Championship Previews: Patriot League Tournament

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 6th, 2013

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

Top Storylines

  • Bucknell Locks Up Home Court Advantage: The Bison made history this season, becoming the first Patriot League team ever to win three consecutive outright regular season titles. Their 12-2 conference record gives them the top seed in the tournament, ensuring that all of their games will be played in Sojka Pavilion. Their success in Sojka is one of the key reasons they’ve been so great over the last few years, and is a big reason they’ll be tough to take down in the tournament. The Bison went 11-1 on their home floor this season, including a 6-1 mark in conference play. The Bison are an astounding 75-15 all-time against Patriot League foes in Sojka, though that does include a loss to Lehigh in last year’s Patriot League Championship Game.
  • McCollum Unlikely To Return: The entire complexion of the Patriot League season changed on January 5, when Lehigh star CJ McCollum broke his foot in a nationally televised game against VCU. Lehigh’s preseason All-American became one of the breakout stars in college basketball when he scored 30 points in the Mountain Hawks’ upset over Duke in last year’s NCAA Tournament. He lived up to the hype surrounding his senior season, and led the nation in scoring (25.7 points per game) before the injury. The initial time frame had him out 8-to-10 weeks, which is anywhere from March 2-16. Head coach Brett Reed said on the Patriot League coaches’ conference call that McCollum continues to get healthier, but that he is preparing for the tournament with his squad that went 8-4 in league play without their star. Even if McCollum was healthy enough to take the court, there’s no way to know how many minutes he could log or how effective he’d be.
  • Leopards Running Hot: While Bucknell and Lehigh dominated the preseason and early-season headlines, it’s that other team in Pennsylvania playing the best ball in the conference right now. The Lafayette Leopards started the season 1-6 and 3-8. On December 14, I even had them dead last in my Patriot League Power Rankings. A close loss at Stanford left them 5-10 at the new year, but seemed to offer hope that the team had figured things out. Behind Tony Johnson’s stellar play at point guard, the Leopards won nine of their final 11 conference games, including an upset over Bucknell and a season sweep over the hated rival Lehigh. The Leopards enter the Patriot League Tournament on a five-game winning streak, and are a legitimate contender to win their first league championship since the 1999-2000 season.

Reader’s Take

 

Breaking Down the Tournament Field

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  1. Bucknell (25-5, 12-2) – Bucknell spent the non-conference portion of their season flirting with an automatic bid, but their run through league play was not dominant enough to keep them in that discussion. They have simply not looked as good since they nearly beat Missouri in January (more on that below), but they are still the favorite to win the tournament. In addition to Muscala, they have a strong cast with seniors Bryson Johnson and Joe Willman, also in the 1,000 point club. Johnson set the conference record for most three-pointers made in a career and Cameron Ayers joined him at better than 41 percent from beyond. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the Patriot League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2013

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

Looking Back

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

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

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

Power Rankings

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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