Patriot League Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Posted by KDoyle on February 29th, 2012

Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. The PL is among the first of this season’s conference tournaments to tip, with action set to start tonight. You can find him on Twitter @KLDoyle11.

Tournament Preview 

The Favorite: Despite losing back-to-back games against Lehigh and Holy Cross down the stretch, and a less than stellar performance against bottom-dweller Navy, Bucknell remains the favorite to win the Patriot League. The Patriot League Tournament—like many of the smaller conference tournaments around the country—has its championship game located at the highest remaining seed. Playing in the friendly confines of Sojka Pavilion has treated the Bison quite well over the past two seasons as they are a combined 26-3 there. The last road team to win the PLT was, ironically enough, Bucknell back in the 2004-05 season in Worcester against Holy Cross. Home court does have its perks, and Bucknell can rest easy knowing that if they take care of business all three tournament games will be played in Lewisburg. Semantics and seeding aside though, it also doesn’t hurt that Bucknell has far and away the league’s best big man in Mike Muscala. Steady guard Cameron Ayers, sharpshooter Bryson Johnson, and a lunch pail kind of player in Joe Willman make the Bison a formidable group. More on the Muscala—or, as the Bison faithful like to call him, “Moose”—later.

Dark Horse: Back in early February, the Holy Cross Crusaders looked as if they had mailed it in. Poor efforts on the defensive end, not playing as a cohesive unit, and questionable game preparation all contributed, among other things, to a 3-5 start in league play. After being on the wrong end of a 75-51 drubbing at Lehigh, something clearly happened inside the Holy Cross locker room and during practice sessions; the Crusaders’ six game winning streak, their longest since the beginning of the 2007-08 season, did not happen by chance. While the offense is still inconsistent and stalls during inopportune times, the defense has spearheaded the late charge. During the first eight games of league play, Holy Cross gave up an average of 69 points per game. Since then, they are giving up a remarkable 54.7 points. All that being said, the Crusaders have greatly struggled on the road (4-11) and the road to the Patriot League Championship in all likelihood runs through either Bucknell or Lehigh. A tall task for the Crusaders no doubt, but they are peaking at the right time.

Who’s Hot: Hide the women and children, C.J. McCollum is playing his best basketball of the season and the vaunted Lehigh offense is clicking on all cylinders as the Mountain Hawks enter the tournament. Over the course of their last 10 games—nine of them wins—McCollum is averaging 23.4 points. His lowest output during this run was 15 points against Bucknell, but his final three points of this contest came just before the buzzer as he connected on a triple from the top of the key to propel Lehigh to a comeback victory.

Some may call McCollum cocky and arrogant—especially in the preceding clip as he stares down the Bucknell student section—but his play certainly backs it up.

Player to Watch: All eyes will be on C.J. McCollum, but it behooves you to overlook the Patriot League’s best forward in several year: Mike Muscala. The junior from Minnesota is one of the most efficient players on the offensive end you will see this year as he shoots better than 50% from the field and close to 90% from the charity stripe—not too shabby for a 6’11 guy. On the defensive end, Muscala is on the verge of cracking the Top 10 in the Patriot League for blocks all time. What goes unnoticed is how intelligent he is on the floor with his exceptional positioning and court awareness. Muscala has not fouled out of a game this season, and has only picked up four fouls once. Staying out of foul trouble has enabled him to earn 30 minutes a night and really increased his production. While much of the talk from the media and those outside of Patriot League circles will be of McCollum, don’t forget the “Moose” at Bucknell.

Game to Watch: Lafayette @ Holy Cross—After having their season ended by Lafayette the past two years, Holy Cross will look to return the favor this time around. In the regular season, the teams split the season series with each team winning on the opponent’s home floor. The last time the teams met in Worcester, Holy Cross jumped out to a 24-14 halftime lead only to be outscored by 21 points in the second half. Lafayette will be at a major disadvantage in the third meeting though as Second-Team All-League performer Tony Johnson is out for the rest of the year with an ankle injury.

How’d They Fare: Bucknell was trounced by eventual National Champions Connecticut 81-52. It may be hard to believe, but this score doesn’t reflect how lopsided the game actually was. Bucknell looked to push the tempo and played exclusively man-to-man throughout the game, but simply did not have the horses that Connecticut had. Sometimes, the brains can outplay the talent, but very rarely are they able to outrun them.

A Look Back

How’d I Do? – Prior to the season beginning, here is how I saw things shaking out (preseason on the left, final standings on the right):

  1. Bucknell (11-3)                  1.     Bucknell (12-2)
  2. Lehigh (9-5)                        2.     Lehigh (11-3)
  3. Holy Cross (7-7)               3.     American (10-4)
  4. Colgate (7-7)                      4.     Holy Cross (9-5)
  5. American (6-8)                  5.     Lafayette (7-7)
  6. Navy (6-8)                           6.     Army (5-9)
  7. Lafayette (6-8)                  7.     Colgate (2-12)
  8. Army (4-10)                        8.     Navy (0-14)

I was right on the mark in predicting that Bucknell and Lehigh would finish one/two, and that Holy Cross would finish in the top four, but believed in Colgate and Navy more than I should have and undersold American. (Just as an aside, Jeff Jones has never finished in the bottom four of the Patriot League and American has advanced to the semifinals in every year they have been in the league. Clearly, I have learned to no longer bet against coach Jones.)

As for Colgate, the Raiders performed up to many expectations in the non-conference, but struggled in the Patriot League against all teams not named Navy. Given that the Raiders are a senior laden team who finished last season going 6-8 down the stretch, I believed Matt Langel would have that moderate success carry over—it did not. Although, it should be known that their star forward Yaw Gyawu has been hindered by injuries for much of the year—Gyawu was pegged as a member of my All-League Team in the preseason.

All-League Team (statistics from conference games only)

  • G C.J. McCollum, Lehigh (23.8 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.6 SPG)
  • G Charles Hinkle, American (16.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 47.6 3PT%)
  • F Ella Ellis, Army (17.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 89.2 FT%)
  • F Ryan Willen, Lafayette (14.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 82.1 FT%)
  • F Mike Muscala, Bucknell (18.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 89.5 FT%)

All-Rookie Team (statistics from conference games only)

  • G Justin Burrell, Holy Cross (7.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.0 A/TO)
  • G Seth Hinrichs, Lafayette (7.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 50.0 3PT%)
  • G Maxwell  Lenox, Army (7.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.4 SPG)
  • F Worth Smith, Navy (6.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG)
  • F Dan Trist, Lafayette (6.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG)

Player of the Year: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh—This has been a two player race for much of the season, even though American fans would like to think that Charles Hinkle was in the discussion, but, in the end, the Player of the Year debate was going to come between C.J. McCollum and Mike Muscala. Arguments can easily be made for both players. Each is the focal point of their team and have experienced a good deal of success as individual players. However, it was McCollum’s dominance and ability to take over a game makes him the Player of the Year. Not a shot against Muscala at all, but it is easier for a 6’3 guard to take over a basketball game than a 6’11 forward. McCollum ranks sixth nationally in points per game at 21.7, but is more than just a scorer—the rest of his stat line reflects that. By many accounts, he has become more of a complete player, but certainly understands when he needs to carry Lehigh.

Coach of the Year: Jeff Jones, American—Losing virtually his entire frontcourt with Vlad Moldoveanu graduating and Stephen Lumpkins pursuing a career in baseball, Jeff Jones’ outlook for the year was bleak. Relying on transfers who had only been with the program for a year and two forwards who seldom saw the floor a year before, Jones had his work cut out for him. Fortunately for him, Charles Hinkle—one of the transfers from Vanderbilt—emerged early in the season as a reliable scorer, and sophomore Tony Wroblicky proved to be a serviceable big man. Even still, Jones turned a team that seemed destined for the middle-of-the-pack into a title contender.

Rookie of the Year: Seth Hinrichs, Lafayette—The 6’7 guard from Minnesota is a pure shooter in every sense of the word, and fits perfectly into Fran O’Hanlon’s jump shot friendly offense. Although Hinrichs has the height that would suggest he is a forward in the Patriot League, he lacks the bulk and size to work in the paint, and with a shot like his it would be foolish to put him down there. Hinrichs shot an impressive 50% from three, 54.8% from the field, and averaged 7.4 points all in Patriot League play. With Ryan Willen and Jim Mower graduating, Hinrichs will become a primary option next year for Lafayette.

Defensive Player of the Year: Bryan Cohen, Bucknell—Rather than bore you with analysis on Cohen’s ability to shut down an opponent’s top scoring threat, I’ll let the following numbers do the talking:

Lehigh, American, and Holy Cross were three of the top four teams in the Patriot League. Against these teams, Cohen has done a remarkable job limiting the scoring production of C.J. McCollum, Charles Hinkle, and Devin Brown.

Player

Average points against all PL teams other than Bucknell

Average points scored against Bucknell

C.J. McCollum

25.3

14.5

Charles Hinkle

18.3

7.5

Devin Brown

15

7.5

One can attribute the disparity in scoring to a poor shooting night, but such a pattern suggests that Cohen is a significant part of the lower scoring output. Dave Paulsen has a real luxury in matching him up with the opposition’s top scorer and knowing life will be made very difficult for him. Cohen was recently tabbed as the Patriot League’s Defensive Player of the Year; this is the third time he has received the honor. I’d like to see any other player garner such an award three times in their career—quite the feat.

6th Man of the Year: Mike Cavataio, Holy Cross—It has been quite the journey for Holy Cross senior swingman Mike Cavataio, just take a gander at his lengthy college basketball timeline:

  • 2007-08: Played under Norm Roberts at St. John’s where he saw six minutes of action per game and made one start during Big East play against Marquette
  • 2008-09: Transferred to Holy Cross to play under Ralph Willard, but had to sit out the entire season
  • 2009-10: In his first season of eligibility, he played under first year coach Sean Kearney and averaged 11.3 points in 31 games
  • 2010-11: After Sean Kearney was fired after one year, he played under Milan Brown and averaged 8.9 points in 29 games
  • 2011-12: He was injured in the first game of the season against the College of Charleston and missed every game in the non-conference. He returned January 7th against Lehigh

Suffice it to say, this is not how Mike Cavataio drew up his college basketball career. Coming out of St. Francis Prep in New York, Cavataio had aspirations of lighting up Madison Square Garden playing for St. John’s. He soon realized that he could earn more minutes and play a significant role at a smaller school, and Holy Cross seemed like the perfect fit—a successful mid-major program under the tutelage of Ralph Willard. After sitting out a year, experiencing five different coaches between high school and college ball, and suffering through an injury—something he is accustomed to after breaking the same ankle twice during his sophomore year in high school—Cavataio has developed into the prototypical sixth man. He provides an instant spark off the bench with his defense—the Crusaders best on-ball defender—and mid-range and slashing ability on offense. Although he averages a mere 5.4 points, many of his contributions do not show up in the box score, something that his teammates and keen observes would tell you.

Most Improved Player: Charles Hinkle, American—Whatever Charles Hinkle did during the summer months and offseason, it worked. After averaging 11.6 points last year, many assumed that Troy Brewer would have to carry the load this season. And Brewer has been no slouch averaging 12 points a night, but the emergence of Hinkle as the go-to guy has alleviated the pressure Brewer and others may have felt. In his first three seasons, Hinkle rarely shot from behind the arc, and when he did he shot just 25%. This year, he is almost 20 percentage points better at 43.4%. His scoring average by year: 2.0, 1.4, 4.4, 18.8. A 14.4 point increase from his junior to senior season—unheard of. Jones told the Washington Post earlier this month: “We knew he was a good player, we knew he could help us. How much and in what role, that was up in the air. He was playing a role of working hard, good defense, as opposed to what he does best: shooting the ball in the basket.” I’d say that Hinkle has found is role just fine for Jeff Jones.

Game of the Year: Lehigh 56 Bucknell 53 (February 16th at Sojka Pavilion)—It was far from the prettiest game: more turnovers than assists, a combined 9-39 shooting from behind the arc, both teams shooting below 37%, and neither team cracking the 60 point mark, but the Lehigh-Bucknell tilt in Lewisburg was a dandy. In what may be a prelude to the championship game, a C.J. McCollum three pointer—this shot alone may have earned him the Patriot League Player of the Year award—won the game for Lehigh and ended Bucknell’s Patriot League winning streak at an impressive 20 games.

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Checking In On… the Patriot League

Posted by rtmsf on January 7th, 2012

Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find him on Twitter at @KLDoyle11.

Reader’s Take

Lehigh and Bucknell have established themselves as the early frontrunners for the Patriot League crown.

 

The Week That Was

  • Grading the Patriot League: At the conclusion of the non-conference schedule for all eight teams—although Colgate does have a date with NJIT in early February—the Patriot League is ranked #24 by Pomeroy which is in line with where it finished the 2010-11 season. It is worth noting that the PL falls marginally behind the Southern Conference and Big South Conference, however it will be difficult to leapfrog these leagues with league play beginning. The highest ranking for the Patriot League in recent memory came during the 2006-07 (#20) campaign, the final year of Holy Cross and Bucknell domination.
  • Five Down, Three Up: Three of the five PL teams will enter league play feeling pretty good about themselves as Lehigh, Bucknell, and American all posted records above .500 for the non-conference portion of their schedules. Lehigh is surging at just the right time having won six of their last seven games—the lone loss coming at Michigan State by nine points—while American is reeling losing four of their last five. The combined record of the five teams below .500 is a paltry 26-46.
  • Grading Langel & DeChellis: A 5-9 non-conference record with their best win coming against St. Francis (NY) may not seem like a successful start to the Matt Langel era at Colgate, yet the five wins is the most for the Raiders in the non-conference since 2007-08. Keep in mind that Colgate did not pick up their fifth win until February 2nd last season. As for Ed DeChellis’ start at Navy, the Mids have been less than impressive to say the least. Returning their top two players from last year—Jordan Sugars and J.J. Avila—coupled with playing a less than stellar schedule would suggest better than a 3-11 record. DeChellis will need to find greater production from Sugars for Navy to be competitive in the PL.
  • Mid-Major Top 25: In the latest Collegeinsider.com Mid-Major Top 25, Lehigh was the lone Patriot League team to garner any votes as they checked in with eight. Expect to see Bucknell to join them in the near future in the ORV category assuming the Bison get off to a fast start in league play.
  • Breaking Down Lunardi: Bucknell is the recipient from the Patriot League and is a 15 seed playing Duke in the East Region. Although Lehigh, at this stage, appears to be the frontrunner in the league as they impressed the most in the early going, remember that Lunardi selects each conference’s automatic berth solely on RPI. As of January 6th, Bucknell has an RPI of 95, while Lehigh’s is 105.

All-League Team for the Non-Conference:

  • G C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) —19.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.4 SPG—The face of the Patriot League, McCollum has become a more complete player as he is averaging a career best in assists and steals. Always a force on the offensive end, McCollum has active hands on defense and has become increasingly better at distributing the ball on offense.
  • G Devin Brown (Holy Cross) —15.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 40% 3PG—The Crusaders will lean heavily on Brown during league play as the senior from Baltimore has the ability to score in bunches and bail the Cross out on the offensive end. In a comeback victory at Dartmouth, Brown scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half. Earlier in the season, he had a career high 32 points against Boston College.
  • F Charles Hinkle (American) —20.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 40% 3FG—With Vlad Moldoveanu graduating, where much of the scoring entering the season for American would come from was largely unknown. The senior transfer from Vanderbilt has risen to the occasion in a big way as he leads the Patriot League in scoring, and is ranked 10th nationally in this department. The development of Hinkle’s shot from the outside has been astounding. A career 26% shooter from three point land who connected on just 22 threes prior to his senior season, Hinkle has already drilled 40 triples this year.
  • F Ella Ellis (Army) —17.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.6 APG — Although he does not get a whole lot of exposure playing at West Point, Ella Ellis will make himself known to the rest of the Patriot League soon enough. The junior from Texas has developed into one of the league’s most prolific scorers as he has reached double digits and hit a shot from downtown in each of Army’s games.
  • F Mike Muscala (Bucknell) —14.9 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.4 BPG—Undoubtedly the league’s best big man, Muscala has been his usual dominant self having posted seven double-doubles and averaging a league best 9.2 RPG. Muscala is a very efficient shooter and excels at the charity stripe hitting on 80% of his shots. Patriot League teams will struggle to contain him.

Player of the Year:

C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) —His numbers speak for themselves; he has put up gaudy statistics since Day 1 and is on pace to eclipse 2,500 points for his career. By all accounts, McCollum has grown into a much more complete and polished basketball player which is observed in Lehigh’s overall record. After posting consecutive 9-6 marks in the non-conference during his freshman and sophomore seasons, McCollum has led Lehigh to a league best 12-4 record coming against a more challenging schedule than the preceding years. There is no reason to think that McCollum’s and Lehigh’s success will not continue into league play.

Rookie of the Year

Seth Hinrichs (Lafayette) —An exceptional shooter, Hinrichs has been a staple in the Leopards lineup and has emerged as the league’s top freshman. Any shooter can find their way into a Fran O’Hanlon offense, and by shooting better than 45% from three, Hinrichs has carved out a nice niche for himself. To date, Hinrichs has captured four Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors.

Coach of the Year

Dr. Brett Reed (Lehigh) —For the past two seasons, it oftentimes looked like Lehigh basketball was made up of C.J. McCollum and everyone else, but that is far from the case in the 2011-12 version of Mountain Hawk basketball. Of course, McCollum is still the focal point, but there are many other parts Reed has integrated that have generated results. As of January 6th, Reed has Lehigh ranked #70 in the Pomeroy as victories over Wagner and close losses to Michigan State and Iowa State have bolstered their ranking. In just his fourth year as a head coach, Reed looks to be coming into his own.

Power Rankings

1. Lehigh (12-4) (Last Week: 1)

Previous Weeks: W Wagner 70-69, W Arcadia 95-55, L Michigan State 90-81, W St. Peter’s 76-67, W Bryant 72-55, W Maryland Eastern Shore 82-55
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ Holy Cross, 1/11 American, 1/14 @ Colgate, 1/18 Bucknell

The Mountain Hawks are streaking heading into their opening league game at Holy Cross having won their last five games by an average of nearly 20 points per contest. Granted four of the five wins came against teams in the basement of Division 1 basketball—Arcadia is sub-D1—but the margin of victory is impressive nevertheless. Of note, Lehigh’s average margin of victory is 18 points. Lehigh has demonstrated they do not fall into the trap of playing down to their competition, an important trait considering that every game in the PL save Bucknell comes against teams ranked below 200 according to Pomeroy. The Mountain Hawks have a very balanced rotation that is keyed by Mackey McKnight, the league’s top point guard with Lafayette’s Tony Johnson injured, while Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner make a formidable frontcourt. Oh, Lehigh also has a guy by the name of C.J. McCollum who is pretty good too.

2. Bucknell (10-6) (Last Week: 3)

Previous Weeks: W Richmond 79-65, L Syracuse 80-61, W Boston University 75-61, L Loyola (MD) 72-67, W Cornell 63-60, W Dartmouth 67-59
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ Army, 1/11 Colgate, 1/14 @ Lafayette, 1/18 @ Lehigh

Despite the 10-6 record and good wins over Richmond and Princeton, it is quite apparent that this Bucknell squad is missing a vital component—a component they relied heavily on last season. The Bison returned virtually their entire frontcourt, their top three point shooter in Bryson Johnson, and a promising guard in Cameron Ayers, but a key cog in Bucknell’s success in 2010-11 was missing: Daryl Shazier. Boasting one of the best assist to turnover ratios in the nation, Shazier fit all the puzzle pieces together, something that simply isn’t happening this year. Through 16 games, Dave Paulsen has looked to three different players to fill the role: Ayers, sophomore Ryan Hill, and freshman Steven Kaspar. There is little doubt that Ayers is a capable point guard, but may he be more of a natural two guard as he shoots nearly 50% from long distance? Midway through December, Kaspar had been named the starter at the point, however, Paulsen eventually gave his starting spot away to Hill in late December. Growing pains were inevitable for the Bison at this position, but we are already halfway through the year and Bucknell seems to be playing point guard by committee.

3. American (9-6) (Last Week: 2)

Previous Weeks: L St. Francis (PA) 66-61, L Georgetown 81-55, L Villanova 73-52, L Mount St. Mary’s 49-42, W Brown 70-61
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Colgate, 1/11 @ Lehigh, 1/14 Holy Cross, 1/18 @ Navy

Was the first month of the season one giant fluke for American? An 8-2 start with a win over St. Joseph’s coupled with the emergence of Charles Hinkle as arguably the league’s most dominant scorer, and the Eagles looked like they may content for the league title. Four straight losses have brought them back to earth, but it would be foolish not to thrust American into title conversations, especially with Jeff Jones roaming the sidelines—Jones has reached the semifinals of every Patriot League tournament since 2001.

4. Holy Cross (6-8) (Last Week: 5)

Previous Weeks: W Sacred Heart 71-60, L Connecticut 77-40, W San Francisco 88-83, W Dartmouth 65-61, L Yale 82-67
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Lehigh, 1/11 Navy, 1/14 @ American, 1/19 Lafayette

1-13 vs. 6-8: Stark improvement from last year’s non-conference record to this year’s, right? The short answer is, yes, a huge improvement. It all comes down to the numbers that appear in the win and loss columns, so Holy Cross certainly has seen more success in year two of the Milan Brown regime. However, the grave inconsistencies and mistakes that are made from game-to-game have made this Crusader team a real rollercoaster ride for the Purple faithful. Tenacious defense and aggressive rebounding, which used to be staples of past Holy Cross teams, have gone way to an up-tempo style that looks to score in transition and take advantage of the athletic prowess of RJ Evans, Devin Brown, and Co. However, this poses problems when Holy Cross is forced to operate in the half-court as their offense oftentimes becomes stagnant. Meanwhile, the vanilla man-to-man defense that is imposed allows the opposition to run their sets with ease. It should not go unnoticed that the Crusaders are playing without their best on-ball defender as Mike Cavataio has been injured nearly the entire season. While there is still grave improvement needed, 6-8 is an awful lot better than 1-13, and getting back to winning ways is a step in the right direction.

5. Lafayette (5-10) (Last Week: 4)

Previous Weeks: L Sacred Heart 84-79, L Vanderbilt 89-58, W Monmouth 69-54, L Columbia 77-67, L N.J.I.T. 78-58, L Pennsylvania 78-73
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ Navy, 1/11 Army, 1/14 Bucknell, 1/19 @ Holy Cross

In the preseason, I surmised that losing All-League center Jared Mintz would spell major problems in Easton. Lafayette is a perimeter oriented team to begin with, so losing their only viable post presence would make it extremely difficult to score inside. Sure enough, this is the exact case as Lafayette ranks second to last nationally in points coming off of two point field goals. On the flipside, the Leopards rank fourth in points coming via the three ball. There may be no other team in the country that embodies the commonly used basketball expression “live and die by the three” as well as Lafayette. When Jim Mower (2.4 3PG), Nick Petkovich (2.0 3PG), and Seth Hinrichs (1.6 3PG) are all hitting from the outside, the Leopards can hang and beat anyone in the league.

6. Colgate (5-9) (Last Week: 6)

Previous Weeks: W St. Francis (NY) 65-63, W Dartmouth 61-55, L Hofstra 82-59, L Quinnipiac 80-70, L New Hampshire 71-64, L Columbia 66-59
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ American, 1/11 @ Bucknell, 1/14 Lehigh, 1/18 @ Army

Rebuilding any program takes time, and make no mistake about it, Colgate basketball needs to be rebuilt. Under previous head coach Emmett Davis, Colgate had just three winning seasons during Davis’ 13 years at the helm. The Raiders jumped out to a 5-5 start, but have dropped four straight to close out the non-conference on a sour note. And things don’t get much easier for the ‘Gate as their opening games in the PL come against the league’s best: American, Bucknell, and Lehigh. When it rains it pours for the Raiders—or, should I say in the ‘Gates case, when it snows it blizzards—as Yaw Gyawu has been sidelined for the past three games with what is presumably a recurring ankle injury. Without Gyawu, Colgate becomes very thin in the frontcourt.

7. Army (7-8) (Last Week: 8)

Previous Weeks: L La Salle 76-64, W Texas Pan American 61-59, W Dartmouth 67-64, L Presbyterian 71-64, W St. Francis (NY) 79-70, W Longwood 96-77
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Bucknell, 1/11 @ Lafayette, 1/14 @ Navy, 1/18 Colgate

Their 7-8 record looks nice, but bear in mind that Army has played the second easiest schedule in the country; their most challenging test thus far has come against La Salle. That being said, the Black Knights have won four of their last five heading into league play with their star forward Ella Ellis averaging a shade of 21 points during this stretch.

8. Navy (3-11) (Last Week: 7)

Previous Weeks: L Missouri 84-59, L Presbyterian 58-42, L Mercer 65-56, L Norfolk State 71-65
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Lafayette, 1/11 @ Holy Cross, 1/14 Army, 1/18 American

Jordan Sugars needs to be doing more—it is that simple. Tabbed as an All-League performer the past two seasons, the senior is averaging just over 10 PPG and shooting a dismal 32% from the field and 29% from distance. Navy does not have many weapons to begin with, but Sugars is a legitimate threat who has underperformed throughout the non-conference. Scoring in single digits in seven of Navy’s 14 is too many for a player of his caliber. On the bright side, sophomore standout J.J. Avila has developed into the “go-to” player for Navy who is a reliable scorer (15.4 PPG) and shoots an efficient 50.6% from the floor. Entering league play, Navy has lost 10 of their last 11 games.

Critical Upcoming Games:

  • Holy Cross vs. Lehigh —If the Crusaders have any aspirations of making a run at the league title, a strong performance against Lehigh is a must. The big question entering this game is: Which Holy Cross team will show up? The team that collapsed against Columbia, or the team that blew out Boston College?
  • Lehigh vs. Bucknell —An early look at the Patriot League Championship? Hopefully fans in the Lehigh Valley realize what a great college basketball game this is and come out in droves for it—Stabler Arena has been empty far too often the past few years.
  • Lehigh vs. American —Lehigh is tested early on in league play as three of their first four games comes against teams that look to challenge for the league. The match-up between C.J. McCollum and Charles Hinkle is one to keep an eye on.
  • Army vs. Bucknell —The Black Knights gave Bucknell their only loss in the Patriot League last season as they blew them out 90-70. Army will have an opportunity to shock the Bison and the rest of the league once again as both teams kick off league play at West Point.

A Closer Look—Top Five Wins (+1) in the Non-Conference:

  • American 66 St. Joseph’s 60 —Without a doubt, this was the Patriot League’s best win in the non-conference as St. Joseph’s owns wins over Georgia Tech, Tulsa, Penn State, Drexel, Creighton, and Villanova. Phil Martelli has one of his better teams in recent memory as St. Joe’s will be in the upper tier of the Atlantic 10 and may even contend for an at-large berth. Charles Hinkle was an absolute monster posting a career high in points (32) and three pointers made (5). What makes this result seem like a fluke win, however, are the ensuing results from both teams. American is 2-4 since the upset with bad losses to Mount St. Mary’s and St. Francis (PA). Meanwhile, St. Joe’s has knocked off Creighton and Villanova. If the Eagles can get back to playing at the level they were during their eight game winning streak, they are Patriot League contenders.
  • Lehigh 70 Wagner 69 —At first glance, Lehigh’s win over Wagner appears to be out of place on this list as the Seahawks are not traditionally a very strong team. Thanks in large part to Dan Hurley, Wagner has turned the corner and become a force in the NEC. This is a team that has defeated Pittsburgh and owns a 10-3 record, which makes a Lehigh win on the road very impressive. Anthony D’Orazio’s clutch three-pointer with eight seconds left propelled Lehigh to the victory.
  • Bucknell 79 Richmond 65 —Richmond isn’t the same team that advanced to the Sweet 16 a year ago, but this is a great win for Bucknell nonetheless—maybe their best “W” of the season. It comes as no surprise that this was without question the most complete game Bucknell has played to date as they shot 59% from the floor, were a perfect 21-21 from the stripe, outrebounded Richmond 31-19, and held the Spiders to 38% shooting.
  • Bucknell 62 Princeton 56 —Similar to Richmond, Princeton is not as strong as they were last year, but the Tigers are still very much a formidable bunch. Princeton limped out of the gate getting off to a 1-5 start under first-year coach Mitch Henderson, but seems to have found their groove having won seven of nine. Mike Muscala had his best game of the season in the win as he scored 25 points on just 10 shots, while pulling down 12 rebounds.
  • Lafayette 61 Penn State 57 —Behind Seth Hinrichs 14 points on 4-9 shooting from three, Lafayette upset the Nittany Lions—their first win over a BCS opponent in years—to move to 4-5 on the season. Since then, Lafayette has lost five of their last six games and will need to find the mojo they had against Penn State if they wish to see success in the PL.
  • Holy Cross 83 Boston College 62 —In most years, this would be a banner win for HC and the Patriot League; defeating an ACC team by more than 20 points is something to beat your chest about. That is not the case this year as BC is the second worst team hailing from a BCS conference and is sandwiched in between San Diego and Army in the Pomeroy rankings (as of January 6th)—not exactly great company. Nevertheless, this is a victory that the Crusaders can be proud of as it is not too often they give their one-time big rivals this sort of drubbing.
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Checking In On… the Patriot League

Posted by KDoyle on December 9th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find him on Twitter at @KLDoyle11.

 

The Week That Was

  • Grading the Patriot League: Currently, the Patriot League is the 22nd-rated conference in the country according to KenPom.com, a pretty good mark considering the fact that the average rating of the league since 2003 is 24.67.
  • Maryland-Eastern Shore vs. The PL: Maryland-Eastern Shore has seen only stints of success since the turn of the century (averaging less than eight wins a year) and the 2011-12 campaign hasn’t shown much promise for the Hawks thus far. Sitting at just 2-8, UMES may be on their way to yet another single-digit win season. However, the Hawks have found success against the Patriot League as their two wins have come against American and Navy. Their only other game against a Patriot League foe comes at Lehigh and something tells me their success ends against the Mountain Hawks.
  • Mid-Major Top 25: After losing their first two games of the season to Richmond and Maryland-Eastern Shore—the latter being a disappointing letdown — American has reeled off eight straight wins and garnered votes in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25 poll. Seven of the Eagles’ wins came against fairly pedestrian opponents, but their victory over a solid St. Joseph’s team suggests that Jeff Jones will have his squad in the thick of the PL title race come March.
  • Team of the Week (Nov. 24 – Dec. 7): American – Overshadowed by Pat Flannery and Ralph Willard for much of his career in the conference, American’s Jeff Jones hasn’t quite received the credit many believe he deserves. This year, however, Jones is doing his best job yet, as the Eagles have gotten off to an impressive 8-2 start. Jones’s greatest attribute? His coaching in tight games. American is 3-1 in games decided by one possession so far this season. Many projected American to finish in the middle of the pack this year, but Jones has the Eagles playing like a team vying for the Patriot League crown.   
  • Player of the Week (Nov. 24 – Dec. 7): Charles Hinkle – Hinkle is doing it all for American. Over American’s last five games, the senior guard averaged a shade over 22 points to lead the Eagles to a perfect 5-0 mark. In a 66-60 win over St. Joseph’s — American’s best win of the season — Hinkle had his most dominant performance of the year as the senior guard rolled off 32 points on 5-9 shooting from three. For the season, Hinkle ranks sixth nationally in scoring (23.5 PPG).

Charles Hinkle's Blazing Start Has Helped American to Eight Straight Wins (aueagles.com)

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Checking in On… the Patriot League

Posted by KDoyle on November 23rd, 2011

Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and author of the weekly column “The Other 26”. You can find him on Twitter at @KLDoyle11.

Reader’s Take:

The Week That Was:

Grading Langel and DeChellis—It is very early in their time at their new schools, but both Matt Langel and Ed DeChellis have both gotten off to solid starts. At Colgate last season, Emmett Davis did not achieve his second win of the season until January 17, Langel already has two. Meanwhile at Navy, DeChellis has the Middies sitting at 2-3, with competitive losses to Siena and Tulane. To truly assess both Langel and DeChellis, one needs a greater sample size. We’ll have a better idea how each coach has done after the non-conference portion of the schedule.

Charles Hinkle Steps Up—Entering the season, Jeff Jones knew that his senior transfer from Vanderbilt would have to shoulder much of the scoring load that Vlad Moldoveanu left behind upon his graduation, and Hinkle has delivered in a big way. Through five games, Hinkle is averaging 24.8 points and hitting 9.6 free throws per contest, both are top five nationally.

Jim Mower Reaches 1,000—Lafayette senior guard Jim Mower surpassed the 1,000 point mark in the Leopard’s 85-74 victory of Fairleigh Dickinson. It was a night that Mower will not soon forget as he dropped in 37 points and drilled 10 three points, in conjunction with joining the 1,000 point club. Mower has flourished in Fran O’Hanlon’s offense that is largely built upon outside shooting.

Mid-Major Top 25Bucknell received six votes in the latest Mid-Major Top 25 poll, a significant drop-off from where they began the season. Tough 12-point losses to Minnesota and Vanderbilt to begin the year can be attributed to the drop, but the Bison have gotten back on track with two straight wins. Expect to see them teetering on the Top 25 in the coming weeks.

Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology—In his latest Bracketology (November 9)—it really is far too early to take this seriously, but is fun to look at anyways—Lunardi has Bucknell as a 15 seed in the Midwest region playing Pittsburgh in the second round. Considering Pittsburgh recently lost to fellow mid-major Long Beach State, and the Bison have upset the Panthers just several years ago, this may be a decent match-up for Bucknell.

Team of the Weeks (Nov. 7-Nov. 23): LehighDr. Brett Reed and Co. had St. John’s on the ropes for much of its opening game, but a late Red Storm run proved to be too much to overcome. Despite losing to St. John’s—a game that many would claim Lehigh should have won—the Mountain Hawks currently sit at 4-2 with solid wins over Liberty and Eastern Kentucky. The margin of victory is what has been very impressive in their four victories as they have outscored opponents by an average of 17.75 points per game.

Player of the Weeks (Nov. 7-Nov. 23): Charles Hinkle—Hinkle has done it all for Jeff Jones and the Eagles. American was in desperate need of a reliable scorer entering the season and Hinkle has been just that. In American’s latest game against Quinnipiac, Hinkle poured in 31 points and hit 15 of 19 free throws to lead the way.

Milan Brown And Holy Cross Struck A Surprise Win At Boston College This Week.

Power Rankings:

Bucknell (2-2)

Previous Two Weeks:   L Minnesota 70-58, L Vanderbilt 80-68, W St. Francis (PA) 73-42, W Marist 74-68

Next Two Weeks:   11/25 Princeton, 11/26 West Alabama, 11/27 Morehead State, 11/30 @ George Mason, 12/3 @ La Salle, 12/6 @ Binghamton

Although the Bison do not sport an impressive record at 2-2, their games against Minnesota and Vanderbilt were both very competitive well into the second half, and they have taken care of business rather easily against St. Francis (PA) and Marist. Their upcoming schedule is less daunting than the first two games of the season were so expect Bucknell to get back to their consistent winning ways in the coming weeks.

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RTC Conference Primers: #24 – Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 11th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and author of The Other 26, an RTC column which examines the teams from the 26 non-power conferences and their impact on the game at a national level. You can find him on Twitter @KLDoyle11.

Reader’s Take I


Top Storylines

  • From the Big Ten to the Patriot League—It is not all that often that Patriot League hoops is the epicenter of college basketball discussions, but this was the case in late May as Ed DeChellis departed as head coach of Penn State in favor of Navy. Yup, that Navy. The Midshipmen haven’t reached the Big Dance since 1998 and are only a small blip in the basketball world thanks to alumnus David Robinson, but DeChellis’ seemingly surprise move made Navy a household name for some of the summer months. Something tells me that playing in Hamilton, New York, on a Saturday afternoon will be a little different than, say, a rocking Kohl Center for DeChellis.

One Of The Most Interesting Coaching Changes In The Most Recent Carousel Was Ed DeChellis Leaving A Power Conference For Navy (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

  • Stability at Holy Cross—Although Milan Brown greatly struggled as the Crusaders head coach in his first season—HC finished with a subpar 8-21 mark—there is the reassurance of knowing the program will be in the same hands for consecutive years for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign. When watching the Crusaders compete in the non-conference portion of their schedule last year, Brown struggled to implement his man-to-man defensive philosophy to a team that was more accustomed to playing  a zone. It is safe to assume that after a full year under Brown, Holy Cross will have a greater sense of identity on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, something that was certainly lacking last season.
  • A Movement to Youth at Colgate—I doubt that there is a readily accessible statistic out there for this sort of thing, but I would venture to guess that Matt Langel and his staff at Colgate are the youngest in the nation. Emmett Davis never found success while coaching the Raiders, but Langel and his crew of young assistants may be the perfect recipe for success that it will take to win at Colgate. A spark of energy seemed to be lacking under the previous regime, and having four coaches who are young and looking to prove themselves should be the catalyst that jumpstarts Colgate.
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Checking in on… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 18th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.

A Look Back

  • Big ups to PL hoopsters“The Last Amateurs” as John Feinstein would call them, led all NCAA Division-I conferences with four men’s basketball student-athletes on the Capital One Academic All-District Teams. Holy Cross senior Andrew Keister and Army senior Nathan Hedgecock were each selected in District 1, while Bucknell sophomore Mike Muscala and Lafayette junior Ryan Willen selected in District 2. The Patriot League may not always win on the hardwood, but their performance in the classroom is on par with anyone.
  • Dave Paulsen Gets #300—Not only was Bucknell’s 66-60 victory over second-place American a critical one for the Bison, as it gave them a greater cushion over the Eagles, but it was also big for Dave Paulsen on a personal level, as it was his 300th victory as a head coach. The breakdown of Paulsen’s wins come across all divisions: 50-28 at Division-III St. Lawrence, 42-39 at Division-II Le Moyne, 170-53 at Division-III Williams, and now 40-40 at Bucknell.
  • Struggles at the Academies—Both Army and Navy concluded the first half of league play feeling pretty good about themselves; Army blew out Bucknell, 90-70, and Navy won three straight games. None of this strong play has carried over as the teams went a combined 1-7 over the past two weeks.
  • Six Times for McCollum—For his play during the week of February 7, Lehigh’s sophomore guard C.J. McCollum was awarded Patriot League Player of the Week honors for the sixth time this season, a league record. The previous mark was set during the 2008-09 season by American’s do-it-all guard Garrison Carr, who was named the Player of the Week five times. It is scary to think McCollum is only a sophomore and will be gracing Stabler Arena with his talents for two more years.
  • A Two Team Race—Many astute Patriot League followers undoubtedly had an inkling that this was a two team race after the first week of conference play, and this notion was proven true following the games over the past two weeks. American left the door slightly open after losing to Navy, but the other six teams never capitalized on their setback. Although the #1 and #2 positions in the PL Tournament have nearly been solidified, we have seen throughout the year that anyone can beat anyone in this league. After all, Bucknell’s only league loss of the year came against last-place Army.
  • Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology—In his latest bracket, Joe Lunardi predicts Bucknell to be a 14 seed in the East Region playing Florida in the first round. The Bison will continue to be the recipient for the remainder of Lunardi’s brackets as he simply selects the team with the best league record to receive the automatic bid to the Dance. If Bucknell continues their strong play and runs through the remainder of their schedule without another setback, they have an outside chance at a 13-seed.
  • Mid-Major Top 25—Bucknell is becoming closer every week of cracking the Mid-Major top 25. For the week of February 14, the Bison earned 40 votes, which puts them three spots outside of the top 25. American was the only other Patriot League team that consistently received votes for the top 25, but in the latest poll they did not receive any.
  • Team of the Weeks (Feb. 3-Feb. 16): Bucknell—The Bison got back on track after falling at Army as they went a perfect 4-0 over the past two weeks to virtually lock up the number one seed heading into the PL Tournament. Over these four games, Bucknell has demonstrated they have all the important pieces a championship team needs: an intelligent point guard with good ball handling skills and savvy moves (Darryl Shazier), a lights-out shooter (Bryson Johnson), and a dominant big man (Mike Muscala). Not to mention, Bucknell is complemented with great senior leadership from Stephen Tyree.
  • Player of the Weeks (Feb. 3-Feb. 16): Bryson Johnson, Bucknell—It would be very easy to hand C.J. McCollum this award—he is a logical candidate virtually every week—but no player has meant more to his team lately than Bryson Johnson. In particular, his near flawless shooting from downtown has been a major part of Bucknell’s latest two victories. Hindered with an apparent injury to his shooting elbow, Johnson was seen flexing the elbow in the closing minutes of Bucknell’s game at Holy Cross while on the bench. With the game tied at 54, Dave Paulsen called Johnson’s number and the sharpshooter delivered by stroking an NBA three to propel his team to a big road victory. In his next game at Lafayette, Johnson coolly dropped in a career best 30 points in an overtime win. For the season, the sophomore has drilled 80 three-pointers (Seventh in the nation) and is shooting 48% from distance (Good for 20th in the country).
  • Freshman of the Weeks (Feb. 3-Feb. 16)J.J. Avila, Navy—It is becoming routine that Navy freshman J.J. Avila receives this award. Although he did not have one of his more dominating stretch of games—12.75 points and 4.75 rebounds—no other freshman in the league contributes the way Avila does for Navy. Against Lehigh, Avila played all but two minutes and poured in 22 points on 4-10 shooting from three.
  • Clip of the Week: In another nip-and-tuck affair between Holy Cross and Bucknell, the Bison came away victorious against for the second time this season against the Crusaders behind this big shot from sharpshooter Bryson Johnson with the score knotted at 54.

Quote of the Week

The even-keeled Dave Paulsen seemingly could care less about picking up the 300th victory of his career as he has his sights set on a greater goal: a Patriot League Championship. Paulsen had the following to say to William Bowman of The Daily Item:

The 300 wins? It’s great, but I am more excited that we have a two-game lead in the league.

Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Bucknell (1) (19-8, 10-1)

Previous Two Weeks: W Navy 75-49, W American 66-60, W Holy Cross 60-56, W Lafayette 74-69 (OT)

Next Two Weeks: 2/20 @ Colgate, 2/23 Lehigh, 2/26 Army

The Bison got back to their winning ways after what has proven to be a fluke loss to Army by winning four straight games. After a blowout victory against Navy, the next three wins hardly came easy for Bucknell as they had to fight in each game until the final minute to earn the victory. While the play on the offensive end has been steady for much of the year, Bucknell’s play on the defensive end has to encourage head coach Dave Paulsen. During the course of their four straight wins, the Bison have surrendered just 58.5 points a game. In the process, they have all but locked up the top seed heading into the conference tournament.

2. American (2) (18-8, 8-3)

Previous Two Weeks: W Lehigh 62-61, L Bucknell 66-60, W Colgate 69-60, W Army 65-59

Next Two Weeks: 2/20 Holy Cross, 2/23 Navy, 2/26 @ Lafayette

American was unable to avenge their early season loss to Bucknell as they fell to the Patriot League frontrunner in Lewisburg. Although the Eagles went a solid 3-1 over the past two weeks, their star forward Vlad Moldoveanu struggled averaging 12.5 points a night (seven lower than his season average). His shooting percentage was predictably low as well as he shot a meager 37% from the field. Fortunately, his running mate in the front court, Stephen Lumpkins, performed exceptionally well over the four game stretch as he averaged 15.5 points and 6.25 rebounds. There is little doubt though in any Eagles’ fan’s mind, if American is to win the Patriot League, Vlad Moldoveanu has to be on top of his game.

3. Lehigh (3) (14-12, 5-6)

Previous Two Weeks: L American 62-61, W Navy 87-72, W Army 78-64, L Colgate 94-90 (OT)

Next Two Weeks: 2/20 Lafayette, 2/23 @ Bucknell, 2/26 @ Holy Cross

Who would have thought that last year’s Patriot League champion would have been swept by the lowly Colgate Raiders this year? Well, that is exactly what happened in Lehigh’s last game as senior guard Mike Venezia had the best scoring outburst of his career in an overtime victory. The losses to American and Colgate were real heartbreakers for the Mountain Hawks as they lost by a combined five points. The league would certainly look quite different right now if Lehigh came out on top in both of these affairs. Lehigh continues to be paced by C.J. McCollum, who averaged 23.5 points and 10.5 boards during the four game stretch. After McCollum, however, there is not much else on a consistent basis.

4. Holy Cross (6) (6-19, 5-6)

Previous Two Weeks: L Lafayette 76-70, W Army 85-75, L Bucknell 60-56, W Navy 72-61

Next Two Weeks: 2/20 @ American, 2/23 @ Colgate, 2/26 Lehigh

The Two losses suffered by Holy Cross this past week came by an average of five points; that has pretty much been the story of the year. Now, brace yourself for the following statistic: the Crusaders are 0-10 in games decided by five points or less. Amazing. Whether one wants to blame it on the coaching, the players, a lack of execution, or what have you, this Holy Cross team has been marred by a string of bad luck. In fact, that is exactly what KenPom would call it. According to his website, Holy Cross is the unluckiest team in America. There is one aspect of Holy Cross’ game, however, that has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with mundane practice and focus: free throw shooting. When losing so many games by such a small margin, giving away points at the charity stripe will kill a team. The Crusaders are shooting 64% from the line this year (307th in the country), and in both of their losses in the past two weeks they were a combined 29-55 (53%). Even in the victory over Navy, they shot 16-29 from the stripe.

5. Lafayette (7) (10-16, 5-6)

Previous Two Weeks: W Holy Cross 76-70, W Colgate 80-65, L Navy 57-52, L Bucknell 74-69 (OT)

Next Two Weeks: 2/20 @ Lehigh, 2/23 Army, 2/26 American

The Leopards are one of three teams stuck in a logjam with Holy Cross and Lehigh as all three are vying for a top four seed and a home game in the first round of the PL Tournament. Fran O’Hanlon’s bunch began the second round of league games by posting two solid victories over Holy Cross and Colgate, but then had a disappointing setback to Navy and a gut-wrenching loss at home to Bucknell. They trailed the Bison by 11 points in the final five minutes, but scored the final 11 points in regulation to send the game into overtime where they could not close the deal. Lafayette travels to Lehigh in a pivotal game as the victor will have the inside track to finish in the upper half of the league.

6. Colgate (8) (7-19, 4-7)

Previous Two Weeks: W Army 77-71, L Lafayette 80-65, L American 69-60, W Lehigh 94-90 (OT)

Next Two Weeks: 2/20 Bucknell, 2/23 Holy Cross, 2/26 @ Navy

The Raiders continue to impress me. Many thought, including me, that Colgate would struggle to win just a single league game as they earned just one win in the non-conference, and began PL play losing their first three games. Since then, they are 6-4 in their last 10 games and have demonstrated they will be a tough out for anyone in the PL Tournament. In their latest upset over Lehigh, senior guard Mike Venezia torched the Mountain Hawks for 27 points on 5-8 shooting from downtown. Venezia’s competitiveness and leadership qualities are unparalleled as he has battled back from an ailing knee injury that saw him miss nearly all of December and part of January to. Venezia certainly has not been doing it all by himself though, sophomore guard Mitch Rolls has been one of the best shooters in the Patriot League during this stretch and Yaw Gyawu—for his size—is an absolute beast under the glass.

7. Navy (5) (9-18, 4-7)

Previous Two Weeks: L Bucknell 75-49, L Lehigh 87-72, W Lafayette 57-52, L Holy Cross 72-61

Next Two Weeks: 2/19 Army, 2/23 @ American, 2/26 Colgate

Aside from a slim five point victory against Lafayette, the Midshipmen mightily struggled in their other three games losing by an average of 17.3 points. It looked as if Navy would be able to salvage the two week stretch of games against Holy Cross as they led 32-25 at halftime, but the Crusaders came out in the second half with something to prove and outscored Billy Lange’s team 47-29. It was the three-point shot that was the downfall for Navy as they shot a futile 24% from behind the arc in their three losses. Despite their poor play of late, Navy will have an opportunity to get back into the race for a top four seed in the PL Tournament as they host rival Army on February 19.

8. Army (4) (11-15, 3-8)

Previous Two Weeks: L Colgate 77-71, L Holy Cross 85-75, L Lehigh 78-64, L American 65-59

Next Two Weeks: 2/19 @ Navy, 2/23 @ Lafayette, 2/26 @ Bucknell

The Black Knights were not able to capitalize on their 20 point thrashing of Bucknell as they dropped four straight games. I suppose that the Patriot League Preseason Poll was accurate as Army was projected to finish last in the league, but I am sure that not many teams would feel comfortable being paired with Army in the first round of the league tournament. When shooting well, they are one of the most potent three-point shooting teams in the nation. A large reason for their struggles lately is the surprisingly weak play from Julian Simmons. The senior from Texas has been the backbone of the offense for much of the year, but in his last four games is averaging only six points a night and is a combined 4-25 from beyond the arc.

A Look Ahead

  • The magic number for Bucknell to garner the top seed in the Patriot League is now at one game. This means that either a Bucknell win or American loss would give the Bison the number one seed entering the league tournament and the regular season championship.
  • An interesting site that gives projections of where each team will finish in the regular season. If these predictions hold true, then Bucknell, American and Lehigh are almost destined to finish 1-2-3 in the conference.
  • In the previous edition of Checking in on the Patriot League two weeks ago, I took a closer look at whether Ryan Willen would reach 1,000 points this year or if he would have to wait until his senior season to reach the mark. After several subpar games, it looks like he will have to wait until early next season to reach 1,000, but Holy Cross junior guard Devin Brown may not. After a spectacular six game stretch where he averaged just over 23 points a game, Brown currently has 941 points for his career. Holy Cross has a minimum of four games left on their season, so he would have to average 14.75 points a game to reach 1,000—very doable with the way he has been scoring lately.

Critical Upcoming Games:

  • Navy vs. Army (Feb. 19)—Both teams are reeling, but Navy still has an outside chance of attaining a top four seed and a home game in the first round of the PL Tournament provided they get by rival Army.
  • Lehigh vs. Lafayette (Feb. 20)—In another big rivalry game amongst Patriot League teams, Lehigh hosts Lafayette with an opportunity to get back to the .500 mark in the league. The Mountain Hawks won by 17 points in the first meeting, but Lafayette has played much better since then.
  • Holy Cross vs. Lehigh (Feb. 26)—In the last game of the regular season for both teams, the Crusaders will look to avenge a tough overtime loss to Lehigh in the prior meeting. Moreover, this game may have serious implications for seeding in the PL Tournament.
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Checking in on… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 4th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.

A Look Back

  • Bucknell’s Winning Streak Snapped—In easily the biggest surprise in the Patriot League over the past two weeks, Bucknell entered Christl Arena and had no answer for Army’s offensive attack. The Black Knights put together their best effort of the season in a 20-point dismantling of first-place Bucknell. Entering the game, the Bison had a nine game winning streak that was the fifth-longest in the nation.
  • Shazier, Johnson, and McCollum in the National Rankings—Speaking of Bucknell, two of their best offensive weapons rank high in statistical rankings. Darryl Shazier has a 3.5:1 assist to turnover ratio which is ninth best in the nation, and sharpshooter Bryson Johnson is connecting on 47% of his three point attempts which ranks him just inside of the top 50. What may be even more impressive than the preceding statistics, however, is Lehigh sophomore C.J. McCollum’s ability to score the basketball. McCollum is averaging 22.1 points a game which is the highest total for any sophomore in the country.
  • The Service Academies—Not a whole lot was expected from Army and Navy at the beginning of the season. In the preseason poll, Army was picked to finish eighth and Navy not that much better at sixth. Although each team is not taking the league by storm and entirely proving these prognostications wrong, they did knock off the league’s two top teams in easy fashion. Army defeated Bucknell 90-70 and Navy beat American 73-52. This just goes to show that no team in this league has so much more talent than another that they are immune from suffering bad losses. Impressive, to say the least.
  • Five-Way Tie for Third Place—After the first go-round to begin league play, there are five teams that have matching 3-4 records. Bucknell and American have separated themselves from the pack—although are clearly susceptible to losses on off nights—but Lehigh, Lafayette, Navy, Army, and Holy Cross are in a cluster directly behind them.
  • Yaw Gyawu Reaches 1,000—The junior forward from Colgate joined Jared Mintz as another Patriot Leaguer to net his 1,000th point this season. In the process, Gyawu also recorded his ninth straight double-double.
  • J.J. Avila One of Only Two—Through the completion of games on February 1, the Navy freshman is one of only two freshman in the nation to average at least ten points, five rebounds, and two assists with the other player being Langston Galloway from St. Joseph’s. For the season, Avila is averaging 11.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists.
  • Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology—Bucknell predictably fell in Joe Lunardi’’s latest bracket after their loss to Army. They moved from a 14-seed playing BYU to a 15-seed in the East Region taking on the University of Connecticut. Wonder who Dave Paulsen would rather prepare for: Jimmer Fredette or Kemba Walker?

Mid-Major Top 25—Bucknell is currently #33 in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25 as they garnered 17 votes in the January 31 poll. The only other Patriot League team that can be found in the poll is American, who received just four votes. I still believe Bucknell is slightly underrated by the pollsters, but I suppose that their recent loss to Army justifies the Bison’s position.

Team of the Weeks (Jan. 20-Feb. 2): Navy: Ever since I began to give a “Team of the Weeks” back in the December 10 edition of Checking in on the Patriot League, Bucknell has been awarded the honor every time. Truth be told, they were far and away the best team over the course of those two weeks in every edition as they compiled an impressive record of 11-2 during this stretch. Although Bucknell went 2-1 over the past two weeks, the Navy Midshipmen were hands down the best team in the PL. Beginning 0-4, Navy was reeling, but a victory over rival Army jumpstarted them. They followed this win up with a shocking upset over American, and then made the trek up to Hamilton, NY where they defeated Colgate in double overtime. We shall see if their markedly improved play carries over to February 5, when they travel to Bucknell.

Player of the Weeks (Jan. 20-Feb. 2): C.J. McCollum, Lehigh: I am not sure what is more impressive, the point total McCollum amassed over three games or his rebounding average. The sophomore from Canton, Ohio led Lehigh to two critical victories that brought the Mountain Hawks back into the Patriot League race. He averaged 25.3 points in three games, but corralled 13 rebounds a game as well. Mind you, McCollum is not a center or forward—he would not even be considered to be a “big” player by many—but the 6’3 guard simply has a knack for finding the ball. Constantly around the rim drawing contact, McCollum has a propensity to get to the free throw line too. He was 28-29 from the stripe in the three games, and for the year roughly 30% of his points have come via free throws. The Patriot League has some supremely talented players in the league this season—Vlad Moldoveanu, Jordan Sugars, Julian Simmons, and Mike Muscala to name a few—but none of them compare to C.J. McCollum.

Freshman of the Weeks (Jan. 20-Feb. 2)J.J. Avila, Navy—It is becoming routine that J.J. Avila is named the freshman of the weeks. The numbers alone do not express how valuable Avila has been to Navy this year, especially during Patriot League play. In league action only, he is more than doubling the next best freshman’s point total—ironically, that is his teammate Isaiah Roberts—and is the top rebounder, shot blocker, and steals leader. During Navy’s three game win streak, Avila averaged 16.7 points, 5.3 boards, and 2.3 assists. For a big man, he is also impressive from downtown as he went 9-20 from three. The Patriot League, due to his efforts, named Avila their Rookie of the Week for the fifth straight time.

Clip of the Week: A fantastic compilation of the highlights of games through the conclusion of games on January 27. Also included in the highlights is some action of the Patriot League lady hoopsters.

Quote of the Week: Following their loss at Lehigh, Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown spoke with Hoop Time editor Chris Courogen:

“We’ll keep pushing. When we make those winning plays, you’ll know. I won’t be in here ready to break the table. I’ll be smiling.”

Good thing coach Brown, we don’t want any broken tables, either.

Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Bucknell (1) (15-8, 6-1)

Previous Two Weeks: W Colgate 76-49, W Lehigh 81-68, L Army 90-70

Next Two Weeks: 2/5 Navy, 2/9 American, 2/12 @ Holy Cross, 2/16 @ Lafayette

The Bison were poised to sprint through the first round of the Patriot League schedule with an unscathed 7-0 record. They blew out a weak Colgate team—although, it should be known the Raiders have been playing better—and then soundly defeated Lehigh. All that was in between them and their tenth win in a row was perennial basement dweller Army. Clearly, the Black Knights did not get the memo that they were supposed to roll over and allow Bucknell to coast to an easy road win. Instead, it was Army—losers of their last three prior to their date with the Bison—that made Bucknell look like the team that was picked to finish last in the league. It should be known that Darryl Shazier, the engine that makes the Bison run, was under the weather against Army and it showed as he had one of his worst performances of the year. Even with the loss, Bucknell’s exceptional play through the first half of league play cannot be discounted. Sophomore Mike Muscala is averaging an even 20 points and nearly nine rebounds, Shazier is hands down the top point guard in the lead, and Bryson Johnson and G.W. Boon are two of the top three point shooters. What Bucknell found out against Army is that they cannot be so shortsighted to think they will win games on talent alone—a good lesson to learn now, rather than in the conference tournament.

2. American (2) (15-7, 5-2)

Previous Two Weeks: W Holy Cross 60-57, L Navy 72-53, W Lafayette 73-60

Next Two Weeks: 2/6 @ Lehigh, 2/9 @ Bucknell, 2/12 Colgate, 2/16 @ Army

American picked up a crucial early conference road win against Holy Cross as the winner of that game moved into sole possession of second place behind Bucknell. Following the big win in Worcester, the Eagles suffered a major letdown against Navy losing by 19 points; further proof that on any given night any team can win or lose in this league. Although they did manage to go 2-1 over the past two weeks, American’s star player Vlad Moldoveanu struggled by his standards. He averaged a cool 15 points and six rebounds in the three games, and had a real tough time finding the basket as his shooting percentage was just 35.5%—nine percentage points below his season average. Moldoveanu will need to turn his play around in a hurry as the Eagles open their second round of games at Lehigh and Bucknell which is a very important stretch to say the least. Two wins here and American may have the inside track to the conference tournament’s top seed.

3. Lehigh (6) (12-10, 3-4)

Previous Two Weeks: W Lafayette 79-62, L Bucknell 81-68, W Holy Cross 79-75 (OT)

Next Two Weeks: 2/6 American, 2/9 @ Navy, 2/12 @ Army, 2/16 Colgate

The Mountain Hawks got off to a real rocky start with their low point coming in a loss in the final seconds at Colgate, but C.J. McCollum and Co. have begun to slowly right the ship. They began by traveling just miles away to their arch rival Lafayette and soundly defeated the Leopards behind 23 points and 14 rebounds from McCollum. A week later, they found themselves in a 12 point second half hole to Holy Cross, but climbed back into the game and eventually won it in overtime. McCollum came up big all day pouring in 29 points, but it was his teammates that made the integral plays down the stretch to propel Lehigh to the win. Michael Ojo hit two threes—one late in regulation and the other in overtime—Jordan Hamilton (not to be confused with Rick Barnes’ sophomore) provided a spark off the bench by scoring three points the conventional way to tie the game at 68 towards the end of regulation and then corralled a big offensive rebound and put back to seal the game in overtime, and Gabe Knutson had one of his biggest games scoring wise by flushing in 22 points. When it is more than simply C.J. McCollum playing well, Lehigh becomes a dangerous team.

4. Army (4) (11-11, 3-4)

Previous Two Weeks: L Navy 85-81, L Lafayette 83-60, W Bucknell 90-70

Next Two Weeks: 2/5 Colgate, 2/9 @ Holy Cross, 2/12 Lehigh, 2/16 American

From a pure wins and losses standpoint, it was not the most successful two weeks as Army went 1-2. In their latest game, however, the Black Knights had easily their best performance in maybe the past few years. Without having any knowledge of the performances of both teams to date, one would have thought Army was the 6-0 team and the class of the Patriot League. That is just how well the Black Knights played. Here are several statistics to back it up: the shot 53% from the field, 46% from three, 84% from the line, had nearly a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, and scored 90 points; entering the game, Bucknell was giving up an average of 61.5 points in the PL. Jeremy Hence scored 23 points in the win and was one of five Black Knights to score in double figures. The victory over Bucknell is good and all for Army as it moved them into that logjam that is third place, but now they must capitalize on it.

5. Navy (8) (8-15, 3-4)

Previous Two Weeks: W Army 85-81, W American 72-53, W Colgate 81-78 (2OT)

Next Two Weeks: 2/5 @ Bucknell, 2/9 Lehigh, 2/12 Lafayette, 2/16 @ Holy Cross

As the old basketball adage goes: “When you live by the three, you die by the three,” and this saying has clearly held true for Navy. They got off to a disastrous 0-4 start, but since then have won their last three games. The difference? The three point shot, obviously. In PL play, Navy is hoisting up a ridiculous 25 threes a game, and making an average of nine a game for a very respectable 36%. Here is the kicker though, in losses they are shooting just under 25%, but in victories they are at 38%. This is a dangerous way to live, no doubt about it, but if Jordan Sugars and J.J. Avila continue to have hot hands, Navy will have the ability to win some more games.

6. Holy Cross (3) (4-17, 3-4)

Previous Two Weeks: L American 60-57, L Colgate 79-72, L Lehigh 79-75 (OT)

Next Two Weeks: 2/5 @ Lafayette, 2/9 Army, 2/12 Bucknell, 2/16 Navy

The feelings in Worcester were pretty good after beginning 3-1 in the league—well, as good as one can possibly feel with a 4-14 record—but they have taken a turn for the worse since then. The Crusaders allowed three very winnable games slip through their fingertips and are now 3-4 in the league as opposed to being within striking distance of first place Bucknell. After falling to American in a nip and tuck game that saw Stephen Lumpkins pour in 22 points as HC had little answer for him on the low blocks, the ‘Saders came out very flat against an inspired Colgate team. When looking back on their past two losses, the games against Colgate and Lehigh were polar opposites. They trailed Colgate at one point by 18 in the second half, but mounted a late comeback to get within four. Against Lehigh, they flew out of the gate taking a 16-8 early lead and had a 12 point lead midway through the second half, but eventually collapsed and allowed Lehigh to push the game to overtime where the Mountain Hawks would win by four. There is no quit in this Holy Cross team and unquestionably not a lack of energy and fervor that is exuded at the top with Milan Brown, but this has yet to translate into consistent wins.

7. Lafayette (5) (8-14, 3-4)

Previous Two Weeks: L Lehigh 79-62, W Army 83-60, L American 73-60

Next Two Weeks: 2/5 Holy Cross, 2/9 @ Colgate, 2/12 @ Navy, 2/16 Bucknell

After jumping out to a 2-1 start in the league, Lafayette has dropped three of four games and finds themselves in that pack of teams in third place. Jared Mintz continues to be the staple that holds everything together for Lafayette, as he is by far their most consistent scorer, but aside from Mintz the Leopards lack another go-to player. Jim Mower and Ryan Willen have the capabilities and mentalities of a scorer, but both have by and large underperformed in the PL. Mower was virtually invisible in two losses for Lafayette scoring just three points in each game, and Willen has scored in double figures just twice in PL action. When Mower and Willen are both playing well on the offensive end, Lafayette may find some success, but in their last three games the two have a combined average of 16 points a night. Far too low, and an integral reason why they are 1-2 during this stretch.

8. Colgate (7) (5-17, 2-5)

Previous Two Weeks: L Bucknell 76-49, W Holy Cross 79-72, L Navy 81-78 (2OT) W Longwood 97-86

Next Two Weeks: 2/5 @ Army, 2/9 Lafayette, 2/12 @ American, 2/16 @ Lehigh

Colgate had a rare non-conference game at this stage of the season—a game that was not affiliated with the BracketBusters—and capped off their fourth game of the past two weeks with an offensive outburst as they defeated Longwood 97-86. In the grand scheme of things, this game had absolutely zero meaning, but what it may do is provide them with some much needed confidence heading into the second round of Patriot League games. It may be hard to believe, but Colgate has made serious strides lately and will no longer be a pushover like they were for the majority of the season. The Raiders have won four of their last six games, and during this stretch they have witnessed the breakout play of Sterling Melville. Prior to the Dartmouth win, the Plano, Texas native was averaging 3.7 points a game, but during this six game stretch he has been putting up nearly ten a night. Against Longwood, Mike Venezia scored a season-high 21 points; it is a great sign to see Venezia progressing from his knee injury. Venezia is a real fixture in the Colgate backcourt, and one of their best scorers when at full strength. Don’t get me wrong, Colgate will still struggle the rest of the way, but this is a squad that has been steadily improving and can surprise some teams—Lehigh and Holy Cross both saw this.

A Look Ahead

  • Ryan Willen to 1,000?—Lafayette junior forward Ryan Willen currently has 905 career points. Is it possible that Willen reaches 1,000 points this year, or will he have to wait until his senior season rolls around to reach the mark? The Leopards have, at minimum, eight games remaining in their season (seven regular season games, and one game guaranteed in the conference tournament). Assuming Lafayette plays just eight games, Willen would have to average roughly 12 points a game to reach 1,000. For the season, he is averaging 10.5 points, but in conference games he has gone cold averaging just seven.
  • Who Will Emerge From The Five?—As I previously mentioned, there are five teams who have identical 3-4 league records. In looking ahead to the second half of league play, which team will most likely emerge from the bunch and garner what will most likely be the three seed heading into the tournament? Currently, Navy is the hottest team and is senior laden, but it is hard to see the Midshipmen sustaining their impressive play of late for the balance of the regular season. Holy Cross has been reeling having lost their last three contests, but their great play to begin conference play is encouraging for the Crusader faithful. Army and Lafayette are both very streaky teams; some nights they look to be a top tier team. It is hard for me to pick against Lehigh and C.J. McCollum. Lehigh is one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the league, so if Dr. Brett Reed’s youngsters continue to mature they may be in good shape. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have McCollum bail you out when necessary.
  • How Will Milan Brown Manage Andrew Keister?—A few years ago, former Holy Cross head coach Ralph Willard faced the predicament of how to handle the nagging injuries of two of his top players: Alex Vander Baan and Pat Doherty. Both were sidelined with injuries for part of the season, and Willard periodically rested Vander Baan and Doherty to keep them fresh for certain games. Fast forward to 2011, and Milan Brown faces a similar dilemma. His star forward Andrew Keister has a nagging Achilles, but has been valiantly battling through it. Will Brown limit Keister’s minutes until the conference tournament rolls around, or will he utilize him in a manner that gives HC the best opportunity to win each and every game? I would guess the latter.

Critical Upcoming Games:

  • Bucknell vs. Navy (Feb. 5)—Is Navy’s three game winning streak a sign of things to come, or will they fall back into the depths of the Patriot League after their date with Bucknell?
  • Lehigh vs. American (Feb. 6)—The Eagles won round one in D.C., but now Lehigh gets a shot at Vlad and others in Bethlehem.
  • Bucknell vs. American (Feb. 9)—A game of extreme importance for American if they have any desire of obtaining the number one seed in the tournament. It is hard to see them losing to Bucknell twice, but stilling being ranked one in the tournament.
  • Holy Cross vs. Bucknell (Feb. 12)—No matter what the records are of these two teams, the game is always an absolute dogfight that always seems to go down to the wire. Mike Muscala hit a baseline jumper with just over a second left to win the first game, but Holy Cross proved they could more than hang with the Bison in the loss.
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Checking in on… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 21st, 2011

Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.

A Look Back

  • 1,000 Point ClubJared Mintz becomes the first active Patriot League player to score 1,000 points in Lafayette’s win against Colgate. The senior from Canada has progressed leaps and bounds since his freshman year where he averaged just two points a game. Now, he is one of the league’s best big men.
  • Back-to-Back—The United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) named Vlad Moldoveanu their National Player of the Week for the Week of January 9, and the following week honored Bucknell sophomore Mike Muscala. The USBWA has named just seven athletes from all across Division-I basketball—beginning on the week of December 5—as their Player of the Week. Sure is pretty impressive that two PL players were recipients of the award.
  • Leaders of the Pack—Speaking of Mike Muscala, his Bucknell Bison have clearly distinguished themselves from the rest of the Patriot League. While their game against Holy Cross was much closer than they would have hoped, the Bison are now 4-0 in the PL and are a morphing into an explosive and dynamic offense with Muscala on the inside and their strong three-point shooting on the outside (40.8%).
  • Second Best—Nope, it is not Lehigh or American that may be the second best team in the league. Although their record would certainly not indicate it, Holy Cross may be the second best team in the Patriot League. After squeaking by Lafayette, the ‘Saders thrashed Army and Navy and played Bucknell to a two-point game before losing in the final seconds. I will certainly be eating my words, however, if American comes into the Hart Center and defeats Holy Cross on Saturday (1/22).
  • An Important Piece is BackMike Venezia won’t lead the Colgate Raiders to a Patriot League Championship, and he may not even lead them to more than just a few wins in the league, but he is now back in the starting rotation for Emmett Davis after missing eight games with a knee injury and has the ‘Gate playing much better. Since his return to the court against Lafayette to open league play, Colgate competed well with Lafayette and American. Against Lehigh, he gave Colgate 28 strong minutes as they upset the Mountain Hawks in dramatic fashion. Venezia is a capable point guard that the Raiders sorely missed.
  • Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology—In his latest bracketology, Joe Lunardi over on ESPN.com projects Bucknell to be the #14 seed in the Southwest Region, playing Kentucky in the first round. The Bison are surely kicking themselves as bad losses to St. Francis (PA) and Wagner may be the difference between a 13 seed and 14 seed.
  • Mid-Major Top 25—I usually do not like to overtly depict my opinions, but I believe that Bucknell is grossly underrepresented in the College Insider’s Mid-Major Top 25. In the January 17 poll, Bucknell received only four votes, while fellow Patriot League team American received two. There is a distinct possibility that when voting, the coaches simply look at Bucknell’s 12-7 record—their record when the poll was released—and observe what on the surface appears to be a mediocre mark.
  • Team of the Weeks (Jan. 6-Jan. 19): Bucknell: Bucknell has now won 11 of 12 games with their lone loss coming against Boston College by four points, and they are a perfect 4-0 in the Patriot League. The Bison disposed of the American Eagles, who appeared to be their primary challenger heading into conference play, but struggled with Holy Cross who entered the game with a 3-13 record. As the old sports adage goes though: “Throw the records out the window in a rivalry game,” and that was exactly the case when Holy Cross visited Lewisburg. Bucknell led for virtually the entire game, but HC tied things up with 28 seconds remaining. Mike Muscala drilled a baseline jumper with 1.4 seconds remaining to seal the win for the Bison. Muscala is not unfamiliar with late game heroics as just weeks prior he connected on a buzzer beater to defeat Richmond.
  • Player of the Weeks (Jan. 6-Jan. 19)Mike Muscala, Bucknell: From strictly a numbers perspective, Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum (26/8/2), American’s Vlad Moldoveanu (24/9/2), and Bucknell’s Mike Muscala (25/9/1) have all had very similar performances over the past four games. Even with such balance, there was a clear selection for player of the weeks: Mike Muscala. Playing against American in a 75-60 win, Muscala completely outclassed Moldoveanu as Muscala went off for 33 points and 10 rebounds, while the native of Romania had a paltry seven points. And, while C.J. McCollum certainly had worthy statistics as well, Lehigh went just 1-3 in their first four PL games. Muscala got it done both on the stat sheet and record book.  The sophomore from Minnesota is developing into the Patriot League’s best forward.
  • Freshman of the Weeks (Jan. 6-Jan. 19)J.J. Avila, Navy: For the third time this year and the second straight week, J.J. Avila is the freshman of the weeks. Avila, due to an abundance of playing time for Billy Lange, more than doubled any other freshman’s performance in the point and rebounding departments over the course of the first four games in Patriot League action. Navy has greatly struggled as they are 0-4 and the only winless team in the PL, but Avila has found a nice niche for the Midshipmen as he is averaging 13.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, an even 2 assists, and an impressive 2.3 steals per game.

Clip of the Week

Muscala is becoming Mr. Clutch, as he hit his second game-winning shot of the season in the final seconds. His first one coming against Richmond was a replica of Christian Laettner’s classic shot for Duke 19 years ago, and the most recent one against Holy Cross dashed the Crusaders’ comeback hopes. The Bison squandered a 14-point second half lead, but Muscala’s heroics saved the day for Bucknell. (Note: scroll to 4:53 of the video clip to see Muscala’s shot)

Quote of the Week

Taken from Holy Cross head coach’s Milan Brown’s website, Brown exudes confidence and excitement that the Patriot League portion of their schedule is a new season. Although cliché, his sentiments are absolutely true and Holy Cross appears to have taken it to heart:

The PL is the start of our 2nd season. I told our guys that all 8 teams start 0-0. I want them to be excited and positive about the opportunity we still have as a team. The past is just that, the past.”

Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Bucknell (1) (13-7, 4-0)

Previous Two Weeks: W Navy 71-64, W American 75-60, W Holy Cross 74-72, W Lafayette 75-56

Next Two Weeks: 1/22 vs. Colgate, 1/26 @ Lehigh, 1/29 @ Army

The time appears to have finally come for Dave Paulsen and the Bucknell Bison. In his inaugural season, Paulsen led the Bison to a very disappointing 7-23 mark, but in year number three he has developed Bucknell into the class of the Patriot League due to some fabulous recruiting classes, and great senior leadership from their starting point guard Darryl Shazier and forward Stephen Tyree. Averaging the most minutes played in the PL with 33 per game, Shazier is one of the best floor leader’s in the nation as his assist to turnover ratio is a remarkable 4:1. As for Tyree, if you are looking for an impressive statistic to attribute to him, well, you won’t find one. In fact, he has played in just two games all season. By all accounts, however, Tyree is the emotional leader for the Bison. Tearing his ACL during the preseason, the senior from Texas is essentially playing on one leg, but managed to give Bucknell five valuable minutes against Holy Cross. Through four PL games, Bucknell’s margin of victory is a shade over 10 points and they are the clear favorite in the early going to garner the coveted automatic-bid to the NCAA Tournament.

2. American (2) (13-6, 3-1)

Previous Two Weeks: W Lehigh 82-75, L Bucknell 75-60, W Colgate 66-57, W Army 65-62

Next Two Weeks: 1/22 @ Holy Cross, 1/26 @ Navy, 1/29 Lafayette

American would have, no doubt, liked to have hold serve on their home floor against Bucknell, but it was not to be as they lost to the Bison by 15 points in a game that was never really that close. Bucknell took a commanding 21-8 lead with 8:50 remaining in the first half, and American would never get within single digits the rest of the way. In doing so, the Bison held AU’s top player, Vlad Moldoveanu, to his worst showing of the season as he scored just seven points on 2-9 shooting. Aside from this setback, American took care of business in their other three games by winning them all. By virtue of their non-conference performance, AU is the #2 team in this week’s power rankings, but Holy Cross is nipping at their heels.

3. Holy Cross (7) (4-14, 3-1)

Previous Two Weeks: W Lafayette 70-65, W Army 68-54, L Bucknell 74-72, W Navy 71-50

Next Two Weeks: 1/22 vs. American, 1/27 vs. Colgate, 1/29 @ Lehigh

Who’d have thunk it? After going 1-13 during non-conference play, Holy Cross is 3-1 in the Patriot League, a shot away from defeating Bucknell and being 4-0, and have become legitimate contenders to win the Patriot League Championship. The Crusaders received a real boost when senior captain and All-Patriot League forward Andrew Keister returned to the floor after missing three games with an ailing Achilles. Keister returned for the beginning of Patriot League action, and is averaging 13.5 points and 6.75 rebounds during this span. What may be an even bigger lift for Holy Cross is the stocked cupboard full of talented sophomores Ralph Willard recruited that are finally starting to blossom into significant contributors. Specifically, the play of Jordan Stevens and Eric Obeysekere has wowed the Crusader faithful. Stevens is averaging ten points and shooting 42% from three and Obeysekere is the Patriot League’s leading rebounder and shot blocker in four PL games. Progress is certainly being made, but one must remain cognizant that the combined record of the four teams they have beaten is 26-51. A victory over American on Saturday (1/22)—a team that is on the verge of cracking the top 100 RPI—would be one of Milan Brown’s best victories as a head coach and firmly plant the ‘Saders as Bucknell’s biggest threat.

4. Army (4) (10-9, 2-2)

Previous Two Weeks: W Colgate 73-66, L Holy Cross 68-54, W Lehigh 75-72, L American 65-62

Next Two Weeks: 1/22 vs. Navy, 1/26 vs. Lafayette, 1/29 vs. Bucknell

The Black Knights were neck-and-neck with American in the waning stages of their game with them on Wednesday (1/19), and on the verge of making history provided they could topple the Eagles. Army has only beaten American in D.C. one time coming all the way back in 1963, but more importantly, a win would have moved Army to 3-1 in the league and a share of second place; the last time Army was 3-1 in the Patriot League was during the 1990-91 season. After four games though, Army certainly can find solace in being 2-2 and right in the hunt. If the strong play of Army’s big three—Julian Simmons (16.4 pts.), Jeremy Hence (15.5 pts.), and Ella Ellis (13.2 pts.)—continues, they will find themselves in a position to win their fair share of PL games.

5. Lafayette (6) (7-12, 2-2)

Previous Two Weeks: L Holy Cross 70-65, W Colgate 75-64, W Navy 76-73, L Bucknell 75-56

Next Two Weeks: 1/22 vs. Lehigh, 1/26 @ Army, 1/29 @ American

After four league games, Lafayette is right where many people would have predicted them to be: they are 2-2. A win at Holy Cross to begin league play would have been gravy, but the Crusaders were an inspired bunch and came back from a double-digit second half deficit to know off the Leopards. In their fourth PL game, against Bucknell, Lafayette was able to keep it close for a half (trailed 34-30), but Bucknell dominated the second half outscoring them 41-26. Jared Mintz continues to be one of the savviest big guys in the league averaging 16 points and shooting 85% from the line, but aside from him, Lafayette’s game down low is almost nonexistent. Only 44% of the Leopards’ points come on two-point shots which is one of the worst percentages in the nation. Mintz will have no problem getting his points in the PL, but it is the play—more specifically, the shooting—of Ryan Willen, Jim Mower, and Nick Petkovich that will largely determine whether the Leopards are successful. The three are shooting 42% from downtown in PL games, if this high percentage continues Lafayette may have success going forward. Lafayette was, after all, in the PL title game last year.

6. Lehigh (3) (10-9, 1-3)

Previous Two Weeks: L American 82-75, W Navy 71-63, L Army 75-72, L Colgate 80-79

Next Two Weeks: 1/22 @ Lafayette, 1/26 vs. Bucknell, 1/29 vs. Holy Cross

To be brutally honest, it was a disastrous and disappointing two weeks for Lehigh. It is hard to put any of the blame on star guard C.J. McCollum, as he is averaging 26 points and seven rebounds through four PL games, but Lehigh is falling short in some aspect of their game. It may be that those surrounding McCollum are relying too heavily on the sophomore’s superior abilities as he is used in 33% of Lehigh’s possessions while he is on the floor, which is ninth nationally according to Ken Pomeroy. The Mountain Hawks’ two most recent losses came against teams that were projected to finish seventh (Colgate) and eighth (Army) in the league. The road does not get much easier as they travel to arch rival Lafayette and then host two of the league’s top teams in Bucknell and Holy Cross. Despite their recent struggles, Lehigh is always a threat solely due to C.J. McCollum.

7Colgate (8) (3-15, 1-3)

Previous Two Weeks: L Army 73-66, L Lafayette 75-64, L American 66-57, W Dartmouth 67-64, W Lehigh 80-79

Next Two Weeks: 1/22 @ Bucknell, 1/27 @ Holy Cross, 1/29 vs. Navy, 2/2 vs. Longwood

Colgate is on a winning streak. Yes, you read that correctly. After compiling a record of 1-15 to begin the year, the Raiders defeated a weak Ivy League team in Dartmouth, and then upset last year’s Patriot League champion Lehigh in the final minute as Mitch Rolls hit a shot with eight seconds to propel Colgate to a one point win. Even better news for Colgate going forward is the return of their starting point guard Mike Venezia who has his teammates playing with more confidence and fervor since his return. Colgate’s winning streak looks to be short-lived though as they travel to Bucknell to take on the Bison on Saturday (1/22).

8. Navy (5) (5-15, 0-4)

Previous Two Weeks: L Bucknell 71-64, L Lehigh 71-63, L Lafayette 76-73, L Holy Cross 71-50

Next Two Weeks: 1/22 @ Army, 1/26 vs. American, 1/29 @ Colgate

Navy has hit a real rough patch having lost their first four Patriot League games and nine of their last 10 overall. The Midshipmen had high hopes this year as they returned four seniors who have all steadily contributed throughout their careers, as well as having All-Patriot League junior guard Jordan Sugars back on the wing, but things have not gone according to plan in the early going. All of the seniors have largely underperformed in PL action as they are combining for just 20 points. The Midshipmen certainly have some young talent that is highlighted by quite possibly the league’s best freshman in J.J. Avila—the four freshman that routinely play are averaging 28 points in the PL—but it is unreasonable to expect the youngsters to carry the load.

A Look Ahead

  • I realize it is just after four league games, and their record is a dismal 4-14, but is it possible that Holy Cross is a legitimate contender? They exceeded expectations against Bucknell by playing the Bison to a much closer game than many expected, but their strong play needs to carry over to their date against American (Jan. 22) before the Cross can be anointed as a true contender.
  • Colgate may be looking at their worst season since 1990-91 when they compiled a record of 5-23. The 1990-91 season was the last year of a very dark time for Colgate basketball. From 1981-82 to the aforementioned season, the Raiders never reached the double-digit win total for a season. According to Kenpom, Colgate is favored in just one game the rest of the year: home against Longwood. However, as seen with their latest victory over Lehigh, Colgate is capable of surprising some PL teams. Do not underestimate how hard it is for a road team to travel to Hamilton, New York and play on Cotterell Court before 500 fans (the Raiders average 533 souls a game, but often times that number is inflated).
  • It is rivalry weekend within the Patriot League for the games on January 22. Lehigh travels to Lafayette for the 214th meeting; the Leopards lead the overall series 138-75. The league’s other major rivalry features Army and Navy. The Midshipmen will travel up to West Point to take on Army to take on the Black Knights for the 113th time. Navy leads the overall series 69-43.
  • Two critical games in the coming two weeks:
    • American @ Holy Cross (Jan. 22)—The battle for sole possession of second place will take place in Worcester, MA. The upstart Holy Cross Crusaders are off to a fast 3-1 start, but they will find out just how good they are as they go up against preseason favorite American.
    • Bucknell @ Lehigh (Jan. 26)—Lehigh is badly in need of a victory to make up for a lackluster 1-3 start in the PL, and there is no better time for this win to come than against Bucknell.
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Checking in on… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 8th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.

A Look Back

  • A Surge at the TopBucknell and American, with their play towards the end of the non-conference schedule, have set themselves apart from the Patriot League’s other six teams. Each team won all of their games over the past two weeks, and appears to be peaking heading into league play. While the Patriot League failed to knock off that one BCS team that was ripe for the picking, Bucknell defeated a Richmond team that is on par with many BCS-caliber squads. American is the only team in the league to have reached ten wins in the non-conference, and are winners of three straight games.
  • Top Four vs. Bottom Four—For the second straight week, and third time this year, I have chosen to illuminate the grave disparity between the upper echelon of the league with the lower. At the end of the non-conference the top four have a combined record of 35-25, while the bottom four are at a putrid 12-45. What is encouraging, however, is that all of the top four teams have better than a .500 record. Now, if only the bottom would carry their weight…
  • Colgate gets the first “W”—It took the Raiders a few games longer than Holy Cross to get that elusive first win, but they finally entered the win column with a 19 point victory over Longwood. Colgate may have to cherish this victory, as KenPom has them predicted to be favored in only one game the rest of the season. Funny enough, that game is against Longwood.
  • Looking at Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology—In his latest Bracketology, Lunardi predicts that American will garner a #14 seed and play against the undefeated San Diego State Aztecs in the first round. While it is hard to argue with him, I believe that Joe L. has simply inserted the Eagles into his bracket solely based on their overall record when compared to the rest of the PL. Their 10-5 record is better than anyone else’s, yet Bucknell’s body of work to date is more impressive. For starters, Bucknell has a better RPI (92 against 100) which is always a major determining factor when selecting the field. Their wins over Presbyterian and Richmond are both better than American’s best win over Florida Atlantic. American could very well win the league and attain the automatic bid, but right now Bucknell is a better selection.
  • No Representation—Still, there is no PL squad cracking the College Insider Mid-Major top 25 poll. In fact, only one team—American—received any votes. It will be hard as the season progresses for a team to sneak into the poll as there are no longer any opportunities to pick up any marquee wins. It certainly is possible, however, if American or Bucknell ran through the league without many losses for one to get into the poll.
  • Team of the Weeks (Dec. 23-Jan. 6): Bucknell: The Bison continue to impress, and appear to have only gotten stronger as the out of conference scheduled progressed. In thrilling fashion, Bucknell defeated Richmond in the closing seconds with a buzzer beater from sophomore Mike Muscala. Had Muscala not come through with his heroic shot, it would have been a devastating loss for Bucknell who led Richmond 60-55 with 1:34 remaining in regulation. The previous two wins came in less dramatic fashion over Loyola (MD) and Dartmouth, yet this was probably a good thing as head coach Dave Paulsen’s heart may not have been able to endure the Richmond finish following two barnburners.
  • Player of the Weeks (Dec. 23-Jan. 6)Vlad Moldoveanu, American: Vlad the Impaler—a nickname that Moldoveanu has been anointed with by AUhoops.com—lived up to the name as he averaged 24 points, combined to go 17-18 from the charity stripe in three games, and led American to a perfect record over the past two weeks. Standing at 6’9, Moldoveanu poses countless matchup problems for opponents as he has the ability to lurk around the arc and hit a three-pointer (36-94).
  • Freshman of the Weeks (Dec. 23-Jan. 6)J.J. Avila, Navy: Navy has struggled recently having lost five of six games, but freshman J.J. Avila sure has not. The Midshipmen found a great one in Avila who has the size of a powerful forward in the Patriot League standing at 6’7 and weighing 228 pounds, but can step out and shoot a jumper as if he was a savvy shooting guard. Avila not only leads all freshman scorers averaging 10.2 points a game, but is the leading rebounder as well pulling down 4.9 a contest; he is on the fast track to garner the league’s Rookie of the Year award assuming his strong play continues. In Navy’s last three games, Avila averaged 17.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game.

Clip of the Week

By now, many of you have probably seen Bucknell doing their best to impersonate Christian Laettner and the Duke Blue Devils. While the Bison’s game at Richmond certainly did not carry the same amount of weight that Duke’s game in the NCAA Tournament against Kentucky did, it was equally impressive. With a mere 1.7 seconds remaining, Bucknell had time for just a catch-and-shoot. Inbounding the ball from under his own basket, Joe Willman launched a perfectly thrown pass that soared over the Robins Center’s floor into the readily waiting hands of Mike Muscala. Muscala, who led the Bison with 17 points, did the rest…

Quote of the Week

Following American’s ten-point victory over Brown, a confident Jeff Jones stated: “We need to learn some lessons real quick. We don’t have that edge yet. We have to find that edge…I’m not panicked. I want more because we have more to give.”

Power Rankings (Last update’s ranking and current record in parentheses)

1. Bucknell (1) (9-7)

Previous Two Weeks: W Loyola (MD) 70-59, W Dartmouth 74-57, W Richmond 62-61

Next Two Weeks: 1/8 @ Navy, 1/12 @ American, 1/16 vs. Holy Cross, 1/19 vs. Lafayette

Dave Paulsen’s Bison are peaking at just the right time. After wallowing out to a very sluggish 2-6 start to begin the year, Bucknell has run off seven of eight wins. Due to their strong play, they have become a top 100 RPI team (92) and assured themselves of heading into the Patriot League portion of their schedule with a winning record for the first time since 2005-06. Much of Bucknell’s success during their impressive run in the second half of the non-conference schedule can be attributed to their shooting from behind the arc. In their first eight games, they shot 37.8%—a very good percentage considering the national average is 34.1%—but during the streak they shot a ridiculous 46% from distance. Bryson Johnson has been the primary sharpshooter during the streak as he went 26 for 48 (54.2%). If the unconscious shooting continues, not many Patriot League foes can match up with Bucknell. That is a big if, however.

2. American (2) (10-5)

Previous Two Weeks: W Fordham 73-57, W Delaware 83-71, W Brown 77-67

Next Two Weeks: 1/8 vs. Lehigh, 1/12 vs. Bucknell, 1/15 @ Colgate, 1/19 vs. Army

Traveling out to the West Coast may have been just what American needed to get back to their winning ways. After beginning the year with a perfect 5-0 record, the Eagles went 2-5 in their next seven games against tough competition. While at the Cable Car Classic—a quaint four team tournament hosted by Santa Clara University—American won the tournament with relative ease as they defeated Fordham by 16 in the semifinals, and Delaware by 12 in the finals. Vlad Moldoveanu was named the Tournament MVP as he averaged 24 points. Stephen Lumpkins, one of the PL’s premiere forwards, enjoyed success at the Classic as well as he averaged 16.5 points and 10 rebounds. American will attempt to bring their success back to the District of Columbia as they entertain Lehigh in a key conference game that begins league play for both squads.

3. Lehigh (3) (9-6)

Previous Two Weeks: L USC 76-49, W St. Peter’s 77-64, W Yale 62-57, W NJIT 92-83

Next Two Weeks: 1/8 @ American, 1/12 vs. Navy, 1/15 vs. Army, 1/19 @ Colgate

Unlike American, playing out in the warm weather of California did not treat Lehigh well as the Mountain Hawks were trounced at the hands of USC losing by 27 points. C.J. McCollum—Lehigh’s stud shooting guard who had been playing well since the loss—was held to just seven points on two of eight shooting. It is very clear, as McCollum goes, so does Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks got back on track following their return to the East Coast by winning three straight games. It was not all McCollum, however, carrying the load in these games. Michael Ojo had a career day as he exploded for 33 points against NJIT, and Gabe Knutson continues his workman-like play as he averaged 12.7 points and six rebounds over the three games. When McCollum has a supporting cast that is consistently producing, Lehigh without question becomes a title contender.

4. Army (4) (8-7)

Previous Two Weeks: W Texas-Pan American 66-58, L Fairfield 68-61, W Dartmouth 67-47

Next Two Weeks: 1/8 @ Colgate, 1/12 vs. Holy Cross, 1/15 @ Lehigh, 1/19 @ American

Army has found a pipeline of talent from Texas that has carried them to many of their eight victories this year. In a homecoming for much of the team—seven players hail from Texas—Julian Simmons (Katy, TX) led the Black Knights to a victory over Texas Pan American by pouring in 21 points, while Mitch McDonald (Houston, TX), dished out a team high seven assists. Many of the prognosticators picked Army to finish last in the Patriot League, and while they have easily played the weakest non-conference schedule, their 8-7 record entering league play is impressive nonetheless. Army, like Bucknell, is an exceptional three-point shooting team. They are so good, in fact, that they are one of only three teams to average ten three-pointers or more per game. Army hit 11.3 shots from distance in their three games to give them a 2-1 record over the past two weeks. If the deadly shooting from three continues, Army will find themselves with opportunities to upset the upper tier teams in the Patriot League.

5. Lafayette (6) (5-10)

Previous Two Weeks: L Gonzaga 83-55, W Fairleigh Dickinson 98-92 (2 OT), L Columbia 76-73

Next Two Weeks: 1/8 @ Holy Cross, 1/12 vs. Colgate, 1/15 vs. Navy, 1/19 @ Bucknell

The Leopards predictably struggled and were overmatched against Gonzaga as they traveled out to Spokane in late December. If Lafayette had caught Gonzaga during their struggles earlier in the year, they may have been able to give them a better game, but it was not to be for LC. A bright spot in the blowout loss to the ‘Zags, however, was the play of junior shooting guard Jim Mower. Mower connected on six threes, and then followed up his performance against Gonzaga by pouring in 28 points in a victory over Fairleigh Dickinson. Under the tutelage of Fran O’Hanlon, Lafayette’s offense has revolved around the three point shot in the last few years, but lately that has been virtually their entire offense. In their last three games, they hoisted an average of 27.7 shots from downtown per game.

6. Navy (5) (5-11)

Previous Two Weeks: L Long Island 96-86, L Presbyterian 60-58, W Longwood 87-70

Next Two Weeks: 1/8 vs. Bucknell, 1/12 @ Lehigh, 1/15 @ Lafayette, 1/19 vs. Holy Cross

After losing five straight games to drop from a respectable 4-6 mark to 4-11, Navy welcomed just the right team into Alumni Hall: the Longwood Lancers. While entering the game with a 5-12 record does not appear to be all that bad, Longwood was fresh off a loss to previously winless Colgate, and two of their wins on the year are two sub-Division 1 opponents. The result? A 17 point victory for the Midshipmen. Jordan Sugars led Navy with 20 points, while freshman J.J. Avila continued his exceptional play by contributing 19 points. Over the course of the last three games, Avila is averaging 17.7 points, while Sugars averaged an even better 19.7. As a team, Navy averaged 77 points, but only managed to win one of the games. The offense is clearly there, but a major flaw for Navy has been on the defensive end as they give up on average 74.9 points, which is simply way too much to overcome.

7. Holy Cross (7) (1-13)

Previous Two Weeks: L St. Joseph’s 65-54, L George Washington 58-57, L Sacred Heart 77-75, L Yale 77-76

Next Two Weeks: 1/8 vs. Lafayette, 1/12 @ Army, 1/16 @ Bucknell, 1/19 @ Navy

The Crusaders suffered three gut-wrenching losses in consecutive order where they had opportunities to either tie or win the game in their last possession but failed to do so. Marred by injuries to three of their top players—R.J. Evans, Andrew Keister, and Phil Beans—Holy Cross has been battling hard, but Milan Brown’s squad has been unable to close out games. By pure numbers alone, Milan Brown has struggled in games decided by a single possession. In his last three years at Mount Saint Mary’s, he was 3-12 in such games, and at Holy Cross this year he is 0-5. On the bright side for the Cross has been the emergence of freshman forward Dave Dudzinski who averaged 8.5 points and 3.75 rebounds for the past two weeks. Against Sacred Heart, Dudzinski broke out for 15 points on 6-6 shooting. He appears to be the star of the freshman class—a class that shrunk from three players to two following the mid-season transfer of Steve Carver—and will continue to see extended playing time with Keister hindered with an Achilles injury. There is a great deal of disappointment and frustration within the program right now, and there is only one way to remedy these emotions: Wins.

8. Colgate (8) (1-12)

Previous Two Weeks: L Stony Brook 63-54, W Longwood 80-61, L Maryland 95-40

Next Two Weeks: 1/8 vs. Army, 1/12 @ Lafayette, 1/15 vs. American, 1/17 vs. Dartmouth, 1/19 vs. Lehigh

The good news for Colgate is that they erased the goose egg from the win column by defeating Longwood. The bad news is that they are still 1-12 and coming off of a 55 point drubbing to Maryland heading into league play. Starting point guard Mike Venezia is still sidelined with a knee injury that has bothered him for much of his career, and John Brandenburg—a transfer from Virginia—has been, for all intents and purposes, a bust averaging just 3.8 points and 2.8 rebounds. There is one bright spot for Emmett Davis’ squad however, as the play of freshman Pat Moore has progressed nicely. In the past three games, Moore averaged a cute 11 points. Unless the Raiders can miraculously string some wins together in the Patriot League, Davis will finish with single-digit wins for the first time as Colgate’s head coach.

A Look Ahead

  • With the conclusion of Holy Cross’ and Lafayette’s final non-conference games, the Patriot League has concluded the out-of-conference schedule (Colgate, however, has a peculiar schedule and plays Longwood at home on February 2). Currently, the overall record of the league is 48-71, and KenPom has the league rated as the 25 conference.
  • The non-conference play for each team in the Patriot League was relatively indicative of where each should finish in the league. Don’t be surprised, however, if Lafayette makes a push in league plays and climbs up the standings. Although their OOC record is not all that impressive, this is a veteran bunch with All-PL performer in Jared Mintz leading the way up front. Never count out a Fran O’Hanlon-coached team either, as he may very well be the PL’s best coach.
  • Much of the Purple faithful thought that ridding themselves of Sean Kearney, who led Holy Cross to a dismal 9-22 record last year, would improve the state of the program. Although we are just halfway through the season, the Milan Brown experiment at Holy Cross has not been a successful one. There is still ample time for the ‘Saders to turn the season around as they have yet to play a Patriot League game yet, but their non-conference performance is certainly of concern. Do greener pastures lie ahead for Holy Cross? Were the struggles during the non-conference an anomaly? These answers will be revealed during league play.
  • American and Lehigh both jump right into the heart of Patriot League during a showdown this weekend in our nation’s capital. Two of the league’s best—C.J. McCollum and Vlad Moldoveanu—will go head-to-head in what could be an early preview of the Patriot League championship. Although the preceding two players will likely dominate the storyline for the game, pay attention to the power forwards for each team: Stephen Lumpkins for AU and Gabe Knutson for LU. The winner of the matchup between these two could very well decide the outcome of the game.
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Checking in on… the Patriot League

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2010

Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and a contributor.

A Look Back

  • A Clean Sweep for the BisonBucknell has won four of their last five games with their lone loss coming at the hands of a surprisingly strong Boston College team under first year coach Steve Donahue by just four points. During this stretch, Bucknell picked up the best non-conference win for the Patriot League as they beat La Salle 89-77; just days earlier the Explorers lost to Villanova by three points. Due to their strong play as a team and individually, Bucknell cleaned up with the weekly awards.
  • Top Four vs. Bottom Four—In the first edition of “Checking in on the Patriot League,” I highlighted the disparity between the top four and bottom four teams in the league. Since that first stretch of the season, not much has changed. Back on November 27th, the collective records of the top four teams—American, Bucknell, Lehigh, and Army—were 13-8, a winning percentage of .619. The collective records of the bottom four—Navy, Lafayette, Holy Cross, and Colgate—were 3-17, a paltry winning percentage of .150. Fast forward a month, and those bottom four teams are still bring up the rear. The record of the top four is 25-23, a .521 winning percentage. As for the bottom four, well you may want to cover your eyes for this: 9-38, a .191 winning percentage. U-G-L-Y.
  • Struggles in the Basement—In further investigating the bottom four teams in the league, Navy and Lafayette have at least picked up four wins each and have somewhat respectable records. Holy Cross and Colgate, however, are a combined 1-19. Colgate is the winless one of the two, and will struggle to pick up a victory before league play begins.
  • One of the Mid-Major’s BestC.J. McCollum has established himself as one of the best players in all of Mid-Major basketball. He had a big year last year as just a freshman, and has only built on that success. Among Mid-Major players, McCollum is seventh in scoring at 22.5 points a game and he is also corralling an impressive 7.7 rebounds for a guy that is listed at just 6-3. I have been saying this for some time now, but McCollum is the Patriot League’s best player since Adonal Foyle.
  • Team of the Weeks (Dec. 9-Dec. 22): Bucknell: Losing three straight games may have just been what the Bison needed to jump-start them with the last of the three losses coming against a very mediocre Wagner team. Since the losing streak, Bucknell has won four of five games and their offense is clicking on all cylinders. The emergence of Mike Muscala as one of the league’s premier big men, the continual steady play at the point guard position from Darryl Shazier, and contributions from freshman Cameron Ayers have all been highlighted in Bucknell’s recent success. One needs to look no further than how many points the Bison have average during this streak (73.8) than they did in their previous eight games (65) to see the progression of the team. Ironically, the best performance during the five game stretch came in their lone loss against Boston College. Bucknell took BC to the final minute before losing by four to the ACC squad.
  • Player of the Weeks (Dec. 9-Dec. 22): Mike Muscala, Bucknell: Since the La Salle game on December 17th, the stellar sophomore has become a focal point in the Bison offense. Muscala was largely responsible for leading Bucknell to the victory of the Explorers as he poured in 21 points while dishing out five assists—five assists are pretty impressive for a 6-10 guy. He followed up this outing with another solid one as he nearly had a double-double (20/9) in a win at Cornell. Maybe the most impressive statistic over the past three games for Muscala is his shooting efficiency from the field and free throw line. He is 13-15 from the line (87%) and 21-36 from the field (58%).
  • Freshman of the Weeks (Dec. 9-Dec. 22)Cameron Ayers: From a pure numbers standpoint, Ayers was not overly impressive, but neither was any freshman in the PL for the past two weeks. The freshman from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, has become a fixture on the wing for Bucknell when spelling Bryson Johnson and Bryan Cohen. In the victory over La Salle, Ayers was 6-9 from the field for 13 points and pulled down four rebounds.

Clip of the Week

The two Washington D.C. based schools—American and Navy—competed in the BB&T classic. Navy had one of the league’s better wins this year defeating George Washington, while American hung tough but eventually succumbed to Florida.

Quote of the Week

La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini on how impressed he was with Bucknell’s performance: “Bucknell was really good…if I wasn’t getting beaten so soundly, I would have really enjoyed watching them play. They were wonderful and we were far short of that.”

Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Bucknell (2) (6-7)

Previous Two Weeks: W La Salle 89-77, W Cornell 75-64, L Boston College 84-80

Next Two Weeks: 12/28 @ Loyola (MD), 12/30 vs. Dartmouth, 1/2 @ Richmond

After dissecting the success Bucknell has had over the past two weeks, as well as what key players have made them successful for much of the article already, you probably do not need to hear much more about the Bison. One final point on Bucknell though, the scoring balance and unselfish play is largely what has made them tough to beat lately—seven players are averaging six points or more.

2. American (1) (7-5)

Previous Two Weeks: W UMBC 66-53, L Northwestern 78-62, W Mount St. Mary’s 69-64, L Pittsburgh 61-46

Next Two Weeks: 12/29 vs. Fordham, 1/3 vs. Brown

The Eagles have pretty much done everything that was predicted of them thus far. No one expected them to defeat West Virginia, Florida, Northwestern, or Pittsburgh, and they predictably did not. In fact, they lost all these games by double digits. American, however, may only get better as the year progresses and they move into league play as transfer Charles Hinkle joined AU via Vanderbilt and became eligible to play just four games ago. Hinkle, along with transfer Troy Brewer, are still finding their identity within the American lineup. It does seem that Brewer has found a nice niche for himself as he is averaging over 12 points a game.

3. Lehigh (3) (6-5)

Previous Two Weeks: W Marist 91-78, W St. Francis (PA) 79-61

Next Two Weeks: 12/29 vs. St. Peter’s, 12/31 @ Yale, 1/4 @ NJIT

The Mountain Hawks bounced back from two straight losses with convincing wins against Marist and St. Francis (PA). C.J. McCollum was once again the top man for Lehigh in both games as he dropped in 35 against Marist and then 20 against St. Francis (PA). While most of the attention will always be given to McCollum—how couldn’t it be—the players surrounding the Lehigh stud sophomore have played well as of late. Michael Ojo is one of the top shooters in the PL from three, Gabe Knutson has established himself as one of the top big men, and freshman point guard Mackey McKnight has been as steady as they come boasting a 2.75 assist to turnover ratio. With the continued solid play of McCollum’s supporting cast, Lehigh becomes a contender in the PL.

4. Army (7) (6-6)

My apologies to Black Knight fans out there for my analysis and comments I made of Army two weeks ago. While Army still is not one of the better teams in the Patriot League, their wins over UNH and Brown in the last two weeks should not go unnoticed. The victory over Brown is their best on the year, and their ability to score the ball is as good as any team in the PL. Still, Army has played the weakest schedule in the league, and it is hard to gauge how they will perform come league play. The three headed monster of Julian Simmons, Jeremy Hence, and Ella Ellis have posed problems for many teams thus far and will be tough for any PL team to match up against. How Army performs against a good Fairfield team after the New Year will be a good barometer as to how they will match up with the upper tier teams in the Patriot League.

Previous Two Weeks: W New Hampshire 71-63, L Dartmouth 71-68, L Long Island 91-85, W Brown 88-86

Next Two Weeks: 12/29 @ Texas-Pan American, 12/31 @ Fairfield, 1/3 vs. Dartmouth

5. Navy (4) (4-9)

It is a really funny game, basketball is. Without their best player in Jordan Sugars, Navy went 2-1, and upon his return they have gone 1-3. It is not as if the Midshipmen have been playing world beaters either during this four game stretch, nor has Sugars been playing poorly (19 points and 6.5 rebounds) since returning to the lineup following an injury to his non-shooting hand, but for whatever reason they have dropped three winnable games in a row. Navy will have a chance to pick up a few wins against Long Island, Presbyterian, and Longwood before going up against league favorite Bucknell in their Patriot League opener.

Previous Two Weeks: L Mercer 73-68, L Elon 73-58

Next Two Weeks: 12/30 vs. Long Island, 1/2 vs. Presbyterian, 1/4 vs. Longwood

6. Lafayette (6) (4-8)

After bouncing back from a four game losing streak by winning three in a row, Lafayette has dropped their last two decisions continuing the rollercoaster season. Both of the losses were single digits and against formidable opponents who may challenge for their respective league crowns.   Lafayette’s shooting ability is not being called into question—they connect on seven threes a game—but their ability to rebound the ball has marred them on many occasions. Against LIU, the Leopards were outrebounded 39-24, and against URI it was 37-28. Corralling a rebound means another possession, and with how well Lafayette can shoot this may mean the differences between wins and losses.

Previous Two Weeks: L Long Island 85-80, L Rhode Island 73-65

Next Two Weeks: 12/29 @ Gonzaga, 1/2 @ Fairleigh Dickinson, 1/5 vs. Columbia

7. Holy Cross (5) (1-9)

The monkey is finally off of Milan Brown’s back. The first year Holy Cross coach picked up his first win with the Cross by defeating Marist. There is not too much to celebrate in ‘Sader Nation though as his team is 1-9 about a third of the way through the season. Over at ESPN.com, Mark Adams wrote in his weekly Mid-Major piece that: “Brown is a good coach, but he’s now in a situation which he has to pick up the pieces from a dysfunctional situation.” While he is the third coach in as many seasons for Holy Cross, there is little doubt that the Crusaders have some talent. They were picked to win the league two years ago, and the roster from that squad is pretty similar to the one this year. There have been subtle flashes that this team can get it together, but little progress has been made since the loss to the College of Charleston to open the year. The Patriot League is, by and large, a fairly weak conference this year, so the Crusaders may be able to pick up some Ws when league play rolls around.

Previous Two Weeks: L Fairfield 71-60, W Marist 75-57, L Hofstra 71-56

Next Two Weeks: 12/28 vs. St. Joseph’s, 12/31 @ George Washington, 1/2 vs. Sacred Heart, 1/5 vs. Yale

8Colgate (8) (0-10)

Previous Two Weeks: L Syracuse 100-43, L Maine 78-57, L Albany 63-61

Next Two Weeks: 12/29 @ Stony Brook, 1/2 @ Longwood, 1/4 @ Maryland

Things appear to be spiraling out of control up in Hamilton, New York. First, there were high expectations for John Brandenburg, a transfer from Virginia, coming into the season, but he has not lived up to these hopes as he is averaging 3.7 points and 2.4 rebounds. Then, arguably the Raiders’ best player Mike Venezia went down with an injury after the first six games. Immediately following Venezia’s injury, Colgate was humiliated by Syracuse losing 100-43 and scoring only eight points in the first half—a Carrier Dome record for a half. Colgate will most likely enter league play having not won a game as their next three games are on the road against decent competition. Their game against Longwood may be their only saving grace.

A Look Ahead

  • Four teams who are .500 or better, maybe?—According to KenPom, the Patriot League is ranked at the 27th best conference. While it is clear that the PL is not having one of their stronger years in recent memory, but the top four teams all still have an opportunity to reach the .500 mark or better by the end of non-conference competition.
  • Bucknell’s final game before conference play begins is against Richmond. While I believe, win or lose against the Spiders, that Bucknell is the team to beat this year, they can officially set themselves apart from the rest of the pack with a victory against Richmond.
  • After a tough six-game stretch against four very solid BCS opponents, American comes back down to earth with two games against mediocre opponents in Fordham and Brown. Wins here and the Eagles would enter league play at 9-5, certainly feeling good about themselves.
  • Will Colgate and Holy Cross combine for just a single victory in the non-conference schedule? Sadly, it is a distinct possibility. Colgate’s final three non-conference games are on the road, and one of the opponents is Maryland. Holy Cross, on the contrary, has two in Worcester and two on the road, but they will likely be underdogs in three of the games.
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Checking in on… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2010

Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.

A Look Back

  • No Marquee Win—The Patriot League has yet to win that one game that causes the rest of the Mid-Major world to turn their collective heads in. In years past, the league has beaten the likes of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Boston College, and Maryland, but right now, the two best wins for the league are against Boston University (Bucknell) and George Washington (Navy)—hardly a blip on the radar. There are still several opportunities to pick up a win against a Big Six conference team, though.
  • Little Separation—No team has truly separated themselves from the rest of the pack. American looked strong in their first five games—albeit against marginal competition—but has since then lost three straight. Lehigh and Bucknell have both had their moments, but neither have strung together more than two straight wins so far. The remainder of the league’s non-conference schedule should be more telling of how the teams will fare in league play.
  • No Representation—In past years, there has seemingly always been a Patriot League team in the Mid-Major top 25. This year, however, that is not the case. Bucknell and Holy Cross used to be staples in the poll as they dominated the league for a three year stretch, and in recent years, American and Lehigh have cracked it. The absence of a Patriot League squad in the top 25 is a telltale sign of regression at the top of the league.
  • Team of the Weeks (Nov. 25-Dec. 8): Bucknell: Over the course of the last two weeks, the Patriot League went a combined 9-21. When saying that Bucknell was the team of the weeks, one must take that with a grain of salt. The Bison did manage to go 2-1, and their win against Boston University is actually a pretty decent win as the Terriers will vie for the America East title this year. Their loss to Wagner, however, was the lone blemish on what would otherwise have been a perfect two weeks. After a three game home stand, Bucknell now goes on the road for seven of their next eight games. With the stark competition the Bison will face—La Salle, Boston College, Richmond, and American—battling through this stretch with a 4-4 mark would be a success. Anything above .500 would be gravy.
  • Player of the Weeks (Nov. 25-Dec. 8)C.J. McCollum, Lehigh: There is not another team in the Patriot League that depends on one of their players as much as Lehigh depends on C.J. McCollum. One needs to look no further than how many shots McCollum hoists a game for the Mountain Hawks (roughly 40% of Lehigh’s total shots) to understand how often the offense runs through him. McCollum is converting on his opportunities too. In Lehigh’s last five games, he is averaging 25.4 points per contest. What may be an even more remarkable statistic than his shot and point totals, however, are his rebounding abilities. Standing at just 6’3 and spending the majority of the time around the perimeter, McCollum is corralling an average of 7.6 rebounds a game. He simply has a knack for finding the ball and putting it in the hole—the mentality of any pure scorer.
  • Freshman of the Weeks (Nov. 25-Dec. 8)J.J. Avila, Navy: Avila was averaging just 5.3 points through the first six games, but is averaging 14 over the last five. Through those first games, Navy was 1-5, but since Avila began to heat up they are 3-2. Correlation? I think so. Since Avila had his coming out party against Towson where he poured in 31 points, he is 11-24 from distance. Before this outbreak, he was 3-22. When his shot is falling, he complements the offensive prowess of Jordan Sugars very nicely.

Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. American (1) (5-3)

Previous Two Weeks: L Columbia 64-62, L @ West Virginia 71-50, L Florida 67-48

Next Two Weeks: 12/14 @ UMBC, 12/16 @ Northwestern, 12/20 @ Mount St. Mary’s, 12/22 @ Pittsburgh

The Eagles dropped three straight since our last Check-in, but losses to West Virginia and Florida were predictable. Dropping a game to a middle-of-the-road Ivy League team in Columbia was certainly a setback, though. The Eagles struggled against a very athletic West Virginia team and a ticked off Florida team—the Gators were upset by Central Florida just days before they played AU—but they still have the best record in the Patriot League, and three of the league’s best players in Vlad Moldoveanu, Stephen Lumpkins, and Troy Brewer. More help is on the way for AU too as Vanderbilt transfer Charles Hinkle becomes eligible to play next week. Jeff Jones appears to be high on Hinkle, but even with the addition of him, things do not get much easier for the Eagles following the WVU and FU games as they have the daunting task of playing at an underrated Northwestern team and then perennial power Pittsburgh.

2Bucknell (3) (4-6)

Previous Two Weeks: L Wagner 77-73, W Columbia 73-68, W Boston University 52-49

Next Two Weeks: 12/17 @ La Salle, 12/20 @ Cornell, 12/22 @ Boston College

After dropping three straight games, the Bison bounced back with two wins against Columbia and Boston University to enter a 13 day layoff with a 4-6 record. Sophomore big man Mike Muscala has probably been the Bison’s best player this year, and has improved on his freshman campaign where he averaged ten points and five rebounds per game. When Muscala is on his game and senior point guard Darryl Shazier—the league’s best PG who nearly has a 4:1 assist to turnover ratio—is running the offense well, Bucknell becomes a tough team to beat.

3. Lehigh (2) (4-5)

Previous Two Weeks: L @ Kent State 80-75, W Bryant 88-68, W @ Stony Brook 79-76, L Fordham 74-67, L @ Quinnipiac 84-78

Next Two Weeks: 12/10 @ Marist, 12/13 vs. St. Francis (PA), 12/23 @ USC

As C.J. McCollum goes, so does Lehigh. In the Mountain Hawks’ latest loss to Quinnipiac, McCollum shot 5-18 from the field and scored just 15 points—seven below his season average. The result? A six-point loss to Quinnipiac. In Lehigh’s loss to Fordham, the game before Quinnipiac, McCollum was limited to 12 points on 5-16 shooting. Lehigh lost 74-67 to the Rams. Even though he has struggled to find the hole in the past two games, C.J. McCollum is still the Patriot League’s best player and has the ability to carry Lehigh to some wins by himself. Only a sophomore, McCollum will easily eclipse the 1,000 point scoring mark this year barring any injuries.

4. Navy (7) (4-7)

Previous Two Weeks: L Maryland-Eastern Shore 89-81, W @ Mount St. Mary’s 81-68, W @ George Washington 64-57, L @ Coppin State 65-64

Next Two Weeks: 12/10 @ Mercer, 12/22 vs. Elon

After garnering one of the best wins of the year for the Patriot League by defeating George Washington 64-57, Navy could not capitalize on their good play of late by dropping a game to Coppin State. Things do seem to be looking better in Annapolis though due to the return of Jordan Sugars and the emergence of freshman J.J. Avila. Sugars, a preseason All-League selection, was sidelined for the Towson, Maryland-Eastern Shore, and Mount St. Mary games with an injury to his non-shooting hand, but is now healthy again. As for Avila, he has come on very strong in the past two weeks and may find himself a full-time role in the starting lineup if his impressive play continues. His 31 points against Towson led the Midshipmen to victory without Sugars. When clicking on offense, Navy will surprise some teams in the Patriot League this year.

5. Holy Cross (6) (0-7)

Previous Two Weeks: L @ Massachusetts 83-76, L @ Wake Forest 75-64, L Stony Brook 54-53

Next Two Weeks: 12/12 vs. Fairfield, 12/19 @ Marist, 12/22 @ Hofstra

The Crusaders came oh so close to notching their first win of the season, as well as the first win for first-year coach Milan Brown, but fell in the closing seconds to a determined Stony Brook bunch. After being up 28-20 at the intermission, it looked as if Holy Cross would erase the goose egg from their win column, but it was not meant to be on a frigid night in Worcester. Bill Parcells once said: “You are what your record says you are,” but I would beg to differ with Parcells’ famous sentiment when watching this Crusader team play. Sure, they are winless, but they have played the toughest schedule in the Patriot League to date, and have narrow losses to several quality teams (Charleston, Massachusetts, and Wake Forest). The wins will come…eventually.

6. Lafayette (5) (4-6)

Previous Two Weeks: L Delaware 67-64, L Princeton 82-64, W Susquehanna 95-73, W Sacred Heart 76-71, W NJIT 72-56

Next Two Weeks: 12/11 @ Long Island, 12/22 @ Rhode Island

As much as I want to place Lafayette ahead of Holy Cross in this week’s power rankings, I simply cannot bring myself to do so. When looking at their body of work—strength of schedule, losses, wins, and competitiveness—it is overall very weak. I understand that the Crusaders are winless, but their close losses to quality opponents are worth more in my book than the Leopards’ wins. Their four wins have come against NEC bottom feeders Saint Francis (PA) and Sacred Heart, a perpetually bad NJIT squad, and Division-III Susquehanna. With that being said, Fran O’Hanlon is one of the league’s best head coaches and is certainly capable of turning the Leopards into an upper tier team by the beginning of conference play.

7. Army (4) (4-4)

Previous Two Weeks: L @ Yale 87-79, L Buffalo 56-54, L Pennsylvania 68-52

Next Two Weeks: 12/9 @ New Hampshire, 12/11 @ Dartmouth, 12/19 @ Long Island, 12/21 @ Brown

Don’t let those early wins against futile competition fool you about Army. After beginning 4-1 against some of the weakest teams in the nation—the average ranking of CCSU, NJIT, Binghamton, and Bryant, according to KenPom was 311 (Vassar, a D-III school Army defeated is not ranked by KenPom)—the Black Knights’ record has come back down to earth after dropping three straight games. Army’s ability to shoot the three ball, however, will keep them in some games and maybe even steal a game on occasion. On the young season, Army is connecting on 45% of their shots from distance.

8Colgate (8) (0-7)

Previous Two Weeks: L @ Dartmouth 80-63, L New Hampshire 65-60, L @ St. Francis (NY) 68-57

Next Two Weeks: 12/11 @ Syracuse, 12/19 @ Maine, 12/22 vs. Albany

Like Holy Cross, Colgate is winless on the season. The only difference being that the Raiders have been losing to competition that is very weak, while the Crusaders are not. To date, Colgate’s strength of schedule according to KenPom is 285, while Holy Cross’ is 79. Furthermore, Colgate is losing by an average of 16 points a game. Colgate had high hopes that Virginia transfer John Brandenburg would become one of the league’s premier big men, but that has yet to come to fruition, as he is averaging just 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. As if matters for Colgate were not already bad enough, their steady guard, Mike Venezia, is reportedly hurt and may miss a few games. Oh, and now the Raiders have the pleasure of traveling to the Carrier Dome to take on one of the nation’s best in Syracuse.

Quote of the Week

Following their 67-48 loss at the hands of the Florida Gators, American head coach Jeff Jones reacted to his team’s performance: “For us to have any chance, we have to be [darn] near perfect against a team like Florida. We leave this game frustrated … because we can be better. We should, in my opinion, be better.”

Coach Jeff Jones speaks on behalf of the entire league when stating that his team needed to be perfect against Florida. When a Patriot League team squares up against an ostensibly more talented team from a Big Six conference, a near flawless game needs to be played.

A Look Ahead

A Time for Rest and Study—Usually around this time of the year, schools do their best to carve out some time in their schedule so the student-athletes are better suited to prepare for final exams. This is the reason that there is extended time off for all teams in the Patriot League. Here are how many days each school has off in between games:

  • American: 9
  • Army: 8
  • Bucknell: 13
  • Colgate: 8
  • Holy Cross: 7
  • Lafayette: 11
  • Lehigh: 10
  • Navy: 12

The first stretch of the season has now passed as teams are about halfway through the non-conference portion of their schedule; the examination period offers a nice time for rest and recuperation.

  • Road Warriors—Patriot League teams will need to be tough on the road over the course of these next two weeks, as they will not be playing many games within the friendly confines of their own gyms. Of the 24 games that will be played, 20 will be played on the road.
  • Deceitful Eagles?—Just how good are the American Eagles? Right now, AU owns the best record in the league as they are 5-3, but they have been reeling lately. The Eagles have lost three straight games, and two of their next four games are against a solid Northwestern squad and a scary good Pittsburgh Panthers team. In games where AU can prove they are the class of the league against big time opponents, they have failed to do so.
  • CupcakesArmy’s favorite food thus far has been cupcakes. The Black Knights’ schedule ranks 345 out of 345 Division 1 teams. While having a .500 record at this point in the non-conference schedule is nice, it is hard to gauge how good Army is as they have played the weakest of competition. The steady dose of cupcakes for Army continues throughout the rest of the non-conference schedule.
  • Wins on the Horizon—The Crusaders have played the most challenging non-conference schedule to date—College of Charleston, Harvard, New Hampshire, Boston College, Massachusetts, Wake Forest, and Stony Brook—of any Patriot League team, and their 0-7 record is reflective of that. However, it looks as if victories could be on the horizon for Holy Cross. For the remainder of the non-conference schedule, the highest rated opponent HC will face is Fairfield (141).
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Checking in on… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 27th, 2010

Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.

A Look Back

  • Top 4 vs. Bottom 4: In the Patriot League, it is always hard to gauge how strong a team is relative to the rest of the league after just a few games. Reason being, there is a great disparity in the quality of out of conference opponents for the league’s eight members. With that being said, the top four teams (American, Army, Lehigh, and Bucknell) in the league have combined to go 13-8, while the bottom four (Holy Cross, Colgate, Lafayette, and Navy) have feebly compiled a 3-17 record. I expect these two records to slowly become more even with each other as we move throughout the rest of non-conference play.
  • Undefeated Eagles: American has started their young season with a 5-0 record, albeit against some weak opponents as the average rank of their opponents is 280 according to kenpom.com. Needless to say, the Eagles’ top two transfers have found their niche in Washington DC and the defensive effort has been top notch thus far. Vlad Moldoveanu, a second-year transfer from George Mason, is AU’s best player, averaging 21.4 points and 6.2 rebounds, while first-year Georgia transfer Troy Brewer is averaging 13 points and 5.8 rebounds. On the defensive end, American is relinquishing just 56 points a contest. This number will most likely change when the Eagles go up against the meat of the non-conference slate (West Virginia, Florida, Northwestern, and Pittsburgh).
  • Struggles in Worcester: Holy Cross, playing under their third coach in as many years, has predictably struggled early on in the season. Learning an entirely new offensive and defensive scheme that contrasts previous year’s philosophies is no easy task; add that to having played the most difficult out of schedule thus far and you have a recipe for early season struggles. There is a strong nucleus of players at Holy Cross; it all boils down to how fast new head coach Milan Brown and the team can mesh.
  • Player of the Weeks (Nov. 8-24): Vlad Moldoveanu, American: Moldoveanu has scored in double figures in each of the Eagle’s first five games. The 6’9 forward has the body of a big man that would bang bodies in the paint, but he has the shooting touch of a shooting guard. Thus far, he is drilling 2.4 three pointers a game and is shooting 77% from the charity stripe.
  • Freshman of the Weeks (Nov. 8-24): Anthony D’Orazio, Lehigh: How is this for D’Orazio’s first half of his first collegiate basketball game: Connecting on three shots from behind the arc, scoring 14 points (more than half of Lehigh’s points in the first half), and leading his Mountain Hawks to a six point lead at the intermission? Pretty good, huh? Since this very half, D’Orazio has quieted down, but he is still averaging nearly eight points and shooting 46% from three point land.

Power Rankings

1. American (5-0)

Next Week: 11/28 vs. Columbia, 12/1 @ West Virginia

American has soundly beaten all five of their opponents by an average of 10+ points a game. Everyone knew coming into the season that first team All-Patriot League forward Vlad Moldoveanu would be the staple of the Eagles’ of the offense, but junior Stephen Lumpkins continued his stellar play from last season, and transfer Troy Brewer has been a catalyst for the offense. Guard Nick Hendra has provided steady play running the offense as he boasts better than 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. If American sustain its impressive play as they enter into the more challenging part of their out of conference schedule they will be a true force during Patriot League play.

2Lehigh (2-2)

Next Week: 11/26 @ Kent State, 11/28 vs. Bryant, 12/1 @ Stony Brook

Last year it was C.J. McCollum followed by Zahir Carrington and Marquis Hall. This year, thus far it appears to be McCollum, of course, followed by the surprising Michael Ojo, and then everybody else. The entire league knew that McCollum would be the focal point of the Mountain Hawks—there was a reason he was selected as the Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year—but Ojo has been a pleasant surprise. After averaging a shade over four points for his career, and less than a three pointer made a game, Ojo is scoring 17 points per game and connecting on 3.5 threes a contest. Although they sit at just .500, Lehigh could easily be 4-0 on the young season after losing to Monmouth by a point and Penn State by a handful (they led Penn State 27-21 at the half).

3Bucknell (2-5)

Next Week: 11/29 vs. Wagner, 12/1 vs. Columbia

Much was to be expected of the Bison this year, and their performance after their two opening games suggested Bucknell will be a contender. Their gritty performance against Villanova in the season opener—a night where they shot a paltry 34% from the field, but managed to remain competitive—and then just two nights later they gave Marquette all they could handle, demonstrated how this is a deep and mentally tough team. Bucknell was thrown into the proverbial fire from the get go as they faced two of the better teams in the Big East, but held their own in each. After playing six of their first seven games on the road, their next three will be within the friendly confines of Sojka Pavilion.

4. Army (4-1)

Next Week: 11/27 @ Yale, 12/1 vs. Buffalo

It is nice to see the Black Knights get off to such a nice 4-1 start; although, I am not sure how much one should read into just solely the record. Granted, one of these wins came against Division 3 Vassar College, and the other three wins were against perennial basement dwellers (Bryant, NJIT, and Binghamton), but for a team that was picked to finish last in the league in the preseason, winning these games at least helps with the psyche of the team. Army will be able to steal some more games with their impressive three-point shooting as they are 36th in the nation hitting 41% of their attempts.

5. Lafayette (1-4)

Next Week: 11/27 vs. Delaware, 11/30 vs. Princeton, 12/1 vs. Susquehanna

The Leopards have had their only win—St. Francis (PA)—sandwiched between two losses on both ends giving them their 1-4 record. Their loss at the hands of Villanova was no surprise, but Fran O’Hanlon seems to have one of his better squads in recent years and should have stolen a game or two from Wagner, Rider, or Pennsylvania. It seems to be a three-man show for Lafayette with Jared Mintz (preseason All-League selection), Ryan Willen, and Jim Mower—the three are averaging more than two-thirds of the team’s points.

6. Holy Cross (0-4)

Next Week: 11/27 @ Massachusetts

After the Crusaders’ season-opening loss to the College of Charleston 93-84, many in Worcester were feeling pretty good about themselves and the team this year under the guidance of first-year coach Milan Brown (formerly the head man at Mount St. Mary’s). Charleston was coming off a one point loss to Maryland, and had the Southern Conference’s preseason Player of the Year Andrew Goudelock on their side; putting up 84 points on such a talented squad was encouraging. The debacle at Harvard, however, erased many of these encouraging emotions. Losing 72-49 against the Crimson, followed by two more losses to New Hampshire and Boston College, will pose challenges to Holy Cross from a confidence and team morale standpoint. It is up to Andrew Keister, a preseason All-League selection, and senior point guard Andrew Beinert to rally the troops.

7. Navy (2-5)

Next Week: 11/27 vs. MD Eastern Shore, 11/29 @ Mount St. Mary’s

Of Navy’s first 10 games, eight of them are on the road; couple that with their top play Jordan Sugars’ shooting woes and the Midshipmen have gotten off to a rough start. Sugars, who averaged nearly 16 points and hit on better than 40% of his three point attempts last year, is now connecting on less than a quarter of his attempts and has seen his points per game dip by three points since last season. Although Sugars has struggled, life for Navy has just become more difficult after he suffered a freak injury in practice to his non-shooting hand. What is also discouraging is the margin of defeat for Navy (21.6); it will take a little more than just Sugars, once he is healthy again, to jumpstart the Midshipmen. Ironically, Navy was able to get past Towson without Sugars in the lineup behind a career high 31 points from freshman J.J. Avila.

8Colgate (0-4)

Next Week: 11/27 @ Dartmouth

Colgate is just a few possessions here and there from being 2-2, instead of 0-4. It was a foregone conclusion that they would get walloped by the consensus number one ranked team in the nation in Duke, but their games against Binghamton and St. Francis (PA) were both decided on the final possession. The Raiders have been heavily relying on their stud junior forward Yaw Gyawu, who is their only player to average in double figures.

Caught on Film

With just over 10 minutes remaining in regulation, the Bucknell Bison led Marquette 57-45 and seemed poised to defeat a Big East juggernaut. After playing such solid defensive basketball, and methodically on the offensive end, Bucknell relinquished 24 straight points to the Golden Eagles. The following clip highlights the Marquette run:

A Look Ahead

  • The road does not get any easier for Holy Cross, who travels to Massachusetts and Wake Forest in their next two games. Although, considering Wake has lost to Stetson, Virginia Commonwealth, and Winthrop, maybe the Crusaders can steal a game from the Demon Deacons.
  • American has a 5-0 record, but has largely been untested thus far. They will have a chance to show if they are indeed the class of the league against West Virginia on December 1.
  • Bucknell finally concluded their play in the CBE Classic after their loss against James Madison. They now have three home dates—all very winnable games—against Wagner, Columbia, and Boston University.
  • Lafayette has a much needed home stand. After four of their first five games were away from Easton, the Leopards’ next five will be in the Kirby Sports Center.
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