Morning Five: 03.09.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 9th, 2015

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  1. The first automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament were handed out over the weekend. The first school to earn an automatic bid was Belmont, which upset Murray State on Saturday night to receive the Ohio Valley automatic bid. Yesterday, they were joined by North Florida (Atlantic Sun), Coastal Carolina (Big South), and Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley). There will be three other automatic bids handed out later today with the Colonial, Mid-American, and Southern Conference all awarding their titles. If you are looking for a handy although not real-time infographic showing who is remaining in the field check out our Circle of March feature, which is updated daily.
  2. On Friday, NCAA handed down its sanctions against Syracuse after looking into the school for eight years (full 98-page report here). The headline of the sanctions is that Jim Boeheim will have to sit out for half of next year’s ACC regular season (nine games) and have 108 wins vacated from his record (moving him from 2nd to 6th on the all-time Division I men’s wins list for the time being), but the other sanctions and the stain it will leave on the program and those around it will probably have a more significant long-term effect. The scholarship reductions and limitations on the number of assistants who can go on recruiting trips could significantly impact the program for years to come. On an individual level, this will also make it more difficult for Mike Hopkins (the long-time coach-in-waiting) to succeed Boeheim and will also make it more difficult for him to get hired. The level of penalties (and the decision by the NCAA to only prosecute violations starting a few weeks after Syracuse won its only national title–very convenient…) should also make other schools–like one in particular in North Carolina–nervous.
  3. Speaking of NCAA violations, based on a report from Yahoo! Sports, Cliff Alexander is being investigated by the NCAA because his mother received a loan from a company that typically makes loans to professional athletes and agents. While it is not unusual for college athletes (or their families) to receive these type of loans it is usually after the athlete has finished competing in college as such a loan would be a NCAA violation. According to the report, both the NCAA and Kansas are trying to move the investigation along, but that Alexander’s legal counsel might be slowing it down. Given what we have read about the situation we doubt that we will see Alexander in a Kansas uniform again (at least until they need him for a promotional photo).
  4. The coaching carousel is starting to heat up. As of Sunday night, the two newest positions to open up are at Holy Cross where Milan Brown was fired and Penn where Jerome Allen will step down (a nice way of saying he was fired). We doubt that either is big enough to attract a big name candidate both positions should attract attention from mid-major coaches although there is a possibility that someone who is out of coaching might use one of the positions as a stepping stone to get back in. During his five seasons at Holy Cross, Brown went 69-83 with only two winning seasons (15-14 in 2011-12 and 20-14 in 2013-14). Allen, a former star at Penn who was a 2nd round pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, is 66-103 in six seasons heading into his final game on Tuesday.
  5. Senior nights are special in a lot of ways, but Georgetown’s senior night on Saturday stands out for the return of Tyler Adams, who has been sidelined since his freshman year due to an arrhythmia. While Senior Nights are typically reserved for individuals who remained on the team, John Thompson III, who has kept Adams on scholarship despite not playing for the team, decided to start Adams and ran the first play for Adams, which he dunked. Even though there were a lot of highlights from the weekend this moment will stick with us for the class that Thompson and Seton Hall showed giving Adams one last moment as a player as he enters the next phase of his life.
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O26 Weekly Awards: Albany, Saah Nimley, Ben Jacobson & Dartmouth…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 27th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Albany. Last Monday, Albany learned it would be without leading scorer Peter Hooley indefinitely following the junior’s decision to return home to Australia to be with his ill mother. While the move was understandable and even encouraged by head coach Will Brown, it left the Great Danes – in the thick of an America East title race – without one of their most important players… just in time for a road trip to Stony Brook. With the preseason conference favorites on deck before games at Hartford and against UMBC, the week suddenly spelled ‘gut-check’ for Brown’s group. And boy, did they respond.

Without its top scorer, Albany grabbed control of the America East. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Without its top scorer, Albany grabbed control of the America East. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Not only did the Danes beat Stony Brook in the face of long odds (KenPom gave the home team an 82.3% win probability), they did so convincingly, jumping out to an early 10-point lead and never looking back. The team’s other top Australian, forward Sam Rowley, stepped up with 16 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and three blocks – outworking America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney underneath – and Albany scored 19 of its 64 points at the free throw line. Defensively, Brown’s 2-3 zone baffled Stony Brook all night long, holding the Seawolves to a season-low 0.77 points per possession. The final margin: a whopping 17 points. “I thought it was a gutsy effort tonight,” Brown said after the dominant victory.

But the week (and the winning) was far from over for the Danes. Next up was a trip to Hartford on Thursday to battle a talented-if-underachieving Hawks team also vying for a top-four seed. That game, tabbed as a coin-flip, played out much the same for Albany; Rowley was excellent (22 points, eight rebounds) and the team rolled, 62-53. The cherry on top for Brown’s short-handed unit came on Sunday, at home against UMBC, when four players scored in double-figures and the Danes again won big, topping the Retrievers by 14. A week that began with difficult news and could have gone in the opposite direction – again, Hooley leads the team in scoring – ended with Albany standing alone and undefeated atop the standings, in prime position to grab the America East Tournament’s top seed – a spot that means more than ever in 2014-15.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Sycamores, Kyle Collinsworth, Bob McKillop & Fresno State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 6th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Indiana State. The Sycamores entered the week 4-8, having lost seven straight games against Division I programs, including the last two – home defeats to Eastern Illinois and UMKC – against teams ranked well below 200th in KenPom. Sure, three key seniors did graduate in the offseason and Greg Lansing’s program was picked sixth in the Missouri Valley, but the first two months of 2014-15 failed even to live up to those modest expectations. Conference play can do funny things to a basketball team, and it certainly did something to the Sycamores this past week; despite all signs pointing the other way, Indiana State upended two of the MVC’s better squads to begin its league slate.

Indiana State picked up two Missouri Valley huge wins this week. (gosycamores.com)

Indiana State picked up two Missouri Valley huge wins this week. (gosycamores.com)

Lansing’s club opened the week on the road against shorthanded-but-talented Illinois State, a good team (which beat Old Dominion by 19 in November) with a 91 percent chance of winning, according to KenPom. But despite those long odds, and although it had not beaten the Redbirds in Normal since 2011, Indiana State came out hot from the perimeter (43 percent from behind the arc), limited Illinois State top-scorer Daishon Knight to just five points, and overcame a halftime deficit to pull off the road upset. Neither team managed more than 0.90 points per possession – “We’ve always been a program that wins ugly games,” Lansing said afterwards – but the Sycamores produced enough late buckets and a big, last-second block to secure the victory. “That’s a really good start for us beating a good team.” Next up was Evansville on Sunday, a team fresh off a win over 23rd-ranked Northern Iowa on New Year’s Day. Again substantial underdogs and again hitting from the three-point line, the Sycamores kept pace with the Aces all afternoon and ultimately forced overtime tied at 70. Momentum swung towards Indiana State when Evansville big man Egidijus Mockevicius fouled out with 3:20 left in the extra period, and another big defensive play – this time a Devonte Brown steal – put Lansing’s group up for good. Big man Jake Kitchell led the way for Indiana State with 21 points and 11 rebounds.  “A lot of us struggled at the start of the year, including me. Guys are playing better now and the results are showing,” Lansing noted after the game. Indeed. One week ago, his team looked like it’d be hard-pressed to win two conference games all season. Now? The Sycamores sit coolly atop the MVC standings at 2-0. “It’s only a couple of wins, but we’re happy with them.”

Honorable Mentions: New Mexico (2-0: vs. Fresno State, vs. Colorado State); Coastal Carolina (2-0: at High Point, vs. Charleston Southern); St. Francis-Brooklyn (2-0: vs. Columbia, at Sacred Heart); BYU (3-0: vs. Portland, at Santa Clara, at San Francisco); Idaho (2-0: vs. Idaho State, vs. Weber State) Read the rest of this entry »

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Harvard’s Wake-Up Call Might Not Be So Bad

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 20th, 2014

Let’s make a few things clear about Harvard and its probably-gone at-large hopes. For one, if the team is worrying about an at-large selection come March, it probably means it lost two or three games in Ivy League play – which would be problematic on its own. For another, Tommy Amaker’s group is no stranger to faltering unexpectedly in the non-conference: in 2012, the Crimson lost to Atlantic 10 bottom-feeder Fordham; in 2013, it fell at home to Vermont; and last season, it suffered a 15-point defeat to sub-.500 Florida Atlantic. Each year, Harvard’s at-large aspirations took a severe hit before conference games even began, and each year the team responded by winning the outright Ivy League title. Sunday’s turnover-filled loss to Holy Cross is only different in that it happened just three days into the season, before anyone could even blink. With everything still left to play for – a league title, a Tourney birth, seeding implications – the much-hyped Crimson may have received the wake-up call it needed and was eventually going to get anyway. Now it must figure things out on the court before the schedule ramps up in coming weeks.

Harvard needs to bounce back after falling to Holy Cross on Sunday. (Robert F Worley/The Harvard Crimson)

Harvard needs to bounce back after falling to Holy Cross on Sunday. (Robert F Worley/The Harvard Crimson)

Siyani Chambers is probably the best point guard in the Ivy League yet the Crusaders’ pressure defense completely got the best of him on Sunday, turning him over a career-high nine times and holding the junior to just one point. As poorly as Chambers played, though, his track record suggests that he’ll be just fine going forward; the bigger problem might be his backcourt running mates, or lack thereof. Both he and Ivy League Player of the Year Wesley Saunders (24 points and 12 rebounds on Sunday) are going to play a lot and produce a lot, but nearly every other guard is an unproven commodity. Program mainstays Laurent Rivard and Brandyn Curry graduated in the offseason, stripping the team of its best perimeter shooter (Rivard shot 43% 3FG as a senior and holds the school’s all-time three-point record) and a solid all-around guard who could spell Chambers at the point (Curry was the team’s floor general before Chambers arrived in 2012). Corbin Miller (45% 3FG in 2011-12) – who missed the past two years due to an LDS mission – should fill some of the void left by Rivard, but true freshman Andre Chatfield looks like the only other guard receiving rotational minutes early on. As a result, not only is Harvard very thin in the backcourt from an injury-risk standpoint – losing Chambers, Saunders or Miller would be devastating – it also seems less-equipped to handle opponents that necessitate a guard-heavy lineup like Holy Cross. Too much pressure was placed on the pair in that game. Amaker has a ton of options when it comes to mixing and matching frontcourt guys, but far fewer when it comes to the backcourt, so the continued development and emergence of players like Miller and Chatfield will be crucial as the season progresses.

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Championship Previews: Patriot League Tournament

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 6th, 2013

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Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. Follow him on Twitter (@mitchgoldich) for live updates throughout the Patriot League Tournament.

Top Storylines

  • 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.

Reader’s Take

 

Breaking Down the Tournament Field

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  1. 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 »
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CIO… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 22nd, 2013

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Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find more of his work online at The Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchgoldich for more updates.

Looking Back

  • Bucknell Wins Lehigh Rematch: The Bison and Mountain Hawks have spent the majority of this season tied atop the league standings, and they stayed that way when both teams lost last Saturday. While their losses may have hurt both teams’ overall resumes, they did nothing to diminish the importance of the game between two 8-2 opponents. The rematch was critically important to both teams, but more so to Bucknell because Lehigh had already won the first match-up in Lewisburg. Had Lehigh won, they would have had a one-game lead, plus the season sweep — essentially a two-game lead, with three to play. Lehigh’s uncharacteristically poor shooting was one of the night’s main storylines, as the Mountain Hawks went just 1-of-15 from three-point range and 6-of-15 from the free throw line. After Lehigh shot 10-of-18 from beyond the arc in their first meeting, the Bison wanted to contest those shots better and force Lehigh to come inside for better looks. Still, 1-of-15 is obviously a brutal night, and there is no excuse for a team previously shooting better than 75 percent from the line to go 6-of-15. Bucknell’s star Mike Muscala scored just 12 points, with his minutes limited due to first half foul trouble, but his nine rebounds and four blocks made a big impact during his 26 minutes on the floor. Bryson Johnson made three three-pointers and scored 19 points, and Cameron Ayers made a wild shot that put the game away after Lehigh had cut an 11-point deficit down to three points in the final minute. With a one-game cushion and a softer schedule, the Bison now look very likely to take the top seed and lock up home court advantage throughout the Patriot League Tournament.
  • Tony Does It Twice: Tony Johnson, who goes by the twitter handle @Tonytone_3, gave Patriot League fans two reasons to say his name this week. Lafayette’s dynamic point guard hit game winning shots in consecutive games. First he hit a bucket with 4.5 seconds left to put Lafayette ahead of Bucknell 63-62 on Saturday. Then on Wednesday, he hit a tie-breaking three-pointer with even less time remaining against Holy Cross. The Leopards started the season 5-10, and dropped to 8-12 after losing two of their first three Patriot League games. They have since reeled off six wins in eight games, including upsets of both Bucknell and Lehigh. Johnson’s play (12.2 points and 5.0 assists per game in league play) is a major reason the Leopards are legitimate contenders to win what was previously considered a two-team league.

    The Leopards Have Leaned On Tony Johnson To Keep Them In The Thick Of The Patriot League Race. (April Bartholomew/Morning Call)

    The Leopards Have Leaned On Tony Johnson To Keep Them In The Thick Of The Patriot League Race. (April Bartholomew/Morning Call)

  • The Patriot League’s Most Exciting Day: While arguably the most anticipated season in Patriot League history has offered compelling storylines, it took a little while for the games on the court to live up to the hype surrounding the league. With a few notable exceptions, the first half of league play saw relatively few second half lead changes, let alone games coming down to the final possession. Fortunately, with the Patriot League Tournament on the horizon, the games have gotten more exciting. Saturday, February 16 was easily the most fun day of the Patriot League season, with three games decided by a total of six points all playing out at once. Johnson’s last second shot lifted Lafayette past Bucknell. Lehigh came all the way back from 22 points down to Colgate, before the Raiders fended them off. And Army held off a last-second shot to grab a one-point win over Navy. Fans of the league can hold plenty of hope that when matchups are renewed for their third installment during the conference tournament, the games will only continue to get more exciting.

Power Rankings

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CIO… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2013

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Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find more of his work online at The Huffington Post.  Follow him on Twitter at @mitchgoldich for more updates.

Looking Back

  • Lafayette Separates From The Pack: For much of the season, it’s been Lehigh and Bucknell trading places at the top of the Patriot League power rankings, with nobody else staking a firm claim to the third spot. Two weeks ago I put Lafayette in the three-hole, in what was easily the most difficult call to make. The Leopards immediately justified that ranking with a blowout win at Lehigh the following day. Lafayette thoroughly dominated Lehigh, winning 78-57 in Bethlehem. Lafayette is 4-3 at the midpoint of league play, with a very favorable schedule for the second half. Each of the Leopards’ four toughest opponents (Bucknell, Lehigh, Army and American) will travel to Easton, where they have reeled off eight straight wins. Fran O’Hanlon’s squad seems poised to grab the third seed in the Patriot League Tournament, and has the best chance to take down Bucknell or Lehigh once they get there.
Lehigh Has Held Steady Without C.J. McCollum Thanks To White-Hot Perimeter Shooting.

Lehigh Has Held Steady Without C.J. McCollum Thanks To White-Hot Perimeter Shooting.

  • Bucknell Survives American: Bucknell and American collided last week in one of the most exciting games of the Patriot League season. American trailed by one point at halftime, and then started to pull away in the second half. Daniel Munoz hit a three-pointer with 2:16 left to stretch the lead to 55-48. The Bison came back and scored eight straight points to finish the game up 56-55. Mike Muscala grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a put back with 21 seconds left to get the Bison within a point. Then, he did the same exact thing on the final possession of the game, scoring on another put back layup with 0.8 seconds left to end the game. The Bison were presumed the conference favorite after a strong run through the non-conference season, even before Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum went down with a broken foot. But Bucknell lost their home game against Lehigh on January 23, and then looked shaky on the road in D.C. It’s hard to know what exactly to make of this game. It could be a good sign that they were able to escape and pull out a close win, or it could be a bad sign that the team isn’t playing as well as they were early in the season. Still, the Bison have reached the midway point of the league season with a 6-1 record, tied with Lehigh atop the standings.
  • Muscala, McCollum Named Senior CLASS Award Finalists: Muscala and McCollum have grown accustomed to seeing their names next to each other as they’ve rewritten chunks of the Patriot League record book throughout their intertwining careers.  They’ve put themselves in elite company once again, as the Patriot League produced two of the ten finalists for one of college basketball’s most prestigious awards, the Senior CLASS Award. The award recognizes Division I seniors with notable achievements in four areas—community, classroom, character and competition. A committee of media members selected the finalists from a list of 30 candidates that also included Lehigh’s Gabe Knutson. It’s hard to speculate how much McCollum’s time lost to injury may affect voters, but it’s a testament to his body of work that he was still selected as a finalist. Both men are strong students and high-character leaders, as well as two of the most talented players the league has ever seen. The award recipient will be selected by combining votes from fans, media members and head coaches, with the winner revealed at the Final Four.  Fans of either player can vote here.

Power Rankings

  1. Bucknell (19-4, 6-1) – Despite the shaky game against American, Bucknell’s 3-0 record since the last Check-In allows it to wrestle the top spot back from Lehigh. Muscala continues to run away with the Patriot League Player of the Year Award, leading the conference with 19.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. He has officially graduated from that conversation and entered discussions around national awards and NBA draft stock. While Muscala deserves his share of attention, he has received help. Bryson Johnson made six three-pointers against Navy on Saturday, giving him an even 300 for his career. He is now just two shy of tying the league record set by American’s Garrison Carr from 2005-2009. Bucknell’s success can also be attributed largely to their defense, and they lead the conference in points allowed (58.4 per game) and opponents’ field goal percentage (37.4). Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2013

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Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find more of his work online at The Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchgoldich for more updates.

Top Storylines

Lehigh Upsets Bucknell: The Lehigh Mountain Hawks traveled to Lewisburg on Wednesday and did more than just upset league favorite Bucknell. With their 65-62 win inside a rabid Sojka Pavilion, they reignited the fervor around what had previously been the most anticipated season in Patriot League history.

The Patriot League doesn’t typically receive much national media coverage. Most years, college basketball fans don’t pay attention until March rolls around and it’s time to see who will represent the conference in the Big Dance — if then. This year was different. The rivalry between Lehigh and Bucknell was debated across the country this preseason. Lehigh was fresh off its stunning upset of Duke in the NCAA Tournament, returning future first-round NBA draft pick C.J. McCollum. Bucknell won the regular season Patriot League title, and boasted a former Patriot League Player of the Year Award winner Mike Muscala, with NBA dreams of his own. But when McCollum broke his foot on January 5 at VCU, most thought that the buzz around the Patriot League was gone. Not so fast.

Mike Muscala's Coming Out Party Is Over, Now It's All About Tracking His Draft Stock.

Mike Muscala’s Coming Out Party Is Over. Now It’s All About Tracking His Draft Stock.

Lehigh’s most deadly weapon is the three-point shot, and they rank second in the nation at 43.4 percent from beyond the arc. On Wednesday, the Mountain Hawks made an incredible 10 out of 18 threes. Shots started dropping early, as Lehigh hit six threes while racing out to a 27-12 lead. The crowd never relented, willing the Bison back into the ballgame. Bryson Johnson connected on a four-point play, as Bucknell began chipping away. This was the moment it felt like Lehigh finally missed McCollum. Early in the game, the team had an easy time spreading the floor, sharing the ball and knocking down shots. Suddenly they needed a go-to guy to create a shot and get a big bucket. Bucknell came all the way back to within 29-28 at the break.

The Mountain Hawks have played extremely well without McCollum, and head coach Brett Reed said in his postgame press conference that the team has been successful without him for the same reasons they were successful with him. “This year’s team has faced adversity,” Reed said. “It would have been easy to feel down and take a step back after the comeback. But our guys have continued to demonstrate poise, resiliency and togetherness.”

In one of the strangest stats of the early part of the season, no Patriot League game has had any lead changes in the second half all year. Muscala quickly put that stat to bed with a layup to give Bucknell the lead, and the Bison charged ahead by seven with 12:46 to go. The Mountain Hawks shot themselves back into it, hitting four out of five threes in the second half. BJ Bailey, hit all four of his threes en route to a game-high 18, and added a spectacular block as the shot clock expired. Mackey McKnight threw his body around, hitting the deck on a made three and shortly after on a driving lay-up. Gabe Knutson struggled from the field, but had a pretty finish on a play that he started to the right of the basket and finished on the other side.

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CIO…the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2013

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Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find more of his work online at The Huffington Post.  Follow him on Twitter at @mitchgoldich for more updates.

Looking Back

  • Lehigh Loses McCollum: Lehigh’s Pre-Season All-America guard, CJ McCollum, suffered a broken fifth metatarsal in his foot during Saturday’s nationally televised game at VCU. More than 30 NBA scouts came to watch him in person, but he went down midway through the first half.  This injury is a real shame, not just for Lehigh but for the whole league. The Patriot League has received unprecedented levels of press so far this season because of McCollum and the anticipated exciting battle between Lehigh and Bucknell for the league title. Now, much of the buzz may dissipate before conference play even starts. McCollum has already undergone surgery, and early diagnoses had him out 8-10 weeks. The Patriot League Tournament falls right in that stretch, so it’s unknown if he’ll make it back out on the court again this season. Even if he does rush back, it may take him longer to return to 100 percent. The Patriot League’s all-time scoring leader will now fall short of Daren Queenan’s school record, which was set before Lehigh joined the conference. While he is fiercely dedicated to his team’s success this year, nobody would expect him to do anything foolish with his body while he still projects to be a first round pick in next summer’s NBA Draft.
Being Without Its Top Star For Several Weeks Doesn't Sit Well With Lehigh Fans. (Joe Mahoney/AP)

Eight-to-Ten Weeks Without C.J. McCollum Doesn’t Sit Well With Lehigh Fans. (Joe Mahoney/AP)

  • Bucknell Keeps Building a Resume: The Bison came heartbreakingly close to beating Missouri in their most difficult non-conference game of the season, dropping a 66-64 contest in Columbia. Still, Bucknell is establishing itself as one of the top mid-major teams in the country. The Bison are ranked fourth in the latest College Insider Mid-Major Top 25. They come in at #36 at kenpom.com and #38 in the RPI. Bucknell has escaped the non-conference portion of its season with a league record 13 wins, and it’s now safe to say that an at-large bid is officially in play. McCollum’s injury makes them the favorite to win the Patriot League Tournament, whether he returns for the tournament or not, but a strong regular season and a tournament upset could land Bucknell in the Big Dance anyway.
  • Wrapping Up the Non-Conference Season: The performance of the league slipped a bit over the last two weeks, dropping the conference’s cumulative record to 62-62 with just one non-conference game remaining (Colgate plays the New Jersey Institute of Technology in February). Some of those wins came against competition below the Division I level, but the eight schools have combined to go 56-41 against D-I teams outside of the six power conferences. The teams are an impressive 48-29 against the A-10, America East, CAA, Ivy, MAAC, NEC and MEAC. Those marks are good enough to hold steady at #16 out of 33 in the conference ratings on Ken Pomeroy’s website. Last year the Patriot League finished at #22.

Power Rankings

  1. Bucknell (13-3) – Seemingly every other game, Mike Muscala puts forth an effort described as his best game of the season.  If he hadn’t had his coming out party yet, it was definitely against Missouri last Saturday.  Muscala put up 25 points and 14 rebounds against a nationally ranked team loaded with talent.  The Bison led at halftime and outrebounded the Tigers, but fell just short.  Muscala stepped on the base line with 4.1 seconds left in a one-point game, with Bucknell in position to take the lead.  Though Muscala currently leads ESPN.com’s Player Efficiency Ratings, this is not a one-man team.  Cameron Ayers, son of former Ohio State and NBA coach Randy Ayers, has scored in double figures in six straight games and Bryson Johnson is shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 28th, 2012

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Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find more of his work online at The Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchgoldich for more updates.

Looking Back

  • Bucknell’s At-Large Hopes Take a Hit: Bucknell and Lehigh both entered the season with a chance to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid. To do so, each needed to be nearly flawless against the weaker foes in the non-conference schedule, and pick up a couple signature wins along the way. Lehigh’s chances looked bleak after early losses to Baylor and Pitt, but Bucknell kept its hopes alive with an 11-1 start. Saturday’s loss to Princeton, however, was a major step back. The Bison may need to win on January 5 at #7 Missouri to have any chance of an at-large bid, or else they’ll have to win the Patriot League Tournament to make the Big Dance. Lehigh would almost surely need to beat VCU on that same date to get back in the conversation. That game represents Lehigh’s last chance to get a true signature win before the games against Bucknell.
  • Scouts Show, McCollum Sits: One of the most anticipated match-ups of the season was over before it started. More than 50 NBA scouts, including several general managers, traveled to Denton, Texas, to see two potential lottery picks in Lehigh’s CJ McCollum and North Texas’ Tony Mitchell. Just minutes before game time, Lehigh announced that McCollum would not dress due to a sprained ankle. To add insult to injury, Mitchell was held out of the starting lineup because of a violation of team rules. He still posted 22 points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes off the bench. Scouts who wanted to see McCollum instead learned that Lehigh’s well-rounded attack is more than a one-man show. Gabe Knutson hit four threes en route to 28 points, and Mackey McKnight added 25 more. Lehigh cruised to a 19-point halftime lead on its way to a 90-75 win. Coach Brett Reed described McCollum’s injury as “mild” which seemed like damage control, not wanting to incite a panic that his preseason All-American would be out very long. McCollum, though, tweeted at The Allentown Morning Call’s Tom Housenick after the game that he’s never missed a game because of a mild injury. It was a lighthearted exchange, and all signs point to McCollum being at full-strength for the January 5 showdown against VCU.
Lehigh's offense gets a ton of well-deserved attention, but don't overlook their defense. (AP Photo)

Lehigh’s offense gets a ton of well-deserved attention, but don’t overlook their defense. (AP)

  • Historic Starts for Bucknell and Lehigh: The Patriot League’s two premier teams have lived up to lofty preseason expectations, and find themselves ranked in a slew of mid-major rankings and polls. Before they battle each other for the league championship, both teams are already battling some of the best squads in their programs’ histories. Bucknell’s 11-1 start was its best since the 1907-08 season. Even with the loss to Princeton, Bucknell’s 11-2 mark is still second-best in school history through 13 games. Lehigh is 9-2 for the first time since the 1925-26 campaign. Its current eight-game winning streak is also longest since that season. Both teams still have a chance to reach 12 non-conference wins in the regular season, a feat achieved by only two teams in Patriot League history: Fordham in 1990-91 and Lehigh last season.

Reader’s Take 

 

Power Rankings

  1. Lehigh (9-2) – If my power rankings were designed to answer the question of who has the stronger resume, I’d have to give Bucknell the top spot. But if I’m determining who is playing better basketball right now, I’ll give Lehigh the edge. The Mountain Hawks’ aforementioned win over North Texas was their sixth straight by double digits. Lehigh now leads the nation in three-point shooting (44.4 percent) and is making 8.7 threes per game. While the Mountain Hawks get a lot of credit for their offense, they also have a very pesky defense. McCollum, McKnight and Holden Greiner are all among the top five in the Patriot League in steals per game. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2012

CIO header

Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find more of his work online at The Huffington Post.  Follow him on Twitter at @mitchgoldich for more updates.

Looking Back

  • Lights-Out Lehigh: CJ McCollum continues to lead the nation in scoring, now with 24.9 points per game, but he is hardly doing it by himself. Gabe Knutson is scoring over 16 points per game, and Mackey McKnight and Holden Greiner are both averaging double figures. The Mountain Hawks are second in the country in both free throw percentage (80.5 percent) and three point shooting (44 percent).  Those efficient numbers have helped boost Lehigh to 16th in the country at 80.8 points per game.
  • Muscala Racks Up Career Numbers:Bucknell’s Mike Muscala is having an excellent senior season, and is staking his claim as one of the most dominant big men in the history of the conference. Adonal Foyle is still the only player the Patriot League has ever sent to the NBA, and Muscala recently joined him as the second player in conference history with 1,500 career points and 800 career rebounds. Foyle even tweeted that he was happy to have company in the club. Muscala is sixth in the nation with 11.4 rebounds per game. He and Duke’s Mason Plumlee are the only players averaging at least 18 points and 11 rebounds.
  • Conference Ranking Is Improving: According to Ken Pomeroy’s indispensable site kenpom.com, the Patriot League finished last season rated 22nd toughest out of the 33 D-I conferences.  This year, the Patriot League is up to 16th, leapfrogging the CAA, Ivy, Sun Belt, Big West, Atlantic Sun and Summit leagues.  While Bucknell and Lehigh are certainly responsible for a large part of that jump, the conference is definitely stronger top to bottom as well. The eight schools have a cumulative record of 43-39, despite several mismatches against teams from the power conferences. The Bison and Mountain Hawks have also received attention from several individual polls. ESPN.com’s most recent Mid-Major Report listed Bucknell sixth and Lehigh eighth.  CBS Sports’ Mid-Major Power Pyramid had Bucknell ninth and Lehigh 12th.
Mike Muscala and the Bison escaped Columbia.

Mike Muscala and the Bison escaped Columbia.

Power Rankings

1. Bucknell (8-1) – The Bison survived a scare from Columbia in one of the most exciting games any Patriot League team has played this season.  The opponents shot out to a 25-8 lead after the opening tip and maintained a double-digit lead with under 15 minutes to go in the game.  Muscala would not let Bucknell lose and submitted a dominant 29 points and 19 rebounds in the win. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2012

Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find more of his work online at The Huffington Post.  Follow him on Twitter at @mitchgoldich for more updates.

Looking Back

  • The Hunt for an Automatic Bid: One of the most intriguing storylines at the outset of the season was whether an improved Patriot League could send two teams to the Big Dance in March. With both Lehigh and Bucknell receiving attention in various national mid-major rankings, it was possible that one or both could play itself into the at-large bid conversation. Lehigh squandered two of its best chances to impress the selection committee, dropping games at Baylor and Pitt. The Pitt loss was particularly damning because a win would have generated more chances against quality competition in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals and/or finals. The Mountain Hawks will have to win the Patriot League Tournament to get another shot to play with the big boys this March.  Bucknell, on the other hand, had a more difficult non-conference schedule to begin with and has held up its end of the bargain with wins over Purdue, George Mason and New Mexico State.  The Bison would likely need to win at Missouri on January 5 and submit a dominant conference season, but the door is still open. If the Bison win the Patriot League tournament, the point will be moot, but if they suffer an upset, the league could have two in the Field of 68.
  • Wins From Top to Bottom: While Lehigh and Bucknell captured the preseason headlines, it bears repeating that six other Patriot League teams entered the season with high aspirations of their own. The Patriot League is an improved conference this year, with teams from top to bottom earning non-conference wins. Through Wednesday, the league had a cumulative record of 29-26. Many of those losses came in mismatches against schools from the power conferences, as was to be expected.  But the league has been far from a doormat. The eight Patriot League schools have mopped up some of the other conferences on the East Coast, going a combined 23-5 against teams from the America East, CAA, Ivy League, MAAC, MEAC, and NEC.  So while Bucknell’s wins against the Big Ten and WAC help elevate the standing of the whole conference, other schools are doing their part as well.

There may be no hotter player in the country right now than C.J. McCollum, who has connected on 21 of his 38 three-point attempts this season.

  • McCollum Sets Career Mark, Leads Nation in Scoring:  Move over, Rob Feaster.  Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum broke Feaster’s mark of 2,224 career points, which had stood since he graduated from Holy Cross in 1995. The Preseason AP All-American broke the mark during a 26-point effort against Sacred Heart on Sunday. McCollum has more than 20 games to pad his record. After he poured in 25 in the second half at Quinnipiac on Wednesday night, McCollum’s 26.3 points per game lead the nation. Eighteen NBA scouts showed up for Lehigh’s opening game against Baylor.  And in case you think all 18 were there just to get a first look at Isaiah Austin, 20 more showed up for Lehigh’s second game against Robert Morris. Most preseason projections had McCollum as a first round pick in this summer’s draft, and his play so far has only helped his stock. Most notably, McCollum has improved his three-point shooting.  He has hit 21-of-38 shots from beyond the arc, good for 55.3 percent.

Reader’s Take

 

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