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
Bucknell’s Winning Streak Snapped—In easily the biggest surprise in the Patriot League over the past two weeks, Bucknell entered Christl Arena and had no answer for Army’s offensive attack. The Black Knights put together their best effort of the season in a 20-point dismantling of first-place Bucknell. Entering the game, the Bison had a nine game winning streak that was the fifth-longest in the nation.
Shazier, Johnson, and McCollum in the National Rankings—Speaking of Bucknell, two of their best offensive weapons rank high in statistical rankings. Darryl Shazier has a 3.5:1 assist to turnover ratio which is ninth best in the nation, and sharpshooter Bryson Johnson is connecting on 47% of his three point attempts which ranks him just inside of the top 50. What may be even more impressive than the preceding statistics, however, is Lehigh sophomore C.J. McCollum’s ability to score the basketball. McCollum is averaging 22.1 points a game which is the highest total for any sophomore in the country.
The Service Academies—Not a whole lot was expected from Army and Navy at the beginning of the season. In the preseason poll, Army was picked to finish eighth and Navy not that much better at sixth. Although each team is not taking the league by storm and entirely proving these prognostications wrong, they did knock off the league’s two top teams in easy fashion. Army defeated Bucknell 90-70 and Navy beat American 73-52. This just goes to show that no team in this league has so much more talent than another that they are immune from suffering bad losses. Impressive, to say the least.
Five-Way Tie for Third Place—After the first go-round to begin league play, there are five teams that have matching 3-4 records. Bucknell and American have separated themselves from the pack—although are clearly susceptible to losses on off nights—but Lehigh, Lafayette, Navy, Army, and HolyCross are in a cluster directly behind them.
Yaw Gyawu Reaches 1,000—The junior forward from Colgate joined Jared Mintz as another Patriot Leaguer to net his 1,000th point this season. In the process, Gyawu also recorded his ninth straight double-double.
J.J. Avila One of Only Two—Through the completion of games on February 1, the Navy freshman is one of only two freshman in the nation to average at least ten points, five rebounds, and two assists with the other player being Langston Galloway from St. Joseph’s. For the season, Avila is averaging 11.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists.
Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology—Bucknell predictably fell in Joe Lunardi’’s latest bracket after their loss to Army. They moved from a 14-seed playing BYU to a 15-seed in the East Region taking on the University of Connecticut. Wonder who Dave Paulsen would rather prepare for: Jimmer Fredette or Kemba Walker?
Mid-Major Top 25—Bucknell is currently #33 in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25 as they garnered 17 votes in the January 31 poll. The only other Patriot League team that can be found in the poll is American, who received just four votes. I still believe Bucknell is slightly underrated by the pollsters, but I suppose that their recent loss to Army justifies the Bison’s position.
Team of the Weeks (Jan. 20-Feb. 2): Navy: Ever since I began to give a “Team of the Weeks” back in the December 10 edition of Checking in on the Patriot League, Bucknell has been awarded the honor every time. Truth be told, they were far and away the best team over the course of those two weeks in every edition as they compiled an impressive record of 11-2 during this stretch. Although Bucknell went 2-1 over the past two weeks, the Navy Midshipmen were hands down the best team in the PL. Beginning 0-4, Navy was reeling, but a victory over rival Army jumpstarted them. They followed this win up with a shocking upset over American, and then made the trek up to Hamilton, NY where they defeated Colgate in double overtime. We shall see if their markedly improved play carries over to February 5, when they travel to Bucknell.
Player of the Weeks (Jan. 20-Feb. 2): C.J. McCollum, Lehigh: I am not sure what is more impressive, the point total McCollum amassed over three games or his rebounding average. The sophomore from Canton, Ohio led Lehigh to two critical victories that brought the Mountain Hawks back into the Patriot League race. He averaged 25.3 points in three games, but corralled 13 rebounds a game as well. Mind you, McCollum is not a center or forward—he would not even be considered to be a “big” player by many—but the 6’3 guard simply has a knack for finding the ball. Constantly around the rim drawing contact, McCollum has a propensity to get to the free throw line too. He was 28-29 from the stripe in the three games, and for the year roughly 30% of his points have come via free throws. The Patriot League has some supremely talented players in the league this season—VladMoldoveanu, Jordan Sugars, Julian Simmons, and Mike Muscala to name a few—but none of them compare to C.J. McCollum.
Freshman of the Weeks (Jan. 20-Feb. 2): J.J. Avila, Navy—It is becoming routine that J.J. Avila is named the freshman of the weeks. The numbers alone do not express how valuable Avila has been to Navy this year, especially during Patriot League play. In league action only, he is more than doubling the next best freshman’s point total—ironically, that is his teammate Isaiah Roberts—and is the top rebounder, shot blocker, and steals leader. During Navy’s three game win streak, Avila averaged 16.7 points, 5.3 boards, and 2.3 assists. For a big man, he is also impressive from downtown as he went 9-20 from three. The Patriot League, due to his efforts, named Avila their Rookie of the Week for the fifth straight time.
Clip of the Week: A fantastic compilation of the highlights of games through the conclusion of games on January 27. Also included in the highlights is some action of the Patriot League lady hoopsters.
Quote of the Week: Following their loss at Lehigh, Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown spoke with Hoop Time editor Chris Courogen:
“We’ll keep pushing. When we make those winning plays, you’ll know. I won’t be in here ready to break the table. I’ll be smiling.”
Good thing coach Brown, we don’t want any broken tables, either.
Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Bucknell (1) (15-8, 6-1)
Previous Two Weeks: W Colgate 76-49, W Lehigh 81-68, L Army 90-70
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 Navy, 2/9 American, 2/12 @ Holy Cross, 2/16 @ Lafayette
The Bison were poised to sprint through the first round of the Patriot League schedule with an unscathed 7-0 record. They blew out a weak Colgate team—although, it should be known the Raiders have been playing better—and then soundly defeated Lehigh. All that was in between them and their tenth win in a row was perennial basement dweller Army. Clearly, the Black Knights did not get the memo that they were supposed to roll over and allow Bucknell to coast to an easy road win. Instead, it was Army—losers of their last three prior to their date with the Bison—that made Bucknell look like the team that was picked to finish last in the league. It should be known that Darryl Shazier, the engine that makes the Bison run, was under the weather against Army and it showed as he had one of his worst performances of the year. Even with the loss, Bucknell’s exceptional play through the first half of league play cannot be discounted. Sophomore Mike Muscala is averaging an even 20 points and nearly nine rebounds, Shazier is hands down the top point guard in the lead, and Bryson Johnson and G.W. Boon are two of the top three point shooters. What Bucknell found out against Army is that they cannot be so shortsighted to think they will win games on talent alone—a good lesson to learn now, rather than in the conference tournament.
2. American (2) (15-7, 5-2)
Previous Two Weeks: W Holy Cross 60-57, L Navy 72-53, W Lafayette 73-60
Next Two Weeks: 2/6 @ Lehigh, 2/9 @ Bucknell, 2/12 Colgate, 2/16 @ Army
American picked up a crucial early conference road win against Holy Cross as the winner of that game moved into sole possession of second place behind Bucknell. Following the big win in Worcester, the Eagles suffered a major letdown against Navy losing by 19 points; further proof that on any given night any team can win or lose in this league. Although they did manage to go 2-1 over the past two weeks, American’s star player Vlad Moldoveanu struggled by his standards. He averaged a cool 15 points and six rebounds in the three games, and had a real tough time finding the basket as his shooting percentage was just 35.5%—nine percentage points below his season average. Moldoveanu will need to turn his play around in a hurry as the Eagles open their second round of games at Lehigh and Bucknell which is a very important stretch to say the least. Two wins here and American may have the inside track to the conference tournament’s top seed.
3. Lehigh (6) (12-10, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: W Lafayette 79-62, L Bucknell 81-68, W Holy Cross 79-75 (OT)
Next Two Weeks: 2/6 American, 2/9 @ Navy, 2/12 @ Army, 2/16 Colgate
The Mountain Hawks got off to a real rocky start with their low point coming in a loss in the final seconds at Colgate, but C.J. McCollum and Co. have begun to slowly right the ship. They began by traveling just miles away to their arch rival Lafayette and soundly defeated the Leopards behind 23 points and 14 rebounds from McCollum. A week later, they found themselves in a 12 point second half hole to Holy Cross, but climbed back into the game and eventually won it in overtime. McCollum came up big all day pouring in 29 points, but it was his teammates that made the integral plays down the stretch to propel Lehigh to the win. MichaelOjo hit two threes—one late in regulation and the other in overtime—JordanHamilton (not to be confused with Rick Barnes’ sophomore) provided a spark off the bench by scoring three points the conventional way to tie the game at 68 towards the end of regulation and then corralled a big offensive rebound and put back to seal the game in overtime, and GabeKnutson had one of his biggest games scoring wise by flushing in 22 points. When it is more than simply C.J. McCollum playing well, Lehigh becomes a dangerous team.
4. Army (4) (11-11, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: L Navy 85-81, L Lafayette 83-60, W Bucknell 90-70
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 Colgate, 2/9 @ Holy Cross, 2/12 Lehigh, 2/16 American
From a pure wins and losses standpoint, it was not the most successful two weeks as Army went 1-2. In their latest game, however, the Black Knights had easily their best performance in maybe the past few years. Without having any knowledge of the performances of both teams to date, one would have thought Army was the 6-0 team and the class of the Patriot League. That is just how well the Black Knights played. Here are several statistics to back it up: the shot 53% from the field, 46% from three, 84% from the line, had nearly a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, and scored 90 points; entering the game, Bucknell was giving up an average of 61.5 points in the PL. JeremyHence scored 23 points in the win and was one of five Black Knights to score in double figures. The victory over Bucknell is good and all for Army as it moved them into that logjam that is third place, but now they must capitalize on it.
5. Navy (8) (8-15, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: W Army 85-81, W American 72-53, W Colgate 81-78 (2OT)
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 @ Bucknell, 2/9 Lehigh, 2/12 Lafayette, 2/16 @ Holy Cross
As the old basketball adage goes: “When you live by the three, you die by the three,” and this saying has clearly held true for Navy. They got off to a disastrous 0-4 start, but since then have won their last three games. The difference? The three point shot, obviously. In PL play, Navy is hoisting up a ridiculous 25 threes a game, and making an average of nine a game for a very respectable 36%. Here is the kicker though, in losses they are shooting just under 25%, but in victories they are at 38%. This is a dangerous way to live, no doubt about it, but if Jordan Sugars and J.J. Avila continue to have hot hands, Navy will have the ability to win some more games.
6. Holy Cross (3) (4-17, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: L American 60-57, L Colgate 79-72, L Lehigh 79-75 (OT)
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 @ Lafayette, 2/9 Army, 2/12 Bucknell, 2/16 Navy
The feelings in Worcester were pretty good after beginning 3-1 in the league—well, as good as one can possibly feel with a 4-14 record—but they have taken a turn for the worse since then. The Crusaders allowed three very winnable games slip through their fingertips and are now 3-4 in the league as opposed to being within striking distance of first place Bucknell. After falling to American in a nip and tuck game that saw StephenLumpkins pour in 22 points as HC had little answer for him on the low blocks, the ‘Saders came out very flat against an inspired Colgate team. When looking back on their past two losses, the games against Colgate and Lehigh were polar opposites. They trailed Colgate at one point by 18 in the second half, but mounted a late comeback to get within four. Against Lehigh, they flew out of the gate taking a 16-8 early lead and had a 12 point lead midway through the second half, but eventually collapsed and allowed Lehigh to push the game to overtime where the Mountain Hawks would win by four. There is no quit in this Holy Cross team and unquestionably not a lack of energy and fervor that is exuded at the top with MilanBrown, but this has yet to translate into consistent wins.
7. Lafayette (5) (8-14, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: L Lehigh 79-62, W Army 83-60, L American 73-60
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 Holy Cross, 2/9 @ Colgate, 2/12 @ Navy, 2/16 Bucknell
After jumping out to a 2-1 start in the league, Lafayette has dropped three of four games and finds themselves in that pack of teams in third place. Jared Mintz continues to be the staple that holds everything together for Lafayette, as he is by far their most consistent scorer, but aside from Mintz the Leopards lack another go-to player. JimMower and RyanWillen have the capabilities and mentalities of a scorer, but both have by and large underperformed in the PL. Mower was virtually invisible in two losses for Lafayette scoring just three points in each game, and Willen has scored in double figures just twice in PL action. When Mower and Willen are both playing well on the offensive end, Lafayette may find some success, but in their last three games the two have a combined average of 16 points a night. Far too low, and an integral reason why they are 1-2 during this stretch.
8. Colgate (7) (5-17, 2-5)
Previous Two Weeks: L Bucknell 76-49, W Holy Cross 79-72, L Navy 81-78 (2OT) W Longwood 97-86
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 @ Army, 2/9 Lafayette, 2/12 @ American, 2/16 @ Lehigh
Colgate had a rare non-conference game at this stage of the season—a game that was not affiliated with the BracketBusters—and capped off their fourth game of the past two weeks with an offensive outburst as they defeated Longwood 97-86. In the grand scheme of things, this game had absolutely zero meaning, but what it may do is provide them with some much needed confidence heading into the second round of Patriot League games. It may be hard to believe, but Colgate has made serious strides lately and will no longer be a pushover like they were for the majority of the season. The Raiders have won four of their last six games, and during this stretch they have witnessed the breakout play of SterlingMelville. Prior to the Dartmouth win, the Plano, Texas native was averaging 3.7 points a game, but during this six game stretch he has been putting up nearly ten a night. Against Longwood, MikeVenezia scored a season-high 21 points; it is a great sign to see Venezia progressing from his knee injury. Venezia is a real fixture in the Colgate backcourt, and one of their best scorers when at full strength. Don’t get me wrong, Colgate will still struggle the rest of the way, but this is a squad that has been steadily improving and can surprise some teams—Lehigh and Holy Cross both saw this.
A Look Ahead
Ryan Willen to 1,000?—Lafayette junior forward Ryan Willen currently has 905 career points. Is it possible that Willen reaches 1,000 points this year, or will he have to wait until his senior season rolls around to reach the mark? The Leopards have, at minimum, eight games remaining in their season (seven regular season games, and one game guaranteed in the conference tournament). Assuming Lafayette plays just eight games, Willen would have to average roughly 12 points a game to reach 1,000. For the season, he is averaging 10.5 points, but in conference games he has gone cold averaging just seven.
Who Will Emerge From The Five?—As I previously mentioned, there are five teams who have identical 3-4 league records. In looking ahead to the second half of league play, which team will most likely emerge from the bunch and garner what will most likely be the three seed heading into the tournament? Currently, Navy is the hottest team and is senior laden, but it is hard to see the Midshipmen sustaining their impressive play of late for the balance of the regular season. Holy Cross has been reeling having lost their last three contests, but their great play to begin conference play is encouraging for the Crusader faithful. Army and Lafayette are both very streaky teams; some nights they look to be a top tier team. It is hard for me to pick against Lehigh and C.J. McCollum. Lehigh is one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the league, so if Dr. Brett Reed’s youngsters continue to mature they may be in good shape. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have McCollum bail you out when necessary.
How Will Milan Brown Manage Andrew Keister?—A few years ago, former Holy Cross head coach Ralph Willard faced the predicament of how to handle the nagging injuries of two of his top players: Alex Vander Baan and Pat Doherty. Both were sidelined with injuries for part of the season, and Willard periodically rested Vander Baan and Doherty to keep them fresh for certain games. Fast forward to 2011, and Milan Brown faces a similar dilemma. His star forward Andrew Keister has a nagging Achilles, but has been valiantly battling through it. Will Brown limit Keister’s minutes until the conference tournament rolls around, or will he utilize him in a manner that gives HC the best opportunity to win each and every game? I would guess the latter.
Critical Upcoming Games:
Bucknell vs. Navy (Feb. 5)—Is Navy’s three game winning streak a sign of things to come, or will they fall back into the depths of the Patriot League after their date with Bucknell?
Lehigh vs. American (Feb. 6)—The Eagles won round one in D.C., but now Lehigh gets a shot at Vlad and others in Bethlehem.
Bucknell vs. American (Feb. 9)—A game of extreme importance for American if they have any desire of obtaining the number one seed in the tournament. It is hard to see them losing to Bucknell twice, but stilling being ranked one in the tournament.
Holy Cross vs. Bucknell (Feb. 12)—No matter what the records are of these two teams, the game is always an absolute dogfight that always seems to go down to the wire. Mike Muscala hit a baseline jumper with just over a second left to win the first game, but Holy Cross proved they could more than hang with the Bison in the loss.
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and a contributor.
A Look Back
A Clean Sweep for the Bison—Bucknell has won four of their last five games with their lone loss coming at the hands of a surprisingly strong Boston College team under first year coach Steve Donahue by just four points. During this stretch, Bucknell picked up the best non-conference win for the Patriot League as they beat La Salle 89-77; just days earlier the Explorers lost to Villanova by three points. Due to their strong play as a team and individually, Bucknell cleaned up with the weekly awards.
Top Four vs. Bottom Four—In the first edition of “Checking in on the Patriot League,” I highlighted the disparity between the top four and bottom four teams in the league. Since that first stretch of the season, not much has changed. Back on November 27th, the collective records of the top four teams—American, Bucknell, Lehigh, and Army—were 13-8, a winning percentage of .619. The collective records of the bottom four—Navy, Lafayette, Holy Cross, and Colgate—were 3-17, a paltry winning percentage of .150. Fast forward a month, and those bottom four teams are still bring up the rear. The record of the top four is 25-23, a .521 winning percentage. As for the bottom four, well you may want to cover your eyes for this: 9-38, a .191 winning percentage. U-G-L-Y.
Struggles in the Basement—In further investigating the bottom four teams in the league, Navy and Lafayette have at least picked up four wins each and have somewhat respectable records. Holy Cross and Colgate, however, are a combined 1-19. Colgate is the winless one of the two, and will struggle to pick up a victory before league play begins.
One of the Mid-Major’s Best—C.J. McCollum has established himself as one of the best players in all of Mid-Major basketball. He had a big year last year as just a freshman, and has only built on that success. Among Mid-Major players, McCollum is seventh in scoring at 22.5 points a game and he is also corralling an impressive 7.7 rebounds for a guy that is listed at just 6-3. I have been saying this for some time now, but McCollum is the Patriot League’s best player since Adonal Foyle.
Team of the Weeks (Dec. 9-Dec. 22): Bucknell: Losing three straight games may have just been what the Bison needed to jump-start them with the last of the three losses coming against a very mediocre Wagner team. Since the losing streak, Bucknell has won four of five games and their offense is clicking on all cylinders. The emergence of Mike Muscala as one of the league’s premier big men, the continual steady play at the point guard position from Darryl Shazier, and contributions from freshman Cameron Ayers have all been highlighted in Bucknell’s recent success. One needs to look no further than how many points the Bison have average during this streak (73.8) than they did in their previous eight games (65) to see the progression of the team. Ironically, the best performance during the five game stretch came in their lone loss against Boston College. Bucknell took BC to the final minute before losing by four to the ACC squad.
Player of the Weeks (Dec. 9-Dec. 22): Mike Muscala, Bucknell: Since the La Salle game on December 17th, the stellar sophomore has become a focal point in the Bison offense. Muscala was largely responsible for leading Bucknell to the victory of the Explorers as he poured in 21 points while dishing out five assists—five assists are pretty impressive for a 6-10 guy. He followed up this outing with another solid one as he nearly had a double-double (20/9) in a win at Cornell. Maybe the most impressive statistic over the past three games for Muscala is his shooting efficiency from the field and free throw line. He is 13-15 from the line (87%) and 21-36 from the field (58%).
Freshman of the Weeks (Dec. 9-Dec. 22): Cameron Ayers: From a pure numbers standpoint, Ayers was not overly impressive, but neither was any freshman in the PL for the past two weeks. The freshman from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, has become a fixture on the wing for Bucknell when spelling Bryson Johnson and Bryan Cohen. In the victory over La Salle, Ayers was 6-9 from the field for 13 points and pulled down four rebounds.
Clip of the Week
The two Washington D.C. based schools—American and Navy—competed in the BB&T classic. Navy had one of the league’s better wins this year defeating George Washington, while American hung tough but eventually succumbed to Florida.
Quote of the Week
La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini on how impressed he was with Bucknell’s performance: “Bucknell was really good…if I wasn’t getting beaten so soundly, I would have really enjoyed watching them play. They were wonderful and we were far short of that.”
Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Bucknell (2) (6-7)
Previous Two Weeks: W La Salle 89-77, W Cornell 75-64, L Boston College 84-80
Next Two Weeks: 12/28 @ Loyola (MD), 12/30 vs. Dartmouth, 1/2 @ Richmond
After dissecting the success Bucknell has had over the past two weeks, as well as what key players have made them successful for much of the article already, you probably do not need to hear much more about the Bison. One final point on Bucknell though, the scoring balance and unselfish play is largely what has made them tough to beat lately—seven players are averaging six points or more.
2. American (1) (7-5)
Previous Two Weeks: W UMBC 66-53, L Northwestern 78-62, W Mount St. Mary’s 69-64, L Pittsburgh 61-46
Next Two Weeks: 12/29 vs. Fordham, 1/3 vs. Brown
The Eagles have pretty much done everything that was predicted of them thus far. No one expected them to defeat West Virginia, Florida, Northwestern, or Pittsburgh, and they predictably did not. In fact, they lost all these games by double digits. American, however, may only get better as the year progresses and they move into league play as transfer Charles Hinkle joined AU via Vanderbilt and became eligible to play just four games ago. Hinkle, along with transfer Troy Brewer, are still finding their identity within the American lineup. It does seem that Brewer has found a nice niche for himself as he is averaging over 12 points a game.
3. Lehigh (3) (6-5)
Previous Two Weeks: W Marist 91-78, W St. Francis (PA) 79-61
Next Two Weeks: 12/29 vs. St. Peter’s, 12/31 @ Yale, 1/4 @ NJIT
The Mountain Hawks bounced back from two straight losses with convincing wins against Marist and St. Francis (PA). C.J. McCollum was once again the top man for Lehigh in both games as he dropped in 35 against Marist and then 20 against St. Francis (PA). While most of the attention will always be given to McCollum—how couldn’t it be—the players surrounding the Lehigh stud sophomore have played well as of late. Michael Ojo is one of the top shooters in the PL from three, Gabe Knutson has established himself as one of the top big men, and freshman point guard Mackey McKnight has been as steady as they come boasting a 2.75 assist to turnover ratio. With the continued solid play of McCollum’s supporting cast, Lehigh becomes a contender in the PL.
4. Army (7) (6-6)
My apologies to Black Knight fans out there for my analysis and comments I made of Army two weeks ago. While Army still is not one of the better teams in the Patriot League, their wins over UNH and Brown in the last two weeks should not go unnoticed. The victory over Brown is their best on the year, and their ability to score the ball is as good as any team in the PL. Still, Army has played the weakest schedule in the league, and it is hard to gauge how they will perform come league play. The three headed monster of Julian Simmons, Jeremy Hence, and Ella Ellis have posed problems for many teams thus far and will be tough for any PL team to match up against. How Army performs against a good Fairfield team after the New Year will be a good barometer as to how they will match up with the upper tier teams in the Patriot League.
Previous Two Weeks: W New Hampshire 71-63, L Dartmouth 71-68, L Long Island 91-85, W Brown 88-86
Next Two Weeks: 12/29 @ Texas-Pan American, 12/31 @ Fairfield, 1/3 vs. Dartmouth
5. Navy (4) (4-9)
It is a really funny game, basketball is. Without their best player in Jordan Sugars, Navy went 2-1, and upon his return they have gone 1-3. It is not as if the Midshipmen have been playing world beaters either during this four game stretch, nor has Sugars been playing poorly (19 points and 6.5 rebounds) since returning to the lineup following an injury to his non-shooting hand, but for whatever reason they have dropped three winnable games in a row. Navy will have a chance to pick up a few wins against Long Island, Presbyterian, and Longwood before going up against league favorite Bucknell in their Patriot League opener.
Previous Two Weeks: L Mercer 73-68, L Elon 73-58
Next Two Weeks: 12/30 vs. Long Island, 1/2 vs. Presbyterian, 1/4 vs. Longwood
6. Lafayette (6) (4-8)
After bouncing back from a four game losing streak by winning three in a row, Lafayette has dropped their last two decisions continuing the rollercoaster season. Both of the losses were single digits and against formidable opponents who may challenge for their respective league crowns. Lafayette’s shooting ability is not being called into question—they connect on seven threes a game—but their ability to rebound the ball has marred them on many occasions. Against LIU, the Leopards were outrebounded 39-24, and against URI it was 37-28. Corralling a rebound means another possession, and with how well Lafayette can shoot this may mean the differences between wins and losses.
Previous Two Weeks: L Long Island 85-80, L Rhode Island 73-65
Next Two Weeks: 12/29 @ Gonzaga, 1/2 @ Fairleigh Dickinson, 1/5 vs. Columbia
7. Holy Cross (5) (1-9)
The monkey is finally off of Milan Brown’s back. The first year Holy Cross coach picked up his first win with the Cross by defeating Marist. There is not too much to celebrate in ‘Sader Nation though as his team is 1-9 about a third of the way through the season. Over at ESPN.com, Mark Adams wrote in his weekly Mid-Major piece that: “Brown is a good coach, but he’s now in a situation which he has to pick up the pieces from a dysfunctional situation.” While he is the third coach in as many seasons for Holy Cross, there is little doubt that the Crusaders have some talent. They were picked to win the league two years ago, and the roster from that squad is pretty similar to the one this year. There have been subtle flashes that this team can get it together, but little progress has been made since the loss to the College of Charleston to open the year. The Patriot League is, by and large, a fairly weak conference this year, so the Crusaders may be able to pick up some Ws when league play rolls around.
Previous Two Weeks: L Fairfield 71-60, W Marist 75-57, L Hofstra 71-56
Next Two Weeks: 12/28 vs. St. Joseph’s, 12/31 @ George Washington, 1/2 vs. Sacred Heart, 1/5 vs. Yale
8. Colgate (8) (0-10)
Previous Two Weeks: L Syracuse 100-43, L Maine 78-57, L Albany 63-61
Next Two Weeks: 12/29 @ Stony Brook, 1/2 @ Longwood, 1/4 @ Maryland
Things appear to be spiraling out of control up in Hamilton, New York. First, there were high expectations for John Brandenburg, a transfer from Virginia, coming into the season, but he has not lived up to these hopes as he is averaging 3.7 points and 2.4 rebounds. Then, arguably the Raiders’ best player Mike Venezia went down with an injury after the first six games. Immediately following Venezia’s injury, Colgate was humiliated by Syracuse losing 100-43 and scoring only eight points in the first half—a Carrier Dome record for a half. Colgate will most likely enter league play having not won a game as their next three games are on the road against decent competition. Their game against Longwood may be their only saving grace.
A Look Ahead
Four teams who are .500 or better, maybe?—According to KenPom, the Patriot League is ranked at the 27th best conference. While it is clear that the PL is not having one of their stronger years in recent memory, but the top four teams all still have an opportunity to reach the .500 mark or better by the end of non-conference competition.
Bucknell’s final game before conference play begins is against Richmond. While I believe, win or lose against the Spiders, that Bucknell is the team to beat this year, they can officially set themselves apart from the rest of the pack with a victory against Richmond.
After a tough six-game stretch against four very solid BCS opponents, American comes back down to earth with two games against mediocre opponents in Fordham and Brown. Wins here and the Eagles would enter league play at 9-5, certainly feeling good about themselves.
Will Colgate and HolyCross combine for just a single victory in the non-conference schedule? Sadly, it is a distinct possibility. Colgate’s final three non-conference games are on the road, and one of the opponents is Maryland. Holy Cross, on the contrary, has two in Worcester and two on the road, but they will likely be underdogs in three of the games.