Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.
A Look Back
Big ups to PL hoopsters—“The Last Amateurs” as John Feinstein would call them, led all NCAA Division-I conferences with four men’s basketball student-athletes on the Capital One Academic All-District Teams. Holy Cross senior Andrew Keister and Army senior Nathan Hedgecock were each selected in District 1, while Bucknell sophomore Mike Muscala and Lafayette junior Ryan Willen selected in District 2. The Patriot League may not always win on the hardwood, but their performance in the classroom is on par with anyone.
Dave Paulsen Gets #300—Not only was Bucknell’s 66-60 victory over second-place American a critical one for the Bison, as it gave them a greater cushion over the Eagles, but it was also big for Dave Paulsen on a personal level, as it was his 300th victory as a head coach. The breakdown of Paulsen’s wins come across all divisions: 50-28 at Division-III St. Lawrence, 42-39 at Division-II Le Moyne, 170-53 at Division-III Williams, and now 40-40 at Bucknell.
Struggles at the Academies—Both Army and Navy concluded the first half of league play feeling pretty good about themselves; Army blew out Bucknell, 90-70, and Navy won three straight games. None of this strong play has carried over as the teams went a combined 1-7 over the past two weeks.
Six Times for McCollum—For his play during the week of February 7, Lehigh’s sophomore guard C.J. McCollum was awarded Patriot League Player of the Week honors for the sixth time this season, a league record. The previous mark was set during the 2008-09 season by American’s do-it-all guard Garrison Carr, who was named the Player of the Week five times. It is scary to think McCollum is only a sophomore and will be gracing Stabler Arena with his talents for two more years.
A Two Team Race—Many astute Patriot League followers undoubtedly had an inkling that this was a two team race after the first week of conference play, and this notion was proven true following the games over the past two weeks. American left the door slightly open after losing to Navy, but the other six teams never capitalized on their setback. Although the #1 and #2 positions in the PL Tournament have nearly been solidified, we have seen throughout the year that anyone can beat anyone in this league. After all, Bucknell’s only league loss of the year came against last-place Army.
Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology—In his latest bracket, Joe Lunardi predicts Bucknell to be a 14 seed in the East Region playing Florida in the first round. The Bison will continue to be the recipient for the remainder of Lunardi’s brackets as he simply selects the team with the best league record to receive the automatic bid to the Dance. If Bucknell continues their strong play and runs through the remainder of their schedule without another setback, they have an outside chance at a 13-seed.
Mid-Major Top 25—Bucknell is becoming closer every week of cracking the Mid-Major top 25. For the week of February 14, the Bison earned 40 votes, which puts them three spots outside of the top 25. American was the only other Patriot League team that consistently received votes for the top 25, but in the latest poll they did not receive any.
Team of the Weeks (Feb. 3-Feb. 16): Bucknell—The Bison got back on track after falling at Army as they went a perfect 4-0 over the past two weeks to virtually lock up the number one seed heading into the PL Tournament. Over these four games, Bucknell has demonstrated they have all the important pieces a championship team needs: an intelligent point guard with good ball handling skills and savvy moves (Darryl Shazier), a lights-out shooter (Bryson Johnson), and a dominant big man (Mike Muscala). Not to mention, Bucknell is complemented with great senior leadership from Stephen Tyree.
Player of the Weeks (Feb. 3-Feb. 16): Bryson Johnson, Bucknell—It would be very easy to hand C.J. McCollum this award—he is a logical candidate virtually every week—but no player has meant more to his team lately than Bryson Johnson. In particular, his near flawless shooting from downtown has been a major part of Bucknell’s latest two victories. Hindered with an apparent injury to his shooting elbow, Johnson was seen flexing the elbow in the closing minutes of Bucknell’s game at Holy Cross while on the bench. With the game tied at 54, Dave Paulsen called Johnson’s number and the sharpshooter delivered by stroking an NBA three to propel his team to a big road victory. In his next game at Lafayette, Johnson coolly dropped in a career best 30 points in an overtime win. For the season, the sophomore has drilled 80 three-pointers (Seventh in the nation) and is shooting 48% from distance (Good for 20th in the country).
Freshman of the Weeks (Feb. 3-Feb. 16): J.J. Avila, Navy—It is becoming routine that Navy freshman J.J. Avila receives this award. Although he did not have one of his more dominating stretch of games—12.75 points and 4.75 rebounds—no other freshman in the league contributes the way Avila does for Navy. Against Lehigh, Avila played all but two minutes and poured in 22 points on 4-10 shooting from three.
Clip of the Week: In another nip-and-tuck affair between Holy Cross and Bucknell, the Bison came away victorious against for the second time this season against the Crusaders behind this big shot from sharpshooter Bryson Johnson with the score knotted at 54.
Quote of the Week
The even-keeled Dave Paulsen seemingly could care less about picking up the 300th victory of his career as he has his sights set on a greater goal: a Patriot League Championship. Paulsen had the following to say to William Bowman of The Daily Item:
The 300 wins? It’s great, but I am more excited that we have a two-game lead in the league.
Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Bucknell (1) (19-8, 10-1)
Previous Two Weeks: W Navy 75-49, W American 66-60, W Holy Cross 60-56, W Lafayette 74-69 (OT)
Next Two Weeks: 2/20 @ Colgate, 2/23 Lehigh, 2/26 Army
The Bison got back to their winning ways after what has proven to be a fluke loss to Army by winning four straight games. After a blowout victory against Navy, the next three wins hardly came easy for Bucknell as they had to fight in each game until the final minute to earn the victory. While the play on the offensive end has been steady for much of the year, Bucknell’s play on the defensive end has to encourage head coach Dave Paulsen. During the course of their four straight wins, the Bison have surrendered just 58.5 points a game. In the process, they have all but locked up the top seed heading into the conference tournament.
2. American (2) (18-8, 8-3)
Previous Two Weeks: W Lehigh 62-61, L Bucknell 66-60, W Colgate 69-60, W Army 65-59
Next Two Weeks: 2/20 Holy Cross, 2/23 Navy, 2/26 @ Lafayette
American was unable to avenge their early season loss to Bucknell as they fell to the Patriot League frontrunner in Lewisburg. Although the Eagles went a solid 3-1 over the past two weeks, their star forward Vlad Moldoveanu struggled averaging 12.5 points a night (seven lower than his season average). His shooting percentage was predictably low as well as he shot a meager 37% from the field. Fortunately, his running mate in the front court, Stephen Lumpkins, performed exceptionally well over the four game stretch as he averaged 15.5 points and 6.25 rebounds. There is little doubt though in any Eagles’ fan’s mind, if American is to win the Patriot League, Vlad Moldoveanu has to be on top of his game.
3. Lehigh (3) (14-12, 5-6)
Previous Two Weeks: L American 62-61, W Navy 87-72, W Army 78-64, L Colgate 94-90 (OT)
Next Two Weeks: 2/20 Lafayette, 2/23 @ Bucknell, 2/26 @ Holy Cross
Who would have thought that last year’s Patriot League champion would have been swept by the lowly Colgate Raiders this year? Well, that is exactly what happened in Lehigh’s last game as senior guard Mike Venezia had the best scoring outburst of his career in an overtime victory. The losses to American and Colgate were real heartbreakers for the Mountain Hawks as they lost by a combined five points. The league would certainly look quite different right now if Lehigh came out on top in both of these affairs. Lehigh continues to be paced by C.J. McCollum, who averaged 23.5 points and 10.5 boards during the four game stretch. After McCollum, however, there is not much else on a consistent basis.
4. Holy Cross (6) (6-19, 5-6)
Previous Two Weeks: L Lafayette 76-70, W Army 85-75, L Bucknell 60-56, W Navy 72-61
Next Two Weeks: 2/20 @ American, 2/23 @ Colgate, 2/26 Lehigh
The Two losses suffered by Holy Cross this past week came by an average of five points; that has pretty much been the story of the year. Now, brace yourself for the following statistic: the Crusaders are 0-10 in games decided by five points or less. Amazing. Whether one wants to blame it on the coaching, the players, a lack of execution, or what have you, this Holy Cross team has been marred by a string of bad luck. In fact, that is exactly what KenPom would call it. According to his website, Holy Cross is the unluckiest team in America. There is one aspect of Holy Cross’ game, however, that has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with mundane practice and focus: free throw shooting. When losing so many games by such a small margin, giving away points at the charity stripe will kill a team. The Crusaders are shooting 64% from the line this year (307th in the country), and in both of their losses in the past two weeks they were a combined 29-55 (53%). Even in the victory over Navy, they shot 16-29 from the stripe.
5. Lafayette (7) (10-16, 5-6)
Previous Two Weeks: W Holy Cross 76-70, W Colgate 80-65, L Navy 57-52, L Bucknell 74-69 (OT)
Next Two Weeks: 2/20 @ Lehigh, 2/23 Army, 2/26 American
The Leopards are one of three teams stuck in a logjam with Holy Cross and Lehigh as all three are vying for a top four seed and a home game in the first round of the PL Tournament. Fran O’Hanlon’s bunch began the second round of league games by posting two solid victories over Holy Cross and Colgate, but then had a disappointing setback to Navy and a gut-wrenching loss at home to Bucknell. They trailed the Bison by 11 points in the final five minutes, but scored the final 11 points in regulation to send the game into overtime where they could not close the deal. Lafayette travels to Lehigh in a pivotal game as the victor will have the inside track to finish in the upper half of the league.
6. Colgate (8) (7-19, 4-7)
Previous Two Weeks: W Army 77-71, L Lafayette 80-65, L American 69-60, W Lehigh 94-90 (OT)
Next Two Weeks: 2/20 Bucknell, 2/23 Holy Cross, 2/26 @ Navy
The Raiders continue to impress me. Many thought, including me, that Colgate would struggle to win just a single league game as they earned just one win in the non-conference, and began PL play losing their first three games. Since then, they are 6-4 in their last 10 games and have demonstrated they will be a tough out for anyone in the PL Tournament. In their latest upset over Lehigh, senior guard Mike Venezia torched the Mountain Hawks for 27 points on 5-8 shooting from downtown. Venezia’s competitiveness and leadership qualities are unparalleled as he has battled back from an ailing knee injury that saw him miss nearly all of December and part of January to. Venezia certainly has not been doing it all by himself though, sophomore guard Mitch Rolls has been one of the best shooters in the Patriot League during this stretch and Yaw Gyawu—for his size—is an absolute beast under the glass.
7. Navy (5) (9-18, 4-7)
Previous Two Weeks: L Bucknell 75-49, L Lehigh 87-72, W Lafayette 57-52, L Holy Cross 72-61
Next Two Weeks: 2/19 Army, 2/23 @ American, 2/26 Colgate
Aside from a slim five point victory against Lafayette, the Midshipmen mightily struggled in their other three games losing by an average of 17.3 points. It looked as if Navy would be able to salvage the two week stretch of games against Holy Cross as they led 32-25 at halftime, but the Crusaders came out in the second half with something to prove and outscored Billy Lange’s team 47-29. It was the three-point shot that was the downfall for Navy as they shot a futile 24% from behind the arc in their three losses. Despite their poor play of late, Navy will have an opportunity to get back into the race for a top four seed in the PL Tournament as they host rival Army on February 19.
8. Army (4) (11-15, 3-8)
Previous Two Weeks: L Colgate 77-71, L Holy Cross 85-75, L Lehigh 78-64, L American 65-59
Next Two Weeks: 2/19 @ Navy, 2/23 @ Lafayette, 2/26 @ Bucknell
The Black Knights were not able to capitalize on their 20 point thrashing of Bucknell as they dropped four straight games. I suppose that the Patriot League Preseason Poll was accurate as Army was projected to finish last in the league, but I am sure that not many teams would feel comfortable being paired with Army in the first round of the league tournament. When shooting well, they are one of the most potent three-point shooting teams in the nation. A large reason for their struggles lately is the surprisingly weak play from Julian Simmons. The senior from Texas has been the backbone of the offense for much of the year, but in his last four games is averaging only six points a night and is a combined 4-25 from beyond the arc.
A Look Ahead
The magic number for Bucknell to garner the top seed in the Patriot League is now at one game. This means that either a Bucknell win or American loss would give the Bison the number one seed entering the league tournament and the regular season championship.
An interesting site that gives projections of where each team will finish in the regular season. If these predictions hold true, then Bucknell, American and Lehigh are almost destined to finish 1-2-3 in the conference.
In the previous edition of Checking in on the Patriot League two weeks ago, I took a closer look at whether Ryan Willen would reach 1,000 points this year or if he would have to wait until his senior season to reach the mark. After several subpar games, it looks like he will have to wait until early next season to reach 1,000, but Holy Cross junior guard Devin Brown may not. After a spectacular six game stretch where he averaged just over 23 points a game, Brown currently has 941 points for his career. Holy Cross has a minimum of four games left on their season, so he would have to average 14.75 points a game to reach 1,000—very doable with the way he has been scoring lately.
Critical Upcoming Games:
Navy vs. Army (Feb. 19)—Both teams are reeling, but Navy still has an outside chance of attaining a top four seed and a home game in the first round of the PL Tournament provided they get by rival Army.
Lehigh vs. Lafayette (Feb. 20)—In another big rivalry game amongst Patriot League teams, Lehigh hosts Lafayette with an opportunity to get back to the .500 mark in the league. The Mountain Hawks won by 17 points in the first meeting, but Lafayette has played much better since then.
Holy Cross vs. Lehigh (Feb. 26)—In the last game of the regular season for both teams, the Crusaders will look to avenge a tough overtime loss to Lehigh in the prior meeting. Moreover, this game may have serious implications for seeding in the PL Tournament.