Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find him on Twitter at @KLDoyle11
C.J. And Moose: You’ve read about them all summer, and will continue to do so even more during the season. C.J. McCollum and Mike Muscala have developed into household names in the college basketball community on a national scale, not just in the charming land of mid-major basketball. McCollum has garnered more press, understandably, due to Lehigh’s victory against Duke in the NCAA Tournament. His decision to test the waters of the NBA Draft — he smartly did not hire an agent — gave him the opportunity to return to Lehigh. Muscala has earned his fair share of press as well, being named as a Top 100 player by CBS Sports and a Mid-Major All American by NBC Sports’ College Basketball Talk.
A Two-Bid league? An ambitious thought to be sure, but a possibility, albeit a small one. Prior to delving into what has to break right for either Bucknell or Lehigh to garner an at-large berth, let’s take a look at Bucknell’s 2005-06 resume: RPI of 42, 2-3 versus the RPI top 50 with wins over Syracuse and St. Joseph’s, 23rd-ranked non-conference schedule, and the only loss that could be considered a “bad loss” was to Santa Clara, which had an RPI of 184. The Bison went on to defeat Holy Cross in the Patriot League championship, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, but what if Bucknell had lost? With their resume, they would have almost assuredly earned an at-large bid. Fast forward seven years, and one has to wonder if a similar scenario may play out. Could Lehigh or Bucknell earn an at-large bid? It’s more likely that Bucknell would, considering the Bison’s non-conference schedule is better than Lehigh’s and there are more opportunities to pick up resume-building wins, but one thing is certain: It is possible for a Patriot League team to earn an at-large bid. The notion that it all comes down to “three games in March,” while the case most years, may not be the case in 2012-13.
C.J. McCollum (left) and Mike Muscala are two of the many reasons why the Patriot League is one to watch this season.
Reed, Paulsen Moving Up? Doctor Brett Reed (side note: Reed received his PhD from Wayne State University in Instructional Technology) and Dave Paulsen have proven to be exceptional recruiters and developers of talent, and the results on the court speak for themselves. Complete conjecture, but it seems they both are on the inside track to move up in the coaching world, especially with their respective star players graduating in the spring of 2013. Reed, a native of Waterford, Michigan, was rumored to have been a candidate for the Central Michigan job (Keno Davis is now the head man for the Chippewas) along with other MAC jobs, while Paulsen was speculated to be a candidate for the Dayton job in 2011. Paulsen, however, was awarded with a five-year extension to his contract last year, so it looks like he will remain in Lewisburg for the foreseeable future. Paulsen has won everywhere he has coached: St. Lawrence, Le Moyne, Williams, and now Bucknell. Reed is one of the brighter young basketball minds in the coaching ranks, and in my mind the smoothest and most eloquent speaker in the game.
Pivotal Season for Brown, Holy Cross: Although Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown has a less than stellar mark of 23-35 record in his first two years at the helm, he nearly doubled his win total from year one to two (8-21 in 2010-11, 15-14 in 2011-12). As such, it is imperative that he builds upon the success the Crusaders had during conference play last year — Holy Cross won its final six games of the regular season — and continue this upward trend. Brown has made it known he wishes to push the ball up the floor on offense whenever the opportunity presents itself, and to instill a high-pressure man-to-man defense. With two recruiting classes now under his belt, Holy Cross should be more apt in implementing Brown’s offensive and defensive systems. Despite those two recruiting classes on campus, it will be slightly more difficult to build on the success as R.J. Evans elected to use his final year of eligibility at Connecticut. (Hard to blame Evans for his decision as he hails from the Nutmeg State and watched the Huskies win two national titles growing up.) Read the rest of this entry »
Tonight’s Lede – Thursday was a fairly slow first day of NCAA Tournament action, producing just two total upsets and leaving much to be desired in terms of thrilling finishes. Friday was a completely different story – two #15 seeds won on the same day for the first time ever, with the results coming just a couple of hours apart. We also saw a #13, #12, #11, and two #10 seeds come out victorious in one of the craziest days in Big Dance history. Half of the games on the schedule resulted in upsets, including seven of the final nine contests on this freaky Friday night. Without further ado, we provide everything you need to know in this installment of After The Buzzer…
Your Watercooler Moment. #15 Norfolk State Stuns #2 Missouri.
It was supposed to be the late afternoon game to fill the only quiet block of the evening. #15-seed Norfolk State against #2 Missouri, the exciting up-tempo team that produced the most efficient offense in the country this season with its four-guard attack. Mizzou was a very popular Final Four pick, considered the team with the greatest upside in the West Region. But then things got interesting; pesky Norfolk State was hanging around and had the game tied at halftime. Every time you looked up at the scoreboard in the second half, Norfolk was ahead or behind by a couple of points and that’s when it was time to tell all your friends that we might have a serious bracket-buster taking place. Sure enough, it happened. The Spartans of the MEAC conference became the first #15-seed to win an NCAA Tournament game in 11 years since a fellow MEAC school did it in the form of Hampton University over Iowa State in 2001. This year, it was dominant big man Kyle O’Quinn who paced the way with a monster double-double for a team that shot 54.2% from the field and went 10-19 from three. Missouri played fine offensively, shooting 52.7% itself, but the Tigers allowed the tournament’s least-efficient offense to hit shots from everywhere on the floor as well as out-hustle them to loose balls and open rebounds. Little did we know, the madness was only beginning on this night.
Also Worth Chatting About. Hours Later, #15 Lehigh Makes History
Most brackets were busted from Missouri’s loss alone, but those who happened to have the Tigers falling early in their pools surely didn’t survive the rest of the night, either. The 7:00 PM ET block of games blew the roof off of this tournament, beginning with the little guys from the Patriot League. #15 Lehigh had a terrific year led by mid-major star guard C.J. McCollum, but nobody thought this team had a chance against Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils, the most successful NCAA Tournament team of the past 20 years. #2-seed Duke, though, was vulnerable because of an injury to starting forward Ryan Kelly and an overall trend of weak recent play thanks to a porous defense. The Mountain Hawks took advantage early and often, leading this game early in the first half and continuing to put the pressure on Duke’s ‘D’. McCollum was the star of the show, Duke wasn’t hitting from the perimeter, and Lehigh really had a chance to win this game. Late in the second half it was anyone’s game, but McCollum made big play after big play while no Duke guard could counter. Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, and Andre Dawkins combined to shoot 4-19 from three. Gabe Knutson matched Mason Plumlee inside going for 17 points on 5-5 shooting. And when the buzzer sounded, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks were winners in a thorough victory that made history. For the first time ever, two #15 seeds won in the same year of the NCAA Tournament. And it all happened on the same evening, just two-and-a-half hours apart.
Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), South (11 AM), Midwest (2 PM), West (4 PM). Here, Kevin Doyle breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).
Favorite:#1 Kentucky (32-2, 16-0 SEC). Shouldn’t really need much of an explanation here. The most talented team in the nation — unquestionably — the Wildcats will be the odds-on favorite to not just emerge from the South Region, but also to cut down the nets in New Orleans. Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones spearhead a terrifyingly good starting five.
The Length And Athleticism Of Terrence Jones and Kentucky Are Just One Of Many Issues That Teams Face
Should They Falter:#2 Duke (27-6, 13-3 ACC).Austin Rivers does not play like a typical freshman and while Duke has its flaws on defense (perimeter defense, especially), the Blue Devils are more apt to make a run to the Final Four due to their balance on offense. Rivers and Seth Curry are prolific shooters/scorers in the backcourt, while the Plumlee brothers make for a formidable frontcourt. Much of Duke’s success hinges on junior Ryan Kelly’s health (sprained ankle). Kelly, while not a lockdown defender by any means, is 6’11″ and really helps in defending the three-point line for Duke. Even without a healthy Kelly, Duke still has an easier road to the Sweet Sixteen than other contenders in the South Region.
Grossly Overseeded:#11Colorado(23-11, 11-7 Pac-12). Clearly, the committee thought higher of the Pac-12 than many others did. First, there was much debate whether this power six conference — far from “powerful” this season — would even receive an at-large bid, but they did in California. Secondly, Colorado was not on anybody’s radar prior to the Pac-12 Tournament as it stood at 19-11 with seven losses in conference play. Yet, winning the conference tournament propelled Colorado to a very respectable seed at #11. Many prognosticators had the Buffaloes at a #13 seed going into Selection Sunday.
Grossly Underseeded:#14 South Dakota State(27-7, 15-3 Summit). It is too big of a stretch to say that South Dakota State is “grossly” underseeded, but I do believe they were worthy of a #13 seed. When comparing the Jackrabbits to the #13 seed in this region, their resume is every bit as good, if not better, than New Mexico State: SDSU has a better overall record, higher RPI, more wins against the Top 100 RPI, and a more challenging non-conference schedule. Not to mention South Dakota State’s thrashing of Washington 92-73, even though the Huskies are not a Tournament team, is very impressive.
As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. In this post, we have your SoCon, Ivy, NEC, Patriot, and Big Sky conference champions. Here’s what you need to know about these recent bid winners.
Southern Conference Champion (25-7, 19-2)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #66/#67/#69
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +8.8
Likely NCAA Seed: #13-#14
Davidson Is Back in the Dance Looking For More McKillop Magic (AP/B. Leverone)
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
First of all, let’s put this to rest immediately. Although Davidson’s record of 25-7 is nearly the same as it was in 2008 when the Wildcats came within a long three-pointer of the Final Four, this year’s team is not nearly as good as that one, led by a young Stephen Curry. But it wouldn’t be a Bob McKillop-coached team if it wasn’t dangerous, and the Wildcats are certainly that, as their mid-December upset win over likely #1 seed Kansas attests. Led by a group of sophomores and juniors who can score inside and out, Davidson likes to get out in transition and spread the floor in the halfcourt. All five starters are capable of hitting the three-ball (34% to 37%), and although the Wildcats won’t beat you that way, they use the threat of it to find easy looks inside. Whoever draws this team in its first game will have its hands full with the Davidson offense.
McKillop’s defense, however, is a bit of a different story. The Wildcats don’t turn teams over and, at least against good opponents, have a lot of trouble stopping dribble penetration. Duke dropped 82 on the Wildcats as Austin Rivers and Seth Curry had 17 points each; Vanderbilt went for 87 as Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins combined for 52 points; Wichita State had 91 in a win where Joe Ragland dropped 30 and his backcourt mate Toure’ Murray added 16 more. You get the point. Athletic scoring guards are a big problem for the Wildcats.
Given those conditions, Davidson is projected to play a #3 or #4 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. Among the teams in that group, there are a few that they absolutely do not want to see under any circumstances. For example, Michigan’s Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., would be disastrous. On the other hand, Georgetown’s Jason Clark and Martel Starks would be much more manageable. As the Wildcats have already shown against the Jayhawks once this year, they are a dangerous squad if the conditions are right. We wouldn’t bet on them pulling another first game upset this year, but keep an eye on teams built like them (high offense, no defense) for possible victims.
Ivy League Champion (26-4, 12-2)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #36/#38/#43
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +8.4
Likely NCAA Seed: #10-#11
Tommy Amaker Has His Harvard Team Focused on the NCAAs (US Presswire/G. Cooper)
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
Harvard basketball has been in the news a lot lately, mostly due to former player Jeremy Lin’s emergence as an NBA star point guard. But when Tommy Amaker and his team watched Penn lose to Princeton on Tuesday night, the Crimson sealed their first NCAA Tournament berth in 66 years. Not once did this team make it during Lin’s tenure, and Harvard is finally back in the Big Dance this year thanks to a terrific defense and overall efficient team. This squad challenged itself in the non-conference and won the Battle for Atlantis Tournament that included a field of Connecticut and Florida State. They also defeated St. Joseph’s and finished with a strong 12-2 record in the Ivy League with only two close losses to top competitors Princeton and Penn. Read the rest of this entry »
Tonight’s Lede. The Big East Tournament continued in the early afternoon, but nothing crazy has happened in New York City, yet, with all favorites moving on to Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Big 12 and Pac-12 tournaments also got underway on Wednesday, but all of the top seeds had byes until later rounds. The most exciting action once again took place in the smaller conference tourneys, providing more do-or-die action with Big Dance tickets on the line. We start with the best game of the night, which took place in the Patriot League:
Your Watercooler Moment.C.J. McCollum Outduels Mike Muscala for Lehigh Victory
C.J. McCollum Put the Team on his Back to Send Lehigh Dancing (Getty Images/R. Martinez)
The Patriot League final took place on #1 seed Bucknell’s court, and the home team’s star player went off for 30 points and 14 rebounds. But it wasn’t enough, as the conference’s leading scorer made a few more plays for the road team. C.J. McCollum, the league Player of the Year who put up ridiculous numbers this season, again ran wild for the Mountain Hawks on Wednesday night. The junior guard scored 29 points with five assists, three rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, doing it all for Lehigh including hitting 10-13 free throws with several of them in the final four minutes. Mike Muscala had a monster double-double for Bucknell, but he could not convert on the team’s final couple of possessions and didn’t get enough help from his teammates. Lehigh held on to win, 82-77, and is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Brooklyn Represents the Northeast Conference Once Again. LIU-Brooklyn is one of the highest scoring teams in Division I, and not even the NEC’s best defensive team could slow down the Blackbirds on Wednesday night. LIU defeated Robert Morris, 90-73, on Wednesday night to capture its second consecutive NEC title. The Blackbirds head back to the NCAA Tournament where they last were disposed of by North Carolina in a high-scoring round one game. Expect much of the same for an LIU team that has high-flying forwards (Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere each average about 17 points per game), but doesn’t play a whole lot of defense. The attacking style worked in the NEC, but could it work as a #15 seed in the NCAAs? Regardless, Brooklyn will be in the house for the Big Dance. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
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):
Bucknell (11-3) 1. Bucknell (12-2)
Lehigh (9-5) 2. Lehigh (11-3)
Holy Cross (7-7) 3. American (10-4)
Colgate (7-7) 4. Holy Cross (9-5)
American (6-8) 5. Lafayette (7-7)
Navy (6-8) 6. Army (5-9)
Lafayette (6-8) 7. Colgate (2-12)
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 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.
Average points against all PL teams other than Bucknell
Average points scored against Bucknell
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.
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)
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and author of The Other 26, an RTC columnwhich 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
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.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and America East Conference.
Patriot League Standings (conf/over):
Lafayette 2-0, 11-6
Navy 2-0, 8-9
Lehigh 1-1, 10-7
Army 1-1, 11-5
Bucknell 1-1, 6-12
Colgate 1-1, 5-11
American 0-2, 3-14
Holy Cross 0-2, 3-14
Hottest Team. Lafayette (4-1)
L 82-72 OT at Delaware; W 77-62 vs. Penn; W 91-74 vs. Columbia; W 84-74 vs. Holy Cross; W 95-82 at Colgate
Lafayette has won four straight games and only has one loss since Christmas.
Stud Player.Kyle Roemer– Sr. Colgate; 28.5 PPG in conference play.
Roemer is averaging 19 PPG, but started off the conference play with a 26 point game that included a game-tying three that sent Colgate into overtime. He followed it up with a 31 point game.
Thoughts on the Patriot League:
It looks like this season will see more high-scoring games than the 2008-09 Patriot League. No player scored 30 or more points in a regular-season game last year. After the first week of conference games this year there already have been two. The longest winning streak of the season by any Patriot League team was snapped this past Thursday.
Lafayette has won seven of their last eight, with the only loss being an overtime game at Delaware. The Leopards opened up the conference schedule with a win against preseason favorite Holy Cross. Ryan Willen led the way in the game scoring 20 points. Willen was one of four Leopards in double figures. Lafayette shot 8-15 from long range in the game and 20-23 from the line in the ten-point win. Lafayette never trailed during the game. In the first conference game on the road Lafayette got another double-digit victory, and once again had a second half to remember. In the first two conference games the Leopards have put up over 50 points in the second half. Willen once again was one of four players with double-digit points. This time he had 19 points in 19 minutes. Jared Mintz led the way with 22 points.
Navy has started out 2-0 in conference play. The victories came at Bucknell and over Lehigh. Lehigh was in the midst of a six-game winning streak when Navy took them down, 94-83, at home. Senior guard Chris Harris put together an impressive offensive performance scoring 29 points while going 14-14 from the charity stripe. Harris is currently averaging 20.2 PPG to lead the Patriot League. Navy overwhelmed Lehigh in the second half scoring 58 points. The Mids used runs of 10-2 and 9-0 to stretch the lead in the last ten minutes to double digits.
Lehigh had their six-game winning streak snapped by Navy despite a career-high 31 points from freshman C.J. McCollum. In the Mountain Hawks first game of the conference schedule they scored an 11 point victory over American. Zahir Carrington put together a double-double that game with 18 points and 12 rebounds while point guard MarquisHall added 17 points and six assists. Lehigh had a big lead at half, but allowed the Eagles to climb back into it before six straights points with under two minutes left put the game away.
Army opened up their conference schedule on the road. The first matchup was at Colgate followed by a game at Holy Cross. In the opener Army blew a four point halftime lead to Colgate. Cleveland Richard was the only player who hit double figures for the Black Knights, finishing with 20 points. Army then beat Holy Cross in Worcester. That was just the second win in the last eighteen meetings with Holy Cross, but both have come at HC in the last three years. In this matchup it was Richard’s defense that came up big, when he blocked a last-second three-pointer by Holy Cross with a chance to tie it. Army ended up winning 67-64 led by Josh Miller’s 22 points. Army’s 11-5 start is the best since the 1978-79 season.
Bucknell snapped a three-game losing streak that included their lowest output of the year with a victory at home over American. Patrick Behan led the way with 22 points in the 72-68 win over American. It was Bryson Johnson’s big three that sent the game into overtime. Johnson finished with 16 points in the contest. The Bison controlled the ball better than ever before in program history, committing just one turnover the entire game.
Colgate had won five out of six including a conference opener against Army before Lafayette came to town and beat them, 95-82. Colgate took Army to overtime in the opener. Kyle Roemer finished with 26 points including a three-pointer to force overtime. Roemer scored nine points in overtime to propel Colgate to victory. Roemer then came out against Lafayette and scored 31 points. Roemer shot a perfect 11-11 from the free throw line.
Holy Cross continued their disappointing start with two losses in league play. The first one came at Lafayette, the second one was at home against Army. Holy Cross outrebounded Army 37-28, led by Andrew Keister’s 18 rebounds, but still lost the matchup by three. Andrew Beinert had his last second three blocked. Holy Cross has now last eight of their last nine. It was Keister’s second 18 rebound game of the season.
American also continued their lackluster season with a 0-2 Patriot League start. Against Bucknell, American had the lead with less than two minutes to play before the Bison made their final run. The Eagles went 1-5 on their six game road trip with the only win being at Brown. That is also their only win since the upset of Depaul. Since Vlad Moldoveanu joined the lineup he has done everything he can, averaging 18.4 PPG and 6 RPG.
Key Upcoming Matchup
01.16.10 – Lafayette at Navy – 7 pm.
First place teams in the Patriot League face off early in the season in this matchup in Annapolis. One team will get their first conference loss of the year. If Lafayette manages to get the victory at Navy, it will give them the confidence to continue this stretch of great basketball. It will come down to whether or not they can contain superstar Chris Harris.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and America East Conference.
Current Standings (with overall record):
Holy Cross 2-8
Hottest Team: Army (3-1 on the week)
W 64-48 vs. Yale, W 64-58 vs. Bryant, L 74-67 at Buffalo, W 61-40 at Farleigh Dickinson
Coach Zach Spiker has these Black Knights playing better than expected. No one can say they have had a tough schedule so far, but you play the games in front of you and Army is the only Patriot League team with a winning record at this point.
Harris got many accolades for his recent performances, including Patriot League Player of the Week, ECAC Division I Player of the Week, and Mid Majority Player of the Week. Harris is one of only nine players nationally with at least two 30-point games so far this year. He also hit this game winner: