This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, locatedhere.
Can Leonard Hamilton’s squad finish in the top five of the ACC?
On the surface this question may seem ridiculous. Most previews have Florida State picked to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack, and you have to expect that Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia will all be very good teams. And that doesn’t even mention perennial powerhouses Syracuse and Pittsburgh. The Seminoles also lost Okaro White and Ian Miller, but hear me out.
I’m betting we’ll see more smiles from Leonard Hamilton this year (Glenn Beil/Democrat).
Florida State has a favorable schedule: All four of the opponents it sees twice (Clemson, Pittsburgh, Miami and Virginia Tech) are beatable. They get Duke and Louisville in Tallahassee. Also the former Big East powers are due for down years after both the Orange — Tyler Ennis, CJ Fair and Jerami Grant — and the Panthers — Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna — lost major productivity from their rosters. That potentially leaves a vacuum just below the elite tier where a school like Florida State could finish. There are also dueling x-factors here: Will Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo continue making strides; and can the offense limit its turnovers? Neither question is a new one for this team, but there’s reason to believe the first will come true. The second may be less important: Hamilton has never coached a team in the top-100 in turnover percentage, according to KenPom, but he’s coached plenty of good teams over the years to earn the benefit of the doubt.
With the start of the ACC college basketball season rapidly approaching, allow us to put on our psychoanalyst’s hat to determine what’s on the mind of each of its 15 member programs right now. Some are of the optimistic variety, while others are fearful at what they see lying ahead. All of them, though, are hoping to contribute to discussions lauding the ACC as the nation’s preeminent college basketball conference this year. Let’s jump into each program alphabetically.
Boston College:Blind optimism. The reality is that the Eagles, even with an all-ACC caliber star in Olivier Hanlan, are likely one of the three worst teams in the conference. But there’s a new coach around in Jim Christian, and thanks to the usual roster turnover, few remaining pieces to recall the 8-24 debacle of a year ago. Buying in to a new coach and system may not be a problem, but production on the court will continue to be.
Clemson:Loss. That loss is a huge one, in the departure of NBA draft pick K.J. McDaniels, who was their best player on both sides of the ball last year and led the team in four statistical categories. A 10-win improvement from the year before earned Brad Brownell a six-year contract extension, but how will this team score enough to win even if it replicates its defensive success of a year ago?
Jim Christian hopes a clean slate and overhauled roster reverses BC’s fortunes (credit: bostonherald.com)
Duke:Motivation. Not just because of a stellar recruiting class that includes their first dominant center in some time in Jahlil Okafor and the overall potential to be in the mix for a championship. There’s also the internal motivation for Quinn Cook to keep a hold on the starting point guard role in light of the arrival of stud freshman Tyus Jones, and Rasheed Sulaimon’s motivation to show that an early-season slump last year (temporarily earning him a place in Coach K’s doghouse) was an aberration. Oh, and that first round NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer could light a fire of some sort, too.
Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: Here’s a good brief context piece on where Syracuse is this season. The national media has started paying attention to college basketball again, and not surprisingly, as one of the best teams in the country, Syracuse has been getting its fair share of love. So has Tyler Ennis. But we’re just now getting to the point in the season where people start talking about undefeated seasons. Here’s where I (mostly) side with Sean Keeley: Syracuse isn’t going undefeated. Trips to Pittsburgh, Duke, Virginia and Florida State all but guarantee that. In fact, four of the team’s last five games are on the road. My only disagreement is that I think Wichita State has a reasonably good chance to finish the regular season undefeated. Not a great chance, but not zero either. Keeley nails everything else.
Charleston Post and Courier: Don’t look now but Clemson is 4-1 in conference play. Yep, the same Clemson we picked eighth and the conference media picked –gulp, 14th — is tied for second in the loss column (along with Pittsburgh and Virginia). That said, it’s about to get real for the Tigers. They play five of their next six games on the road, including trips to Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Florida State and Syracuse. Yeesh. The most winnable game there looks like — double gulp — at North Carolina? Clemson has to find a way to keep its collective head over the next couple of weeks, or our 7-9 finish with a trip to the NIT prediction might not look too far off.
Tallahassee Democrat: Florida State’s Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo are totally different players this season, but Tony Bennett did a good job shutting the pair down by doubling them every time they got the ball in the post. I’m not sure how long the tactic will be effective though because both players measure over seven feet. So long as they keep their heads about them when doubled, they should be able to pass out to an open player. But if this proves an effective strategy for other teams (which admittedly won’t have double-teams as readily accessible as Bennett’s pack-line), it could spell trouble for the Seminoles.
Real GM: Awesome stuff from Dan Hanner, who took a look at how teams have fared with and without different players in the lineup. From the ACC, he has stats for Notre Dame, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State and Georgia Tech. Most surprising was Jordan Vandenberg‘s defensive impact: Without him in the lineup NC State’s defense is 11.1 points worse per 100 possessions. That’s a huge difference. By comparison, Georgia Tech is only 2.1 points per 100 possessions worse on defense without Robert Carter, and Notre Dame is 3.7 points per 100 possessions worse without Jerian Grant. The sample size for a lot of this is pretty low, but still great to see the trends.
Sports Illustrated: Seth Davis spends a good amount of time discussing Bruce Pearl to kick off his weekly “Hoop Thoughts” column. He notes several things of interest: (1) Pearl is a Boston College alumnus; (2) Pearl “has received several serious inquiries from Division I schools to be a head coach, but as he put it, ‘the opportunities were not at the level that I would be interested in.'” The first we already knew, but it is worth a reminder that Boston College sits at 5-13 on the year. The second point is interesting because Pearl’s show-cause doesn’t expire until August this year. That makes me think that the offers were from low-major schools hoping to hit a home run. And while the Eagles probably wouldn’t pay Pearl quite what Tennessee did (partially because his market value dropped with the NCAA business), that’s somewhere where “at the level” makes more sense. Food for thought.
CBS Sports and NBC Sports: After Duke lost another game to a very good team after leading most of the game, the popular question is whether or not the Kansas and Arizona losses are reasons to toss Duke out as a national contender. There’s no doubt, the losses bring up some concerns (though my question was “Why did Mike Krzyzewski randomly start playing zone?”). But not many teams are as big and athletic as Kansas and Arizona. Those are tough match-ups for Duke, which is still a young team. It’s not a surprise they struggled. The other story that didn’t get a ton of publicity after the game is how quiet Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon were in the second half for Duke. The backcourt holds the key.
NBC Sports and Tar Heel Blog: Speaking of raising questions, North Carolina didn’t exactly silence its doubters by losing a close game at Roy Williams protege Jerod Haase’s UAB Blazers. The Tar Heels got killed on the boards, and the Blazers concentrated on stopping Marcus Paige with considerable success. Look for Michigan State to key on Paige again this week. Until someone else shows the ability to be the man in his place, there’s no downside. That said, I personally wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tar Heels pull out the win because (1) I have no idea what to think about this team and (2) Roy Williams is Tom Izzo’s kryptonite.
Burlington Times-News: NC State looked significantly better against Eastern Kentucky and showed the ability to score against a zone–albeit a shorter, less athletic one than Syracuse will trot out in ACC play. Promising signs came from Jordan Vandenberg, who set a career high, and TJ Warren, who managed 26 points in the second half. This team is already improving, which is a good sign. To keep up his success on the recruiting trail, Mark Gottfried needs to keep showing player and program development.
Tomahawk Nation: If you haven’t watched Florida State, you should know that Leonard Hamilton’s team looks for real. The Seminoles came a touch-foul away from taking Florida to overtime on the road. Michael Ojo and Boris Bojanovsky looked terrific. The twin sophomore towers kept the game within reach. Ojo in particular is a completely new player. Hamilton is the best coach in the league at developing big men. Last year Ojo looked completely lost. This year, he still has his moments, but is much more confident with the ball and is a terror on the boards. This team is good (much better than anyone predicted), but the next couple years could really be special.
Duke Basketball Report: Barry Jacobs took a look at the hottest ACC teams historically from downtown. Number one? Virginia Tech. Yep, this year’s Hokie team is shooting an unbelievable 45.5% from deep. This year’s Duke team is third on the list. Notre Dame and Pittsburgh also check in at over 40%. Unfortunately for Virginia Tech, that percentage is likely to drop, which will hurt its already mediocre offensive efficiency.
ESPN: “Has the Carolina Way Disappeared?” CL Brown asks after a couple of rough years for the Tar Heels, between the academic scandal, football scandal and PJ Hairston’s lead foot. The short answer is no, if you buy into such things to begin with. But the truth of the matter is any time you try to make reality fit a myth, these stories will be written. Same thing with “The Patriot Way” and it goes for Coach K and his secondary violation a couple of years back.
Baltimore Sun: There is big time bad news out of College Park, as Maryland announced that presumed starting point guard Seth Allen has broken his foot and will be sidelined for eight to 10 weeks. That’s essentially until conference play starts. With the Terrapin turnover issues last season, I’m sure Mark Turgeon was hoping to have a more experienced guard at the helm to start the season. Instead look for a hybrid of Dez Wells and frosh Roddy Peters to share point guard responsibilities in Allen’s absence.
Charlottesville Daily Progress: Obviously take all of these reports coming from coaches and teams with a grain of salt, but Mike Tobey sounds like he may have picked up some intensity while practicing with the USA U-19 team this summer. That’s excellent news for Virginia, as Tobey was a really valuable offensive cog last season when he was healthy. He has put on an extra 10-15 pounds (remember that number) in hopes that the added strength will make him more productive.
Tomahawk Nation: Michael Rogner does a good job breaking down Florida State‘s defense and what the Seminoles need to do to get back to their elite status on that end of the court. Their youth on the front line really showed last season. Unlike Bernard James two and three years ago, freshmen Michael Ojo and Boris Bojanovsky felt like they were out of position as often as they were in it. But I trust Leonard Hamilton to turn them around. On paper this team should be very good defensively (an elite defensive coach and a roster stocked with length and athleticism), but the Seminoles may still be another year away depending on the development of the bigs.
Greensboro News-Record: Remember that number? Tyler Lewis – like every other slightly undersized player in college basketball this offseason — gained 15 pounds. Lewis may be the most important part of NC State’s offense this year. Don’t get me wrong, TJ Warren will lead the team in scoring by a long margin. But Lewis is the one who has to get the less offensively inclined players involved. And in all seriousness, the added weight and confidence should help him become more effective at the rim and on the defensive end of the floor.
Orlando Sentinel: Florida State‘s defense isn’t nearly what it has been the last few years. The biggest issues are that opponents are grabbing way too many rebounds and hitting more interior shots. A lot of this is because Kiel Turpin never really developed into a Bernard James or Solomon Alabi. The Seminoles have never been a great rebounding team — largely because the strength of Hamilton’s defensive strategy lies in locking down the paint and blocking shots — but this year’s team is exceptionally bad (apart from Terrance Shannon, who’s injured). That said, Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo are going to be players eventually. Bojanovsky is one of my favorite freshmen in the league this season. He’s got great footwork and decent touch for a seven-footer. Ojo is mammoth. If he can learn to control his body, he’ll be an unstoppable force.
Wilmington Star News: Experience is a funny word. Sometimes it’s easy to spot (or not spot) like with Wake Forest this year or Boston College last year. Other times it’s harder to see. For instance, this year’s Florida State team has a number of years under its belt, but not crunch-time minutes (other than Michael Snaer, who was born for it). This year’s Miami team obviously has it. But depending on who you talk to (and the most recent results), teams like Duke have and don’t have experience. The Blue Devils have three seniors at its core, but right now the team also starts two freshmen and a sophomore. That’s one big difference between Duke with Ryan Kelly and Duke without him — his experience means a lot. Eventually Amile Jefferson will likely become a better basketball player than Kelly, but right now Jefferson commits dumb fouls and lacks much strength. Kelly’s not exactly Hercules himself, but he knows his strengths and forces opponents to play to them. That’s a huge asset.
Washington Post: Here’s another important example of experience. Alex Len is much better this year than last year, but he still disappears far too much for a player of his talent (on a team that struggles just as much). He’s a bit like a smoother and more skilled version of Mason Plumlee in his sophomore season. When Plumlee was fed in a position to score, he did well; when he wasn’t, he didn’t. Plumlee compounded his disappearance with dumb fouls and turnovers (he was, and is in many ways, much more limited offensively than Len), but experience has made him a player who demands the ball. That’s what Turgeon desperately needs from his star center the rest of the way.
Orange and White: KJ McDaniels looks like Brad Brownell’s player of the future. Every year Brownell relies on two very good upperclassmen as he grooms a junior for the role moving forward. First it was Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant; last year it was Andre Young and Tanner Smith; this year it’s Devin Booker and Milton Jennings (sometimes). Unfortunately for Brownell, all six of those players were seniors. McDaniels, a sophomore, may finally give Brownell the breathing room he needs. McDaniels is good for at least one jaw-dropping dunk a game, but he’s slow in finding his place on the perimeter. If he can nail down a consistent jumper, look out.
The ACC: The ACC announced the 2013 basketball ACC Legends. This year’s class was led by Gary Williams (whom the ACC honored just in time). Other administrative figures included Gene Corrigan and former Wake Forest coach Carl Tracy. Corrigan in addition to serving as ACC commissioner for a decade also served as the NCAA’s president for a couple of years. Player highlights from the class include Duke’s Trajan Langdon (the Alaskan Assassin), Georgia Tech’s Mark Price (who was Bobby Cremins’ best player when he turned the Yellow Jackets around in the early 1980s), and Derek Whittenburg (the NC State guard who missed the shot that led to the dunk to win the national championship in 1983).
Florida State dominated the first half of its game against Clemson over the weekend before the Tigers clawed their way back in the final 20 minutes to cut the deficit to three. Clemson couldn’t quite get over the hump to pull off the home win, but the game gave insights into both teams going forward.
Devin Booker could be first-team All-ACC. Here, “could” implies that it is possible based on his abilities — not that it is likely to happen. Erick Green will probably steal the spot on first team thanks to his incredibly high usage and gaudy scoring numbers, but Booker looked tremendous against the Seminoles’ long, inexperienced front line. He has got a wide array of post moves, good range (though not as good as his brother’s), and the strength of an ox.
Devin Booker is underutilized by Clemson (Credit: IPTAY Media)
Why head coach Brad Brownell couldn’t find a way to get Booker the ball more often is beyond me. Part of the blame falls on Booker, who disappears for large stretches of the game, but much of the responsibility goes to the Clemson guards and Milton Jennings, who tried to do way too much. If the Tigers are going to finish decently this season, they have to get Booker’s usage up significantly. The ball has to run through him. He was every bit as impressive as Mason Plumlee was on Saturday by finishing with 19 points and 11 boards on 8-of-11 shooting. Read the rest of this entry »
Throughout the preseason, the ACC microsite will release a preview for each of the 12 teams. Today’s victim: the Florida State Seminoles.
Leonard Hamilton and his team knocked off Duke and North Carolina to become the first ACC champion from somewhere off of Tobacco Road since Maryland in 2004. Hamilton’s team used experience, physical defense and drive to push through the ACC Tournament before falling in a brutal game to Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32. Still, the Seminoles’ triumph earned Hamilton the credibility where it’s time to start accepting his teams as conference contenders — especially when star guard Michael Snaer is at the helm.
Luke Loucks is gone, but Michael Snaer is ready to build on a dream season (Reuters)
This isn’t to say picking Florida State to finish near the top of the league again is a no-brainer; on the contrary, the Seminoles lost six players to graduation, including three starters. Among those leaving were Luke Loucks, the veteran point guard who played the cool foil to Snaer much of last year, and Bernard James, whose shot-blocking and tough defense anchored one of the best defenses in the country.
Five freshmen and a junior college transfer join the Seminoles this season, headlined by Aaron Thomas and Montay Brandon. Brandon, a consensus four-star 6’7″ wing out of Greensboro, North Carolina, looks to be a paradigmatic Hamilton player: He’s very long, athletic and is ready to focus on defense. Thomas was also a consensus four-star recruit and is known as a slasher; he’ll be backing up Florida State’s very talented backcourt this season. His playing time will probably directly correlate to how his defense stacks up with Ian Miller. Devon Bookert and junior college transfer Robert Gilchrist also join the Seminoles, though look for their impact to be somewhat down the road. Bookert is an offensive-minded point guard out of Alaska, and Gilchrist is a skinny forward with terrific length and athleticism. Finally, there are the seven footers Michael Ojo and Boris Bojanovsky. Ojo and Bojanovsky are both very raw, but the Seminoles will need an eraser at the center of Hamilton’s defense, and one or both may play significant time if they can fit that role.
Over the next four weeks we’ll be taking a step back and looking at each team in the ACC to assess where each program — and the conference as a whole — stands before we totally turn our attention to the 2013-14 season later this fall. Today’s target: Florida State.
Where They Stand Now
Leonard Hamilton Is Riding High in the ACC
Florida State is riding high. Last season probably constitutes the second best season in Florida State history, trailing only the 1971-72 season where the Seminoles won 28 games and played in the national championship game. The 2011-12 season’s 25 wins, ACC Tournament victory and two wins over the perennial powers of Duke and North Carolina marks the most successful season of Florida State’s tenure in the conference. Leonard Hamilton has transformed the Seminoles into one of the conference’s premier powers and a surefire contender for the conference title on a regular basis. Outside a disappointing loss to Cincinnati in their second game of the NCAA Tournament, it would have been hard for fans in Tallahassee to envision a better season.
Unfortunately, the downside of a team filled with seasoned seniors is that they all graduate. Bernard James, Deividas Dulkys, Xavier Gibson, Luke Loucks, Jeff Peterson, and Jon Kreft are all graduating, taking the bulk of rotation minutes with them. Having a lot of players leave because they are graduating seniors is a good problem for a team to have. Not so good? Transfers. Freshman Antwan Space is transferring to Texas A&M after seeing little to no playing time in the past season, further shrinking the Seminole frontcout.
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.
A Look Back
Bucknell’s Winning Streak Snapped—In easily the biggest surprise in the Patriot League over the past two weeks, Bucknell entered Christl Arena and had no answer for Army’s offensive attack. The Black Knights put together their best effort of the season in a 20-point dismantling of first-place Bucknell. Entering the game, the Bison had a nine game winning streak that was the fifth-longest in the nation.
Shazier, Johnson, and McCollum in the National Rankings—Speaking of Bucknell, two of their best offensive weapons rank high in statistical rankings. Darryl Shazier has a 3.5:1 assist to turnover ratio which is ninth best in the nation, and sharpshooter Bryson Johnson is connecting on 47% of his three point attempts which ranks him just inside of the top 50. What may be even more impressive than the preceding statistics, however, is Lehigh sophomore C.J. McCollum’s ability to score the basketball. McCollum is averaging 22.1 points a game which is the highest total for any sophomore in the country.
The Service Academies—Not a whole lot was expected from Army and Navy at the beginning of the season. In the preseason poll, Army was picked to finish eighth and Navy not that much better at sixth. Although each team is not taking the league by storm and entirely proving these prognostications wrong, they did knock off the league’s two top teams in easy fashion. Army defeated Bucknell 90-70 and Navy beat American 73-52. This just goes to show that no team in this league has so much more talent than another that they are immune from suffering bad losses. Impressive, to say the least.
Five-Way Tie for Third Place—After the first go-round to begin league play, there are five teams that have matching 3-4 records. Bucknell and American have separated themselves from the pack—although are clearly susceptible to losses on off nights—but Lehigh, Lafayette, Navy, Army, and HolyCross are in a cluster directly behind them.
Yaw Gyawu Reaches 1,000—The junior forward from Colgate joined Jared Mintz as another Patriot Leaguer to net his 1,000th point this season. In the process, Gyawu also recorded his ninth straight double-double.
J.J. Avila One of Only Two—Through the completion of games on February 1, the Navy freshman is one of only two freshman in the nation to average at least ten points, five rebounds, and two assists with the other player being Langston Galloway from St. Joseph’s. For the season, Avila is averaging 11.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists.
Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology—Bucknell predictably fell in Joe Lunardi’’s latest bracket after their loss to Army. They moved from a 14-seed playing BYU to a 15-seed in the East Region taking on the University of Connecticut. Wonder who Dave Paulsen would rather prepare for: Jimmer Fredette or Kemba Walker?
Mid-Major Top 25—Bucknell is currently #33 in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25 as they garnered 17 votes in the January 31 poll. The only other Patriot League team that can be found in the poll is American, who received just four votes. I still believe Bucknell is slightly underrated by the pollsters, but I suppose that their recent loss to Army justifies the Bison’s position.
Team of the Weeks (Jan. 20-Feb. 2): Navy: Ever since I began to give a “Team of the Weeks” back in the December 10 edition of Checking in on the Patriot League, Bucknell has been awarded the honor every time. Truth be told, they were far and away the best team over the course of those two weeks in every edition as they compiled an impressive record of 11-2 during this stretch. Although Bucknell went 2-1 over the past two weeks, the Navy Midshipmen were hands down the best team in the PL. Beginning 0-4, Navy was reeling, but a victory over rival Army jumpstarted them. They followed this win up with a shocking upset over American, and then made the trek up to Hamilton, NY where they defeated Colgate in double overtime. We shall see if their markedly improved play carries over to February 5, when they travel to Bucknell.
Player of the Weeks (Jan. 20-Feb. 2): C.J. McCollum, Lehigh: I am not sure what is more impressive, the point total McCollum amassed over three games or his rebounding average. The sophomore from Canton, Ohio led Lehigh to two critical victories that brought the Mountain Hawks back into the Patriot League race. He averaged 25.3 points in three games, but corralled 13 rebounds a game as well. Mind you, McCollum is not a center or forward—he would not even be considered to be a “big” player by many—but the 6’3 guard simply has a knack for finding the ball. Constantly around the rim drawing contact, McCollum has a propensity to get to the free throw line too. He was 28-29 from the stripe in the three games, and for the year roughly 30% of his points have come via free throws. The Patriot League has some supremely talented players in the league this season—VladMoldoveanu, Jordan Sugars, Julian Simmons, and Mike Muscala to name a few—but none of them compare to C.J. McCollum.
Freshman of the Weeks (Jan. 20-Feb. 2): J.J. Avila, Navy—It is becoming routine that J.J. Avila is named the freshman of the weeks. The numbers alone do not express how valuable Avila has been to Navy this year, especially during Patriot League play. In league action only, he is more than doubling the next best freshman’s point total—ironically, that is his teammate Isaiah Roberts—and is the top rebounder, shot blocker, and steals leader. During Navy’s three game win streak, Avila averaged 16.7 points, 5.3 boards, and 2.3 assists. For a big man, he is also impressive from downtown as he went 9-20 from three. The Patriot League, due to his efforts, named Avila their Rookie of the Week for the fifth straight time.
Clip of the Week: A fantastic compilation of the highlights of games through the conclusion of games on January 27. Also included in the highlights is some action of the Patriot League lady hoopsters.
Quote of the Week: Following their loss at Lehigh, Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown spoke with Hoop Time editor Chris Courogen:
“We’ll keep pushing. When we make those winning plays, you’ll know. I won’t be in here ready to break the table. I’ll be smiling.”
Good thing coach Brown, we don’t want any broken tables, either.
Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Bucknell (1) (15-8, 6-1)
Previous Two Weeks: W Colgate 76-49, W Lehigh 81-68, L Army 90-70
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 Navy, 2/9 American, 2/12 @ Holy Cross, 2/16 @ Lafayette
The Bison were poised to sprint through the first round of the Patriot League schedule with an unscathed 7-0 record. They blew out a weak Colgate team—although, it should be known the Raiders have been playing better—and then soundly defeated Lehigh. All that was in between them and their tenth win in a row was perennial basement dweller Army. Clearly, the Black Knights did not get the memo that they were supposed to roll over and allow Bucknell to coast to an easy road win. Instead, it was Army—losers of their last three prior to their date with the Bison—that made Bucknell look like the team that was picked to finish last in the league. It should be known that Darryl Shazier, the engine that makes the Bison run, was under the weather against Army and it showed as he had one of his worst performances of the year. Even with the loss, Bucknell’s exceptional play through the first half of league play cannot be discounted. Sophomore Mike Muscala is averaging an even 20 points and nearly nine rebounds, Shazier is hands down the top point guard in the lead, and Bryson Johnson and G.W. Boon are two of the top three point shooters. What Bucknell found out against Army is that they cannot be so shortsighted to think they will win games on talent alone—a good lesson to learn now, rather than in the conference tournament.
2. American (2) (15-7, 5-2)
Previous Two Weeks: W Holy Cross 60-57, L Navy 72-53, W Lafayette 73-60
Next Two Weeks: 2/6 @ Lehigh, 2/9 @ Bucknell, 2/12 Colgate, 2/16 @ Army
American picked up a crucial early conference road win against Holy Cross as the winner of that game moved into sole possession of second place behind Bucknell. Following the big win in Worcester, the Eagles suffered a major letdown against Navy losing by 19 points; further proof that on any given night any team can win or lose in this league. Although they did manage to go 2-1 over the past two weeks, American’s star player Vlad Moldoveanu struggled by his standards. He averaged a cool 15 points and six rebounds in the three games, and had a real tough time finding the basket as his shooting percentage was just 35.5%—nine percentage points below his season average. Moldoveanu will need to turn his play around in a hurry as the Eagles open their second round of games at Lehigh and Bucknell which is a very important stretch to say the least. Two wins here and American may have the inside track to the conference tournament’s top seed.
3. Lehigh (6) (12-10, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: W Lafayette 79-62, L Bucknell 81-68, W Holy Cross 79-75 (OT)
Next Two Weeks: 2/6 American, 2/9 @ Navy, 2/12 @ Army, 2/16 Colgate
The Mountain Hawks got off to a real rocky start with their low point coming in a loss in the final seconds at Colgate, but C.J. McCollum and Co. have begun to slowly right the ship. They began by traveling just miles away to their arch rival Lafayette and soundly defeated the Leopards behind 23 points and 14 rebounds from McCollum. A week later, they found themselves in a 12 point second half hole to Holy Cross, but climbed back into the game and eventually won it in overtime. McCollum came up big all day pouring in 29 points, but it was his teammates that made the integral plays down the stretch to propel Lehigh to the win. MichaelOjo hit two threes—one late in regulation and the other in overtime—JordanHamilton (not to be confused with Rick Barnes’ sophomore) provided a spark off the bench by scoring three points the conventional way to tie the game at 68 towards the end of regulation and then corralled a big offensive rebound and put back to seal the game in overtime, and GabeKnutson had one of his biggest games scoring wise by flushing in 22 points. When it is more than simply C.J. McCollum playing well, Lehigh becomes a dangerous team.
4. Army (4) (11-11, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: L Navy 85-81, L Lafayette 83-60, W Bucknell 90-70
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 Colgate, 2/9 @ Holy Cross, 2/12 Lehigh, 2/16 American
From a pure wins and losses standpoint, it was not the most successful two weeks as Army went 1-2. In their latest game, however, the Black Knights had easily their best performance in maybe the past few years. Without having any knowledge of the performances of both teams to date, one would have thought Army was the 6-0 team and the class of the Patriot League. That is just how well the Black Knights played. Here are several statistics to back it up: the shot 53% from the field, 46% from three, 84% from the line, had nearly a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, and scored 90 points; entering the game, Bucknell was giving up an average of 61.5 points in the PL. JeremyHence scored 23 points in the win and was one of five Black Knights to score in double figures. The victory over Bucknell is good and all for Army as it moved them into that logjam that is third place, but now they must capitalize on it.
5. Navy (8) (8-15, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: W Army 85-81, W American 72-53, W Colgate 81-78 (2OT)
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 @ Bucknell, 2/9 Lehigh, 2/12 Lafayette, 2/16 @ Holy Cross
As the old basketball adage goes: “When you live by the three, you die by the three,” and this saying has clearly held true for Navy. They got off to a disastrous 0-4 start, but since then have won their last three games. The difference? The three point shot, obviously. In PL play, Navy is hoisting up a ridiculous 25 threes a game, and making an average of nine a game for a very respectable 36%. Here is the kicker though, in losses they are shooting just under 25%, but in victories they are at 38%. This is a dangerous way to live, no doubt about it, but if Jordan Sugars and J.J. Avila continue to have hot hands, Navy will have the ability to win some more games.
6. Holy Cross (3) (4-17, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: L American 60-57, L Colgate 79-72, L Lehigh 79-75 (OT)
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 @ Lafayette, 2/9 Army, 2/12 Bucknell, 2/16 Navy
The feelings in Worcester were pretty good after beginning 3-1 in the league—well, as good as one can possibly feel with a 4-14 record—but they have taken a turn for the worse since then. The Crusaders allowed three very winnable games slip through their fingertips and are now 3-4 in the league as opposed to being within striking distance of first place Bucknell. After falling to American in a nip and tuck game that saw StephenLumpkins pour in 22 points as HC had little answer for him on the low blocks, the ‘Saders came out very flat against an inspired Colgate team. When looking back on their past two losses, the games against Colgate and Lehigh were polar opposites. They trailed Colgate at one point by 18 in the second half, but mounted a late comeback to get within four. Against Lehigh, they flew out of the gate taking a 16-8 early lead and had a 12 point lead midway through the second half, but eventually collapsed and allowed Lehigh to push the game to overtime where the Mountain Hawks would win by four. There is no quit in this Holy Cross team and unquestionably not a lack of energy and fervor that is exuded at the top with MilanBrown, but this has yet to translate into consistent wins.
7. Lafayette (5) (8-14, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: L Lehigh 79-62, W Army 83-60, L American 73-60
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 Holy Cross, 2/9 @ Colgate, 2/12 @ Navy, 2/16 Bucknell
After jumping out to a 2-1 start in the league, Lafayette has dropped three of four games and finds themselves in that pack of teams in third place. Jared Mintz continues to be the staple that holds everything together for Lafayette, as he is by far their most consistent scorer, but aside from Mintz the Leopards lack another go-to player. JimMower and RyanWillen have the capabilities and mentalities of a scorer, but both have by and large underperformed in the PL. Mower was virtually invisible in two losses for Lafayette scoring just three points in each game, and Willen has scored in double figures just twice in PL action. When Mower and Willen are both playing well on the offensive end, Lafayette may find some success, but in their last three games the two have a combined average of 16 points a night. Far too low, and an integral reason why they are 1-2 during this stretch.
8. Colgate (7) (5-17, 2-5)
Previous Two Weeks: L Bucknell 76-49, W Holy Cross 79-72, L Navy 81-78 (2OT) W Longwood 97-86
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 @ Army, 2/9 Lafayette, 2/12 @ American, 2/16 @ Lehigh
Colgate had a rare non-conference game at this stage of the season—a game that was not affiliated with the BracketBusters—and capped off their fourth game of the past two weeks with an offensive outburst as they defeated Longwood 97-86. In the grand scheme of things, this game had absolutely zero meaning, but what it may do is provide them with some much needed confidence heading into the second round of Patriot League games. It may be hard to believe, but Colgate has made serious strides lately and will no longer be a pushover like they were for the majority of the season. The Raiders have won four of their last six games, and during this stretch they have witnessed the breakout play of SterlingMelville. Prior to the Dartmouth win, the Plano, Texas native was averaging 3.7 points a game, but during this six game stretch he has been putting up nearly ten a night. Against Longwood, MikeVenezia scored a season-high 21 points; it is a great sign to see Venezia progressing from his knee injury. Venezia is a real fixture in the Colgate backcourt, and one of their best scorers when at full strength. Don’t get me wrong, Colgate will still struggle the rest of the way, but this is a squad that has been steadily improving and can surprise some teams—Lehigh and Holy Cross both saw this.
A Look Ahead
Ryan Willen to 1,000?—Lafayette junior forward Ryan Willen currently has 905 career points. Is it possible that Willen reaches 1,000 points this year, or will he have to wait until his senior season rolls around to reach the mark? The Leopards have, at minimum, eight games remaining in their season (seven regular season games, and one game guaranteed in the conference tournament). Assuming Lafayette plays just eight games, Willen would have to average roughly 12 points a game to reach 1,000. For the season, he is averaging 10.5 points, but in conference games he has gone cold averaging just seven.
Who Will Emerge From The Five?—As I previously mentioned, there are five teams who have identical 3-4 league records. In looking ahead to the second half of league play, which team will most likely emerge from the bunch and garner what will most likely be the three seed heading into the tournament? Currently, Navy is the hottest team and is senior laden, but it is hard to see the Midshipmen sustaining their impressive play of late for the balance of the regular season. Holy Cross has been reeling having lost their last three contests, but their great play to begin conference play is encouraging for the Crusader faithful. Army and Lafayette are both very streaky teams; some nights they look to be a top tier team. It is hard for me to pick against Lehigh and C.J. McCollum. Lehigh is one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the league, so if Dr. Brett Reed’s youngsters continue to mature they may be in good shape. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have McCollum bail you out when necessary.
How Will Milan Brown Manage Andrew Keister?—A few years ago, former Holy Cross head coach Ralph Willard faced the predicament of how to handle the nagging injuries of two of his top players: Alex Vander Baan and Pat Doherty. Both were sidelined with injuries for part of the season, and Willard periodically rested Vander Baan and Doherty to keep them fresh for certain games. Fast forward to 2011, and Milan Brown faces a similar dilemma. His star forward Andrew Keister has a nagging Achilles, but has been valiantly battling through it. Will Brown limit Keister’s minutes until the conference tournament rolls around, or will he utilize him in a manner that gives HC the best opportunity to win each and every game? I would guess the latter.
Critical Upcoming Games:
Bucknell vs. Navy (Feb. 5)—Is Navy’s three game winning streak a sign of things to come, or will they fall back into the depths of the Patriot League after their date with Bucknell?
Lehigh vs. American (Feb. 6)—The Eagles won round one in D.C., but now Lehigh gets a shot at Vlad and others in Bethlehem.
Bucknell vs. American (Feb. 9)—A game of extreme importance for American if they have any desire of obtaining the number one seed in the tournament. It is hard to see them losing to Bucknell twice, but stilling being ranked one in the tournament.
Holy Cross vs. Bucknell (Feb. 12)—No matter what the records are of these two teams, the game is always an absolute dogfight that always seems to go down to the wire. Mike Muscala hit a baseline jumper with just over a second left to win the first game, but Holy Cross proved they could more than hang with the Bison in the loss.
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.
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.
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.