It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, and what better way to get you through the next 14 days of games than to break down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way, that’s right, starting tonight.
Dates: March 3, 5, 8, 12 Site: Campus sites (higher-seeded team hosts)
What to expect: American started 10-0 in conference play before Boston University came on strong to win the league, yet neither team comes in as hot as Bucknell. The Bison — which pulled off NCAA Tournament upsets in 2005 and 2006 — have won six games in a row and are playing their best basketball of the year, especially on the defensive end. Beating the Terriers in their home gym will be a tall task, but if Dave Paulsen’s club can take down the top dogs once again, it might just hear its name called on Selection Sunday. This should be among the more wide open tournaments during Championship Week, with every team in the top half of the conference having lost at least once to a team in the bottom half. The unexpected should be the expected in the Patriot League.
Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), Midwest (11 AM), South (1 PM), West (3 PM). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).
You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Brian breaking down the East Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.
Favorite: #1 Indiana (27-6, 14-5 Big Ten). Ranked No. 1 in 10 of the 19 AP Top 25 polls this season (through last week), Indiana is the strong favorite in this region. The Hoosiers won the Big Ten regular season title but fell to Wisconsin in the conference tournament semifinals this past Saturday. Indiana fans are definitely bummed that their team won’t be playing in the Indianapolis regional but they will still show up. IU fans travel as well as any school in the country.
Cody Zeller and the Hoosiers earned the top seed in the East region (Photo: Andy Lyons)
Should They Falter: #2 Miami (27-6, 18-3 ACC). It has been a dream season in Coral Gables as Miami won both the ACC regular season and tournament titles. History, however, is against this team. Miami has made only one Sweet Sixteen appearance (1999-2000) in program history, representing the furthest this program has ever ventured into March. Also, nobody on the roster has ever played in an NCAA Tournament game. There are positives, though. Head coach Jim Larranaga obviously had a memorable run with George Mason in 2006 and most of Miami’s major contributors are older, veteran players. It’s much easier to win when you’re coaching 22- and 23-year olds rather than 18- and 19-year olds.
Grossly Overseeded: #4 Syracuse (26-9, 14-8 Big East). Despite advancing to the Big East championship game and playing better than Louisville for 24 minutes in that game, Syracuse’s overall profile looks more like a #5 or #6 seed rather than a #4. The Orange were just 5-5 in true road games, under .500 against the RPI top 50 and only 12-9 against the top 100. Before the Big East Tournament run, Syracuse had lost seven of its last 12 regular season games. There’s no doubt the week at Madison Square Garden helped Jim Boeheim’s team (as it historically has), but Syracuse is still too high for my liking.
Grossly Underseeded: #14 Davidson (26-7, 20-1 Southern Conference). Stephen Curry put Davidson on the map with a magical run to the 2008 Elite Eight, the only NCAA Tournament victories for the Wildcats since 1969. This year’s edition is pretty good in its own right. Coached by Bob McKillop, who has now made a respectable seven NCAA Tournament appearances in his 24 years at the small school near Charlotte, North Carolina, the Wildcats won 26 games and lost only once in conference play. Davidson challenged itself in the non-conference, playing the #20-rated schedule that included games against Gonzaga, Duke and New Mexico. Davidson has just two top 100 wins but we figured a 26-win team that scheduled up would have been rewarded with something other than a #14 seed. Ken Pomeroy’s rating projects only a four-point loss to Marquette so it’s clear that the Wildcats are capable of winning a game.
Over the course of the last two nights, four more teams made their Big Dance dreams a reality. As each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets next weekend.
It’s An NEC Tournament Three-Peat For The Blackbirds. Welcome Back To The Big Dance!
NEC Champion (20-13, 15-6)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #178/#184/#162
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +0.2
Likely NCAA Seed: #16
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
While it might be a bit of hyperbole to announce the Long Island Blackbirds as a NEC dynasty, three conference tournament titles in a row will get that conversation started. LIU may have found the transition under new coach Jack Perri to be slightly rougher than expected – they were just 5-10 before winning 10 of their final 13 games – but a familiar destination has appeared at the end of the road – the NCAA Tournament. And while the Blackbirds haven’t completely embarrassed themselves in the past two NCAA Tournaments (losing by 15 and 22 points, respectively), can this year’s team make the next step and put a real scare into one of the field’s top teams?
Normally, a team playing at the 29th quickest tempo in the nation would be lauded for their freneticism, and yes, LIU does play fast. But after back-to-back years of holding a top three spot in the metric, things have slowed down a bit in Brooklyn. The offensive personnel on this team is impressive. Junior point guard Jason Brickman is the nation’s leader in assists at 8.5 per contest, while his backcourt mate CJ Garner has been on a scoring tear, going for 30+ in three of the Blackbirds last four. Neither is the team’s most talented player, however; senior Jamal Olasewere plays power forward for LIU at 6’7”, but would seamlessly fit in on most any power conference team at the two or the three. A phenomenal athlete who can both put the ball on the deck and score with his back to the basket, Olasewere is a match-up problem waiting to happen.
It’s fun to watch LIU play offense. Too often though, it’s just as fun to watch their opponents play offense. LIU ranks 318th nationally in defensive efficiency, and gave up at least 89 points to each of their three power conference foes this season — Kentucky, Maryland, and Seton Hall (yes, the same Seton Hall that managed a total of 81 regulation points during its two-game Big East Tournament run.) None of those three games were particularly close. The offensive firepower gives the Blackbirds more bite than your typical #16 seed, but their profound inability to get stops is the reason they will likely be in that slot. LIU might have a little bit of fun at the Big Dance – maybe 20 minutes or so – but nothing they have done so far suggests they are capable of hanging with the nation’s elite for the full 40.
Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. Follow him on Twitter (@mitchgoldich) for live updates throughout the Patriot League Tournament.
Bucknell Locks Up Home Court Advantage: The Bison made history this season, becoming the first Patriot League team ever to win three consecutive outright regular season titles. Their 12-2 conference record gives them the top seed in the tournament, ensuring that all of their games will be played in Sojka Pavilion. Their success in Sojka is one of the key reasons they’ve been so great over the last few years, and is a big reason they’ll be tough to take down in the tournament. The Bison went 11-1 on their home floor this season, including a 6-1 mark in conference play. The Bison are an astounding 75-15 all-time against Patriot League foes in Sojka, though that does include a loss to Lehigh in last year’s Patriot League Championship Game.
McCollum Unlikely To Return:The entire complexion of the Patriot League season changed on January 5, when Lehigh star CJ McCollum broke his foot in a nationally televised game against VCU. Lehigh’s preseason All-American became one of the breakout stars in college basketball when he scored 30 points in the Mountain Hawks’ upset over Duke in last year’s NCAA Tournament. He lived up to the hype surrounding his senior season, and led the nation in scoring (25.7 points per game) before the injury. The initial time frame had him out 8-to-10 weeks, which is anywhere from March 2-16. Head coach Brett Reed said on the Patriot League coaches’ conference call that McCollum continues to get healthier, but that he is preparing for the tournament with his squad that went 8-4 in league play without their star. Even if McCollum was healthy enough to take the court, there’s no way to know how many minutes he could log or how effective he’d be.
Leopards Running Hot:While Bucknell and Lehigh dominated the preseason and early-season headlines, it’s that other team in Pennsylvania playing the best ball in the conference right now. The Lafayette Leopards started the season 1-6 and 3-8. On December 14, I even had them dead last in my Patriot League Power Rankings. A close loss at Stanford left them 5-10 at the new year, but seemed to offer hope that the team had figured things out. Behind Tony Johnson’s stellar play at point guard, the Leopards won nine of their final 11 conference games, including an upset over Bucknell and a season sweep over the hated rival Lehigh. The Leopards enter the Patriot League Tournament on a five-game winning streak, and are a legitimate contender to win their first league championship since the 1999-2000 season.
Breaking Down the Tournament Field
Bucknell(25-5, 12-2) – Bucknell spent the non-conference portion of their season flirting with an automatic bid, but their run through league play was not dominant enough to keep them in that discussion. They have simply not looked as good since they nearly beat Missouri in January (more on that below), but they are still the favorite to win the tournament. In addition to Muscala, they have a strong cast with seniors Bryson Johnson and Joe Willman, also in the 1,000 point club. Johnson set the conference record for most three-pointers made in a career and Cameron Ayers joined him at better than 41 percent from beyond. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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.
RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.
Three more conferences get their tournaments underway tonight which means that several more teams will have their dreams of advancing to the greatest Dance in the world dashed, while others will inch one step closer to winning their conference championship. Tonight the Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley and Patriot League tournaments all get underway. Belmont and Bucknell are the obvious favorites to win their respective conferences, but the Ohio Valley is a little unclear with Morehead State and Murray State butting heads at the top, and Austin Peay not too far behind.
The Favorite: Belmont is the clear-cut favorite to win the league this year and advance to the Tournament for the first time since 2008 when they nearly upset Duke. A surprising setback at Lipscomb is the only loss that prevented the Bruins from going a perfect 20-0 in league play.
Dark Horse: Not surprisingly, Lipscomb is the dark horse to win the A-Sun. Although they have a rather pedestrian 12-8 record within the league, they were the only team to knock off Belmont. Plus, they boast one of the best players in the league with Adnan Hodzic as the senior forward from Bosnia is averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds a night. In their victory over Belmont, Hodzic tore up the Bruins going off for 26 points.
Who’s Hot: Winning 19 games in conference and not losing to a team located outside the state of Tennessee makes Belmont the hottest team in the Atlantic Sun. To be honest, it would be a real shock if the Bruins were not the last team standing come March 5.
Player to Watch: With Mike Smith—the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year from ETSU—sidelined with an injury, there is no clear player to keep an eye on during the tournament. Lipscomb’s Josh Slater, however, is someone to definitely keep tabs on. Most of the attention is focused on Adnan Hodzic, but no one in the A-Sun can fill up the stat sheet quite like Slater who averages 16.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists.
First-Round Upset: Campbell over East Tennessee State. ETSU looked to be one of Belmont’s biggest threats in the conference tournament, but the Buccaneers have been decimated by injuries to two of their top players: Mike Smith (ankle) and Micah Williams (shoulder); their status for ETSU’s first game is uncertain. Campbell is one of the coldest teams around having lost eight of their last nine games, but lost by just seven points to ETSU in their last meeting.
How’d They Fare?ETSU was a 16 seed and was ripped apart by Kentucky 100-71 in last year’s Tournament.
Interesting Fact: Dating back to the 2005 Tournament, the highest seed the Atlantic Sun team has received in the NCAA Tournament has been a 15. Assuming Belmont wins the league this year, that will all change.
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.
If Holy Cross somehow wins the Patriot League Tournament and advances on to the NCAA Tournament, they would have the worst winning percentage ever of a team in the field. Their 11-20 record would give them a winning percentage of .355. Currently, the team with the lowest percentage that competed in the NCAA Tournament was George Washington who entered the 1961 Tournament with a 9-16 record (.360). It really is not all too farfetched that the Crusaders win the Patriot League Championship. Five of their seven league losses came by four points or less, and both of their games with Bucknell went into the final minute. Speaking of the Crusaders, junior guard Devin Brown has been one of the best scorers in the league as of late, and is just two points away from reaching the 1,000 mark for his career. In his last nine games, Brown is averaging 23.2 points a game.
In my “Other 26” column, I remarked that Army is the only team in the country who is in last place in their league to have defeated the team in first place. By virtue of this occurrence, every team in the league—even those in the bottom half—should feel like they have a chance at attaining the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Best chance for an upset in the first round: Colgate over American. I am really going out on a limb with this one, but Colgate is a team that is surging—their record would not indicate it—as they have been taking the better teams in the league to the brink. Aside from a disastrous 20-point loss to Navy, the Raiders lost to Holy Cross by two and Bucknell by eight; they had an opportunity to win both games in the final minute. May they catch American looking ahead to a semifinal date with Holy Cross or Lafayette?
Predicted Champion: Bucknell. How can the Bison not be the clear favorite heading into the tournament? Aside from a hiccup at Christl Arena, Bucknell has been the most consistent team in the league and has some impressive non-conference wins to boot. Assuming Bucknell does in fact win the Patriot League, they are most likely looking at a 14-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Many things would have to fall in Bucknell’s direction and other teams would have to lose in order for them to receive a 13-seed.
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 MikeMuscala 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 StephenTyree.
Player of the Weeks (Feb. 3-Feb. 16): BrysonJohnson, 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 MitchRolls has been one of the best shooters in the Patriot League during this stretch and YawGyawu—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 JulianSimmons. 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 DevinBrown 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.
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 HolyCross 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—VladMoldoveanu, 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. MichaelOjo hit two threes—one late in regulation and the other in overtime—JordanHamilton (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 GabeKnutson 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. JeremyHence 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 StephenLumpkins 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 MilanBrown, 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. JimMower and RyanWillen 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 SterlingMelville. 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, MikeVenezia 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.
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.
A Look Back
A Surge at the Top—Bucknell 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 25conference.
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.
Devin Brown (G) – Holy Cross (13.2 ppg, 45.4 3pt%)
Troy Brewer (G) – American (transferred from Georgia)
Navy's Jordan Sugars is ready for another big season in the fiercely competitive Patriot League.
What You Need to Know
Gone are the days where Bucknell and Holy Cross had supremacy against the six other members of the Patriot League. In three years ranging from the 2004-05 season to the 2006-07 season, the Bison and Crusaders compiled a gaudy 74-10 record in Patriot League action. In this span, Bucknell garnered two NCAA Tournament wins (Kansas and Arkansas), while Holy Cross had an NIT victory (NotreDame). Times have changed, however, as storied coaches Pat Flannery (Bucknell) and Ralph Willard (Holy Cross) have moved on to other endeavors. Since then, the Patriot League has become one of the most competitive leagues in the country in terms of balance within the conference. Jeff Jones at American hit the lottery with a dominant backcourt in GarrisonCarr and DerrickMercer, who nearly pulled off a dramatic upset of Villanova two years ago, and Lehigh saw freshman sensation CJ McCollum carry them all the way to a Patriot League title just a year ago. In the 2010-11 campaign, however, it is anyone’s guess as to whom will be standing atop the pedestal come year’s end. Lafayette and Bucknell have the most talent coming back, American has Player of the Year candidate Vlad Moldoveanu playing for the entire season (he missed the fall semester last year), Lehigh has McCollum back after his rookie season that saw him dominate Patriot League competition by averaging 23 points per contest, and HolyCross returns a boatload of talent, but will be playing under their third coach in three years.