CIO… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 22nd, 2013

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Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find more of his work online at The Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchgoldich for more updates.

Looking Back

  • Bucknell Wins Lehigh Rematch: The Bison and Mountain Hawks have spent the majority of this season tied atop the league standings, and they stayed that way when both teams lost last Saturday. While their losses may have hurt both teams’ overall resumes, they did nothing to diminish the importance of the game between two 8-2 opponents. The rematch was critically important to both teams, but more so to Bucknell because Lehigh had already won the first match-up in Lewisburg. Had Lehigh won, they would have had a one-game lead, plus the season sweep — essentially a two-game lead, with three to play. Lehigh’s uncharacteristically poor shooting was one of the night’s main storylines, as the Mountain Hawks went just 1-of-15 from three-point range and 6-of-15 from the free throw line. After Lehigh shot 10-of-18 from beyond the arc in their first meeting, the Bison wanted to contest those shots better and force Lehigh to come inside for better looks. Still, 1-of-15 is obviously a brutal night, and there is no excuse for a team previously shooting better than 75 percent from the line to go 6-of-15. Bucknell’s star Mike Muscala scored just 12 points, with his minutes limited due to first half foul trouble, but his nine rebounds and four blocks made a big impact during his 26 minutes on the floor. Bryson Johnson made three three-pointers and scored 19 points, and Cameron Ayers made a wild shot that put the game away after Lehigh had cut an 11-point deficit down to three points in the final minute. With a one-game cushion and a softer schedule, the Bison now look very likely to take the top seed and lock up home court advantage throughout the Patriot League Tournament.
  • Tony Does It Twice: Tony Johnson, who goes by the twitter handle @Tonytone_3, gave Patriot League fans two reasons to say his name this week. Lafayette’s dynamic point guard hit game winning shots in consecutive games. First he hit a bucket with 4.5 seconds left to put Lafayette ahead of Bucknell 63-62 on Saturday. Then on Wednesday, he hit a tie-breaking three-pointer with even less time remaining against Holy Cross. The Leopards started the season 5-10, and dropped to 8-12 after losing two of their first three Patriot League games. They have since reeled off six wins in eight games, including upsets of both Bucknell and Lehigh. Johnson’s play (12.2 points and 5.0 assists per game in league play) is a major reason the Leopards are legitimate contenders to win what was previously considered a two-team league.

    The Leopards Have Leaned On Tony Johnson To Keep Them In The Thick Of The Patriot League Race. (April Bartholomew/Morning Call)

    The Leopards Have Leaned On Tony Johnson To Keep Them In The Thick Of The Patriot League Race. (April Bartholomew/Morning Call)

  • The Patriot League’s Most Exciting Day: While arguably the most anticipated season in Patriot League history has offered compelling storylines, it took a little while for the games on the court to live up to the hype surrounding the league. With a few notable exceptions, the first half of league play saw relatively few second half lead changes, let alone games coming down to the final possession. Fortunately, with the Patriot League Tournament on the horizon, the games have gotten more exciting. Saturday, February 16 was easily the most fun day of the Patriot League season, with three games decided by a total of six points all playing out at once. Johnson’s last second shot lifted Lafayette past Bucknell. Lehigh came all the way back from 22 points down to Colgate, before the Raiders fended them off. And Army held off a last-second shot to grab a one-point win over Navy. Fans of the league can hold plenty of hope that when matchups are renewed for their third installment during the conference tournament, the games will only continue to get more exciting.

Power Rankings

After nearly a full season of updates and shake-ups, something strange happened with this edition of the Power Rankings—all eight teams remained in the exact same order I had them in on February 8. While league record is definitely not the only factor I use to rank teams, they seem to have separated themselves the same way I had them ranked two weeks ago.

  1. Bucknell (22-5, 9-2) – After avenging the loss to Lehigh, the Bison are now the unquestioned favorite in the Patriot League. Still, both Lehigh and Lafayette have proven they can beat Bucknell, and the Bison haven’t exactly been dominating in league play (they won one-possession games against American and Army). But likely avoiding Lafayette in the semifinal might have been a more important prize for the Bucknell/Lehigh winner than home court advantage in the final. Bucknell and Lehigh both have decorated senior classes, and the Bison are trying to match Lehigh with two league championships over their four-year run. Muscala, Johnson and Joe Willman are just the second trio in school history to all reach 1,000 career points from the same graduating class. Muscala was also recently named a third-team Capital One Academic All-American.
  2. Lehigh (18-7, 8-3) – Head coach Brett Reed said recently that he is preparing as if he won’t have C.J. McCollum for the rest of the season. While the team’s preseason All-American is rehabbing hard with an eye on a return for the Patriot League Tournament, it still seems unlikely that he would be back at 100 percent even if he does return to the court. The Mountain Hawks have lost consecutive games for just the second time this season, but they have still proven they beat anybody in the league. Lehigh has relied on strong shooting all season, but has been prone to games where seemingly the whole team goes cold. Point guard Mackey McKnight has been tremendous lately, averaging 15.4 points, 4.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds in his last five games, although he had just eight points and two assists in the team’s disappointing loss to Colgate.
  3. Lafayette (14-14, 7-4) — The Leopards are hot right now, and look like the biggest wild-card going into the conference tournament. They are also the team that should have their seed impacted the most by the final three games. If Lafayette can pull off the season sweep against Lehigh this weekend, they’ll pull into second place. If they lose, getting swept by Army this year could move then into the fourth spot. Aside from the two marquee Lehigh/Bucknell games, Saturday’s showdown between Lafayette and Lehigh is the most important on the Patriot League schedule. Seth Hinrichs shoulders the load as the team’s top scored, and he netted 20 in the win over Bucknell. Sophomore Dan Trist is second on the team with 12.7 points per game, but missed two games to injury before returning to play 18 minutes against Holy Cross. Johnson picked up the slack, with 35 points over those two games. He has contributed more than just late game heroics, leading the conference in field goal percentage and steals.
  4. Army (13-13, 6-5) – While Lafayette has opened more eyeballs, Army has made a little run of their own lately. The Black Knights are on a three-game winning streak, including one that gave them the season sweep over those Leopards. The expected Lehigh-Lafayette conference semifinal would be a doozy, but if Army can advance then we may have two great matchups on Saturday, March 9. When we last checked in with the Black Knights, coach Zach Spiker had been tinkering with an all-freshman starting lineup, with senior leading scorer Ella Ellis coming off the bench. Ellis moved back to his familiar role, starting all three games during Army’s current streak. He exploded for 34 points Wednesday against Colgate.
  5. American (10-16, 5-6) – The Eagles split their last four games, winning at home and losing on the road. They’ve held their own with a 4-2 league mark in Bender Arena, but are now just 1-4 on the road. Unfortunately for American, they’ll have to win on the road if they want to have a home game to start the Patriot League Tournament. But with Army and Lafayette still on the schedule, they’ll have a chance to improve their seed. The loss to Navy was a major step backward for a team that had been playing better of late. And though Navy is second in the league in opponents’ scoring, the 50-44 final score was pretty jarring. Stephen Lumpkins is fifth in the conference with 14.9 points per game, and second with 9.8 rebounds. He’s reached double figures in rebounds in four straight games, including 17 points and 12 boards in an overtime win over Holy Cross.

    While Colgate May Toil In The Depths Of The Patriot League, Star Forward Murphy Burnatowski Shines.

    While Colgate Toils In The Depths Of The Patriot League, Star Forward Murphy Burnatowski Shines.

  6. Colgate (10-18, 4-7) – Colgate’s win over Lehigh might go down as the single biggest surprise of the Patriot League season. The Raiders had lost three straight games, including a solid drubbing at the hands of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, before Lehigh came town. Colgate promptly shot out to a 22-4 lead out of the gate, and stretched it to 38-16 before halftime. They allowed the Mountain Hawks to come all the way back, but showed poise and mettle in finishing off the win. Senior Murphy Burnatowski is second in the conference in scoring, and averaged more than 20 points over his last three games.
  7. Holy Cross (11-15, 3-8) – The Crusaders went 1-3 since my last check-in, but actually showed quite a bit of improvement during that stretch. The win was over bottom dweller Navy, but they kept games close against Lehigh and Lafayette and took American into overtime on the road. Offense has been a struggle all season for Holy Cross and they are shooting just 41.2 percent on the season. The team actually shot 67.4 percent, while racking up 76 points in the loss to Lafayette. Lafayette Athletics’ official twitter account shared an amazing stat that since 1997-98, NCAA teams are now 238-4 when shooting 67.4 percent or better. So while the losses have continued piling up, Holy Cross’ offensive output may at least give them confidence that they can pull off an upset in the conference tourney.
  8. Navy (8-19, 2-9) – After losing a heartbreaker by one point against Army, the Mids finally snapped their seven-game losing streak and earned their second conference win of the season. The 50-44 win over American was their first against a league opponent on their home floor since 2010, making this the first of the Ed DeChellis era. Freshman point guard Tillman Dunbar scored 12 points and added five assists in the win. His 5.1 assists per game lead the conference, and represent one of the top marks for any freshman in the country.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Ahead

  • Lafayette vs. Lehigh (February 24, 12:00 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) — These two bitter rivals are seem destined to be the second and third seeds in the conference tournament. The winner of this game will have the upper hand on home court advantage should they meet in the semifinals. The Leopards blew out the Mountain Hawks 78-57 during their meeting in Bethlehem.
  • Bucknell vs. American (February 27, 7:00 PM EST) — The Eagles almost pulled off a stunner in Washington D.C., but the Bison survived on a last-second put back to win 56-55. Depending on how things shake out this weekend, the Bison could be looking to clinch the regular season title, or they could be deadlocked atop the standings.
  • Lehigh vs. Army (March 2, 12:00 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) — Two of Lehigh’s final three games were late additions to CBS Sports Network’s schedule, meaning six of the Mountain Hawks’ 14 league games will have been carried by the network. It’s hard to project which games on the season’s final day will have the most impact on seeding, but this matchup between the Patriot League’s two highest-scoring teams looks like a safe bet.

Caught On Film

Lafayette’s Tony Johnson hit game-winning shots in the final five seconds of two consecutive games. Check out the ending of both games below:

Bucknell (February 16):

 

Holy Cross (February 20):

Brian Goodman (746 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.


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