CIO… the Patriot LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on December 28th, 2012
- Bucknell’s At-Large Hopes Take a Hit: Bucknell and Lehigh both entered the season with a chance to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid. To do so, each needed to be nearly flawless against the weaker foes in the non-conference schedule, and pick up a couple signature wins along the way. Lehigh’s chances looked bleak after early losses to Baylor and Pitt, but Bucknell kept its hopes alive with an 11-1 start. Saturday’s loss to Princeton, however, was a major step back. The Bison may need to win on January 5 at #7 Missouri to have any chance of an at-large bid, or else they’ll have to win the Patriot League Tournament to make the Big Dance. Lehigh would almost surely need to beat VCU on that same date to get back in the conversation. That game represents Lehigh’s last chance to get a true signature win before the games against Bucknell.
- Scouts Show, McCollum Sits: One of the most anticipated match-ups of the season was over before it started. More than 50 NBA scouts, including several general managers, traveled to Denton, Texas, to see two potential lottery picks in Lehigh’s CJ McCollum and North Texas’ Tony Mitchell. Just minutes before game time, Lehigh announced that McCollum would not dress due to a sprained ankle. To add insult to injury, Mitchell was held out of the starting lineup because of a violation of team rules. He still posted 22 points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes off the bench. Scouts who wanted to see McCollum instead learned that Lehigh’s well-rounded attack is more than a one-man show. Gabe Knutson hit four threes en route to 28 points, and Mackey McKnight added 25 more. Lehigh cruised to a 19-point halftime lead on its way to a 90-75 win. Coach Brett Reed described McCollum’s injury as “mild” which seemed like damage control, not wanting to incite a panic that his preseason All-American would be out very long. McCollum, though, tweeted at The Allentown Morning Call’s Tom Housenick after the game that he’s never missed a game because of a mild injury. It was a lighthearted exchange, and all signs point to McCollum being at full-strength for the January 5 showdown against VCU.
- Historic Starts for Bucknell and Lehigh: The Patriot League’s two premier teams have lived up to lofty preseason expectations, and find themselves ranked in a slew of mid-major rankings and polls. Before they battle each other for the league championship, both teams are already battling some of the best squads in their programs’ histories. Bucknell’s 11-1 start was its best since the 1907-08 season. Even with the loss to Princeton, Bucknell’s 11-2 mark is still second-best in school history through 13 games. Lehigh is 9-2 for the first time since the 1925-26 campaign. Its current eight-game winning streak is also longest since that season. Both teams still have a chance to reach 12 non-conference wins in the regular season, a feat achieved by only two teams in Patriot League history: Fordham in 1990-91 and Lehigh last season.
- Lehigh (9-2) – If my power rankings were designed to answer the question of who has the stronger resume, I’d have to give Bucknell the top spot. But if I’m determining who is playing better basketball right now, I’ll give Lehigh the edge. The Mountain Hawks’ aforementioned win over North Texas was their sixth straight by double digits. Lehigh now leads the nation in three-point shooting (44.4 percent) and is making 8.7 threes per game. While the Mountain Hawks get a lot of credit for their offense, they also have a very pesky defense. McCollum, McKnight and Holden Greiner are all among the top five in the Patriot League in steals per game.
- Bucknell (11-2) – The Bison have more impressive wins than Lehigh this season, but their two losses came against lesser competition than Lehigh’s. Mike Muscala is having a dominant all-around season (averaging 18.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.5 blocks per game) and giving McCollum an honest battle for the Player of the Year Award, but I think McCollum gets to work with a stronger supporting cast. Muscala failed to get involved during the team’s first loss, but that wasn’t the case against Princeton, when he hit his usual numbers. The Tigers made 11-of-25 threes and committed just three turnovers, which is a recipe to win a lot of games.
- Holy Cross (7-5) – The Crusaders flew out to the Bay Area and handed a pretty good San Francisco team its only home loss of the season. This was followed by a loss at Harvard, but Holy Cross has consistently looked like the Patriot League’s third best team. The Crusaders looked incapable of making shots at times early in the season, but those troubles seem to be in the rearview mirror. Junior Dave Dudzinski scored 31 against San Francisco and 22 more against Harvard, upping his average to more than 15 points per game and earning him the most recent Patriot League Player of the Week Award.
- Army (6-5) – The Black Knights are one of several teams that only played once since my last rankings, and there wasn’t much to be learned about them during a 90-48 clobbering of Division-III Rosemont College. Army took the opportunity to empty its bench, spread the scoring around and hit the 90-point plateau for the third time this season.
- Navy (6-7) – The Midshipmen also played just once over the last two weeks, losing a home game against a Northern Kentucky program in its first year in Division-I. This was definitely a winnable game for Navy, but a few hiccups are to be expected for this young, up-and-coming team that has already doubled last season’s win total. Tilman Dunbar continues to lead the Patriot League in assists, and he earned his third consecutive Freshman of the Week Award despite only having one game.
- American (4-8) – It’s getting a little late in the season to dismiss American’s struggles as merely a slump or a slow start. At some point a team is what its record says it is. The Eagles’ loss to a previously 1-7 Hampton squad may have been the low point of the season for a team that many expected to finish in the top half of the Patriot League (myself included). After what should be an ugly trip to Lawrence, Kansas, the Eagles have two home games left to tune up for the league schedule. American ranks 340th in the nation in points per game, out of 347 teams. Stephen Lumpkins leads the team with 15.0 points per game, though he’s closer to 12 over his last five games. Daniel Munoz averages 10.4, but only one other player is above seven per game.
- Lafayette (5-9) — Since my last rankings, the Leopards won a predictable blowout against Division-III Arcadia and lost a predictable blowout against #11 Minnesota. Lafayette ranks 332nd in the country with just 29.4 rebounds per game. One of the reasons they don’t rebound the ball is because they allow their opponents to make too many shots, which cuts down significantly on their opportunities. According to kenpom.com, they rank 327th in opponents’ effective field goal percentage, a measure that weighs three point attempts as more valuable than twos.
- Colgate (3-9) – The Raiders’ encouraging start is nearly all but forgotten, as the team has dropped six games in a row. Pat Moore averaged over 20 points during a stretch of three wins in four games back in November, but he has disappeared since. The junior guard has failed to reach double figures in any game during this losing skid. Murphy Burnatowski continues to lead the team in scoring, but he needs Moore or somebody else to step up as a reliable number two option.
- VCU vs. Lehigh (January 5, 5 PM ET, NBC Sports Network) — Two authors of recent memorable March Madness upsets will square off in a match-up made for national television. The game at VCU will be one of Lehigh’s greatest tests this season, and an opportunity for McCollum to show his NBA potential. Some scouts have said he should convert to point guard to be successful at the next level, so I’ll be curious to see how much help he provides getting the ball up court against Shaka Smart’s full court press. How well he and McKnight counter VCU’s aggressive defense may also decide the game.
- Missouri vs. Bucknell (January 5, 3 PM CT) — Of the top two Patriot League teams, Bucknell is still more likely to earn an at-large look if they can’t capture the Patriot League Tournament. A win over #7 Missouri would be extremely beneficial to that endeavor, but even playing them to a close game would silence some of the critics after the loss at Princeton. The Tigers lead the nation in rebounding, and though Muscala will have a height advantage, he’ll still have his hands full with the 6’8’’ Laurence Bowers and 6’9’’ Alex Oriakhi.
- Boston College vs. Holy Cross (December 29, 2 PM ET) — The Crusaders have three more non-conference games to go, and I think the one they’d most like to have is at Boston College. BC played Baylor tougher than Lehigh and played Penn State tougher than Bucknell. This will be a difficult game, but Holy Cross has the chance to pull off the upset over one of the weaker teams in the ACC.
Caught On Film
Want to learn how to shoot like a future NBA player? CJ McCollum gave Sports 101 a look at the steps that go into his patented step-back jumper. Patriot League defenders might be hoping he dishes out the secrets behind all of moves, but there’s a good chance every team has plenty of film on this one already.