Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.
A Look Back
1,000 Point Club—Jared Mintz becomes the first active Patriot League player to score 1,000 points in Lafayette’s win against Colgate. The senior from Canada has progressed leaps and bounds since his freshman year where he averaged just two points a game. Now, he is one of the league’s best big men.
Back-to-Back—The United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) named Vlad Moldoveanu their National Player of the Week for the Week of January 9, and the following week honored Bucknell sophomore Mike Muscala. The USBWA has named just seven athletes from all across Division-I basketball—beginning on the week of December 5—as their Player of the Week. Sure is pretty impressive that two PL players were recipients of the award.
Leaders of the Pack—Speaking of Mike Muscala, his Bucknell Bison have clearly distinguished themselves from the rest of the Patriot League. While their game against Holy Cross was much closer than they would have hoped, the Bison are now 4-0 in the PL and are a morphing into an explosive and dynamic offense with Muscala on the inside and their strong three-point shooting on the outside (40.8%).
Second Best—Nope, it is not Lehigh or American that may be the second best team in the league. Although their record would certainly not indicate it, Holy Cross may be the second best team in the Patriot League. After squeaking by Lafayette, the ‘Saders thrashed Army and Navy and played Bucknell to a two-point game before losing in the final seconds. I will certainly be eating my words, however, if American comes into the Hart Center and defeats Holy Cross on Saturday (1/22).
An Important Piece is Back—Mike Venezia won’t lead the Colgate Raiders to a Patriot League Championship, and he may not even lead them to more than just a few wins in the league, but he is now back in the starting rotation for Emmett Davis after missing eight games with a knee injury and has the ‘Gate playing much better. Since his return to the court against Lafayette to open league play, Colgate competed well with Lafayette and American. Against Lehigh, he gave Colgate 28 strong minutes as they upset the Mountain Hawks in dramatic fashion. Venezia is a capable point guard that the Raiders sorely missed.
Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology—In his latest bracketology, Joe Lunardi over on ESPN.com projects Bucknell to be the #14 seed in the Southwest Region, playing Kentucky in the first round. The Bison are surely kicking themselves as bad losses to St. Francis (PA) and Wagner may be the difference between a 13 seed and 14 seed.
Mid-Major Top 25—I usually do not like to overtly depict my opinions, but I believe that Bucknell is grossly underrepresented in the College Insider’s Mid-Major Top 25. In the January 17 poll, Bucknell received only four votes, while fellow Patriot League team American received two. There is a distinct possibility that when voting, the coaches simply look at Bucknell’s 12-7 record—their record when the poll was released—and observe what on the surface appears to be a mediocre mark.
Team of the Weeks (Jan. 6-Jan. 19): Bucknell: Bucknell has now won 11 of 12 games with their lone loss coming against Boston College by four points, and they are a perfect 4-0 in the Patriot League. The Bison disposed of the American Eagles, who appeared to be their primary challenger heading into conference play, but struggled with Holy Cross who entered the game with a 3-13 record. As the old sports adage goes though: “Throw the records out the window in a rivalry game,” and that was exactly the case when Holy Cross visited Lewisburg. Bucknell led for virtually the entire game, but HC tied things up with 28 seconds remaining. Mike Muscala drilled a baseline jumper with 1.4 seconds remaining to seal the win for the Bison. Muscala is not unfamiliar with late game heroics as just weeks prior he connected on a buzzer beater to defeat Richmond.
Player of the Weeks (Jan. 6-Jan. 19): Mike Muscala, Bucknell: From strictly a numbers perspective, Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum (26/8/2), American’s Vlad Moldoveanu (24/9/2), and Bucknell’s Mike Muscala (25/9/1) have all had very similar performances over the past four games. Even with such balance, there was a clear selection for player of the weeks: Mike Muscala. Playing against American in a 75-60 win, Muscala completely outclassed Moldoveanu as Muscala went off for 33 points and 10 rebounds, while the native of Romania had a paltry seven points. And, while C.J. McCollum certainly had worthy statistics as well, Lehigh went just 1-3 in their first four PL games. Muscala got it done both on the stat sheet and record book. The sophomore from Minnesota is developing into the Patriot League’s best forward.
Freshman of the Weeks (Jan. 6-Jan. 19): J.J. Avila, Navy: For the third time this year and the second straight week, J.J. Avila is the freshman of the weeks. Avila, due to an abundance of playing time for Billy Lange, more than doubled any other freshman’s performance in the point and rebounding departments over the course of the first four games in Patriot League action. Navy has greatly struggled as they are 0-4 and the only winless team in the PL, but Avila has found a nice niche for the Midshipmen as he is averaging 13.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, an even 2 assists, and an impressive 2.3 steals per game.
Clip of the Week
Muscala is becoming Mr. Clutch, as he hit his second game-winning shot of the season in the final seconds. His first one coming against Richmond was a replica of Christian Laettner’s classic shot for Duke 19 years ago, and the most recent one against Holy Cross dashed the Crusaders’ comeback hopes. The Bison squandered a 14-point second half lead, but Muscala’s heroics saved the day for Bucknell. (Note: scroll to 4:53 of the video clip to see Muscala’s shot)
Quote of the Week
Taken from Holy Cross head coach’s Milan Brown’s website, Brown exudes confidence and excitement that the Patriot League portion of their schedule is a new season. Although cliché, his sentiments are absolutely true and Holy Cross appears to have taken it to heart:
“The PL is the start of our 2nd season. I told our guys that all 8 teams start 0-0. I want them to be excited and positive about the opportunity we still have as a team. The past is just that, the past.”
Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Bucknell (1) (13-7, 4-0)
Previous Two Weeks: W Navy 71-64, W American 75-60, W Holy Cross 74-72, W Lafayette 75-56
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 vs. Colgate, 1/26 @ Lehigh, 1/29 @ Army
The time appears to have finally come for Dave Paulsen and the Bucknell Bison. In his inaugural season, Paulsen led the Bison to a very disappointing 7-23 mark, but in year number three he has developed Bucknell into the class of the Patriot League due to some fabulous recruiting classes, and great senior leadership from their starting point guard Darryl Shazier and forward Stephen Tyree. Averaging the most minutes played in the PL with 33 per game, Shazier is one of the best floor leader’s in the nation as his assist to turnover ratio is a remarkable 4:1. As for Tyree, if you are looking for an impressive statistic to attribute to him, well, you won’t find one. In fact, he has played in just two games all season. By all accounts, however, Tyree is the emotional leader for the Bison. Tearing his ACL during the preseason, the senior from Texas is essentially playing on one leg, but managed to give Bucknell five valuable minutes against Holy Cross. Through four PL games, Bucknell’s margin of victory is a shade over 10 points and they are the clear favorite in the early going to garner the coveted automatic-bid to the NCAA Tournament.
2. American (2) (13-6, 3-1)
Previous Two Weeks: W Lehigh 82-75, L Bucknell 75-60, W Colgate 66-57, W Army 65-62
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 @ Holy Cross, 1/26 @ Navy, 1/29 Lafayette
American would have, no doubt, liked to have hold serve on their home floor against Bucknell, but it was not to be as they lost to the Bison by 15 points in a game that was never really that close. Bucknell took a commanding 21-8 lead with 8:50 remaining in the first half, and American would never get within single digits the rest of the way. In doing so, the Bison held AU’s top player, Vlad Moldoveanu, to his worst showing of the season as he scored just seven points on 2-9 shooting. Aside from this setback, American took care of business in their other three games by winning them all. By virtue of their non-conference performance, AU is the #2 team in this week’s power rankings, but Holy Cross is nipping at their heels.
3. Holy Cross (7) (4-14, 3-1)
Previous Two Weeks: W Lafayette 70-65, W Army 68-54, L Bucknell 74-72, W Navy 71-50
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 vs. American, 1/27 vs. Colgate, 1/29 @ Lehigh
Who’d have thunk it? After going 1-13 during non-conference play, Holy Cross is 3-1 in the Patriot League, a shot away from defeating Bucknell and being 4-0, and have become legitimate contenders to win the Patriot League Championship. The Crusaders received a real boost when senior captain and All-Patriot League forward Andrew Keister returned to the floor after missing three games with an ailing Achilles. Keister returned for the beginning of Patriot League action, and is averaging 13.5 points and 6.75 rebounds during this span. What may be an even bigger lift for Holy Cross is the stocked cupboard full of talented sophomores Ralph Willard recruited that are finally starting to blossom into significant contributors. Specifically, the play of Jordan Stevens and Eric Obeysekere has wowed the Crusader faithful. Stevens is averaging ten points and shooting 42% from three and Obeysekere is the Patriot League’s leading rebounder and shot blocker in four PL games. Progress is certainly being made, but one must remain cognizant that the combined record of the four teams they have beaten is 26-51. A victory over American on Saturday (1/22)—a team that is on the verge of cracking the top 100 RPI—would be one of Milan Brown’s best victories as a head coach and firmly plant the ‘Saders as Bucknell’s biggest threat.
4. Army (4) (10-9, 2-2)
Previous Two Weeks: W Colgate 73-66, L Holy Cross 68-54, W Lehigh 75-72, L American 65-62
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 vs. Navy, 1/26 vs. Lafayette, 1/29 vs. Bucknell
The Black Knights were neck-and-neck with American in the waning stages of their game with them on Wednesday (1/19), and on the verge of making history provided they could topple the Eagles. Army has only beaten American in D.C. one time coming all the way back in 1963, but more importantly, a win would have moved Army to 3-1 in the league and a share of second place; the last time Army was 3-1 in the Patriot League was during the 1990-91 season. After four games though, Army certainly can find solace in being 2-2 and right in the hunt. If the strong play of Army’s big three—Julian Simmons (16.4 pts.), Jeremy Hence (15.5 pts.), and Ella Ellis (13.2 pts.)—continues, they will find themselves in a position to win their fair share of PL games.
5. Lafayette (6) (7-12, 2-2)
Previous Two Weeks: L Holy Cross 70-65, W Colgate 75-64, W Navy 76-73, L Bucknell 75-56
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 vs. Lehigh, 1/26 @ Army, 1/29 @ American
After four league games, Lafayette is right where many people would have predicted them to be: they are 2-2. A win at Holy Cross to begin league play would have been gravy, but the Crusaders were an inspired bunch and came back from a double-digit second half deficit to know off the Leopards. In their fourth PL game, against Bucknell, Lafayette was able to keep it close for a half (trailed 34-30), but Bucknell dominated the second half outscoring them 41-26. Jared Mintz continues to be one of the savviest big guys in the league averaging 16 points and shooting 85% from the line, but aside from him, Lafayette’s game down low is almost nonexistent. Only 44% of the Leopards’ points come on two-point shots which is one of the worst percentages in the nation. Mintz will have no problem getting his points in the PL, but it is the play—more specifically, the shooting—of Ryan Willen, Jim Mower, and Nick Petkovich that will largely determine whether the Leopards are successful. The three are shooting 42% from downtown in PL games, if this high percentage continues Lafayette may have success going forward. Lafayette was, after all, in the PL title game last year.
6. Lehigh (3) (10-9, 1-3)
Previous Two Weeks: L American 82-75, W Navy 71-63, L Army 75-72, L Colgate 80-79
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 @ Lafayette, 1/26 vs. Bucknell, 1/29 vs. Holy Cross
To be brutally honest, it was a disastrous and disappointing two weeks for Lehigh. It is hard to put any of the blame on star guard C.J. McCollum, as he is averaging 26 points and seven rebounds through four PL games, but Lehigh is falling short in some aspect of their game. It may be that those surrounding McCollum are relying too heavily on the sophomore’s superior abilities as he is used in 33% of Lehigh’s possessions while he is on the floor, which is ninth nationally according to Ken Pomeroy. The Mountain Hawks’ two most recent losses came against teams that were projected to finish seventh (Colgate) and eighth (Army) in the league. The road does not get much easier as they travel to arch rival Lafayette and then host two of the league’s top teams in Bucknell and Holy Cross. Despite their recent struggles, Lehigh is always a threat solely due to C.J. McCollum.
7. Colgate (8) (3-15, 1-3)
Previous Two Weeks: L Army 73-66, L Lafayette 75-64, L American 66-57, W Dartmouth 67-64, W Lehigh 80-79
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 @ Bucknell, 1/27 @ Holy Cross, 1/29 vs. Navy, 2/2 vs. Longwood
Colgate is on a winning streak. Yes, you read that correctly. After compiling a record of 1-15 to begin the year, the Raiders defeated a weak Ivy League team in Dartmouth, and then upset last year’s Patriot League champion Lehigh in the final minute as Mitch Rolls hit a shot with eight seconds to propel Colgate to a one point win. Even better news for Colgate going forward is the return of their starting point guard Mike Venezia who has his teammates playing with more confidence and fervor since his return. Colgate’s winning streak looks to be short-lived though as they travel to Bucknell to take on the Bison on Saturday (1/22).
8. Navy (5) (5-15, 0-4)
Previous Two Weeks: L Bucknell 71-64, L Lehigh 71-63, L Lafayette 76-73, L Holy Cross 71-50
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 @ Army, 1/26 vs. American, 1/29 @ Colgate
Navy has hit a real rough patch having lost their first four Patriot League games and nine of their last 10 overall. The Midshipmen had high hopes this year as they returned four seniors who have all steadily contributed throughout their careers, as well as having All-Patriot League junior guard Jordan Sugars back on the wing, but things have not gone according to plan in the early going. All of the seniors have largely underperformed in PL action as they are combining for just 20 points. The Midshipmen certainly have some young talent that is highlighted by quite possibly the league’s best freshman in J.J. Avila—the four freshman that routinely play are averaging 28 points in the PL—but it is unreasonable to expect the youngsters to carry the load.
A Look Ahead
- I realize it is just after four league games, and their record is a dismal 4-14, but is it possible that Holy Cross is a legitimate contender? They exceeded expectations against Bucknell by playing the Bison to a much closer game than many expected, but their strong play needs to carry over to their date against American (Jan. 22) before the Cross can be anointed as a true contender.
- Colgate may be looking at their worst season since 1990-91 when they compiled a record of 5-23. The 1990-91 season was the last year of a very dark time for Colgate basketball. From 1981-82 to the aforementioned season, the Raiders never reached the double-digit win total for a season. According to Kenpom, Colgate is favored in just one game the rest of the year: home against Longwood. However, as seen with their latest victory over Lehigh, Colgate is capable of surprising some PL teams. Do not underestimate how hard it is for a road team to travel to Hamilton, New York and play on Cotterell Court before 500 fans (the Raiders average 533 souls a game, but often times that number is inflated).
- It is rivalry weekend within the Patriot League for the games on January 22. Lehigh travels to Lafayette for the 214th meeting; the Leopards lead the overall series 138-75. The league’s other major rivalry features Army and Navy. The Midshipmen will travel up to West Point to take on Army to take on the Black Knights for the 113th time. Navy leads the overall series 69-43.
- Two critical games in the coming two weeks:
American @ Holy Cross (Jan. 22)—The battle for sole possession of second place will take place in Worcester, MA. The upstart Holy Cross Crusaders are off to a fast 3-1 start, but they will find out just how good they are as they go up against preseason favorite American.
Bucknell @ Lehigh (Jan. 26)—Lehigh is badly in need of a victory to make up for a lackluster 1-3 start in the PL, and there is no better time for this win to come than against Bucknell.