I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Lexington after Thursday’s Second Round game between Butler and Bucknell. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
Three Key Takeaways:
Mike Muscala Could Not Get It Going — All eyes were on Bucknell’s Mike Muscala this afternoon, and the big man shrunk under the spotlight. He got off to a poor start, scoring just two points in the first half on 1-of-9 FG shooting. He started to find the net a bit in the second half, as the Bison climbed back from a double-digit deficit to make it a competitive game. But he never developed a good rhythm, and at the end of the day, Bucknell needed more than his nine points on 4-of-17 shooting. Butler’s defense gets some credit, but Muscala missed a lot of shots that he typically makes.
Brad Stevens’ crew flustered the Bucknell offense all game long. (AP)
Not That Easy on the Eyes — Apart from an exciting stretch in the middle of the second half, this game was plagued by ineffective offense. Butler hardly put on an offensive clinic, but Bucknell was the biggest offender. After shooting a miserable 25.9 percent from the field in the first half, they couldn’t find a consistent rhythm in second. Apart from a pair of lightning quick runs that actually gave them a six-point lead, the offense continued to struggle. And it wasn’t just Muscala who struggled. The Bison’s second and third leading scorers, guards Cameron Ayers(12.5 ppg) and Bryson Johnson (11.1 ppg), continued the disappearing act that they unveiled in the Patriot League tournament, combining for 0 points on 0-of-4 FG shooting in the first half.
Butler Overcame Its Cold Shooting — Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham combined to make more than 150 threes this year, but against Bucknell, the two were stone cold. They shot a combined 2-of-9 from three-point range and missed several two-point jumpers, combining to go 5-of-18 from the field. The two guards made up for their poor shooting, though, by taking care of the ball. Turnovers have plagued the Bulldogs’ guards all season, but Clarke and Dunham committed none today.
Star of the Game: With Butler’s shooters in a game-long cold spell, it fell to Roosevelt Jones to ignite the offense with his unorthodox game. Perhaps it was fitting that Jones, who resembles a fullback in appearance and style of play, was the star of a contest that had a 21-14 football-like score at halftime. Jones’ ugly shotput runners in the lane and ragged drives to the basket epitomized the ugly nature of Butler’s win. He finished with 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting and added five boards and four assists. The turnover-prone guard also had just one miscue.
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.
Bucknell Wins Lehigh Rematch: The Bison and Mountain Hawks have spent the majority of this season tied atop the league standings, and they stayed that way when both teams lost last Saturday. While their losses may have hurt both teams’ overall resumes, they did nothing to diminish the importance of the game between two 8-2 opponents. The rematch was critically important to both teams, but more so to Bucknell because Lehigh had already won the first match-up in Lewisburg. Had Lehigh won, they would have had a one-game lead, plus the season sweep — essentially a two-game lead, with three to play. Lehigh’s uncharacteristically poor shooting was one of the night’s main storylines, as the Mountain Hawks went just 1-of-15 from three-point range and 6-of-15 from the free throw line. After Lehigh shot 10-of-18 from beyond the arc in their first meeting, the Bison wanted to contest those shots better and force Lehigh to come inside for better looks. Still, 1-of-15 is obviously a brutal night, and there is no excuse for a team previously shooting better than 75 percent from the line to go 6-of-15. Bucknell’s star Mike Muscala scored just 12 points, with his minutes limited due to first half foul trouble, but his nine rebounds and four blocks made a big impact during his 26 minutes on the floor. Bryson Johnson made three three-pointers and scored 19 points, and Cameron Ayers made a wild shot that put the game away after Lehigh had cut an 11-point deficit down to three points in the final minute. With a one-game cushion and a softer schedule, the Bison now look very likely to take the top seed and lock up home court advantage throughout the Patriot League Tournament.
Tony Does It Twice: Tony Johnson, who goes by the twitter handle @Tonytone_3, gave Patriot League fans two reasons to say his name this week. Lafayette’s dynamic point guard hit game winning shots in consecutive games. First he hit a bucket with 4.5 seconds left to put Lafayette ahead of Bucknell 63-62 on Saturday. Then on Wednesday, he hit a tie-breaking three-pointer with even less time remaining against Holy Cross. The Leopards started the season 5-10, and dropped to 8-12 after losing two of their first three Patriot League games. They have since reeled off six wins in eight games, including upsets of both Bucknell and Lehigh. Johnson’s play (12.2 points and 5.0 assists per game in league play) is a major reason the Leopards are legitimate contenders to win what was previously considered a two-team league.
The Leopards Have Leaned On Tony Johnson To Keep Them In The Thick Of The Patriot League Race. (April Bartholomew/Morning Call)
The Patriot League’s Most Exciting Day: While arguably the most anticipated season in Patriot League history has offered compelling storylines, it took a little while for the games on the court to live up to the hype surrounding the league. With a few notable exceptions, the first half of league play saw relatively few second half lead changes, let alone games coming down to the final possession. Fortunately, with the Patriot League Tournament on the horizon, the games have gotten more exciting. Saturday, February 16 was easily the most fun day of the Patriot League season, with three games decided by a total of six points all playing out at once. Johnson’s last second shot lifted Lafayette past Bucknell. Lehigh came all the way back from 22 points down to Colgate, before the Raiders fended them off. And Army held off a last-second shot to grab a one-point win over Navy. Fans of the league can hold plenty of hope that when matchups are renewed for their third installment during the conference tournament, the games will only continue to get more exciting.
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.
Lehigh Upsets Bucknell: The Lehigh Mountain Hawks traveled to Lewisburg on Wednesday and did more than just upset league favorite Bucknell. With their 65-62 win inside a rabid Sojka Pavilion, they reignited the fervor around what had previously been the most anticipated season in Patriot League history.
The Patriot League doesn’t typically receive much national media coverage. Most years, college basketball fans don’t pay attention until March rolls around and it’s time to see who will represent the conference in the Big Dance — if then. This year was different. The rivalry between Lehigh and Bucknell was debated across the country this preseason. Lehigh was fresh off its stunning upset of Duke in the NCAA Tournament, returning future first-round NBA draft pick C.J. McCollum. Bucknell won the regular season Patriot League title, and boasted a former Patriot League Player of the Year Award winner Mike Muscala, with NBA dreams of his own. But when McCollum broke his foot on January 5 at VCU, most thought that the buzz around the Patriot League was gone. Not so fast.
Mike Muscala’s Coming Out Party Is Over. Now It’s All About Tracking His Draft Stock.
Lehigh’s most deadly weapon is the three-point shot, and they rank second in the nation at 43.4 percent from beyond the arc. On Wednesday, the Mountain Hawks made an incredible 10 out of 18 threes. Shots started dropping early, as Lehigh hit six threes while racing out to a 27-12 lead. The crowd never relented, willing the Bison back into the ballgame. Bryson Johnson connected on a four-point play, as Bucknell began chipping away. This was the moment it felt like Lehigh finally missed McCollum. Early in the game, the team had an easy time spreading the floor, sharing the ball and knocking down shots. Suddenly they needed a go-to guy to create a shot and get a big bucket. Bucknell came all the way back to within 29-28 at the break.
The Mountain Hawks have played extremely well without McCollum, and head coach Brett Reed said in his postgame press conference that the team has been successful without him for the same reasons they were successful with him. “This year’s team has faced adversity,” Reed said. “It would have been easy to feel down and take a step back after the comeback. But our guys have continued to demonstrate poise, resiliency and togetherness.”
In one of the strangest stats of the early part of the season, no Patriot League game has had any lead changes in the second half all year. Muscala quickly put that stat to bed with a layup to give Bucknell the lead, and the Bison charged ahead by seven with 12:46 to go. The Mountain Hawks shot themselves back into it, hitting four out of five threes in the second half. BJ Bailey, hit all four of his threes en route to a game-high 18, and added a spectacular block as the shot clock expired. Mackey McKnight threw his body around, hitting the deck on a made three and shortly after on a driving lay-up. Gabe Knutson struggled from the field, but had a pretty finish on a play that he started to the right of the basket and finished on the other side.
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
When the A-10 added Butler and VCU to its ranks this past offseason, we knew that the two teams would strengthen the now 16-team conference. The two schools, each of which has had recent improbable Final Four runs, were expected to join the ranks of Xavier, Temple, St. Louis, and Dayton, and, along with a resurgent St. Joseph’s, UMass, and LaSalle, make the A-10 the deepest and, arguably, most exciting non-BCS conference in the country. But after the past week, it’s become clear that not only are these two programs going to add depth to the A-10, they may very well conquer it in their first year.
Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)
By now you know that Butler took down top-ranked Indiana 88-86 in a thrilling overtime win last Saturday. What was most surprising about the win, though, was how Butler did it. It wasn’t their vaunted defense, which gave up 1.13 points per possession to Indiana’s full-throttled attack — the second most this year for the Bulldogs and well above their averages during the Brad Stevens era. Rather, it was Butler’s efficient offense, which registered 1.16 points per possession. Part of that was their three-point shooting (11-24, 48.1%) with Rotnei Clarke leading the way (5-11). We have come to expect that from Butler, which often relies on the three-point shot as a great equalizer. But the more surprising, and perhaps more significant, elements of Butler’s offense were its willingness to attack the basket and its prodigious output on the offensive glass. Sophomore wing Roosevelt Jones led the attack, often exploiting a favorable matchup against Jordan Hulls, en route to 16 points on 6-10 shooting (no threes). And the Bulldogs rebounded nearly half of their own misses — 48.7%. To some extent, the Bulldogs took advantage of sloppy block-outs by Indiana, but this reflects a season-long strength and a marked shift from the early years of Brad Stevens’ tenure. In Stevens’ first four seasons, Butler never averaged an offensive rebounding percentage of more than 32.8 percent. But last year, the Bulldogs hauled in 35 percent of their misses, and this year, it’s up to 39.4 percent.
As impressive as Butler’s win was, VCU quietly made waves of its own this past week as they pummeled Alabama and Western Kentucky by a combined 51 points. In both games, VCU went for the kill early, jumping out to big leads on the strength of their Havoc defense. The Rams did not allow Alabama to score a field goal until 10:44 had elapsed, en route to a 33-18 halftime lead that they would convert into a 73-54 final score. Alabama finished the game with 18 turnovers — a season high, as it often is for teams facing VCU’s defensive pressure. Four days later, VCU suffered no letdown from its BCS beatdown, whipping on Western Kentucky, one of the Sun Belt’s top teams and last year’s Tournament participant. After jumping out to 15-3 lead, the Rams would head into halftime up 42-16, cruising the rest of the way to a 76-44 win. VCU forced a whopping 32 turnovers, including one on each of Western Kentucky’s first three possessions.
The old Bulldogs may be learning new tricks while the Rams thrive on the tried-and-true, but regardless of how they’re doing it, both teams have vaulted themselves to the top of A-10 heap. Don’t take my word for it, ask the computers. Any of them — Butler and VCU are the A-10’s two highest ranking teams in the RPI, Sagarin ratings, and Pomeroy ratings. The A-10’s mainstays have not distinguished themselves. Temple was routed badly by Duke in its first real competitive game of the year and just lost to Canisius at home by 10 points; Xavier is trying to replace five starters; St. Louis is trying to get their feet under them after losing their coach and then their star point guard to injury; and St. Joe’s, UMass, and Dayton have struggled to find consistency. As a result, there is a good chance that the A-10 will crown a champion it has never crowned before.
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.
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.
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
A Surge at the Top—Bucknell and American, with their play towards the end of the non-conference schedule, have set themselves apart from the Patriot League’s other six teams. Each team won all of their games over the past two weeks, and appears to be peaking heading into league play. While the Patriot League failed to knock off that one BCS team that was ripe for the picking, Bucknell defeated a Richmond team that is on par with many BCS-caliber squads. American is the only team in the league to have reached ten wins in the non-conference, and are winners of three straight games.
Top Four vs. Bottom Four—For the second straight week, and third time this year, I have chosen to illuminate the grave disparity between the upper echelon of the league with the lower. At the end of the non-conference the top four have a combined record of 35-25, while the bottom four are at a putrid 12-45. What is encouraging, however, is that all of the top four teams have better than a .500 record. Now, if only the bottom would carry their weight…
Colgate gets the first “W”—It took the Raiders a few games longer than Holy Cross to get that elusive first win, but they finally entered the win column with a 19 point victory over Longwood. Colgate may have to cherish this victory, as KenPom has them predicted to be favored in only one game the rest of the season. Funny enough, that game is against Longwood.
Looking at Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology—In his latest Bracketology, Lunardi predicts that American will garner a #14 seed and play against the undefeated San Diego State Aztecs in the first round. While it is hard to argue with him, I believe that Joe L. has simply inserted the Eagles into his bracket solely based on their overall record when compared to the rest of the PL. Their 10-5 record is better than anyone else’s, yet Bucknell’s body of work to date is more impressive. For starters, Bucknell has a better RPI (92 against 100) which is always a major determining factor when selecting the field. Their wins over Presbyterian and Richmond are both better than American’s best win over Florida Atlantic. American could very well win the league and attain the automatic bid, but right now Bucknell is a better selection.
No Representation—Still, there is no PL squad cracking the College Insider Mid-Major top 25 poll. In fact, only one team—American—received any votes. It will be hard as the season progresses for a team to sneak into the poll as there are no longer any opportunities to pick up any marquee wins. It certainly is possible, however, if American or Bucknell ran through the league without many losses for one to get into the poll.
Team of the Weeks (Dec. 23-Jan. 6): Bucknell: The Bison continue to impress, and appear to have only gotten stronger as the out of conference scheduled progressed. In thrilling fashion, Bucknell defeated Richmond in the closing seconds with a buzzer beater from sophomore Mike Muscala. Had Muscala not come through with his heroic shot, it would have been a devastating loss for Bucknell who led Richmond 60-55 with 1:34 remaining in regulation. The previous two wins came in less dramatic fashion over Loyola (MD) and Dartmouth, yet this was probably a good thing as head coach Dave Paulsen’s heart may not have been able to endure the Richmond finish following two barnburners.
Player of the Weeks (Dec. 23-Jan. 6): Vlad Moldoveanu, American: Vlad the Impaler—a nickname that Moldoveanu has been anointed with by AUhoops.com—lived up to the name as he averaged 24 points, combined to go 17-18 from the charity stripe in three games, and led American to a perfect record over the past two weeks. Standing at 6’9, Moldoveanu poses countless matchup problems for opponents as he has the ability to lurk around the arc and hit a three-pointer (36-94).
Freshman of the Weeks (Dec. 23-Jan. 6): J.J. Avila, Navy: Navy has struggled recently having lost five of six games, but freshman J.J. Avila sure has not. The Midshipmen found a great one in Avila who has the size of a powerful forward in the Patriot League standing at 6’7 and weighing 228 pounds, but can step out and shoot a jumper as if he was a savvy shooting guard. Avila not only leads all freshman scorers averaging 10.2 points a game, but is the leading rebounder as well pulling down 4.9 a contest; he is on the fast track to garner the league’s Rookie of the Year award assuming his strong play continues. In Navy’s last three games, Avila averaged 17.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game.
Clip of the Week
By now, many of you have probably seen Bucknell doing their best to impersonate Christian Laettner and the Duke Blue Devils. While the Bison’s game at Richmond certainly did not carry the same amount of weight that Duke’s game in the NCAA Tournament against Kentucky did, it was equally impressive. With a mere 1.7 seconds remaining, Bucknell had time for just a catch-and-shoot. Inbounding the ball from under his own basket, Joe Willman launched a perfectly thrown pass that soared over the Robins Center’s floor into the readily waiting hands of Mike Muscala. Muscala, who led the Bison with 17 points, did the rest…
Quote of the Week
Following American’s ten-point victory over Brown, a confident Jeff Jones stated: “We need to learn some lessons real quick. We don’t have that edge yet. We have to find that edge…I’m not panicked. I want more because we have more to give.”
Power Rankings (Last update’s ranking and current record in parentheses)
1. Bucknell (1) (9-7)
Previous Two Weeks: W Loyola (MD) 70-59, W Dartmouth 74-57, W Richmond 62-61
Next Two Weeks: 1/8 @ Navy, 1/12 @ American, 1/16 vs. Holy Cross, 1/19 vs. Lafayette
Dave Paulsen’s Bison are peaking at just the right time. After wallowing out to a very sluggish 2-6 start to begin the year, Bucknell has run off seven of eight wins. Due to their strong play, they have become a top 100 RPI team (92) and assured themselves of heading into the Patriot League portion of their schedule with a winning record for the first time since 2005-06. Much of Bucknell’s success during their impressive run in the second half of the non-conference schedule can be attributed to their shooting from behind the arc. In their first eight games, they shot 37.8%—a very good percentage considering the national average is 34.1%—but during the streak they shot a ridiculous 46% from distance. Bryson Johnson has been the primary sharpshooter during the streak as he went 26 for 48 (54.2%). If the unconscious shooting continues, not many Patriot League foes can match up with Bucknell. That is a big if, however.
2. American (2) (10-5)
Previous Two Weeks: W Fordham 73-57, W Delaware 83-71, W Brown 77-67
Next Two Weeks: 1/8 vs. Lehigh, 1/12 vs. Bucknell, 1/15 @ Colgate, 1/19 vs. Army
Traveling out to the West Coast may have been just what American needed to get back to their winning ways. After beginning the year with a perfect 5-0 record, the Eagles went 2-5 in their next seven games against tough competition. While at the Cable Car Classic—a quaint four team tournament hosted by Santa Clara University—American won the tournament with relative ease as they defeated Fordham by 16 in the semifinals, and Delaware by 12 in the finals. Vlad Moldoveanu was named the Tournament MVP as he averaged 24 points. Stephen Lumpkins, one of the PL’s premiere forwards, enjoyed success at the Classic as well as he averaged 16.5 points and 10 rebounds. American will attempt to bring their success back to the District of Columbia as they entertain Lehigh in a key conference game that begins league play for both squads.
3. Lehigh (3) (9-6)
Previous Two Weeks: L USC 76-49, W St. Peter’s 77-64, W Yale 62-57, W NJIT 92-83
Next Two Weeks: 1/8 @ American, 1/12 vs. Navy, 1/15 vs. Army, 1/19 @ Colgate
Unlike American, playing out in the warm weather of California did not treat Lehigh well as the Mountain Hawks were trounced at the hands of USC losing by 27 points. C.J. McCollum—Lehigh’s stud shooting guard who had been playing well since the loss—was held to just seven points on two of eight shooting. It is very clear, as McCollum goes, so does Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks got back on track following their return to the East Coast by winning three straight games. It was not all McCollum, however, carrying the load in these games. Michael Ojo had a career day as he exploded for 33 points against NJIT, and Gabe Knutson continues his workman-like play as he averaged 12.7 points and six rebounds over the three games. When McCollum has a supporting cast that is consistently producing, Lehigh without question becomes a title contender.
4. Army (4) (8-7)
Previous Two Weeks: W Texas-Pan American 66-58, L Fairfield 68-61, W Dartmouth 67-47
Next Two Weeks: 1/8 @ Colgate, 1/12 vs. Holy Cross, 1/15 @ Lehigh, 1/19 @ American
Army has found a pipeline of talent from Texas that has carried them to many of their eight victories this year. In a homecoming for much of the team—seven players hail from Texas—Julian Simmons (Katy, TX) led the Black Knights to a victory over Texas Pan American by pouring in 21 points, while Mitch McDonald (Houston, TX), dished out a team high seven assists. Many of the prognosticators picked Army to finish last in the Patriot League, and while they have easily played the weakest non-conference schedule, their 8-7 record entering league play is impressive nonetheless. Army, like Bucknell, is an exceptional three-point shooting team. They are so good, in fact, that they are one of only three teams to average ten three-pointers or more per game. Army hit 11.3 shots from distance in their three games to give them a 2-1 record over the past two weeks. If the deadly shooting from three continues, Army will find themselves with opportunities to upset the upper tier teams in the Patriot League.
5. Lafayette (6) (5-10)
Previous Two Weeks: L Gonzaga 83-55, W Fairleigh Dickinson 98-92 (2 OT), L Columbia 76-73
Next Two Weeks: 1/8 @ Holy Cross, 1/12 vs. Colgate, 1/15 vs. Navy, 1/19 @ Bucknell
The Leopards predictably struggled and were overmatched against Gonzaga as they traveled out to Spokane in late December. If Lafayette had caught Gonzaga during their struggles earlier in the year, they may have been able to give them a better game, but it was not to be for LC. A bright spot in the blowout loss to the ‘Zags, however, was the play of junior shooting guard Jim Mower. Mower connected on six threes, and then followed up his performance against Gonzaga by pouring in 28 points in a victory over Fairleigh Dickinson. Under the tutelage of Fran O’Hanlon, Lafayette’s offense has revolved around the three point shot in the last few years, but lately that has been virtually their entire offense. In their last three games, they hoisted an average of 27.7 shots from downtown per game.
6. Navy (5) (5-11)
Previous Two Weeks: L Long Island 96-86, L Presbyterian 60-58, W Longwood 87-70
Next Two Weeks: 1/8 vs. Bucknell, 1/12 @ Lehigh, 1/15 @ Lafayette, 1/19 vs. Holy Cross
After losing five straight games to drop from a respectable 4-6 mark to 4-11, Navy welcomed just the right team into Alumni Hall: the Longwood Lancers. While entering the game with a 5-12 record does not appear to be all that bad, Longwood was fresh off a loss to previously winless Colgate, and two of their wins on the year are two sub-Division 1 opponents. The result? A 17 point victory for the Midshipmen. Jordan Sugars led Navy with 20 points, while freshman J.J. Avila continued his exceptional play by contributing 19 points. Over the course of the last three games, Avila is averaging 17.7 points, while Sugars averaged an even better 19.7. As a team, Navy averaged 77 points, but only managed to win one of the games. The offense is clearly there, but a major flaw for Navy has been on the defensive end as they give up on average 74.9 points, which is simply way too much to overcome.
7. Holy Cross (7) (1-13)
Previous Two Weeks: L St. Joseph’s 65-54, L George Washington 58-57, L Sacred Heart 77-75, L Yale 77-76
Next Two Weeks: 1/8 vs. Lafayette, 1/12 @ Army, 1/16 @ Bucknell, 1/19 @ Navy
The Crusaders suffered three gut-wrenching losses in consecutive order where they had opportunities to either tie or win the game in their last possession but failed to do so. Marred by injuries to three of their top players—R.J. Evans, Andrew Keister, and Phil Beans—Holy Cross has been battling hard, but Milan Brown’s squad has been unable to close out games. By pure numbers alone, Milan Brown has struggled in games decided by a single possession. In his last three years at Mount Saint Mary’s, he was 3-12 in such games, and at Holy Cross this year he is 0-5. On the bright side for the Cross has been the emergence of freshman forward Dave Dudzinski who averaged 8.5 points and 3.75 rebounds for the past two weeks. Against Sacred Heart, Dudzinski broke out for 15 points on 6-6 shooting. He appears to be the star of the freshman class—a class that shrunk from three players to two following the mid-season transfer of Steve Carver—and will continue to see extended playing time with Keister hindered with an Achilles injury. There is a great deal of disappointment and frustration within the program right now, and there is only one way to remedy these emotions: Wins.
8. Colgate (8) (1-12)
Previous Two Weeks: L Stony Brook 63-54, W Longwood 80-61, L Maryland 95-40
Next Two Weeks: 1/8 vs. Army, 1/12 @ Lafayette, 1/15 vs. American, 1/17 vs. Dartmouth, 1/19 vs. Lehigh
The good news for Colgate is that they erased the goose egg from the win column by defeating Longwood. The bad news is that they are still 1-12 and coming off of a 55 point drubbing to Maryland heading into league play. Starting point guard Mike Venezia is still sidelined with a knee injury that has bothered him for much of his career, and John Brandenburg—a transfer from Virginia—has been, for all intents and purposes, a bust averaging just 3.8 points and 2.8 rebounds. There is one bright spot for Emmett Davis’ squad however, as the play of freshman Pat Moore has progressed nicely. In the past three games, Moore averaged a cute 11 points. Unless the Raiders can miraculously string some wins together in the Patriot League, Davis will finish with single-digit wins for the first time as Colgate’s head coach.
A Look Ahead
With the conclusion of Holy Cross’ and Lafayette’s final non-conference games, the Patriot League has concluded the out-of-conference schedule (Colgate, however, has a peculiar schedule and plays Longwood at home on February 2). Currently, the overall record of the league is 48-71, and KenPom has the league rated as the 25conference.
The non-conference play for each team in the Patriot League was relatively indicative of where each should finish in the league. Don’t be surprised, however, if Lafayette makes a push in league plays and climbs up the standings. Although their OOC record is not all that impressive, this is a veteran bunch with All-PL performer in Jared Mintz leading the way up front. Never count out a Fran O’Hanlon-coached team either, as he may very well be the PL’s best coach.
Much of the Purple faithful thought that ridding themselves of Sean Kearney, who led Holy Cross to a dismal 9-22 record last year, would improve the state of the program. Although we are just halfway through the season, the Milan Brown experiment at Holy Cross has not been a successful one. There is still ample time for the ‘Saders to turn the season around as they have yet to play a Patriot League game yet, but their non-conference performance is certainly of concern. Do greener pastures lie ahead for Holy Cross? Were the struggles during the non-conference an anomaly? These answers will be revealed during league play.
American and Lehigh both jump right into the heart of Patriot League during a showdown this weekend in our nation’s capital. Two of the league’s best—C.J. McCollum and Vlad Moldoveanu—will go head-to-head in what could be an early preview of the Patriot League championship. Although the preceding two players will likely dominate the storyline for the game, pay attention to the power forwards for each team: Stephen Lumpkins for AU and Gabe Knutson for LU. The winner of the matchup between these two could very well decide the outcome of the game.