CIO… the Patriot LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2012
- Lights-Out Lehigh: CJ McCollum continues to lead the nation in scoring, now with 24.9 points per game, but he is hardly doing it by himself. Gabe Knutson is scoring over 16 points per game, and Mackey McKnight and Holden Greiner are both averaging double figures. The Mountain Hawks are second in the country in both free throw percentage (80.5 percent) and three point shooting (44 percent). Those efficient numbers have helped boost Lehigh to 16th in the country at 80.8 points per game.
- Muscala Racks Up Career Numbers:Bucknell’s Mike Muscala is having an excellent senior season, and is staking his claim as one of the most dominant big men in the history of the conference. Adonal Foyle is still the only player the Patriot League has ever sent to the NBA, and Muscala recently joined him as the second player in conference history with 1,500 career points and 800 career rebounds. Foyle even tweeted that he was happy to have company in the club. Muscala is sixth in the nation with 11.4 rebounds per game. He and Duke’s Mason Plumlee are the only players averaging at least 18 points and 11 rebounds.
- Conference Ranking Is Improving: According to Ken Pomeroy’s indispensable site kenpom.com, the Patriot League finished last season rated 22nd toughest out of the 33 D-I conferences. This year, the Patriot League is up to 16th, leapfrogging the CAA, Ivy, Sun Belt, Big West, Atlantic Sun and Summit leagues. While Bucknell and Lehigh are certainly responsible for a large part of that jump, the conference is definitely stronger top to bottom as well. The eight schools have a cumulative record of 43-39, despite several mismatches against teams from the power conferences. The Bison and Mountain Hawks have also received attention from several individual polls. ESPN.com’s most recent Mid-Major Report listed Bucknell sixth and Lehigh eighth. CBS Sports’ Mid-Major Power Pyramid had Bucknell ninth and Lehigh 12th.
1. Bucknell (8-1) – The Bison survived a scare from Columbia in one of the most exciting games any Patriot League team has played this season. The opponents shot out to a 25-8 lead after the opening tip and maintained a double-digit lead with under 15 minutes to go in the game. Muscala would not let Bucknell lose and submitted a dominant 29 points and 19 rebounds in the win.
2. Lehigh (8-2) – While Bucknell did enough to keep the top spot in the power rankings, it was Lehigh that looked more impressive over the last two weeks. Since our last edition, Lehigh went 3-0 with an average margin of victory of nearly 25 points. Going back a little further, the Mountain Hawks have won five straight games by double figures. One of those wins was the 100th in Dr. Brett Reed’s head coaching career. He got there in 164 games, which is the fastest in Patriot League history.
3. Holy Cross (6-4)– It took until games nine and 10, but the offensively challenged Crusaders finally crossed the elusive 60-point barrier in consecutive games. Justin Burrell accounted for much of the offensive explosion, as the sophomore scored 30 against Sacred Heart and 19 against Dartmouth. He made seven of nine threes during the two wins. Last year’s Patriot League Rookie of the Year collected his first conference Player of the Week award for his effort. While Burrell is shooting better and scoring more efficiently, his ball handling is becoming a concern. His assists are down from last year (3.7-2.7) and his turnovers are up (2.1-3.4).
4. Army (4-5) –The Black Knights went 1-3 over the last two weeks, but all three losses came on the road. They actually hung with Penn State for most of the game, before running out of steam at the end. Penn State, remember, handed Bucknell its only loss of the season. Ella Ellis has maintained his scoring pace, and remains second in the Patriot League at 19.7 points per game. While the 4-5 record seems passable on the surface, Army still doesn’t have any very impressive wins. Pomeroy’s site ranks the Black Knights’ strength of schedule as 319th out of 347 teams. To be fair, the Black Knights’ have a relatively easy schedule partly because they didn’t schedule unwinnable games against Top-25 teams, like so many others do. It’s hard to hold that against them.
5. American (4-6) – The Eagles have had a tough couple weeks. They suffered discouraging losses to Howard and Columbia, and needed two overtimes to dispatch Maryland- Baltimore County. Stephen Lumpkins averaged an uncharacteristically low 13 points over those three games, but Daniel Munoz picked up some of the slack. The senior sharpshooter is averaging double figures for the first time in his career and has hit nearly half of his threes (13-for-27). But unless the Eagles can stun Georgetown or Kansas later this month—and it’s safe to say that would stun quite a few people— the non-conference portion of their season will go down as a disappointment.
6. Navy (6-6)– The Midshipmen are easily the surprise story of the league. A team that went 3-26 last year, shut out in conference play in the process, has already doubled last season’s W output. Tilman Dunbar leads the Patriot League in assists, and the point guard who runs Navy’s attack is only a freshman. He picked up Freshman of the Week honors for his 19-point, six-assist average over two games. Dunbar isn’t the only freshman contributor, as Kendall Knorr has scored at least 14 points in four of five games. This young team is in coach Ed DeChellis’ second season, and appears to be improving quicker than most people expected.
7. Colgate (3-7) – During my last check-in, I said Colgate was shooting, “an impossibly good 43.8 percent from beyond the three point line.” That proved to be correct. The Raiders have come back to earth, shooting just 25.4 percent (16-63) over their last three games, all losses. One of those losses was a 67-56 final score at Quinnipiac, in the same gym where Lehigh and American had won earlier in the season.
8. Lafayette (4-8)—The Leopards emerged from a recent four-game swing through the NEC with two wins at home and two losses on the road, but even the wins were shaky. Lafayette took an 18-2 lead against Sacred Heart but needed a three-pointer in the final seconds to capture the win. The victory over St. Francis (PA) was on the other end of the spectrum, a 15-point comeback in the second half. Still, wins are wins, and the Leopards can hang their hats on a 4-1 record in games decided by less than 5 points.
- Bucknell vs. La Salle (December 15, 7 PM EST) – The Explorers play in the A-10 and currently boast a 6-1 record. Two of those wins were against Villanova, and that same Penn State squad that beat Bucknell. The Bison will be favored to win, and it will be important not to let this one slip away if they want to enter the Patriot League Tournament with the security of an at-large bid in their back pocket.
- North Texas vs. Lehigh (December 20, 7 PM CST) – Lehigh’s CJ McCollum and North Texas’ Tony Mitchell might both be lottery picks in this summer’s NBA Draft, and scouts are jumping at the chance to see them on the court together. The Mountain Hawks’ twitter account reported that 26 NBA teams have requested credentials and that four GMs will be in attendance.
- Harvard vs. Holy Cross (December 22, 2 PM EST) – The Crimson captured the Ivy League last season and earned a 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament. This year, they represent one of Holy Cross’ toughest non-conference games. This game will be a good test to see how well-prepared the Patriot League’s third best team might be to compete with Bucknell and Lehigh.
Caught On Film
Navy’s Freshmen: Want to see how much better Navy has played this season? Check out the highlights from the win against Bryant to get a glimpse of the freshmen who may be the future stars of the Patriot League.