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 »
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find him on Twitter at @KLDoyle11
C.J. And Moose: You’ve read about them all summer, and will continue to do so even more during the season. C.J. McCollum and Mike Muscala have developed into household names in the college basketball community on a national scale, not just in the charming land of mid-major basketball. McCollum has garnered more press, understandably, due to Lehigh’s victory against Duke in the NCAA Tournament. His decision to test the waters of the NBA Draft — he smartly did not hire an agent — gave him the opportunity to return to Lehigh. Muscala has earned his fair share of press as well, being named as a Top 100 player by CBS Sports and a Mid-Major All American by NBC Sports’ College Basketball Talk.
A Two-Bid league? An ambitious thought to be sure, but a possibility, albeit a small one. Prior to delving into what has to break right for either Bucknell or Lehigh to garner an at-large berth, let’s take a look at Bucknell’s 2005-06 resume: RPI of 42, 2-3 versus the RPI top 50 with wins over Syracuse and St. Joseph’s, 23rd-ranked non-conference schedule, and the only loss that could be considered a “bad loss” was to Santa Clara, which had an RPI of 184. The Bison went on to defeat Holy Cross in the Patriot League championship, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, but what if Bucknell had lost? With their resume, they would have almost assuredly earned an at-large bid. Fast forward seven years, and one has to wonder if a similar scenario may play out. Could Lehigh or Bucknell earn an at-large bid? It’s more likely that Bucknell would, considering the Bison’s non-conference schedule is better than Lehigh’s and there are more opportunities to pick up resume-building wins, but one thing is certain: It is possible for a Patriot League team to earn an at-large bid. The notion that it all comes down to “three games in March,” while the case most years, may not be the case in 2012-13.
C.J. McCollum (left) and Mike Muscala are two of the many reasons why the Patriot League is one to watch this season.
Reed, Paulsen Moving Up? Doctor Brett Reed (side note: Reed received his PhD from Wayne State University in Instructional Technology) and Dave Paulsen have proven to be exceptional recruiters and developers of talent, and the results on the court speak for themselves. Complete conjecture, but it seems they both are on the inside track to move up in the coaching world, especially with their respective star players graduating in the spring of 2013. Reed, a native of Waterford, Michigan, was rumored to have been a candidate for the Central Michigan job (Keno Davis is now the head man for the Chippewas) along with other MAC jobs, while Paulsen was speculated to be a candidate for the Dayton job in 2011. Paulsen, however, was awarded with a five-year extension to his contract last year, so it looks like he will remain in Lewisburg for the foreseeable future. Paulsen has won everywhere he has coached: St. Lawrence, Le Moyne, Williams, and now Bucknell. Reed is one of the brighter young basketball minds in the coaching ranks, and in my mind the smoothest and most eloquent speaker in the game.
Pivotal Season for Brown, Holy Cross: Although Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown has a less than stellar mark of 23-35 record in his first two years at the helm, he nearly doubled his win total from year one to two (8-21 in 2010-11, 15-14 in 2011-12). As such, it is imperative that he builds upon the success the Crusaders had during conference play last year — Holy Cross won its final six games of the regular season — and continue this upward trend. Brown has made it known he wishes to push the ball up the floor on offense whenever the opportunity presents itself, and to instill a high-pressure man-to-man defense. With two recruiting classes now under his belt, Holy Cross should be more apt in implementing Brown’s offensive and defensive systems. Despite those two recruiting classes on campus, it will be slightly more difficult to build on the success as R.J. Evans elected to use his final year of eligibility at Connecticut. (Hard to blame Evans for his decision as he hails from the Nutmeg State and watched the Huskies win two national titles growing up.) Read the rest of this entry »
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. You can find him on Twitter at @KLDoyle11.
The Week That Was
Grading the Patriot League: Currently, the Patriot League is the 22nd-rated conference in the country according to KenPom.com, a pretty good mark considering the fact that the average rating of the league since 2003 is 24.67.
Maryland-Eastern Shore vs. The PL: Maryland-Eastern Shore has seen only stints of success since the turn of the century (averaging less than eight wins a year) and the 2011-12 campaign hasn’t shown much promise for the Hawks thus far. Sitting at just 2-8, UMES may be on their way to yet another single-digit win season. However, the Hawks have found success against the Patriot League as their two wins have come against American and Navy. Their only other game against a Patriot League foe comes at Lehigh and something tells me their success ends against the Mountain Hawks.
Mid-Major Top 25: After losing their first two games of the season to Richmond and Maryland-Eastern Shore—the latter being a disappointing letdown — American has reeled off eight straight wins and garnered votes in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25 poll. Seven of the Eagles’ wins came against fairly pedestrian opponents, but their victory over a solid St. Joseph’s team suggests that Jeff Jones will have his squad in the thick of the PL title race come March.
Team of the Week (Nov. 24 – Dec. 7): American – Overshadowed by Pat Flannery and Ralph Willard for much of his career in the conference, American’s Jeff Jones hasn’t quite received the credit many believe he deserves. This year, however, Jones is doing his best job yet, as the Eagles have gotten off to an impressive 8-2 start. Jones’s greatest attribute? His coaching in tight games. American is 3-1 in games decided by one possession so far this season. Many projected American to finish in the middle of the pack this year, but Jones has the Eagles playing like a team vying for the Patriot League crown.
Player of the Week (Nov. 24 – Dec. 7): Charles Hinkle – Hinkle is doing it all for American. Over American’s last five games, the senior guard averaged a shade over 22 points to lead the Eagles to a perfect 5-0 mark. In a 66-60 win over St. Joseph’s — American’s best win of the season — Hinkle had his most dominant performance of the year as the senior guard rolled off 32 points on 5-9 shooting from three. For the season, Hinkle ranks sixth nationally in scoring (23.5 PPG).
Charles Hinkle's Blazing Start Has Helped American to Eight Straight Wins (aueagles.com)
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and author of the weekly column “The Other 26”. You can find him on Twitter at @KLDoyle11.
The Week That Was:
Grading Langel and DeChellis—It is very early in their time at their new schools, but both Matt Langel and Ed DeChellis have both gotten off to solid starts. At Colgate last season, Emmett Davis did not achieve his second win of the season until January 17, Langel already has two. Meanwhile at Navy, DeChellis has the Middies sitting at 2-3, with competitive losses to Siena and Tulane. To truly assess both Langel and DeChellis, one needs a greater sample size. We’ll have a better idea how each coach has done after the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Charles Hinkle Steps Up—Entering the season, Jeff Jones knew that his senior transfer from Vanderbilt would have to shoulder much of the scoring load that Vlad Moldoveanu left behind upon his graduation, and Hinkle has delivered in a big way. Through five games, Hinkle is averaging 24.8 points and hitting 9.6 free throws per contest, both are top five nationally.
Jim Mower Reaches 1,000—Lafayette senior guard Jim Mower surpassed the 1,000 point mark in the Leopard’s 85-74 victory of Fairleigh Dickinson. It was a night that Mower will not soon forget as he dropped in 37 points and drilled 10 three points, in conjunction with joining the 1,000 point club. Mower has flourished in Fran O’Hanlon’s offense that is largely built upon outside shooting.
Mid-Major Top 25—Bucknell received six votes in the latest Mid-Major Top 25 poll, a significant drop-off from where they began the season. Tough 12-point losses to Minnesota and Vanderbilt to begin the year can be attributed to the drop, but the Bison have gotten back on track with two straight wins. Expect to see them teetering on the Top 25 in the coming weeks.
Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology—In his latest Bracketology (November 9)—it really is far too early to take this seriously, but is fun to look at anyways—Lunardi has Bucknell as a 15 seed in the Midwest region playing Pittsburgh in the second round. Considering Pittsburgh recently lost to fellow mid-major Long Beach State, and the Bison have upset the Panthers just several years ago, this may be a decent match-up for Bucknell.
Team of the Weeks (Nov. 7-Nov. 23): Lehigh—Dr. Brett Reed and Co. had St. John’s on the ropes for much of its opening game, but a late Red Storm run proved to be too much to overcome. Despite losing to St. John’s—a game that many would claim Lehigh should have won—the Mountain Hawks currently sit at 4-2 with solid wins over Liberty and Eastern Kentucky. The margin of victory is what has been very impressive in their four victories as they have outscored opponents by an average of 17.75 points per game.
Player of the Weeks (Nov. 7-Nov. 23): Charles Hinkle—Hinkle has done it all for Jeff Jones and the Eagles. American was in desperate need of a reliable scorer entering the season and Hinkle has been just that. In American’s latest game against Quinnipiac, Hinkle poured in 31 points and hit 15 of 19 free throws to lead the way.
Milan Brown And Holy Cross Struck A Surprise Win At Boston College This Week.
Previous Two Weeks: L Minnesota 70-58, L Vanderbilt 80-68, W St. Francis (PA) 73-42, W Marist 74-68
Next Two Weeks: 11/25 Princeton, 11/26 West Alabama, 11/27 Morehead State, 11/30 @ George Mason, 12/3 @ La Salle, 12/6 @ Binghamton
Although the Bison do not sport an impressive record at 2-2, their games against Minnesota and Vanderbilt were both very competitive well into the second half, and they have taken care of business rather easily against St. Francis (PA) and Marist. Their upcoming schedule is less daunting than the first two games of the season were so expect Bucknell to get back to their consistent winning ways in the coming weeks.
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and author of The Other 26, an RTC columnwhich examines the teams from the 26 non-power conferences and their impact on the game at a national level. You can find him on Twitter @KLDoyle11.
Reader’s Take I
From the Big Ten to the Patriot League—It is not all that often that Patriot League hoops is the epicenter of college basketball discussions, but this was the case in late May as Ed DeChellis departed as head coach of Penn State in favor of Navy. Yup, that Navy. The Midshipmen haven’t reached the Big Dance since 1998 and are only a small blip in the basketball world thanks to alumnus David Robinson, but DeChellis’ seemingly surprise move made Navy a household name for some of the summer months. Something tells me that playing in Hamilton, New York, on a Saturday afternoon will be a little different than, say, a rocking Kohl Center for DeChellis.
One Of The Most Interesting Coaching Changes In The Most Recent Carousel Was Ed DeChellis Leaving A Power Conference For Navy (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Stability at Holy Cross—Although Milan Brown greatly struggled as the Crusaders head coach in his first season—HC finished with a subpar 8-21 mark—there is the reassurance of knowing the program will be in the same hands for consecutive years for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign. When watching the Crusaders compete in the non-conference portion of their schedule last year, Brown struggled to implement his man-to-man defensive philosophy to a team that was more accustomed to playing a zone. It is safe to assume that after a full year under Brown, Holy Cross will have a greater sense of identity on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, something that was certainly lacking last season.
A Movement to Youth at Colgate—I doubt that there is a readily accessible statistic out there for this sort of thing, but I would venture to guess that Matt Langel and his staff at Colgate are the youngest in the nation. Emmett Davis never found success while coaching the Raiders, but Langel and his crew of young assistants may be the perfect recipe for success that it will take to win at Colgate. A spark of energy seemed to be lacking under the previous regime, and having four coaches who are young and looking to prove themselves should be the catalyst that jumpstarts Colgate.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Patriot League correspondent, Kevin Doyle.
Colgate Cleans House —After posting just three winning seasons in his 12 seasons as the head man for the Raiders, Emmett Davis and his staff were released of their duties following the 2010-11 campaign. Davis never reached the postseason while at Colgate and his most successful season came in 2007-08, when he led the Raiders to the conference tournament final against American. As Davis moves on to an assistant job with the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, Matt Langel will make the journey to Hamilton to lead Colgate. A 2000 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, this will be Langel’s first job as a head coach, following a stint as one of Fran Dunphy’s lead assistants at Temple. By the looks of it, the Colgate coaching staff may very well be the youngest in the country as Langel—at just 33 years of age—is the oldest of the four coaches.
Two Top 100 Players—It is not all too often that the Patriot League can say they boast two of the better players in the country, but our friends over at Basketball Prospectus seem to think that Bucknell’s Mike Muscala and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum are among the nation’s best. Muscala checked in at #82, while McCollum is #56.
C.J. McCollum Does Lehigh Proud—To continue the praise for McCollum, the rising junior from Canton, Ohio, was awarded the opportunity to try out for Team USA, currently competing in the World University Games in China. At only 19 years of age, McCollum was the youngest player to audition for the team. Although he was not fortunate enough to earn a spot on the roster, he did earn some nice praise from the coaching staff.
Billy Lange Departs for Villanova, Ed DeChellis In at Navy—In one of the most intriguing moves of the summer, former Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis elected to leave the Nittany Lions in favor of Navy. That is right, Navy. On the surface, this was a real shocker. How could a Patriot League bottom-dweller steal a head coach from a Big Ten squad coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance? It is purely speculation, but DeChellis ostensibly felt that his job at Penn State was not secure and that he would be joining the line of unemployment in the near future. Even with the NCAA appearance last season and winning the NIT in 2009, DeChellis compiled a less-than-stellar Big Ten record of 41-95 during his eight-year tenure. With graduation claiming the bulk of Penn State’s talent, next year looks awfully ominous for the Nittany Lions. In recent years, multiple reports have surfaced questioning Penn State’s level of commitment to its college basketball team, so perhaps all DeChellis was looking for was adequate support behind him.
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. The PL is among the first of this season’s conference tournaments to tip, with action set to start tonight.
If Holy Cross somehow wins the Patriot League Tournament and advances on to the NCAA Tournament, they would have the worst winning percentage ever of a team in the field. Their 11-20 record would give them a winning percentage of .355. Currently, the team with the lowest percentage that competed in the NCAA Tournament was George Washington who entered the 1961 Tournament with a 9-16 record (.360). It really is not all too farfetched that the Crusaders win the Patriot League Championship. Five of their seven league losses came by four points or less, and both of their games with Bucknell went into the final minute. Speaking of the Crusaders, junior guard Devin Brown has been one of the best scorers in the league as of late, and is just two points away from reaching the 1,000 mark for his career. In his last nine games, Brown is averaging 23.2 points a game.
In my “Other 26” column, I remarked that Army is the only team in the country who is in last place in their league to have defeated the team in first place. By virtue of this occurrence, every team in the league—even those in the bottom half—should feel like they have a chance at attaining the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Best chance for an upset in the first round: Colgate over American. I am really going out on a limb with this one, but Colgate is a team that is surging—their record would not indicate it—as they have been taking the better teams in the league to the brink. Aside from a disastrous 20-point loss to Navy, the Raiders lost to Holy Cross by two and Bucknell by eight; they had an opportunity to win both games in the final minute. May they catch American looking ahead to a semifinal date with Holy Cross or Lafayette?
Predicted Champion: Bucknell. How can the Bison not be the clear favorite heading into the tournament? Aside from a hiccup at Christl Arena, Bucknell has been the most consistent team in the league and has some impressive non-conference wins to boot. Assuming Bucknell does in fact win the Patriot League, they are most likely looking at a 14-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Many things would have to fall in Bucknell’s direction and other teams would have to lose in order for them to receive a 13-seed.
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.
A Look Back
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
1,000 Point Club—Jared Mintz becomes the first active Patriot League player to score 1,000 points in Lafayette’s win against Colgate. The senior from Canada has progressed leaps and bounds since his freshman year where he averaged just two points a game. Now, he is one of the league’s best big men.
Back-to-Back—The United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) named Vlad Moldoveanu their National Player of the Week for the Week of January 9, and the following week honored Bucknell sophomore Mike Muscala. The USBWA has named just seven athletes from all across Division-I basketball—beginning on the week of December 5—as their Player of the Week. Sure is pretty impressive that two PL players were recipients of the award.
Leaders of the Pack—Speaking of Mike Muscala, his Bucknell Bison have clearly distinguished themselves from the rest of the Patriot League. While their game against Holy Cross was much closer than they would have hoped, the Bison are now 4-0 in the PL and are a morphing into an explosive and dynamic offense with Muscala on the inside and their strong three-point shooting on the outside (40.8%).
Second Best—Nope, it is not Lehigh or American that may be the second best team in the league. Although their record would certainly not indicate it, Holy Cross may be the second best team in the Patriot League. After squeaking by Lafayette, the ‘Saders thrashed Army and Navy and played Bucknell to a two-point game before losing in the final seconds. I will certainly be eating my words, however, if American comes into the Hart Center and defeats Holy Cross on Saturday (1/22).
An Important Piece is Back—Mike Venezia won’t lead the Colgate Raiders to a Patriot League Championship, and he may not even lead them to more than just a few wins in the league, but he is now back in the starting rotation for Emmett Davis after missing eight games with a knee injury and has the ‘Gate playing much better. Since his return to the court against Lafayette to open league play, Colgate competed well with Lafayette and American. Against Lehigh, he gave Colgate 28 strong minutes as they upset the Mountain Hawks in dramatic fashion. Venezia is a capable point guard that the Raiders sorely missed.
Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology—In his latest bracketology, Joe Lunardi over on ESPN.com projects Bucknell to be the #14 seed in the Southwest Region, playing Kentucky in the first round. The Bison are surely kicking themselves as bad losses to St. Francis (PA) and Wagner may be the difference between a 13 seed and 14 seed.
Mid-Major Top 25—I usually do not like to overtly depict my opinions, but I believe that Bucknell is grossly underrepresented in the College Insider’s Mid-Major Top 25. In the January 17 poll, Bucknell received only four votes, while fellow Patriot League team American received two. There is a distinct possibility that when voting, the coaches simply look at Bucknell’s 12-7 record—their record when the poll was released—and observe what on the surface appears to be a mediocre mark.
Team of the Weeks (Jan. 6-Jan. 19): Bucknell:Bucknell has now won 11 of 12 games with their lone loss coming against Boston College by four points, and they are a perfect 4-0 in the Patriot League. The Bison disposed of the American Eagles, who appeared to be their primary challenger heading into conference play, but struggled with Holy Cross who entered the game with a 3-13 record. As the old sports adage goes though: “Throw the records out the window in a rivalry game,” and that was exactly the case when Holy Cross visited Lewisburg. Bucknell led for virtually the entire game, but HC tied things up with 28 seconds remaining. Mike Muscala drilled a baseline jumper with 1.4 seconds remaining to seal the win for the Bison. Muscala is not unfamiliar with late game heroics as just weeks prior he connected on a buzzer beater to defeat Richmond.
Player of the Weeks (Jan. 6-Jan. 19): Mike Muscala, Bucknell: From strictly a numbers perspective, Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum (26/8/2), American’s Vlad Moldoveanu (24/9/2), and Bucknell’s Mike Muscala (25/9/1) have all had very similar performances over the past four games. Even with such balance, there was a clear selection for player of the weeks: Mike Muscala. Playing against American in a 75-60 win, Muscala completely outclassed Moldoveanu as Muscala went off for 33 points and 10 rebounds, while the native of Romania had a paltry seven points. And, while C.J. McCollum certainly had worthy statistics as well, Lehigh went just 1-3 in their first four PL games. Muscala got it done both on the stat sheet and record book. The sophomore from Minnesota is developing into the Patriot League’s best forward.
Freshman of the Weeks (Jan. 6-Jan. 19): J.J. Avila, Navy: For the third time this year and the second straight week, J.J. Avila is the freshman of the weeks. Avila, due to an abundance of playing time for Billy Lange, more than doubled any other freshman’s performance in the point and rebounding departments over the course of the first four games in Patriot League action. Navy has greatly struggled as they are 0-4 and the only winless team in the PL, but Avila has found a nice niche for the Midshipmen as he is averaging 13.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, an even 2 assists, and an impressive 2.3 steals per game.
Clip of the Week
Muscala is becoming Mr. Clutch, as he hit his second game-winning shot of the season in the final seconds. His first one coming against Richmond was a replica of Christian Laettner’s classic shot for Duke 19 years ago, and the most recent one against Holy Cross dashed the Crusaders’ comeback hopes. The Bison squandered a 14-point second half lead, but Muscala’s heroics saved the day for Bucknell. (Note: scroll to 4:53 of the video clip to see Muscala’s shot)
Quote of the Week
Taken from Holy Cross head coach’s Milan Brown’s website, Brown exudes confidence and excitement that the Patriot League portion of their schedule is a new season. Although cliché, his sentiments are absolutely true and Holy Cross appears to have taken it to heart:
“The PL is the start of our 2nd season. I told our guys that all 8 teams start 0-0. I want them to be excited and positive about the opportunity we still have as a team. The past is just that, the past.”
Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Bucknell (1) (13-7, 4-0)
Previous Two Weeks: W Navy 71-64, W American 75-60, W Holy Cross 74-72, W Lafayette 75-56
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 vs. Colgate, 1/26 @ Lehigh, 1/29 @ Army
The time appears to have finally come for Dave Paulsen and the Bucknell Bison. In his inaugural season, Paulsen led the Bison to a very disappointing 7-23 mark, but in year number three he has developed Bucknell into the class of the Patriot League due to some fabulous recruiting classes, and great senior leadership from their starting point guard Darryl Shazier and forward Stephen Tyree. Averaging the most minutes played in the PL with 33 per game, Shazier is one of the best floor leader’s in the nation as his assist to turnover ratio is a remarkable 4:1. As for Tyree, if you are looking for an impressive statistic to attribute to him, well, you won’t find one. In fact, he has played in just two games all season. By all accounts, however, Tyree is the emotional leader for the Bison. Tearing his ACL during the preseason, the senior from Texas is essentially playing on one leg, but managed to give Bucknell five valuable minutes against Holy Cross. Through four PL games, Bucknell’s margin of victory is a shade over 10 points and they are the clear favorite in the early going to garner the coveted automatic-bid to the NCAA Tournament.
2. American (2) (13-6, 3-1)
Previous Two Weeks: W Lehigh 82-75, L Bucknell 75-60, W Colgate 66-57, W Army 65-62
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 @ Holy Cross, 1/26 @ Navy, 1/29 Lafayette
American would have, no doubt, liked to have hold serve on their home floor against Bucknell, but it was not to be as they lost to the Bison by 15 points in a game that was never really that close. Bucknell took a commanding 21-8 lead with 8:50 remaining in the first half, and American would never get within single digits the rest of the way. In doing so, the Bison held AU’s top player, Vlad Moldoveanu, to his worst showing of the season as he scored just seven points on 2-9 shooting. Aside from this setback, American took care of business in their other three games by winning them all. By virtue of their non-conference performance, AU is the #2 team in this week’s power rankings, but Holy Cross is nipping at their heels.
3. Holy Cross (7) (4-14, 3-1)
Previous Two Weeks: W Lafayette 70-65, W Army 68-54, L Bucknell 74-72, W Navy 71-50
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 vs. American, 1/27 vs. Colgate, 1/29 @ Lehigh
Who’d have thunk it? After going 1-13 during non-conference play, Holy Cross is 3-1 in the Patriot League, a shot away from defeating Bucknell and being 4-0, and have become legitimate contenders to win the Patriot League Championship. The Crusaders received a real boost when senior captain and All-Patriot League forward Andrew Keister returned to the floor after missing three games with an ailing Achilles. Keister returned for the beginning of Patriot League action, and is averaging 13.5 points and 6.75 rebounds during this span. What may be an even bigger lift for Holy Cross is the stocked cupboard full of talented sophomores Ralph Willard recruited that are finally starting to blossom into significant contributors. Specifically, the play of Jordan Stevens and Eric Obeysekere has wowed the Crusader faithful. Stevens is averaging ten points and shooting 42% from three and Obeysekere is the Patriot League’s leading rebounder and shot blocker in four PL games. Progress is certainly being made, but one must remain cognizant that the combined record of the four teams they have beaten is 26-51. A victory over American on Saturday (1/22)—a team that is on the verge of cracking the top 100 RPI—would be one of Milan Brown’s best victories as a head coach and firmly plant the ‘Saders as Bucknell’s biggest threat.
4. Army (4) (10-9, 2-2)
Previous Two Weeks: W Colgate 73-66, L Holy Cross 68-54, W Lehigh 75-72, L American 65-62
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 vs. Navy, 1/26 vs. Lafayette, 1/29 vs. Bucknell
The Black Knights were neck-and-neck with American in the waning stages of their game with them on Wednesday (1/19), and on the verge of making history provided they could topple the Eagles. Army has only beaten American in D.C. one time coming all the way back in 1963, but more importantly, a win would have moved Army to 3-1 in the league and a share of second place; the last time Army was 3-1 in the Patriot League was during the 1990-91 season. After four games though, Army certainly can find solace in being 2-2 and right in the hunt. If the strong play of Army’s big three—Julian Simmons (16.4 pts.), Jeremy Hence (15.5 pts.), and Ella Ellis (13.2 pts.)—continues, they will find themselves in a position to win their fair share of PL games.
5. Lafayette (6) (7-12, 2-2)
Previous Two Weeks: L Holy Cross 70-65, W Colgate 75-64, W Navy 76-73, L Bucknell 75-56
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 vs. Lehigh, 1/26 @ Army, 1/29 @ American
After four league games, Lafayette is right where many people would have predicted them to be: they are 2-2. A win at Holy Cross to begin league play would have been gravy, but the Crusaders were an inspired bunch and came back from a double-digit second half deficit to know off the Leopards. In their fourth PL game, against Bucknell, Lafayette was able to keep it close for a half (trailed 34-30), but Bucknell dominated the second half outscoring them 41-26. Jared Mintz continues to be one of the savviest big guys in the league averaging 16 points and shooting 85% from the line, but aside from him, Lafayette’s game down low is almost nonexistent. Only 44% of the Leopards’ points come on two-point shots which is one of the worst percentages in the nation. Mintz will have no problem getting his points in the PL, but it is the play—more specifically, the shooting—of RyanWillen, JimMower, and Nick Petkovich that will largely determine whether the Leopards are successful. The three are shooting 42% from downtown in PL games, if this high percentage continues Lafayette may have success going forward. Lafayette was, after all, in the PL title game last year.
6. Lehigh (3) (10-9, 1-3)
Previous Two Weeks: L American 82-75, W Navy 71-63, L Army 75-72, L Colgate 80-79
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 @ Lafayette, 1/26 vs. Bucknell, 1/29 vs. Holy Cross
To be brutally honest, it was a disastrous and disappointing two weeks for Lehigh. It is hard to put any of the blame on star guard C.J. McCollum, as he is averaging 26 points and seven rebounds through four PL games, but Lehigh is falling short in some aspect of their game. It may be that those surrounding McCollum are relying too heavily on the sophomore’s superior abilities as he is used in 33% of Lehigh’s possessions while he is on the floor, which is ninth nationally according to Ken Pomeroy. The Mountain Hawks’ two most recent losses came against teams that were projected to finish seventh (Colgate) and eighth (Army) in the league. The road does not get much easier as they travel to arch rival Lafayette and then host two of the league’s top teams in Bucknell and Holy Cross. Despite their recent struggles, Lehigh is always a threat solely due to C.J. McCollum.
7. Colgate (8) (3-15, 1-3)
Previous Two Weeks: L Army 73-66, L Lafayette 75-64, L American 66-57, W Dartmouth 67-64, W Lehigh 80-79
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 @ Bucknell, 1/27 @ Holy Cross, 1/29 vs. Navy, 2/2 vs. Longwood
Colgate is on a winning streak. Yes, you read that correctly. After compiling a record of 1-15 to begin the year, the Raiders defeated a weak Ivy League team in Dartmouth, and then upset last year’s Patriot League champion Lehigh in the final minute as MitchRolls hit a shot with eight seconds to propel Colgate to a one point win. Even better news for Colgate going forward is the return of their starting point guard Mike Venezia who has his teammates playing with more confidence and fervor since his return. Colgate’s winning streak looks to be short-lived though as they travel to Bucknell to take on the Bison on Saturday (1/22).
8. Navy (5) (5-15, 0-4)
Previous Two Weeks: L Bucknell 71-64, L Lehigh 71-63, L Lafayette 76-73, L Holy Cross 71-50
Next Two Weeks: 1/22 @ Army, 1/26 vs. American, 1/29 @ Colgate
Navy has hit a real rough patch having lost their first four Patriot League games and nine of their last 10 overall. The Midshipmen had high hopes this year as they returned four seniors who have all steadily contributed throughout their careers, as well as having All-Patriot League junior guard JordanSugars back on the wing, but things have not gone according to plan in the early going. All of the seniors have largely underperformed in PL action as they are combining for just 20 points. The Midshipmen certainly have some young talent that is highlighted by quite possibly the league’s best freshman in J.J. Avila—the four freshman that routinely play are averaging 28 points in the PL—but it is unreasonable to expect the youngsters to carry the load.
A Look Ahead
I realize it is just after four league games, and their record is a dismal 4-14, but is it possible that Holy Cross is a legitimate contender? They exceeded expectations against Bucknell by playing the Bison to a much closer game than many expected, but their strong play needs to carry over to their date against American (Jan. 22) before the Cross can be anointed as a true contender.
Colgate may be looking at their worst season since 1990-91 when they compiled a record of 5-23. The 1990-91 season was the last year of a very dark time for Colgate basketball. From 1981-82 to the aforementioned season, the Raiders never reached the double-digit win total for a season. According to Kenpom, Colgate is favored in just one game the rest of the year: home against Longwood. However, as seen with their latest victory over Lehigh, Colgate is capable of surprising some PL teams. Do not underestimate how hard it is for a road team to travel to Hamilton, New York and play on Cotterell Court before 500 fans (the Raiders average 533 souls a game, but often times that number is inflated).
It is rivalry weekend within the Patriot League for the games on January 22. Lehigh travels to Lafayette for the 214th meeting; the Leopards lead the overall series 138-75. The league’s other major rivalry features Army and Navy. The Midshipmen will travel up to West Point to take on Army to take on the Black Knights for the 113th time. Navy leads the overall series 69-43.
Two critical games in the coming two weeks:
American @ Holy Cross (Jan. 22)—The battle for sole possession of second place will take place in Worcester, MA. The upstart Holy Cross Crusaders are off to a fast 3-1 start, but they will find out just how good they are as they go up against preseason favorite American.
Bucknell @ Lehigh (Jan. 26)—Lehigh is badly in need of a victory to make up for a lackluster 1-3 start in the PL, and there is no better time for this win to come than against Bucknell.
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.
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.
A Look Back
No Marquee Win—The Patriot League has yet to win that one game that causes the rest of the Mid-Major world to turn their collective heads in. In years past, the league has beaten the likes of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Boston College, and Maryland, but right now, the two best wins for the league are against Boston University (Bucknell) and George Washington (Navy)—hardly a blip on the radar. There are still several opportunities to pick up a win against a Big Six conference team, though.
Little Separation—No team has truly separated themselves from the rest of the pack. American looked strong in their first five games—albeit against marginal competition—but has since then lost three straight. Lehigh and Bucknell have both had their moments, but neither have strung together more than two straight wins so far. The remainder of the league’s non-conference schedule should be more telling of how the teams will fare in league play.
No Representation—In past years, there has seemingly always been a Patriot League team in the Mid-Major top 25. This year, however, that is not the case. Bucknell and Holy Cross used to be staples in the poll as they dominated the league for a three year stretch, and in recent years, American and Lehigh have cracked it. The absence of a Patriot League squad in the top 25 is a telltale sign of regression at the top of the league.
Team of the Weeks (Nov. 25-Dec. 8): Bucknell: Over the course of the last two weeks, the Patriot League went a combined 9-21. When saying that Bucknell was the team of the weeks, one must take that with a grain of salt. The Bison did manage to go 2-1, and their win against Boston University is actually a pretty decent win as the Terriers will vie for the America East title this year. Their loss to Wagner, however, was the lone blemish on what would otherwise have been a perfect two weeks. After a three game home stand, Bucknell now goes on the road for seven of their next eight games. With the stark competition the Bison will face—La Salle, Boston College, Richmond, and American—battling through this stretch with a 4-4 mark would be a success. Anything above .500 would be gravy.
Player of the Weeks (Nov. 25-Dec. 8): C.J. McCollum, Lehigh: There is not another team in the Patriot League that depends on one of their players as much as Lehigh depends on C.J. McCollum. One needs to look no further than how many shots McCollum hoists a game for the Mountain Hawks (roughly 40% of Lehigh’s total shots) to understand how often the offense runs through him. McCollum is converting on his opportunities too. In Lehigh’s last five games, he is averaging 25.4 points per contest. What may be an even more remarkable statistic than his shot and point totals, however, are his rebounding abilities. Standing at just 6’3 and spending the majority of the time around the perimeter, McCollum is corralling an average of 7.6 rebounds a game. He simply has a knack for finding the ball and putting it in the hole—the mentality of any pure scorer.
Freshman of the Weeks (Nov. 25-Dec. 8): J.J. Avila, Navy: Avila was averaging just 5.3 points through the first six games, but is averaging 14 over the last five. Through those first games, Navy was 1-5, but since Avila began to heat up they are 3-2. Correlation? I think so. Since Avila had his coming out party against Towson where he poured in 31 points, he is 11-24 from distance. Before this outbreak, he was 3-22. When his shot is falling, he complements the offensive prowess of JordanSugars very nicely.
Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. American (1) (5-3)
Previous Two Weeks: L Columbia 64-62, L @ West Virginia 71-50, L Florida 67-48
Next Two Weeks: 12/14 @ UMBC, 12/16 @ Northwestern, 12/20 @ Mount St. Mary’s, 12/22 @ Pittsburgh
The Eagles dropped three straight since our last Check-in, but losses to West Virginia and Florida were predictable. Dropping a game to a middle-of-the-road Ivy League team in Columbia was certainly a setback, though. The Eagles struggled against a very athletic West Virginia team and a ticked off Florida team—the Gators were upset by Central Florida just days before they played AU—but they still have the best record in the Patriot League, and three of the league’s best players in Vlad Moldoveanu, Stephen Lumpkins, and Troy Brewer. More help is on the way for AU too as Vanderbilt transfer Charles Hinkle becomes eligible to play next week. Jeff Jones appears to be high on Hinkle, but even with the addition of him, things do not get much easier for the Eagles following the WVU and FU games as they have the daunting task of playing at an underrated Northwestern team and then perennial power Pittsburgh.
2. Bucknell (3) (4-6)
Previous Two Weeks: L Wagner 77-73, W Columbia 73-68, W Boston University 52-49
Next Two Weeks: 12/17 @ La Salle, 12/20 @ Cornell, 12/22 @ Boston College
After dropping three straight games, the Bison bounced back with two wins against Columbia and Boston University to enter a 13 day layoff with a 4-6 record. Sophomore big man Mike Muscala has probably been the Bison’s best player this year, and has improved on his freshman campaign where he averaged ten points and five rebounds per game. When Muscala is on his game and senior point guard Darryl Shazier—the league’s best PG who nearly has a 4:1 assist to turnover ratio—is running the offense well, Bucknell becomes a tough team to beat.
3. Lehigh (2) (4-5)
Previous Two Weeks: L @ Kent State 80-75, W Bryant 88-68, W @ Stony Brook 79-76, L Fordham 74-67, L @ Quinnipiac 84-78
Next Two Weeks: 12/10 @ Marist, 12/13 vs. St. Francis (PA), 12/23 @ USC
As C.J. McCollum goes, so does Lehigh. In the Mountain Hawks’ latest loss to Quinnipiac, McCollum shot 5-18 from the field and scored just 15 points—seven below his season average. The result? A six-point loss to Quinnipiac. In Lehigh’s loss to Fordham, the game before Quinnipiac, McCollum was limited to 12 points on 5-16 shooting. Lehigh lost 74-67 to the Rams. Even though he has struggled to find the hole in the past two games, C.J. McCollum is still the Patriot League’s best player and has the ability to carry Lehigh to some wins by himself. Only a sophomore, McCollum will easily eclipse the 1,000 point scoring mark this year barring any injuries.
4. Navy (7) (4-7)
Previous Two Weeks: L Maryland-Eastern Shore 89-81, W @ Mount St. Mary’s 81-68, W @ George Washington 64-57, L @ Coppin State 65-64
Next Two Weeks: 12/10 @ Mercer, 12/22 vs. Elon
After garnering one of the best wins of the year for the Patriot League by defeating George Washington 64-57, Navy could not capitalize on their good play of late by dropping a game to Coppin State. Things do seem to be looking better in Annapolis though due to the return of Jordan Sugars and the emergence of freshman J.J. Avila. Sugars, a preseason All-League selection, was sidelined for the Towson, Maryland-Eastern Shore, and Mount St. Mary games with an injury to his non-shooting hand, but is now healthy again. As for Avila, he has come on very strong in the past two weeks and may find himself a full-time role in the starting lineup if his impressive play continues. His 31 points against Towson led the Midshipmen to victory without Sugars. When clicking on offense, Navy will surprise some teams in the Patriot League this year.
5. Holy Cross (6) (0-7)
Previous Two Weeks: L @ Massachusetts 83-76, L @ Wake Forest 75-64, L Stony Brook 54-53
Next Two Weeks: 12/12 vs. Fairfield, 12/19 @ Marist, 12/22 @ Hofstra
The Crusaders came oh so close to notching their first win of the season, as well as the first win for first-year coach Milan Brown, but fell in the closing seconds to a determined Stony Brook bunch. After being up 28-20 at the intermission, it looked as if Holy Cross would erase the goose egg from their win column, but it was not meant to be on a frigid night in Worcester. Bill Parcells once said: “You are what your record says you are,” but I would beg to differ with Parcells’ famous sentiment when watching this Crusader team play. Sure, they are winless, but they have played the toughest schedule in the Patriot League to date, and have narrow losses to several quality teams (Charleston, Massachusetts, and Wake Forest). The wins will come…eventually.
6. Lafayette (5) (4-6)
Previous Two Weeks: L Delaware 67-64, L Princeton 82-64, W Susquehanna 95-73, W Sacred Heart 76-71, W NJIT 72-56
Next Two Weeks: 12/11 @ Long Island, 12/22 @ Rhode Island
As much as I want to place Lafayette ahead of Holy Cross in this week’s power rankings, I simply cannot bring myself to do so. When looking at their body of work—strength of schedule, losses, wins, and competitiveness—it is overall very weak. I understand that the Crusaders are winless, but their close losses to quality opponents are worth more in my book than the Leopards’ wins. Their four wins have come against NEC bottom feeders Saint Francis (PA) and Sacred Heart, a perpetually bad NJIT squad, and Division-III Susquehanna. With that being said, Fran O’Hanlon is one of the league’s best head coaches and is certainly capable of turning the Leopards into an upper tier team by the beginning of conference play.
7. Army (4) (4-4)
Previous Two Weeks: L @ Yale 87-79, L Buffalo 56-54, L Pennsylvania 68-52
Next Two Weeks: 12/9 @ New Hampshire, 12/11 @ Dartmouth, 12/19 @ Long Island, 12/21 @ Brown
Don’t let those early wins against futile competition fool you about Army. After beginning 4-1 against some of the weakest teams in the nation—the average ranking of CCSU, NJIT, Binghamton, and Bryant, according to KenPom was 311 (Vassar, a D-III school Army defeated is not ranked by KenPom)—the Black Knights’ record has come back down to earth after dropping three straight games. Army’s ability to shoot the three ball, however, will keep them in some games and maybe even steal a game on occasion. On the young season, Army is connecting on 45% of their shots from distance.
8. Colgate (8) (0-7)
Previous Two Weeks: L @ Dartmouth 80-63, L New Hampshire 65-60, L @ St. Francis (NY) 68-57
Next Two Weeks: 12/11 @ Syracuse, 12/19 @ Maine, 12/22 vs. Albany
Like Holy Cross, Colgate is winless on the season. The only difference being that the Raiders have been losing to competition that is very weak, while the Crusaders are not. To date, Colgate’s strength of schedule according to KenPom is 285, while Holy Cross’ is 79. Furthermore, Colgate is losing by an average of 16 points a game. Colgate had high hopes that Virginia transfer John Brandenburg would become one of the league’s premier big men, but that has yet to come to fruition, as he is averaging just 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. As if matters for Colgate were not already bad enough, their steady guard, Mike Venezia, is reportedly hurt and may miss a few games. Oh, and now the Raiders have the pleasure of traveling to the Carrier Dome to take on one of the nation’s best in Syracuse.
Quote of the Week
Following their 67-48 loss at the hands of the Florida Gators, American head coach Jeff Jones reacted to his team’s performance: “For us to have any chance, we have to be [darn] near perfect against a team like Florida. We leave this game frustrated … because we can be better. We should, in my opinion, be better.”
Coach Jeff Jones speaks on behalf of the entire league when stating that his team needed to be perfect against Florida. When a Patriot League team squares up against an ostensibly more talented team from a Big Six conference, a near flawless game needs to be played.
A Look Ahead
A Time for Rest and Study—Usually around this time of the year, schools do their best to carve out some time in their schedule so the student-athletes are better suited to prepare for final exams. This is the reason that there is extended time off for all teams in the Patriot League. Here are how many days each school has off in between games:
Holy Cross: 7
The first stretch of the season has now passed as teams are about halfway through the non-conference portion of their schedule; the examination period offers a nice time for rest and recuperation.
Road Warriors—Patriot League teams will need to be tough on the road over the course of these next two weeks, as they will not be playing many games within the friendly confines of their own gyms. Of the 24 games that will be played, 20 will be played on the road.
Deceitful Eagles?—Just how good are the American Eagles? Right now, AU owns the best record in the league as they are 5-3, but they have been reeling lately. The Eagles have lost three straight games, and two of their next four games are against a solid Northwestern squad and a scary good Pittsburgh Panthers team. In games where AU can prove they are the class of the league against big time opponents, they have failed to do so.
Cupcakes—Army’s favorite food thus far has been cupcakes. The Black Knights’ schedule ranks 345 out of 345 Division 1 teams. While having a .500 record at this point in the non-conference schedule is nice, it is hard to gauge how good Army is as they have played the weakest of competition. The steady dose of cupcakes for Army continues throughout the rest of the non-conference schedule.
Wins on the Horizon—The Crusaders have played the most challenging non-conference schedule to date—College of Charleston, Harvard, New Hampshire, Boston College, Massachusetts, Wake Forest, and Stony Brook—of any Patriot League team, and their 0-7 record is reflective of that. However, it looks as if victories could be on the horizon for Holy Cross. For the remainder of the non-conference schedule, the highest rated opponent HC will face is Fairfield (141).
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.
A Look Back
Top 4 vs. Bottom 4: In the Patriot League, it is always hard to gauge how strong a team is relative to the rest of the league after just a few games. Reason being, there is a great disparity in the quality of out of conference opponents for the league’s eight members. With that being said, the top four teams (American, Army, Lehigh, and Bucknell) in the league have combined to go 13-8, while the bottom four (Holy Cross, Colgate, Lafayette, and Navy) have feebly compiled a 3-17 record. I expect these two records to slowly become more even with each other as we move throughout the rest of non-conference play.
Undefeated Eagles: American has started their young season with a 5-0 record, albeit against some weak opponents as the average rank of their opponents is 280 according to kenpom.com. Needless to say, the Eagles’ top two transfers have found their niche in Washington DC and the defensive effort has been top notch thus far. Vlad Moldoveanu, a second-year transfer from George Mason, is AU’s best player, averaging 21.4 points and 6.2 rebounds, while first-year Georgia transfer Troy Brewer is averaging 13 points and 5.8 rebounds. On the defensive end, American is relinquishing just 56 points a contest. This number will most likely change when the Eagles go up against the meat of the non-conference slate (West Virginia, Florida, Northwestern, and Pittsburgh).
Struggles in Worcester: Holy Cross, playing under their third coach in as many years, has predictably struggled early on in the season. Learning an entirely new offensive and defensive scheme that contrasts previous year’s philosophies is no easy task; add that to having played the most difficult out of schedule thus far and you have a recipe for early season struggles. There is a strong nucleus of players at Holy Cross; it all boils down to how fast new head coach Milan Brown and the team can mesh.
Player of the Weeks (Nov. 8-24): Vlad Moldoveanu, American: Moldoveanu has scored in double figures in each of the Eagle’s first five games. The 6’9 forward has the body of a big man that would bang bodies in the paint, but he has the shooting touch of a shooting guard. Thus far, he is drilling 2.4 three pointers a game and is shooting 77% from the charity stripe.
Freshman of the Weeks (Nov. 8-24): Anthony D’Orazio, Lehigh: How is this for D’Orazio’s first half of his first collegiate basketball game: Connecting on three shots from behind the arc, scoring 14 points (more than half of Lehigh’s points in the first half), and leading his Mountain Hawks to a six point lead at the intermission? Pretty good, huh? Since this very half, D’Orazio has quieted down, but he is still averaging nearly eight points and shooting 46% from three point land.
1. American (5-0)
Next Week: 11/28 vs. Columbia, 12/1 @ West Virginia
American has soundly beaten all five of their opponents by an average of 10+ points a game. Everyone knew coming into the season that first team All-Patriot League forward Vlad Moldoveanu would be the staple of the Eagles’ of the offense, but junior Stephen Lumpkins continued his stellar play from last season, and transfer Troy Brewer has been a catalyst for the offense. Guard Nick Hendra has provided steady play running the offense as he boasts better than 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. If American sustain its impressive play as they enter into the more challenging part of their out of conference schedule they will be a true force during Patriot League play.
2. Lehigh (2-2)
Next Week: 11/26 @ Kent State, 11/28 vs. Bryant, 12/1 @ Stony Brook
Last year it was C.J. McCollum followed by Zahir Carrington and Marquis Hall. This year, thus far it appears to be McCollum, of course, followed by the surprising Michael Ojo, and then everybody else. The entire league knew that McCollum would be the focal point of the Mountain Hawks—there was a reason he was selected as the Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year—but Ojo has been a pleasant surprise. After averaging a shade over four points for his career, and less than a three pointer made a game, Ojo is scoring 17 points per game and connecting on 3.5 threes a contest. Although they sit at just .500, Lehigh could easily be 4-0 on the young season after losing to Monmouth by a point and Penn State by a handful (they led Penn State 27-21 at the half).
3. Bucknell (2-5)
Next Week: 11/29 vs. Wagner, 12/1 vs. Columbia
Much was to be expected of the Bison this year, and their performance after their two opening games suggested Bucknell will be a contender. Their gritty performance against Villanova in the season opener—a night where they shot a paltry 34% from the field, but managed to remain competitive—and then just two nights later they gave Marquette all they could handle, demonstrated how this is a deep and mentally tough team. Bucknell was thrown into the proverbial fire from the get go as they faced two of the better teams in the Big East, but held their own in each. After playing six of their first seven games on the road, their next three will be within the friendly confines of Sojka Pavilion.
4. Army (4-1)
Next Week: 11/27 @ Yale, 12/1 vs. Buffalo
It is nice to see the Black Knights get off to such a nice 4-1 start; although, I am not sure how much one should read into just solely the record. Granted, one of these wins came against Division 3 Vassar College, and the other three wins were against perennial basement dwellers (Bryant, NJIT, and Binghamton), but for a team that was picked to finish last in the league in the preseason, winning these games at least helps with the psyche of the team. Army will be able to steal some more games with their impressive three-point shooting as they are 36th in the nation hitting 41% of their attempts.
5. Lafayette (1-4)
Next Week: 11/27 vs. Delaware, 11/30 vs. Princeton, 12/1 vs. Susquehanna
The Leopards have had their only win—St. Francis (PA)—sandwiched between two losses on both ends giving them their 1-4 record. Their loss at the hands of Villanova was no surprise, but Fran O’Hanlon seems to have one of his better squads in recent years and should have stolen a game or two from Wagner, Rider, or Pennsylvania. It seems to be a three-man show for Lafayette with Jared Mintz (preseason All-League selection), Ryan Willen, and Jim Mower—the three are averaging more than two-thirds of the team’s points.
6. Holy Cross (0-4)
Next Week: 11/27 @ Massachusetts
After the Crusaders’ season-opening loss to the College of Charleston 93-84, many in Worcester were feeling pretty good about themselves and the team this year under the guidance of first-year coach Milan Brown (formerly the head man at Mount St. Mary’s). Charleston was coming off a one point loss to Maryland, and had the Southern Conference’s preseason Player of the Year Andrew Goudelock on their side; putting up 84 points on such a talented squad was encouraging. The debacle at Harvard, however, erased many of these encouraging emotions. Losing 72-49 against the Crimson, followed by two more losses to New Hampshire and Boston College, will pose challenges to Holy Cross from a confidence and team morale standpoint. It is up to Andrew Keister, a preseason All-League selection, and senior point guard Andrew Beinert to rally the troops.
7. Navy (2-5)
Next Week: 11/27 vs. MD Eastern Shore, 11/29 @ Mount St. Mary’s
Of Navy’s first 10 games, eight of them are on the road; couple that with their top play Jordan Sugars’ shooting woes and the Midshipmen have gotten off to a rough start. Sugars, who averaged nearly 16 points and hit on better than 40% of his three point attempts last year, is now connecting on less than a quarter of his attempts and has seen his points per game dip by three points since last season. Although Sugars has struggled, life for Navy has just become more difficult after he suffered a freak injury in practice to his non-shooting hand. What is also discouraging is the margin of defeat for Navy (21.6); it will take a little more than just Sugars, once he is healthy again, to jumpstart the Midshipmen. Ironically, Navy was able to get past Towson without Sugars in the lineup behind a career high 31 points from freshman J.J. Avila.
8. Colgate (0-4)
Next Week: 11/27 @ Dartmouth
Colgate is just a few possessions here and there from being 2-2, instead of 0-4. It was a foregone conclusion that they would get walloped by the consensus number one ranked team in the nation in Duke, but their games against Binghamton and St. Francis (PA) were both decided on the final possession. The Raiders have been heavily relying on their stud junior forward Yaw Gyawu, who is their only player to average in double figures.
Caught on Film
With just over 10 minutes remaining in regulation, the Bucknell Bison led Marquette 57-45 and seemed poised to defeat a Big East juggernaut. After playing such solid defensive basketball, and methodically on the offensive end, Bucknell relinquished 24 straight points to the Golden Eagles. The following clip highlights the Marquette run:
A Look Ahead
The road does not get any easier for Holy Cross, who travels to Massachusetts and Wake Forest in their next two games. Although, considering Wake has lost to Stetson, Virginia Commonwealth, and Winthrop, maybe the Crusaders can steal a game from the Demon Deacons.
American has a 5-0 record, but has largely been untested thus far. They will have a chance to show if they are indeed the class of the league against West Virginia on December 1.
Bucknell finally concluded their play in the CBE Classic after their loss against James Madison. They now have three home dates—all very winnable games—against Wagner, Columbia, and Boston University.
Lafayette has a much needed home stand. After four of their first five games were away from Easton, the Leopards’ next five will be in the Kirby Sports Center.
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