CIO… the Patriot LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2013
- Lafayette Separates From The Pack: For much of the season, it’s been Lehigh and Bucknell trading places at the top of the Patriot League power rankings, with nobody else staking a firm claim to the third spot. Two weeks ago I put Lafayette in the three-hole, in what was easily the most difficult call to make. The Leopards immediately justified that ranking with a blowout win at Lehigh the following day. Lafayette thoroughly dominated Lehigh, winning 78-57 in Bethlehem. Lafayette is 4-3 at the midpoint of league play, with a very favorable schedule for the second half. Each of the Leopards’ four toughest opponents (Bucknell, Lehigh, Army and American) will travel to Easton, where they have reeled off eight straight wins. Fran O’Hanlon’s squad seems poised to grab the third seed in the Patriot League Tournament, and has the best chance to take down Bucknell or Lehigh once they get there.
- Bucknell Survives American: Bucknell and American collided last week in one of the most exciting games of the Patriot League season. American trailed by one point at halftime, and then started to pull away in the second half. Daniel Munoz hit a three-pointer with 2:16 left to stretch the lead to 55-48. The Bison came back and scored eight straight points to finish the game up 56-55. Mike Muscala grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a put back with 21 seconds left to get the Bison within a point. Then, he did the same exact thing on the final possession of the game, scoring on another put back layup with 0.8 seconds left to end the game. The Bison were presumed the conference favorite after a strong run through the non-conference season, even before Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum went down with a broken foot. But Bucknell lost their home game against Lehigh on January 23, and then looked shaky on the road in D.C. It’s hard to know what exactly to make of this game. It could be a good sign that they were able to escape and pull out a close win, or it could be a bad sign that the team isn’t playing as well as they were early in the season. Still, the Bison have reached the midway point of the league season with a 6-1 record, tied with Lehigh atop the standings.
- Muscala, McCollum Named Senior CLASS Award Finalists: Muscala and McCollum have grown accustomed to seeing their names next to each other as they’ve rewritten chunks of the Patriot League record book throughout their intertwining careers. They’ve put themselves in elite company once again, as the Patriot League produced two of the ten finalists for one of college basketball’s most prestigious awards, the Senior CLASS Award. The award recognizes Division I seniors with notable achievements in four areas—community, classroom, character and competition. A committee of media members selected the finalists from a list of 30 candidates that also included Lehigh’s Gabe Knutson. It’s hard to speculate how much McCollum’s time lost to injury may affect voters, but it’s a testament to his body of work that he was still selected as a finalist. Both men are strong students and high-character leaders, as well as two of the most talented players the league has ever seen. The award recipient will be selected by combining votes from fans, media members and head coaches, with the winner revealed at the Final Four. Fans of either player can vote here.
- Bucknell (19-4, 6-1) – Despite the shaky game against American, Bucknell’s 3-0 record since the last Check-In allows it to wrestle the top spot back from Lehigh. Muscala continues to run away with the Patriot League Player of the Year Award, leading the conference with 19.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. He has officially graduated from that conversation and entered discussions around national awards and NBA draft stock. While Muscala deserves his share of attention, he has received help. Bryson Johnson made six three-pointers against Navy on Saturday, giving him an even 300 for his career. He is now just two shy of tying the league record set by American’s Garrison Carr from 2005-2009. Bucknell’s success can also be attributed largely to their defense, and they lead the conference in points allowed (58.4 per game) and opponents’ field goal percentage (37.4).
- Lehigh (16-5, 6-1) – After pulling off the upset at Bucknell, the Mountain Hawks earned a little room to breathe. With a full game lead, plus the tie-breaker over Bucknell for the moment, Lehigh was in the driver’s seat for home court advantage throughout the Patriot League Tournament. It didn’t last long, as Lafayette dominated both ends of the floor in their 78-57 upset. Lehigh has survived McCollum’s injury mostly because they have been able to hit shots. The Mountain Hawks are still second in the nation at 42.4 percent from behind the three-point line. But jump shooting teams run the risk of losing games when they go cold, and their Preseason All-American is no longer around to create his own shot when the team needs a basket. The Leopards held Lehigh to just 33.9 percent shooting from the field. Lehigh rebounded with two convincing wins, as Stefan Cvrkalj made five threes against Navy, and all five starters scored in double figures against Army.
- Lafayette (11-13, 4-3) — When the Leopards woke up on December 8 with a 3-8 record and upcoming games at Minnesota and Stanford, not too many people would have predicted they’d find themselves at 11-12 when the calendar flipped to February. Yet that’s where they were before a three-game winning streak was halted against American on Saturday. Seth Hinrichs earned the league’s Player of the Week honors after netting 24 points and seven rebounds in the win over Colgate and then 18/8 against American. He made nine of 15 three-pointers in those two games. Tony Johnson is averaging 11.1 points per game and his 4.8 assists are third in the league. He also leads the league in field goal percentage, which seems unusual for a point guard, but his 52.6 percent mark is actually down from the 57.1 percent he shot last year. His orchestration of the offense has been key to Lafayette’s turnaround.
- Army (10-12, 3-4) – The Black Knights beat American and Holy Cross by double digits to claim the final spot in the top half of the rankings, before losing to Lehigh on Saturday. Amazingly, the success has come despite head coach Zach Spiker opting for an all-freshman starting lineup in the last three games. Dylan Cox, Kyle Wilson and Kyle Toth earned conference Rookie of the Week honors in three consecutive weeks, a feat no trio of teammates had ever achieved before. Senior Ella Ellis is third in the conference with 16.8 points per game, but was removed from the starting lineup after scoring just five points in an overtime loss at Colgate on January 23. He has averaged 16.3 points in 24.7 minutes in the three games since adjusting to his new role, with his minutes decreasing by just two per game from his average in 19 starts.
- American (8-14, 3-4) – The Eagles got off to a disappointing start this season, but have played the conference’s top three teams as tough as anybody. They jumped out to a 23-9 lead against Lehigh before losing a close game, and then played Bucknell even closer. They followed that up with a win over the previously surging Lafayette team, 68-64. The Eagles rely heavily on their core, with Stephen Lumpkins, Daniel Munoz and John Schoof ranking first, second and third in the Patriot League in minutes per game. Lumpkins ranks fifth in the conference with 15.4 points per game and second with 9.4 rebounds. Schoof has taken over the lead in three-point shooting percentage, hitting exactly half of 102 attempts.
- Colgate (9-15, 3-4) – The Raiders began conference play 0-3 but have since reeled off three wins in four games, with victories over the two service academies and Holy Cross. On Wednesday night, however, Colgate got blown out at home by the New Jersey Institute of Technology. NJIT plays in the Great West Conference, which kenpom.com rates as the third weakest out of 33 conferences. The game was the only non-conference matchup on the schedule for any Patriot League team after the start of league play. The loss dropped the Patriot League’s out-of-conference below .500 (62-63), although it wouldn’t be fair to pin that all on the Raiders just because their game happened to come last. Murphy Burnatowski scored 29 points in a win against Navy and 19 in a win over Holy Cross, but the team was held to just 40 points in a loss to Lafayette. Colgate will have to be more consistent in their second run through the league if they want to move into the upper half of the conference standings.
- Holy Cross (10-12, 2-5) – The Crusaders had a promising stretch in January when they won back-to-back games against Navy and American by double digits, but four straight losses by an average of more than 12 points have dropped them to just 2-5 in league play. With 60 points in just one of their last four games, the Crusaders have dropped to 318th in Division I at 60.1 points per game. Their 40.2 percent shooting from the field ranks 304th. Dave Dudzinski continues to shoulder the load on offense, ranking fourth in the conference with 15.8 points per game. He has also been incredibly consistent, reaching double figures in 19 of his last 20 games. Justin Burrell averaged 14.1 points per game during 15 non-conference games, but has seen his average dip below 10 in his seven league games.
- Navy (7-16, 1-6) – Please excuse the pun, but Navy’s season continues to go down like a sinking a ship. In conference games, the Mids rank last in a shockingly high number categories: points and scoring margin; shooting percentage from the field, from the free throw line and from behind the arc; assists, rebounds and blocks. The win at Army felt at the time like an omen of good things to come, but it now appears to be a bright spot in a season that may not produce many more. Freshman Tilman Dunbar leads the conference in assists with 5.1 per game, a feat that is actually even more impressive because the team hasn’t scored much this season. Still, this freshman-laden team showed promise early in the season, and may be able to rebound with a couple more wins during their second run through the league.
- Army vs. Bucknell (February 9, 4 PM ET) — Lafayette scored their big upset against Lehigh, and Army wants to prove that they too can take down a team from the Patriot League’s top tier. The Bison won the first matchup handily but Army is playing much better now than they were in mid-January, and this time they’ll get to play on their home court.
- Navy vs. Army (February 16, 2 PM ET, CBS Sports Network) — Navy’s lone conference win came on the road at West Point, and they hope to sweep the season series in Annapolis. Navy still hasn’t won a home game in league play since 2011, and this is one of its best remaining chances. Throw the records out the window when these two rivals take the court.
- Lehigh vs. Bucknell (February 18, 7 PM ET, CBS Sports Network) — The rematch. Lehigh beat Bucknell in Lewisburg on January 23, and Bucknell hopes to even the score on the road in Bethlehem. With both teams sitting at 6-1 in league play, this game may decide home court advantage throughout the Patriot League Tournament.
Caught On Film
Check out a behind-the-basket view of Mike Muscala’s buzzer-beater to send Bucknell past American.