CIO…the Patriot LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2013
- Lehigh Loses McCollum: Lehigh’s Pre-Season All-America guard, CJ McCollum, suffered a broken fifth metatarsal in his foot during Saturday’s nationally televised game at VCU. More than 30 NBA scouts came to watch him in person, but he went down midway through the first half. This injury is a real shame, not just for Lehigh but for the whole league. The Patriot League has received unprecedented levels of press so far this season because of McCollum and the anticipated exciting battle between Lehigh and Bucknell for the league title. Now, much of the buzz may dissipate before conference play even starts. McCollum has already undergone surgery, and early diagnoses had him out 8-10 weeks. The Patriot League Tournament falls right in that stretch, so it’s unknown if he’ll make it back out on the court again this season. Even if he does rush back, it may take him longer to return to 100 percent. The Patriot League’s all-time scoring leader will now fall short of Daren Queenan’s school record, which was set before Lehigh joined the conference. While he is fiercely dedicated to his team’s success this year, nobody would expect him to do anything foolish with his body while he still projects to be a first round pick in next summer’s NBA Draft.
- Bucknell Keeps Building a Resume: The Bison came heartbreakingly close to beating Missouri in their most difficult non-conference game of the season, dropping a 66-64 contest in Columbia. Still, Bucknell is establishing itself as one of the top mid-major teams in the country. The Bison are ranked fourth in the latest College Insider Mid-Major Top 25. They come in at #36 at kenpom.com and #38 in the RPI. Bucknell has escaped the non-conference portion of its season with a league record 13 wins, and it’s now safe to say that an at-large bid is officially in play. McCollum’s injury makes them the favorite to win the Patriot League Tournament, whether he returns for the tournament or not, but a strong regular season and a tournament upset could land Bucknell in the Big Dance anyway.
- Wrapping Up the Non-Conference Season: The performance of the league slipped a bit over the last two weeks, dropping the conference’s cumulative record to 62-62 with just one non-conference game remaining (Colgate plays the New Jersey Institute of Technology in February). Some of those wins came against competition below the Division I level, but the eight schools have combined to go 56-41 against D-I teams outside of the six power conferences. The teams are an impressive 48-29 against the A-10, America East, CAA, Ivy, MAAC, NEC and MEAC. Those marks are good enough to hold steady at #16 out of 33 in the conference ratings on Ken Pomeroy’s website. Last year the Patriot League finished at #22.
- Bucknell (13-3) – Seemingly every other game, Mike Muscala puts forth an effort described as his best game of the season. If he hadn’t had his coming out party yet, it was definitely against Missouri last Saturday. Muscala put up 25 points and 14 rebounds against a nationally ranked team loaded with talent. The Bison led at halftime and outrebounded the Tigers, but fell just short. Muscala stepped on the base line with 4.1 seconds left in a one-point game, with Bucknell in position to take the lead. Though Muscala currently leads ESPN.com’s Player Efficiency Ratings, this is not a one-man team. Cameron Ayers, son of former Ohio State and NBA coach Randy Ayers, has scored in double figures in six straight games and Bryson Johnson is shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.
- Lehigh (10-4) – The Mountain Hawks have actually played very well this season without McCollum, first in a 90-75 win at North Texas, and then after he went down at VCU. Overshadowed by the news of the injury was the fact that Lehigh nearly pulled off the upset, dropping a 59-55 game that came down to the final seconds. Gabe Knutson now becomes the team’s on-court leader, but everybody on the roster must step up to make up for the loss of McCollum’s production. Holden Greiner in particular will be more crucial to the offense. Greiner made three three-pointers en route to a 17-point, nine-rebound effort against VCU. He has come on strong, with 14 or more points in four straight games.
- Holy Cross (8-7)– The Crusaders’ solid start to the season was derailed by a three-game losing streak at the hands of Harvard, Boston College and Yale. The Yale game is the only one of the three that’s really damning, but a home loss to a 4-10 team stings for a little while (and one of those four wins was against Division-III Albertus Magnus). Holy Cross quickly rebounded though, with a win over a Columbia squad that had already knocked off three Patriot League foes. Some teams break out of a slump by spreading the ball around, while others simply let their best players take more shots. Holy Cross opted for the latter, as Justin Burrell scored 29 against Columbia and Dave Dudzinski poured in a memorable stat-line of 31 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 blocks, 0 steals. The pair combined to shoot 19-for-27 from the field and 18-for-19 from the line.
- Army (7-8) – Army is another team that has struggled since my last rankings, dropping a pair of double-digit losses to Columbia and Dartmouth. Ella Ellis, the team’s leading scorer, hasn’t made more than four shots from the field in any of his last five games. He hasn’t hit more than five since December 4. The Black Knights built up their 7-8 record against a relatively weak schedule, and only have one win against a team in kenpom.com’s top 250. Still, they are in the mix of teams fighting to finish in the top half of the league standings. One team will grab the fourth seed and host a quarterfinal game in the Patriot League Tournament, and that race is wide open.
- Navy (6-10) – After a very encouraging 6-6 start, the Mids have lost four straight, including home games against Northern Kentucky and Albany. Still, Navy’s win over Bryant looks even stronger after the Bulldogs came out and upset Lehigh in Bethlehem. Tilman Dunbar leads the conference with 5.3 assists per game, and is cruising toward the league’s Freshman of the Year Award. The success of this young, inexperienced team is the league’s most pleasant surprise from the non-conference season, but Navy needs to get back to playing defense the way it did earlier in the year. The Mids allow just 58.9 points per game, but that number ballooned to 71 over the last three losses.
- Lafayette (7-10)— The Leopards got off to a brutal start to the season, but have turned things around with six wins in 10 games. Suddenly Lafayette actually has some momentum heading into the league schedule. One of the most impressive outings during the turnaround actually came in a loss at Stanford on December 29. They got to within two points with 27 seconds left before the Cardinal made some free throws to ice the game. Lafayette followed up that showing with a dominating win over the New Jersey Institute of Technology and a win at Penn that marked the team’s first ever win in the Palestra. Tony Johnson is third in the league with nearly 5 assists per game, orchestrating an offense that sees four players averaging in double figures.
- Colgate (6-10) – The Raiders snapped their six game losing skid and closed out the non-conference schedule with three wins in four games. Murphy Burnatowksi has averaged 22 points over the last four games, and hit 10 of his 24 threes in that span. Pat Moore has remained quiet offensively after his promising start, but sophomore guard Luke Roh is in the league’s top five in both rebounds and assists. The Raiders are without a win against anybody in Ken Pomeroy’s 250, and are struggling in many statistical categories. One of the team’s most glaring weaknesses is in forcing turnovers, where the Raiders are one of the five worst teams in Division-I at forced turnovers per possession. Combined with an above average offensive turnover percentage, and Colgate is simply giving opponents too many extra possessions to work with. The team’s average margin of defeat of -4.88 points per game is worst in the conference by nearly two turnovers.
- American (5-10) – The Eagles rank last in the Patriot League, scoring just 56.1 points per game. They shoot barely 40 percent, also good for last in the conference. American still hasn’t scored more than 65 points in regulation in any game, only topping the mark in its double overtime win over Maryland-Baltimore County. One positive development for American is the return of senior guard Blake Jolivette to the lineup. Jolivette missed the team’s first 10 games with a knee injury, then played just over 20 minutes per game in his first three contests back. Over American’s next two games, he played 38 and 36 minutes respectively, scoring 16 and 15 points. Jolivette averaged 7.3 points per game last year, so he could be an unexpected boost for the offensively challenged Eagles.
- Lehigh vs. Holy Cross (January 12, 2 PM ET, CBS Sports Network)—The Crusaders have looked like the league’s third best team for much of this season, and now see the door open to reach the Patriot League championship. These teams may be destined for a conference tournament semifinal match-up, and Saturday’s game could give somebody the early inside track for home court advantage.
- Army vs. Navy (January 20, 12:00 PM ET, CBS Sports Network)—It doesn’t have the magnitude of the famous football rivalry, but there’s always some intrigue whenever Army and Navy meet in any sport. Plus, fans of these programs won’t be able to see much of them on television except when they play each other. Both teams are fighting to be in the top half of the league, and you should get to know Navy’s freshmen now because they should be a league contender once they gain some experience.
- Bucknell vs. Lehigh (January 23, 6 PM ET, CBS Sports Network)—While the McCollum injury takes away some of the luster in this matchup, the two tilts between these teams should still be the Patriot League’s marquee regular season games. After months of preseason and non-conference prognostication, we’ll finally see how these teams stack up against each other.
The Mid-Season All-Patriot League Team: Below is my pick for the top performers at each position over the first half of the season. Players were considered for individual performance and contributions to team success.
- G Tilman Dunbar (Navy, Fr.): 10.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists per game; Leads the conference in assists per game, critical to the resurgence of a team that has already doubled last year’s win total.
- G CJ McCollum (Lehigh, Sr.): 23.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.4 steals per game; Set the all-time conference scoring record, was leading the nation in points per game before missing the second half against VCU; projected first round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
- F Dave Dudzinski (Holy Cross, Jr.): 16.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.2 blocks per game; top five in the league in both points and rebounds; scored in double figures for 13 consecutive games, including two 30-point games.
- F Gabe Knutson (Lehigh, Sr.): 15.7 points, 4.8 rebounds per game, 57.7 percent shooting; leads the conference in field goal percentage, without limiting himself to shots under the basket.
- C Mike Muscala (Bucknell, Sr.): 19.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.5 blocks per game; Leads the league in rebounds and blocks, second behind McCollum in scoring; leads the nation in ESPN.com’s PER rating; front-runner for Patriot League Player of the Year, and becoming a genuine NBA draft prospect.