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.
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.
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. The PL is among the first of this season’s conference tournaments to tip, with action set to start tonight.You can find him on Twitter@KLDoyle11.
The Favorite: Despite losing back-to-back games against Lehigh and Holy Cross down the stretch, and a less than stellar performance against bottom-dweller Navy, Bucknell remains the favorite to win the Patriot League. The Patriot League Tournament—like many of the smaller conference tournaments around the country—has its championship game located at the highest remaining seed. Playing in the friendly confines of Sojka Pavilion has treated the Bison quite well over the past two seasons as they are a combined 26-3 there. The last road team to win the PLT was, ironically enough, Bucknell back in the 2004-05 season in Worcester against Holy Cross. Home court does have its perks, and Bucknell can rest easy knowing that if they take care of business all three tournament games will be played in Lewisburg. Semantics and seeding aside though, it also doesn’t hurt that Bucknell has far and away the league’s best big man in Mike Muscala. Steady guard Cameron Ayers, sharpshooter Bryson Johnson, and a lunch pail kind of player in Joe Willman make the Bison a formidable group. More on the Muscala—or, as the Bison faithful like to call him, “Moose”—later.
Dark Horse: Back in early February, the Holy Cross Crusaders looked as if they had mailed it in. Poor efforts on the defensive end, not playing as a cohesive unit, and questionable game preparation all contributed, among other things, to a 3-5 start in league play. After being on the wrong end of a 75-51 drubbing at Lehigh, something clearly happened inside the Holy Cross locker room and during practice sessions; the Crusaders’ six game winning streak, their longest since the beginning of the 2007-08 season, did not happen by chance. While the offense is still inconsistent and stalls during inopportune times, the defense has spearheaded the late charge. During the first eight games of league play, Holy Cross gave up an average of 69 points per game. Since then, they are giving up a remarkable 54.7 points. All that being said, the Crusaders have greatly struggled on the road (4-11) and the road to the Patriot League Championship in all likelihood runs through either Bucknell or Lehigh. A tall task for the Crusaders no doubt, but they are peaking at the right time.
Who’s Hot: Hide the women and children, C.J. McCollum is playing his best basketball of the season and the vaunted Lehigh offense is clicking on all cylinders as the Mountain Hawks enter the tournament. Over the course of their last 10 games—nine of them wins—McCollum is averaging 23.4 points. His lowest output during this run was 15 points against Bucknell, but his final three points of this contest came just before the buzzer as he connected on a triple from the top of the key to propel Lehigh to a comeback victory.
Some may call McCollum cocky and arrogant—especially in the preceding clip as he stares down the Bucknell student section—but his play certainly backs it up.
Player to Watch: All eyes will be on C.J. McCollum, but it behooves you to overlook the Patriot League’s best forward in several year: Mike Muscala. The junior from Minnesota is one of the most efficient players on the offensive end you will see this year as he shoots better than 50% from the field and close to 90% from the charity stripe—not too shabby for a 6’11 guy. On the defensive end, Muscala is on the verge of cracking the Top 10 in the Patriot League for blocks all time. What goes unnoticed is how intelligent he is on the floor with his exceptional positioning and court awareness. Muscala has not fouled out of a game this season, and has only picked up four fouls once. Staying out of foul trouble has enabled him to earn 30 minutes a night and really increased his production. While much of the talk from the media and those outside of Patriot League circles will be of McCollum, don’t forget the “Moose” at Bucknell.
Game to Watch: Lafayette @ Holy Cross—After having their season ended by Lafayette the past two years, Holy Cross will look to return the favor this time around. In the regular season, the teams split the season series with each team winning on the opponent’s home floor. The last time the teams met in Worcester, Holy Cross jumped out to a 24-14 halftime lead only to be outscored by 21 points in the second half. Lafayette will be at a major disadvantage in the third meeting though as Second-Team All-League performer Tony Johnson is out for the rest of the year with an ankle injury.
How’d They Fare: Bucknell was trounced by eventual National Champions Connecticut 81-52. It may be hard to believe, but this score doesn’t reflect how lopsided the game actually was. Bucknell looked to push the tempo and played exclusively man-to-man throughout the game, but simply did not have the horses that Connecticut had. Sometimes, the brains can outplay the talent, but very rarely are they able to outrun them.
A Look Back
How’d I Do? – Prior to the season beginning, here is how I saw things shaking out (preseason on the left, final standings on the right):
Bucknell (11-3) 1. Bucknell (12-2)
Lehigh (9-5) 2. Lehigh (11-3)
Holy Cross (7-7) 3. American (10-4)
Colgate (7-7) 4. Holy Cross (9-5)
American (6-8) 5. Lafayette (7-7)
Navy (6-8) 6. Army (5-9)
Lafayette (6-8) 7. Colgate (2-12)
Army (4-10) 8. Navy (0-14)
I was right on the mark in predicting that Bucknell and Lehigh would finish one/two, and that Holy Cross would finish in the top four, but believed in Colgate and Navy more than I should have and undersold American. (Just as an aside, Jeff Jones has never finished in the bottom four of the Patriot League and American has advanced to the semifinals in every year they have been in the league. Clearly, I have learned to no longer bet against coach Jones.)
As for Colgate, the Raiders performed up to many expectations in the non-conference, but struggled in the Patriot League against all teams not named Navy. Given that the Raiders are a senior laden team who finished last season going 6-8 down the stretch, I believed Matt Langel would have that moderate success carry over—it did not. Although, it should be known that their star forward Yaw Gyawu has been hindered by injuries for much of the year—Gyawu was pegged as a member of my All-League Team in the preseason.
All-League Team(statistics from conference games only)
G Seth Hinrichs, Lafayette (7.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 50.0 3PT%)
G Maxwell Lenox, Army (7.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.4 SPG)
F Worth Smith, Navy (6.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG)
F Dan Trist, Lafayette (6.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG)
Player of the Year: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh—This has been a two player race for much of the season, even though American fans would like to think that Charles Hinkle was in the discussion, but, in the end, the Player of the Year debate was going to come between C.J. McCollum and Mike Muscala. Arguments can easily be made for both players. Each is the focal point of their team and have experienced a good deal of success as individual players. However, it was McCollum’s dominance and ability to take over a game makes him the Player of the Year. Not a shot against Muscala at all, but it is easier for a 6’3 guard to take over a basketball game than a 6’11 forward. McCollum ranks sixth nationally in points per game at 21.7, but is more than just a scorer—the rest of his stat line reflects that. By many accounts, he has become more of a complete player, but certainly understands when he needs to carry Lehigh.
Coach of the Year: Jeff Jones, American—Losing virtually his entire frontcourt with Vlad Moldoveanu graduating and Stephen Lumpkins pursuing a career in baseball, Jeff Jones’ outlook for the year was bleak. Relying on transfers who had only been with the program for a year and two forwards who seldom saw the floor a year before, Jones had his work cut out for him. Fortunately for him, Charles Hinkle—one of the transfers from Vanderbilt—emerged early in the season as a reliable scorer, and sophomore Tony Wroblicky proved to be a serviceable big man. Even still, Jones turned a team that seemed destined for the middle-of-the-pack into a title contender.
Rookie of the Year: Seth Hinrichs, Lafayette—The 6’7 guard from Minnesota is a pure shooter in every sense of the word, and fits perfectly into Fran O’Hanlon’s jump shot friendly offense. Although Hinrichs has the height that would suggest he is a forward in the Patriot League, he lacks the bulk and size to work in the paint, and with a shot like his it would be foolish to put him down there. Hinrichs shot an impressive 50% from three, 54.8% from the field, and averaged 7.4 points all in Patriot League play. With Ryan Willen and Jim Mower graduating, Hinrichs will become a primary option next year for Lafayette.
Defensive Player of the Year: Bryan Cohen, Bucknell—Rather than bore you with analysis on Cohen’s ability to shut down an opponent’s top scoring threat, I’ll let the following numbers do the talking:
Lehigh, American, and Holy Cross were three of the top four teams in the Patriot League. Against these teams, Cohen has done a remarkable job limiting the scoring production of C.J. McCollum, Charles Hinkle, and Devin Brown.
Average points against all PL teams other than Bucknell
Average points scored against Bucknell
One can attribute the disparity in scoring to a poor shooting night, but such a pattern suggests that Cohen is a significant part of the lower scoring output. Dave Paulsen has a real luxury in matching him up with the opposition’s top scorer and knowing life will be made very difficult for him. Cohen was recently tabbed as the Patriot League’s Defensive Player of the Year; this is the third time he has received the honor. I’d like to see any other player garner such an award three times in their career—quite the feat.
6th Man of the Year: Mike Cavataio, Holy Cross—It has been quite the journey for Holy Cross senior swingman Mike Cavataio, just take a gander at his lengthy college basketball timeline:
2007-08: Played under Norm Roberts at St. John’s where he saw six minutes of action per game and made one start during Big East play against Marquette
2008-09: Transferred to Holy Cross to play under Ralph Willard, but had to sit out the entire season
2009-10: In his first season of eligibility, he played under first year coach Sean Kearney and averaged 11.3 points in 31 games
2010-11: After Sean Kearney was fired after one year, he played under Milan Brown and averaged 8.9 points in 29 games
2011-12: He was injured in the first game of the season against the College of Charleston and missed every game in the non-conference. He returned January 7th against Lehigh
Suffice it to say, this is not how Mike Cavataio drew up his college basketball career. Coming out of St. Francis Prep in New York, Cavataio had aspirations of lighting up Madison Square Garden playing for St. John’s. He soon realized that he could earn more minutes and play a significant role at a smaller school, and Holy Cross seemed like the perfect fit—a successful mid-major program under the tutelage of Ralph Willard. After sitting out a year, experiencing five different coaches between high school and college ball, and suffering through an injury—something he is accustomed to after breaking the same ankle twice during his sophomore year in high school—Cavataio has developed into the prototypical sixth man. He provides an instant spark off the bench with his defense—the Crusaders best on-ball defender—and mid-range and slashing ability on offense. Although he averages a mere 5.4 points, many of his contributions do not show up in the box score, something that his teammates and keen observes would tell you.
Most Improved Player: Charles Hinkle, American—Whatever Charles Hinkle did during the summer months and offseason, it worked. After averaging 11.6 points last year, many assumed that Troy Brewer would have to carry the load this season. And Brewer has been no slouch averaging 12 points a night, but the emergence of Hinkle as the go-to guy has alleviated the pressure Brewer and others may have felt. In his first three seasons, Hinkle rarely shot from behind the arc, and when he did he shot just 25%. This year, he is almost 20 percentage points better at 43.4%. His scoring average by year: 2.0, 1.4, 4.4, 18.8. A 14.4 point increase from his junior to senior season—unheard of. Jones told the Washington Post earlier this month: “We knew he was a good player, we knew he could help us. How much and in what role, that was up in the air. He was playing a role of working hard, good defense, as opposed to what he does best: shooting the ball in the basket.” I’d say that Hinkle has found is role just fine for Jeff Jones.
Game of the Year: Lehigh 56 Bucknell 53 (February 16th at Sojka Pavilion)—It was far from the prettiest game: more turnovers than assists, a combined 9-39 shooting from behind the arc, both teams shooting below 37%, and neither team cracking the 60 point mark, but the Lehigh-Bucknell tilt in Lewisburg was a dandy. In what may be a prelude to the championship game, a C.J. McCollum three pointer—this shot alone may have earned him the Patriot League Player of the Year award—won the game for Lehigh and ended Bucknell’s Patriot League winning streak at an impressive 20 games.
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find him on Twitter at @KLDoyle11.
The Week That Was
Grading the Patriot League: Currently, the Patriot League is the 22nd-rated conference in the country according to KenPom.com, a pretty good mark considering the fact that the average rating of the league since 2003 is 24.67.
Maryland-Eastern Shore vs. The PL: Maryland-Eastern Shore has seen only stints of success since the turn of the century (averaging less than eight wins a year) and the 2011-12 campaign hasn’t shown much promise for the Hawks thus far. Sitting at just 2-8, UMES may be on their way to yet another single-digit win season. However, the Hawks have found success against the Patriot League as their two wins have come against American and Navy. Their only other game against a Patriot League foe comes at Lehigh and something tells me their success ends against the Mountain Hawks.
Mid-Major Top 25: After losing their first two games of the season to Richmond and Maryland-Eastern Shore—the latter being a disappointing letdown — American has reeled off eight straight wins and garnered votes in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25 poll. Seven of the Eagles’ wins came against fairly pedestrian opponents, but their victory over a solid St. Joseph’s team suggests that Jeff Jones will have his squad in the thick of the PL title race come March.
Team of the Week (Nov. 24 – Dec. 7): American – Overshadowed by Pat Flannery and Ralph Willard for much of his career in the conference, American’s Jeff Jones hasn’t quite received the credit many believe he deserves. This year, however, Jones is doing his best job yet, as the Eagles have gotten off to an impressive 8-2 start. Jones’s greatest attribute? His coaching in tight games. American is 3-1 in games decided by one possession so far this season. Many projected American to finish in the middle of the pack this year, but Jones has the Eagles playing like a team vying for the Patriot League crown.
Player of the Week (Nov. 24 – Dec. 7): Charles Hinkle – Hinkle is doing it all for American. Over American’s last five games, the senior guard averaged a shade over 22 points to lead the Eagles to a perfect 5-0 mark. In a 66-60 win over St. Joseph’s — American’s best win of the season — Hinkle had his most dominant performance of the year as the senior guard rolled off 32 points on 5-9 shooting from three. For the season, Hinkle ranks sixth nationally in scoring (23.5 PPG).
Charles Hinkle's Blazing Start Has Helped American to Eight Straight Wins (aueagles.com)
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and author of The Other 26, an RTC columnwhich examines the teams from the 26 non-power conferences and their impact on the game at a national level. You can find him on Twitter @KLDoyle11.
Reader’s Take I
From the Big Ten to the Patriot League—It is not all that often that Patriot League hoops is the epicenter of college basketball discussions, but this was the case in late May as Ed DeChellis departed as head coach of Penn State in favor of Navy. Yup, that Navy. The Midshipmen haven’t reached the Big Dance since 1998 and are only a small blip in the basketball world thanks to alumnus David Robinson, but DeChellis’ seemingly surprise move made Navy a household name for some of the summer months. Something tells me that playing in Hamilton, New York, on a Saturday afternoon will be a little different than, say, a rocking Kohl Center for DeChellis.
One Of The Most Interesting Coaching Changes In The Most Recent Carousel Was Ed DeChellis Leaving A Power Conference For Navy (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Stability at Holy Cross—Although Milan Brown greatly struggled as the Crusaders head coach in his first season—HC finished with a subpar 8-21 mark—there is the reassurance of knowing the program will be in the same hands for consecutive years for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign. When watching the Crusaders compete in the non-conference portion of their schedule last year, Brown struggled to implement his man-to-man defensive philosophy to a team that was more accustomed to playing a zone. It is safe to assume that after a full year under Brown, Holy Cross will have a greater sense of identity on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, something that was certainly lacking last season.
A Movement to Youth at Colgate—I doubt that there is a readily accessible statistic out there for this sort of thing, but I would venture to guess that Matt Langel and his staff at Colgate are the youngest in the nation. Emmett Davis never found success while coaching the Raiders, but Langel and his crew of young assistants may be the perfect recipe for success that it will take to win at Colgate. A spark of energy seemed to be lacking under the previous regime, and having four coaches who are young and looking to prove themselves should be the catalyst that jumpstarts Colgate.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Patriot League correspondent, Kevin Doyle.
Colgate Cleans House —After posting just three winning seasons in his 12 seasons as the head man for the Raiders, Emmett Davis and his staff were released of their duties following the 2010-11 campaign. Davis never reached the postseason while at Colgate and his most successful season came in 2007-08, when he led the Raiders to the conference tournament final against American. As Davis moves on to an assistant job with the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, Matt Langel will make the journey to Hamilton to lead Colgate. A 2000 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, this will be Langel’s first job as a head coach, following a stint as one of Fran Dunphy’s lead assistants at Temple. By the looks of it, the Colgate coaching staff may very well be the youngest in the country as Langel—at just 33 years of age—is the oldest of the four coaches.
Two Top 100 Players—It is not all too often that the Patriot League can say they boast two of the better players in the country, but our friends over at Basketball Prospectus seem to think that Bucknell’s Mike Muscala and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum are among the nation’s best. Muscala checked in at #82, while McCollum is #56.
C.J. McCollum Does Lehigh Proud—To continue the praise for McCollum, the rising junior from Canton, Ohio, was awarded the opportunity to try out for Team USA, currently competing in the World University Games in China. At only 19 years of age, McCollum was the youngest player to audition for the team. Although he was not fortunate enough to earn a spot on the roster, he did earn some nice praise from the coaching staff.
Billy Lange Departs for Villanova, Ed DeChellis In at Navy—In one of the most intriguing moves of the summer, former Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis elected to leave the Nittany Lions in favor of Navy. That is right, Navy. On the surface, this was a real shocker. How could a Patriot League bottom-dweller steal a head coach from a Big Ten squad coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance? It is purely speculation, but DeChellis ostensibly felt that his job at Penn State was not secure and that he would be joining the line of unemployment in the near future. Even with the NCAA appearance last season and winning the NIT in 2009, DeChellis compiled a less-than-stellar Big Ten record of 41-95 during his eight-year tenure. With graduation claiming the bulk of Penn State’s talent, next year looks awfully ominous for the Nittany Lions. In recent years, multiple reports have surfaced questioning Penn State’s level of commitment to its college basketball team, so perhaps all DeChellis was looking for was adequate support behind him.
Three more conference tourneys kicked off last night, and that meant more eliminations from the national title race. From the Atlantic Sun, OVC and Patriot League, let’s bid good tidings to Kennesaw State, Campbell, Tennessee State, Eastern Kentucky, Colgate, Holy Cross, Army and Navy — there are now 302 schools still alive.
Coming next: a big night, as thirteen more teams will be eliminated from the national picture this evening.
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.
Despite suffering that defeat at the hands of The Jimmer and BYU twelve days ago, there’s still a lot of love out there for San Diego State. And why not? They’re fun to watch, have multiple weapons, and have a great built-in story of redemption in head coach Steve Fisher. The New York Times’ Pete Thamel recently visited the Aztec boss and explains why there’s a lot more at stake this year for him than just a Final Four or a national title.
Ashton Gibbs leads his Pittsburgh squad in scoring (16.3 PPG), free throw percentage (89.7%), and three point percentage (46.3%). He drilled all five of this treys in the win against Cincinnati on Saturday en route to a 25-point night. Unfortunately for the Panthers, that’s the last contribution Gibbs will be making for a while. Gibbs has an MCL injury as a result of wear-and-tear to his left knee and will miss the next 10-14 days. He won’t need surgery, for now, but you’ll definitely notice him on the sideline with a very large brace on that knee.
The clubhouse leaders for Korie Lucious’ final year of service next season appear to be Iowa State and Marquette. Even with two Final Fours’ worth of experience under his belt, considering the year he’s had both on and off the court, is it worth it for a program to open its doors to Lucious? The Marquette site Cracked Sidewalks lists the pros and cons of bringing the dismissed Michigan State man aboard. For the record, we’ve still got our money on Iowa State, since Chris Allen’s there.
The tall, suited, enthusiastic, bespectacled fellow you see on the Ohio State bench during games is assistant coach and former Ohio Bobcat captain Jeff Boals. His distinct look (with the cool frames), reputation as both a coach and compadre among his players, and tweeting skills — we’ve been followers of @JeffBoals for well over a year, now — have inspired a couple of OSU students who sit near the bench during home games to adopt the coach’s appearance, right down to the hairstyle and specs, calling themselves the Boals Brothers. OSU’s Lantern has a nice piece on the coach who’ll almost certainly be running his own team in the next few years and become another branch of the Thad Matta coaching tree, assuming Boals would ever want to leave the good gig he’s got now.
A basketball Beanpot? Yes, please. For 58 years, Boston’s four major hockey schools — Boston U., Northeastern, Harvard, and Boston College — have taken part in the Beanpot, a tournament among themselves with games on the first two Mondays in February for city bragging rights. As Boston is a young town and one of the best sports cities in the country, you can easily assume how popular the venerated event is. They had a hoops version for 14 years that petered out in 1976, but with the interest of Philadelphia’s Big 5 growing ever further both inside and outside of Philly, and because other cities and states are pondering similar events (get it done, Chicago), a hoops Beanpot with Holy Cross and UMass also thrown in the mix might become a reality, according to the Boston Globe. The coaches seem to be all for it, if they can figure out where to fit it on the schedule. We’d like to go ahead and put in our credential request now…
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.