Previewing the Patriot League’s Postseason ProspectsPosted by Brian Goodman on March 19th, 2013
Bucknell Earns A #11 Seed
Bucknell earned the Patriot League’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament after a 28-5 season that included three wins in the conference tournament. After weeks of projecting as a #12 or #13 seed, the Bison were treated favorably by the Selection Committee and given a #11 seed in the East Regional. The Bison will play Butler in famed Rupp Arena in Lexington. Eleven is the best seed any Patriot League team has garnered since Bucknell was a #9 seed in 2006. Because Bucknell received an #11 while other at-large teams came in as low as #13, some of the chatter shifted from the match-up it drew to speculation about whether the Bison were good enough to have received an at-large bid had it come up short in the conference tournament. According to the full seeding list, it appears they were. But it’s a tough question to answer, because it was a moot point after they won the Patriot League Tournament, and because they would have likely taken a big hit in the seeding list had they lost to either Lafayette or Army in the tourney.
All in all, Butler is a good match-up for the Bison. The Bulldogs started this season 16-2, including a win over in-state rival Indiana, and they looked like a Final Four favorite after an exciting buzzer-beater win over Gonzaga in January. Despite finishing out the year with a modest 10-6 record, five of Butler’s losses came to NCAA Tournament teams (including three losses against St. Louis).
Of course, the key for any team playing against Bucknell will be containing Mike Muscala. The match-up to watch in the Butler game will be Muscala vs. Andrew Smith. Smith is a 6’11” senior who leads the team in rebounding and is second in scoring. He actually missed the game against Charlotte this season with an abdominal injury, and it was one of Butler’s only losses this season against a non-Tournament team.If Bucknell beats Butler, they’ll get the winner of #3 Marquette and #14 Davidson. Marquette went 23-8 (14-4 Big East) but was bounced by Notre Dame in the first round of the conference tournament. The Golden Eagles began their season with an 84-63 home win over Patriot League foe Colgate, who Bucknell beat twice by an average of 11 points. Marquette’s resume also includes wins over Syracuse and Georgetown, but they lost to Butler by one point in November.
It would have been tough for the Bison to pull off two straight upsets and get to the Sweet Sixteen no matter where they landed in the bracket. All things considered, this is as good a draw as they could have hoped for. It would be very difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible. They are already one of the more popular underdog picks, at least to get out of the Second Round (their first game). Fans who have followed the Patriot League will be the least surprised if they do.
Thursday’s game against Butler will tip off at 12:40 PM ET and be shown on truTV.
Lehigh Cracks The CBI Field
Bucknell won’t be the only Patriot League team playing postseason ball, as Lehigh was invited to the College Basketball Invitational. The 16-team tournament is one rung below the more widely-known NIT, which passed over Lehigh for its field of 32. The NIT filled up roughly one-third of its field with automatic bids from teams that won regular season conference titles but were upset in their respective tournaments. Because so many mid-majors got into the Big Dance, many of the at-large bids in the NIT went to power conference teams that were left off this year’s dance card.
Wins in the smaller postseason tournaments will always mean different things to different programs. Last year, Bucknell beat Arizona in the NIT in what was widely-viewed as a big win for the team. With so many players returning for this season, the win over a Pac-12 team was viewed as a great way to build experience and springboard into this season. For Lehigh, a win (or even a deep run) in the CBI wouldn’t be as meaningful, particularly after beating Duke in last year’s NCAA Tournament. But it’s still a nice reward for the most successful senior class in program history to take one last victory lap. Even with C.J. McCollum still out with his broken foot, Lehigh has other seniors like Holden Greiner and Gabe Knutson, who have been huge contributors. It’ll be special for them to suit up in the brown and white for one last hurrah. Lehigh’s first game is Tuesday night at Wyoming (19-13, 4-12 Mountain West). The Cowboys started the season 13-0 but have fallen off quite a bit since then. Still, they have wins over several teams in the field of 68, including Colorado and San Diego State. If the Mountain Hawks win, they’ll play in the quarterfinals against the winner of North Dakota State and Western Michigan.
Lehigh and Wyoming will tip off on Tuesday at 9:00 PM ET.
The Leopards were not invited to any tournament, despite earning a better seed than Lehigh in the conference tournament and beating them in the semifinals. Lafayette played great over the second half of the season, but its resume was shot by a disastrous start during the non-conference schedule. Unfortunately for them, that holds them back in many of the rankings and formulas used heavily this time of year. While they can certainly claim to have been more deserving than Lehigh — and would likely benefit more from the exposure and experience — they will sit this one out on the sidelines.