Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. Follow him on Twitter (@mitchgoldich) for live updates throughout the Patriot League Tournament.
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.
Breaking Down the Tournament Field
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 »
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.
After a one-week hiatus, we are back and just in time for a veritable orgy of great college hoops matchups today. Yes, there is Louisville v. Syracuse, Florida v. Missouri, Oregon v. UCLA, and Ohio State v. Michigan State. But things get no less interesting as you move down to the mid-major level, where several compelling matchups featuring conference contenders will unfold. Before we get to the Top 10, let’s take a look at what’s on tap today:
Gonzaga at Butler — The nation’s two Cinderella darlings will square off at the storied Hinkle Fieldhouse in a made-for-TV (yes, ESPN College Gameday will be in the house) contest. It will be the final game of Gonzaga’s non-conference schedule and, arguably, its toughest. The loss of Rotnei Clarke to a frightening neck injury will take some of the luster off of this matchup, as Butler will be playing without their leading scorer. The task will be no easier on the other end of the Court, as the Bulldogs will have to contend with a potent Gonzaga frontcourt, led by 7-footer Kelly Olynyk, who has emerged into a bona fide All-American candidate. But as we all know, being the underdog suits Brad Stevens just fine.
Creighton at Wichita State — Doug McDermott has wowed the nation over the past week with a pair of 30-point games, and between his dominance and Creighton’s three-point shooting, the Bluejays’ offense has become quite difficult to stop. But if there’s a team in the MVC who can do it, it’s Wichita State. The Shockers have the best defense in the league, which will have the added boost of a raucous home crowd for this premier matchup. The Shockers’ strong, quick guards will challenge Creighton at the other end, and Cleanthony Early might prove a tough matchup for McDermott. Carl Hall is also back in the lineup for the Shockers, so both teams will be at full strength.
Siyani Chambers Is Having An Outstanding Freshman Year (Anthony Nesmith/CSM/Cal Sport Media/AP Images)
Harvard at Memphis — With Conference USA muddling through a down year, this could be be Memphis’ toughest opponent of the 2013 calendar year. The Crimson have turned in a quality season despite the unexpected one-year withdrawals of senior leaders Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey due to an academic cheating scandal. Much of the credit for that goes to freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, who is fifth in the country in minutes per game. Tommy Amaker has put a great deal of faith in the young man, but he has rewarded him with a 31% assist rate, 50% three-point shooting average, and 88% FT shooting average. Chambers will lock horns with Joe Jackson, who has steadied himself this season to become a reliable scorer and team leader. The senior point guard has hit double-digits in points in 12 straight games, the longest mark of his college career.
Western Illinois at North Dakota State — North Dakota State has been one of the great underreported stories of the season, rolling up a 16-3 record and supplanting South Dakota State as the Summit League’s favorite. But Western Illinois has also creeped to the top of the league standings, just a game behind NDSU at 6-1. The Leathernecks are led by an inside-out combo of big man Terrell Parks (13.9 ppg, 9.4 rbg) and do-everything senior guard Ceola Clark. Clark is an excellent defender, and he’ll need to be at his best to help stop a North Dakota State that is a well-oiled, methodical, efficient machine. Marshall Bjorkland, the Bison’s 6-8 junior, is arguably the most efficient scorer in the country. He leads the nation in effective FG percentage (72.4%) and is fourth in true shooting percentage (71.2%).
Utah State at Denver — Louisiana Tech remains at the top of the WAC standings after holding off Idaho on Thursday night, but these two squads are just one loss behind them. So tonight’s game has a lot riding on it. Expect a low-scoring contest between two of the lowest tempo teams in the country. Royce O’Neale and Chris Udofia lead Denver’s Princeton offense, which wears down opponents with movement and relies heavily on the three-point shot. Utah State will look to Preston Medlin, who leads the team with 16.3 points per game, and center Jarred Shaw who gets lots of touches in Stew Morrill’s offense.
College of Charleston at Davidson — Charleston will have a chance to move into a tie atop the Southern Conference South standings with a win at Davidson. They’ll be led by their backcourt combo of Andrew Lawrence and Anthony Stitt, while their hosts will rely more heavily on their frontcourt tandem of De’Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen. Davidson can fall in love with the three-point shot to their detriment. They’re better when they get the ball to the versatile Brooks and Cohen. Getting the ball in the basket won’t be easy against Charleston, which has a pretty good defense anchored in the middle by Adjehi Baru.
Belmont v. Tennessee State – You would think that this game between the OVC’s two undefeated teams would lose its luster with the absence of Tennessee State’s star big man, Robert Covington, except for one thing — they’ve won every one of their six OVC games without him. Covington went down with a torn meniscus in a December 18 trip to Middle Tennessee State that the Tigers went on to lose by 38 points. At that point, they were 5-7 on the season but they’ve reeled off seven straight since and now sit atop the OVC East standings. But they may need more than the Ewing Effect when they travel across town to face off with Belmont. The switch from the A-Sun to the OVC hasn’t dimmed the Bruins’ ability to dominate their conference competition.
So there it is, a day-long feast for the glutton who craves mid-major hoops. We move on, now, to the updated Top 10 rankings, our weekly (starting this week) Honor Roll, and a few more games to keep an eye on as the week unfolds.
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’s At-Large Hopes Take a Hit: Bucknell and Lehigh both entered the season with a chance to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid. To do so, each needed to be nearly flawless against the weaker foes in the non-conference schedule, and pick up a couple signature wins along the way. Lehigh’s chances looked bleak after early losses to Baylor and Pitt, but Bucknell kept its hopes alive with an 11-1 start. Saturday’s loss to Princeton, however, was a major step back. The Bison may need to win on January 5 at #7 Missouri to have any chance of an at-large bid, or else they’ll have to win the Patriot League Tournament to make the Big Dance. Lehigh would almost surely need to beat VCU on that same date to get back in the conversation. That game represents Lehigh’s last chance to get a true signature win before the games against Bucknell.
Scouts Show, McCollum Sits: One of the most anticipated match-ups of the season was over before it started. More than 50 NBA scouts, including several general managers, traveled to Denton, Texas, to see two potential lottery picks in Lehigh’s CJ McCollum and North Texas’ Tony Mitchell. Just minutes before game time, Lehigh announced that McCollum would not dress due to a sprained ankle. To add insult to injury, Mitchell was held out of the starting lineup because of a violation of team rules. He still posted 22 points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes off the bench. Scouts who wanted to see McCollum instead learned that Lehigh’s well-rounded attack is more than a one-man show. Gabe Knutson hit four threes en route to 28 points, and Mackey McKnight added 25 more. Lehigh cruised to a 19-point halftime lead on its way to a 90-75 win. Coach Brett Reed described McCollum’s injury as “mild” which seemed like damage control, not wanting to incite a panic that his preseason All-American would be out very long. McCollum, though, tweeted at The Allentown Morning Call’s Tom Housenick after the game that he’s never missed a game because of a mild injury. It was a lighthearted exchange, and all signs point to McCollum being at full-strength for the January 5 showdown against VCU.
Lehigh’s offense gets a ton of well-deserved attention, but don’t overlook their defense. (AP)
Historic Starts for Bucknell and Lehigh: The Patriot League’s two premier teams have lived up to lofty preseason expectations, and find themselves ranked in a slew of mid-major rankings and polls. Before they battle each other for the league championship, both teams are already battling some of the best squads in their programs’ histories. Bucknell’s 11-1 start was its best since the 1907-08 season. Even with the loss to Princeton, Bucknell’s 11-2 mark is still second-best in school history through 13 games. Lehigh is 9-2 for the first time since the 1925-26 campaign. Its current eight-game winning streak is also longest since that season. Both teams still have a chance to reach 12 non-conference wins in the regular season, a feat achieved by only two teams in Patriot League history: Fordham in 1990-91 and Lehigh last season.
Lehigh(9-2) – If my power rankings were designed to answer the question of who has the stronger resume, I’d have to give Bucknell the top spot. But if I’m determining who is playing better basketball right now, I’ll give Lehigh the edge. The Mountain Hawks’ aforementioned win over North Texas was their sixth straight by double digits. Lehigh now leads the nation in three-point shooting (44.4 percent) and is making 8.7 threes per game. While the Mountain Hawks get a lot of credit for their offense, they also have a very pesky defense. McCollum, McKnight and Holden Greiner are all among the top five in the Patriot League in steals per game. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Lights-Out Lehigh:CJ McCollum continues to lead the nation in scoring, now with 24.9 points per game, but he is hardly doing it by himself. Gabe Knutson is scoring over 16 points per game, and Mackey McKnight and Holden Greiner are both averaging double figures. The Mountain Hawks are second in the country in both free throw percentage (80.5 percent) and three point shooting (44 percent). Those efficient numbers have helped boost Lehigh to 16th in the country at 80.8 points per game.
Muscala Racks Up Career Numbers:Bucknell’s Mike Muscala is having an excellent senior season, and is staking his claim as one of the most dominant big men in the history of the conference. Adonal Foyle is still the only player the Patriot League has ever sent to the NBA, and Muscala recently joined him as the second player in conference history with 1,500 career points and 800 career rebounds. Foyle even tweeted that he was happy to have company in the club. Muscala is sixth in the nation with 11.4 rebounds per game. He and Duke’s Mason Plumlee are the only players averaging at least 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Conference Ranking Is Improving: According to Ken Pomeroy’s indispensable site kenpom.com, the Patriot League finished last season rated 22nd toughest out of the 33 D-I conferences. This year, the Patriot League is up to 16th, leapfrogging the CAA, Ivy, Sun Belt, Big West, Atlantic Sun and Summit leagues. While Bucknell and Lehigh are certainly responsible for a large part of that jump, the conference is definitely stronger top to bottom as well. The eight schools have a cumulative record of 43-39, despite several mismatches against teams from the power conferences. The Bison and Mountain Hawks have also received attention from several individual polls. ESPN.com’s most recent Mid-Major Report listed Bucknell sixth and Lehigh eighth. CBS Sports’ Mid-Major Power Pyramid had Bucknell ninth and Lehigh 12th.
Mike Muscala and the Bison escaped Columbia.
1. Bucknell (8-1) – The Bison survived a scare from Columbia in one of the most exciting games any Patriot League team has played this season. The opponents shot out to a 25-8 lead after the opening tip and maintained a double-digit lead with under 15 minutes to go in the game. Muscala would not let Bucknell lose and submitted a dominant 29 points and 19 rebounds in the win. Read the rest of this entry »
RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), Evan Jacoby (Midwest) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.
#3 Georgetown vs. #11 N.C. State – Midwest Region Third Round (at Columbus, OH) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS
Thompson's Team is a Real Wildcard in this Region
We originally picked Georgetown to get upset in the round of 64 by Belmont, but that was with knowledge that the Hoyas could be the biggest threat to stopping Kansas from reaching the Elite Eight if they were able to escape that opening game. Not only did Georgetown escape, but it was one of the most impressive showings of any team in the tournament thus far. The Hoyas used their length and athleticism to deny the efficient Belmont offense from ever getting started, and they were unreal at their own end offensively with a 61.2% field goal percentage for the game. This matchup will be more difficult, however, against an North Carolina State team that’s getting better every game and playing spectacular offensively. The Wolfpack have great size inside to match Georgetown, with C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell as long and athletic as any Hoya. Howell had his best game of the season with 22 points on 10-12 shooting last game, but that will also change as he goes up against much stronger post defenders. Georgetown primarily plays zone defense but will also switch things up and defend man-to-man when needed. It will be a battle inside all night as the Hoyas surely won’t let Scott Wood get open looks from three. This game, though, will be decided on the other end of the floor. NC State was not particularly strong defensively throughout the year, but they completely shut down San Diego State on Friday by allowing just 37.7% field goal shooting. The Aztecs played a lot of one-on-one ball, the exact opposite of what the Hoyas will show. It’ll be up to Henry Sims to make smart decisions in the high post, something he’s done all year. Jason Clark was great last game and is a reliable playmaker in this game, while Otto Porter remains rock solid as an X-factor offensively. Both of these teams looked great last round, but Georgetown has the advantage because it should pose a much greater defensive threat to the Wolfpack while also running a motion offense that will be difficult to defend.
The RTC Certified Pick:Georgetown
#1 Michigan State vs. #9 Saint Louis – West Region Third Round (at Columbus, OH) – 2:45 PM ET on CBS
Two top ten teams in defensive efficiency. Two coaches with a well-earned reputation for X-ing and O-ing with the best of them. It isn’t likely to be one of the prettiest displays of basketball you’ll ever see, but if you like fundamentals and you like basketball as chess match, this is a can’t-miss game. The Billikens advanced to this round behind great team defense and great individual offensive performances by Kwamain Mitchell (22 points including four threes) and Brian Conklin (16 points, earned largely from his ten-of-11 performance from the line). But Conklin also turned the ball over eight times, in part due to the active hands of Memphis defenders; he’ll see more of that on Sunday and will need to take better care of the ball. Defensively, the Billikens will need to come up with some sort of answer for Draymond Green, who was brilliant Friday against Long Island, registering a triple-double with 24 points, 12 rebounds and ten assists. But perhaps the biggest battle of the game will be on Michigan State’s offensive glass. The Spartans have historically made a living creating offensive on second-chance opportunities, but the best Rick Majerus-coached teams have been proficient in securing defensive rebounds. If the Billikens can limit the Spartans’ offensive rebounding (a feat easier said than done), Tom Izzo will need to find other ways for his Spartans to score in the halfcourt, and there have been times this year when that MSU offense has bogged down a bit. While sophomore guard Keith Appling is usually excellent getting penetration, SLU is no liable to allow that very often, and there is no one else on the Spartan roster capable of creating his own offense off the dribble on a regular basis. Guys like Green, Brandon Wood and Austin Thornton have been very efficient three-point shooters, but, with the exception perhaps of Green, they need someone to create open looks for them. In short, if SLU can do what no other team has been able to do all year – keep Michigan State in check on their offensive glass – then the Billikens could drag this game down into the mud and pull out a win. But, if the Spartans do what, you know, they always do, I have a hard time seeing Saint Louis pulling this one out.
As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. In this post, we have your SoCon, Ivy, NEC, Patriot, and Big Sky conference champions. Here’s what you need to know about these recent bid winners.
Southern Conference Champion (25-7, 19-2)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #66/#67/#69
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +8.8
Likely NCAA Seed: #13-#14
Davidson Is Back in the Dance Looking For More McKillop Magic (AP/B. Leverone)
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
First of all, let’s put this to rest immediately. Although Davidson’s record of 25-7 is nearly the same as it was in 2008 when the Wildcats came within a long three-pointer of the Final Four, this year’s team is not nearly as good as that one, led by a young Stephen Curry. But it wouldn’t be a Bob McKillop-coached team if it wasn’t dangerous, and the Wildcats are certainly that, as their mid-December upset win over likely #1 seed Kansas attests. Led by a group of sophomores and juniors who can score inside and out, Davidson likes to get out in transition and spread the floor in the halfcourt. All five starters are capable of hitting the three-ball (34% to 37%), and although the Wildcats won’t beat you that way, they use the threat of it to find easy looks inside. Whoever draws this team in its first game will have its hands full with the Davidson offense.
McKillop’s defense, however, is a bit of a different story. The Wildcats don’t turn teams over and, at least against good opponents, have a lot of trouble stopping dribble penetration. Duke dropped 82 on the Wildcats as Austin Rivers and Seth Curry had 17 points each; Vanderbilt went for 87 as Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins combined for 52 points; Wichita State had 91 in a win where Joe Ragland dropped 30 and his backcourt mate Toure’ Murray added 16 more. You get the point. Athletic scoring guards are a big problem for the Wildcats.
Given those conditions, Davidson is projected to play a #3 or #4 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. Among the teams in that group, there are a few that they absolutely do not want to see under any circumstances. For example, Michigan’s Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., would be disastrous. On the other hand, Georgetown’s Jason Clark and Martel Starks would be much more manageable. As the Wildcats have already shown against the Jayhawks once this year, they are a dangerous squad if the conditions are right. We wouldn’t bet on them pulling another first game upset this year, but keep an eye on teams built like them (high offense, no defense) for possible victims.
Ivy League Champion (26-4, 12-2)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #36/#38/#43
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +8.4
Likely NCAA Seed: #10-#11
Tommy Amaker Has His Harvard Team Focused on the NCAAs (US Presswire/G. Cooper)
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
Harvard basketball has been in the news a lot lately, mostly due to former player Jeremy Lin’s emergence as an NBA star point guard. But when Tommy Amaker and his team watched Penn lose to Princeton on Tuesday night, the Crimson sealed their first NCAA Tournament berth in 66 years. Not once did this team make it during Lin’s tenure, and Harvard is finally back in the Big Dance this year thanks to a terrific defense and overall efficient team. This squad challenged itself in the non-conference and won the Battle for Atlantis Tournament that included a field of Connecticut and Florida State. They also defeated St. Joseph’s and finished with a strong 12-2 record in the Ivy League with only two close losses to top competitors Princeton and Penn. Read the rest of this entry »
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 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.