.
  • Jan. 26 – Bucknell at Holy Cross, 4 p.m.
  • Jan. 27 – Lafayette at Lehigh, Noon
  • Feb. 16 – Army at Navy, 2 p.m.
  • Feb. 17 – Holy Cross at American, Noon
  • Feb. 18 – Bucknell at Lehigh, 7 p.m.
  • Feb. 24 – Flex Game, Noon
  • March 2 – Flex Game, Noon
  • March 9 – Patriot League Semifinal #1, 2 p.m.
  • March 9 – Patriot League Semifinal #2, 4:30 p.m.
  • March 13 – Patriot League Championship, 7:30 p.m.

Ella Ellis and Army will get both of its contests against Navy televised on CBSSN (danny-wild.com)

This is the second season that the Patriot League will have some games televised on the CBS Sports Network. In prior years, the Patriot League Championship was televised on ESPN2 on late Friday afternoon, but now CBSSN has the game slotted for a Wednesday evening. A total of 13 games will be televised, so this is good exposure for the league. Unfortunately for Colgate, however, they have come up on the short end of the stick as none of their games will be televised. It is good to see that both Army-Navy contests will be televised as well. Even though neither of these clubs have experienced success in recent years, there is no better atmosphere than an Army-Navy game regardless of the sport (I think CBSSN knows that.)

What is nice about the two flex games near the end of the regular season is that CBSSN can select the most compelling games and televise them, rather than having games set in stone prior to the season.

Five Notable Newcomers

  • Austin Carroll, Stephen Lumpkins (American): As previously mentioned, there are two major additions to the Eagles roster. Carroll, while he was injured for part of his career at Rutgers and only saw about 10 minutes per game when healthy, is a gifted offensive player — one has to look no further than the slew of offers he had coming out of prep school — and Lumpkins is a proven commodity in the Patriot League.
  • Cullen Hamilton (Holy Cross): We won’t know until the season starts, but Cullen Hamilton may prove to be Milan Brown’s best recruit to date — a bold claim, especially considering Justin Burrell was the PL Rookie of the Year in 2011-12 — but from all accounts Hamilton can flat out shoot the basketball, something The Cross will need.
  • Murphy Burnatowski (Colgate): Burnatowski, a native of Ontario who transferred from Maine after two years with the Black Bears where he averaged seven points and three rebounds as a sophomore, will provide much needed help in the Colgate frontcourt. He left Maine due to a strained relationship with head coach Ted Woodward, clearly exhibited as Woodward benched Burnatowski for the final four games of the 2010-11 season.
  • Ryan Frazier (Bucknell): It is always a challenge to project the kind of impact an incoming freshman will have, but Frazier may have the ability to step into the rotation right away and play significant minutes. Ultimately, Frazier will earn his minutes as a defensive point guard as Bucknell already has plenty of scorers. The always dependable New England Recruiting Report had this to say about Frazier following a stellar performance: “Distributing the ball at a high rate, knocking down outside jumpers, and penetrating Choate’s defense to feed his big men for easy looks ultimately led to MVP honors for Bucknell-bound point guard Ryan Frazier.”

No New Coaches

For the first time since the 2006-07 season, the Patriot League will have no new coaches traipsing the sidelines. Other than Fran O’Hanlon at Lafayette and Jeff Jones at American, no coach has been at their respective school for more than six years.

Jesse Chuku, Lehigh—Ineligible

Jesse Chuku, Lehigh’s top recruit hailing from Great Britain and coming to Bethlehem by way of Kimball Union Academy, was recently ruled that he would have to sit out the 2012-13 season by the NCAA. This is something that Reed knew may happen when Chuku committed, but that did not deter his decision to extend the offer. According to an article posted on the Lehigh men’s basketball page, Reed explained: The United Kingdom is a country with multiple tiers of secondary school. Although he performed well academically and is a comparable age to most college freshmen, Jesse’s educational path was reviewed and when evaluated, it was determined that he would have only three years of remaining athletic eligibility. He is required to sit a year in residence which allows for practice only during the first year, similar to NCAA transfer requirements.”

Spotlight on… Bucknell’s Non-Conference Schedule

One of the better Patriot League non-conference schedules in recent memory. Dave Paulsen has constructed a slate of reach games (Purdue and Missouri), a good opportunity to obtain a win over a power conference school (Penn State), a slew of good mid-major opponents (George Mason, New Mexico State, Kent State, La Salle, and Princeton), and then several “should be” wins. Top to bottom, this is the most competitive schedule a Patriot League team will play, and there are several opportunities to garner resume boosting victories.

It is a diverse non-conference schedule too, with teams hailing from the Big 10 and SEC to the A-10, CAA, and Ivy League.

A challenge non-conference slate lies ahead for Dave Paulsen’s crew (AP)

If Bucknell is to achieve an at-large berth assuming they fall in the Patriot League Tournament, you have to figure they need to win 13 of these games with Purdue/Missouri being one of them.

  • 11/9—at Purdue
  • 11/13—vs. George Mason
  • 11/16—at Niagara
  • 11/17—vs. New Mexico State
  • 11/18—vs. West Alabama
  • 11/23—at Penn State
  • 11/27—vs. Dartmouth
  • 12/01—at Columbia
  • 12/04—vs. Kent State
  • 12/15—vs. La Salle
  • 12/17—at Saint Francis (PA)
  • 12/19—vs. Marist
  • 12/22—at Princeton
  • 12/28—at Loyola (MD)
  • 1/02—at Cornell
  • 1/05—at Missouri

Final Thought

From a national perspective, this is the most press the Patriot League has received since Bucknell defeated Kansas as a #14 seed in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, and then knocked off Arkansas the following year as a #9 seed. Those were two banner years for the league, as Holy Cross beat Notre Dame in the first round of the 2005 NIT as well. But now, on the heels of Lehigh and Bucknell’s postseason success, and the returns of C.J. McCollum and Mike Muscala, the League is in uncharted waters. Two potential NBAers gracing the quaint Patriot League gyms will also drive media and scouts to league contests, too.

In analyzing the Pomeroy rankings, the best finish for the Patriot League came in 2007 when the league checked in at #20 at season’s end. Does the league have what it takes to finish this season as a top 20 conference? That will largely depend upon if the bottom half of the league pulls their weight — I’m looking squarely at you, Colgate and Navy — because Bucknell and Lehigh will do their part.

KDoyle (99 Posts)


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One Response to “2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Patriot League”

  1. […] help preview the game, we reached out to Holy Cross alum Kevin Doyle, who covers the Patriot League for Rush the Court. He also provides entertaining insight on the PL and college basketball in general on Twitter […]

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