Lehigh and Bucknell have established themselves as the early frontrunners for the Patriot League crown.
The Week That Was
- Grading the Patriot League: At the conclusion of the non-conference schedule for all eight teams—although Colgate does have a date with NJIT in early February—the Patriot League is ranked #24 by Pomeroy which is in line with where it finished the 2010-11 season. It is worth noting that the PL falls marginally behind the Southern Conference and Big South Conference, however it will be difficult to leapfrog these leagues with league play beginning. The highest ranking for the Patriot League in recent memory came during the 2006-07 (#20) campaign, the final year of Holy Cross and Bucknell domination.
- Five Down, Three Up: Three of the five PL teams will enter league play feeling pretty good about themselves as Lehigh, Bucknell, and American all posted records above .500 for the non-conference portion of their schedules. Lehigh is surging at just the right time having won six of their last seven games—the lone loss coming at Michigan State by nine points—while American is reeling losing four of their last five. The combined record of the five teams below .500 is a paltry 26-46.
- Grading Langel & DeChellis: A 5-9 non-conference record with their best win coming against St. Francis (NY) may not seem like a successful start to the Matt Langel era at Colgate, yet the five wins is the most for the Raiders in the non-conference since 2007-08. Keep in mind that Colgate did not pick up their fifth win until February 2nd last season. As for Ed DeChellis’ start at Navy, the Mids have been less than impressive to say the least. Returning their top two players from last year—Jordan Sugars and J.J. Avila—coupled with playing a less than stellar schedule would suggest better than a 3-11 record. DeChellis will need to find greater production from Sugars for Navy to be competitive in the PL.
- Mid-Major Top 25: In the latest Collegeinsider.com Mid-Major Top 25, Lehigh was the lone Patriot League team to garner any votes as they checked in with eight. Expect to see Bucknell to join them in the near future in the ORV category assuming the Bison get off to a fast start in league play.
- Breaking Down Lunardi: Bucknell is the recipient from the Patriot League and is a 15 seed playing Duke in the East Region. Although Lehigh, at this stage, appears to be the frontrunner in the league as they impressed the most in the early going, remember that Lunardi selects each conference’s automatic berth solely on RPI. As of January 6th, Bucknell has an RPI of 95, while Lehigh’s is 105.
All-League Team for the Non-Conference:
- G C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) —19.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.4 SPG—The face of the Patriot League, McCollum has become a more complete player as he is averaging a career best in assists and steals. Always a force on the offensive end, McCollum has active hands on defense and has become increasingly better at distributing the ball on offense.
- G Devin Brown (Holy Cross) —15.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 40% 3PG—The Crusaders will lean heavily on Brown during league play as the senior from Baltimore has the ability to score in bunches and bail the Cross out on the offensive end. In a comeback victory at Dartmouth, Brown scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half. Earlier in the season, he had a career high 32 points against Boston College.
- F Charles Hinkle (American) —20.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 40% 3FG—With Vlad Moldoveanu graduating, where much of the scoring entering the season for American would come from was largely unknown. The senior transfer from Vanderbilt has risen to the occasion in a big way as he leads the Patriot League in scoring, and is ranked 10th nationally in this department. The development of Hinkle’s shot from the outside has been astounding. A career 26% shooter from three point land who connected on just 22 threes prior to his senior season, Hinkle has already drilled 40 triples this year.
- F Ella Ellis (Army) —17.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.6 APG — Although he does not get a whole lot of exposure playing at West Point, Ella Ellis will make himself known to the rest of the Patriot League soon enough. The junior from Texas has developed into one of the league’s most prolific scorers as he has reached double digits and hit a shot from downtown in each of Army’s games.
- F Mike Muscala (Bucknell) —14.9 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.4 BPG—Undoubtedly the league’s best big man, Muscala has been his usual dominant self having posted seven double-doubles and averaging a league best 9.2 RPG. Muscala is a very efficient shooter and excels at the charity stripe hitting on 80% of his shots. Patriot League teams will struggle to contain him.
Player of the Year:
C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) —His numbers speak for themselves; he has put up gaudy statistics since Day 1 and is on pace to eclipse 2,500 points for his career. By all accounts, McCollum has grown into a much more complete and polished basketball player which is observed in Lehigh’s overall record. After posting consecutive 9-6 marks in the non-conference during his freshman and sophomore seasons, McCollum has led Lehigh to a league best 12-4 record coming against a more challenging schedule than the preceding years. There is no reason to think that McCollum’s and Lehigh’s success will not continue into league play.
Rookie of the Year
Seth Hinrichs (Lafayette) —An exceptional shooter, Hinrichs has been a staple in the Leopards lineup and has emerged as the league’s top freshman. Any shooter can find their way into a Fran O’Hanlon offense, and by shooting better than 45% from three, Hinrichs has carved out a nice niche for himself. To date, Hinrichs has captured four Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors.
Coach of the Year
Dr. Brett Reed (Lehigh) —For the past two seasons, it oftentimes looked like Lehigh basketball was made up of C.J. McCollum and everyone else, but that is far from the case in the 2011-12 version of Mountain Hawk basketball. Of course, McCollum is still the focal point, but there are many other parts Reed has integrated that have generated results. As of January 6th, Reed has Lehigh ranked #70 in the Pomeroy as victories over Wagner and close losses to Michigan State and Iowa State have bolstered their ranking. In just his fourth year as a head coach, Reed looks to be coming into his own.
1. Lehigh (12-4) (Last Week: 1)
Previous Weeks: W Wagner 70-69, W Arcadia 95-55, L Michigan State 90-81, W St. Peter’s 76-67, W Bryant 72-55, W Maryland Eastern Shore 82-55
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ Holy Cross, 1/11 American, 1/14 @ Colgate, 1/18 Bucknell
The Mountain Hawks are streaking heading into their opening league game at Holy Cross having won their last five games by an average of nearly 20 points per contest. Granted four of the five wins came against teams in the basement of Division 1 basketball—Arcadia is sub-D1—but the margin of victory is impressive nevertheless. Of note, Lehigh’s average margin of victory is 18 points. Lehigh has demonstrated they do not fall into the trap of playing down to their competition, an important trait considering that every game in the PL save Bucknell comes against teams ranked below 200 according to Pomeroy. The Mountain Hawks have a very balanced rotation that is keyed by Mackey McKnight, the league’s top point guard with Lafayette’s Tony Johnson injured, while Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner make a formidable frontcourt. Oh, Lehigh also has a guy by the name of C.J. McCollum who is pretty good too.
2. Bucknell (10-6) (Last Week: 3)
Previous Weeks: W Richmond 79-65, L Syracuse 80-61, W Boston University 75-61, L Loyola (MD) 72-67, W Cornell 63-60, W Dartmouth 67-59
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ Army, 1/11 Colgate, 1/14 @ Lafayette, 1/18 @ Lehigh
Despite the 10-6 record and good wins over Richmond and Princeton, it is quite apparent that this Bucknell squad is missing a vital component—a component they relied heavily on last season. The Bison returned virtually their entire frontcourt, their top three point shooter in Bryson Johnson, and a promising guard in Cameron Ayers, but a key cog in Bucknell’s success in 2010-11 was missing: Daryl Shazier. Boasting one of the best assist to turnover ratios in the nation, Shazier fit all the puzzle pieces together, something that simply isn’t happening this year. Through 16 games, Dave Paulsen has looked to three different players to fill the role: Ayers, sophomore Ryan Hill, and freshman Steven Kaspar. There is little doubt that Ayers is a capable point guard, but may he be more of a natural two guard as he shoots nearly 50% from long distance? Midway through December, Kaspar had been named the starter at the point, however, Paulsen eventually gave his starting spot away to Hill in late December. Growing pains were inevitable for the Bison at this position, but we are already halfway through the year and Bucknell seems to be playing point guard by committee.
3. American (9-6) (Last Week: 2)
Previous Weeks: L St. Francis (PA) 66-61, L Georgetown 81-55, L Villanova 73-52, L Mount St. Mary’s 49-42, W Brown 70-61
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Colgate, 1/11 @ Lehigh, 1/14 Holy Cross, 1/18 @ Navy
Was the first month of the season one giant fluke for American? An 8-2 start with a win over St. Joseph’s coupled with the emergence of Charles Hinkle as arguably the league’s most dominant scorer, and the Eagles looked like they may content for the league title. Four straight losses have brought them back to earth, but it would be foolish not to thrust American into title conversations, especially with Jeff Jones roaming the sidelines—Jones has reached the semifinals of every Patriot League tournament since 2001.
4. Holy Cross (6-8) (Last Week: 5)
Previous Weeks: W Sacred Heart 71-60, L Connecticut 77-40, W San Francisco 88-83, W Dartmouth 65-61, L Yale 82-67
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Lehigh, 1/11 Navy, 1/14 @ American, 1/19 Lafayette
1-13 vs. 6-8: Stark improvement from last year’s non-conference record to this year’s, right? The short answer is, yes, a huge improvement. It all comes down to the numbers that appear in the win and loss columns, so Holy Cross certainly has seen more success in year two of the Milan Brown regime. However, the grave inconsistencies and mistakes that are made from game-to-game have made this Crusader team a real rollercoaster ride for the Purple faithful. Tenacious defense and aggressive rebounding, which used to be staples of past Holy Cross teams, have gone way to an up-tempo style that looks to score in transition and take advantage of the athletic prowess of RJ Evans, Devin Brown, and Co. However, this poses problems when Holy Cross is forced to operate in the half-court as their offense oftentimes becomes stagnant. Meanwhile, the vanilla man-to-man defense that is imposed allows the opposition to run their sets with ease. It should not go unnoticed that the Crusaders are playing without their best on-ball defender as Mike Cavataio has been injured nearly the entire season. While there is still grave improvement needed, 6-8 is an awful lot better than 1-13, and getting back to winning ways is a step in the right direction.
5. Lafayette (5-10) (Last Week: 4)
Previous Weeks: L Sacred Heart 84-79, L Vanderbilt 89-58, W Monmouth 69-54, L Columbia 77-67, L N.J.I.T. 78-58, L Pennsylvania 78-73
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ Navy, 1/11 Army, 1/14 Bucknell, 1/19 @ Holy Cross
In the preseason, I surmised that losing All-League center Jared Mintz would spell major problems in Easton. Lafayette is a perimeter oriented team to begin with, so losing their only viable post presence would make it extremely difficult to score inside. Sure enough, this is the exact case as Lafayette ranks second to last nationally in points coming off of two point field goals. On the flipside, the Leopards rank fourth in points coming via the three ball. There may be no other team in the country that embodies the commonly used basketball expression “live and die by the three” as well as Lafayette. When Jim Mower (2.4 3PG), Nick Petkovich (2.0 3PG), and Seth Hinrichs (1.6 3PG) are all hitting from the outside, the Leopards can hang and beat anyone in the league.
6. Colgate (5-9) (Last Week: 6)
Previous Weeks: W St. Francis (NY) 65-63, W Dartmouth 61-55, L Hofstra 82-59, L Quinnipiac 80-70, L New Hampshire 71-64, L Columbia 66-59
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 @ American, 1/11 @ Bucknell, 1/14 Lehigh, 1/18 @ Army
Rebuilding any program takes time, and make no mistake about it, Colgate basketball needs to be rebuilt. Under previous head coach Emmett Davis, Colgate had just three winning seasons during Davis’ 13 years at the helm. The Raiders jumped out to a 5-5 start, but have dropped four straight to close out the non-conference on a sour note. And things don’t get much easier for the ‘Gate as their opening games in the PL come against the league’s best: American, Bucknell, and Lehigh. When it rains it pours for the Raiders—or, should I say in the ‘Gates case, when it snows it blizzards—as Yaw Gyawu has been sidelined for the past three games with what is presumably a recurring ankle injury. Without Gyawu, Colgate becomes very thin in the frontcourt.
7. Army (7-8) (Last Week: 8)
Previous Weeks: L La Salle 76-64, W Texas Pan American 61-59, W Dartmouth 67-64, L Presbyterian 71-64, W St. Francis (NY) 79-70, W Longwood 96-77
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Bucknell, 1/11 @ Lafayette, 1/14 @ Navy, 1/18 Colgate
Their 7-8 record looks nice, but bear in mind that Army has played the second easiest schedule in the country; their most challenging test thus far has come against La Salle. That being said, the Black Knights have won four of their last five heading into league play with their star forward Ella Ellis averaging a shade of 21 points during this stretch.
8. Navy (3-11) (Last Week: 7)
Previous Weeks: L Missouri 84-59, L Presbyterian 58-42, L Mercer 65-56, L Norfolk State 71-65
Next Two Weeks: 1/7 Lafayette, 1/11 @ Holy Cross, 1/14 Army, 1/18 American
Jordan Sugars needs to be doing more—it is that simple. Tabbed as an All-League performer the past two seasons, the senior is averaging just over 10 PPG and shooting a dismal 32% from the field and 29% from distance. Navy does not have many weapons to begin with, but Sugars is a legitimate threat who has underperformed throughout the non-conference. Scoring in single digits in seven of Navy’s 14 is too many for a player of his caliber. On the bright side, sophomore standout J.J. Avila has developed into the “go-to” player for Navy who is a reliable scorer (15.4 PPG) and shoots an efficient 50.6% from the floor. Entering league play, Navy has lost 10 of their last 11 games.
Critical Upcoming Games:
- Holy Cross vs. Lehigh —If the Crusaders have any aspirations of making a run at the league title, a strong performance against Lehigh is a must. The big question entering this game is: Which Holy Cross team will show up? The team that collapsed against Columbia, or the team that blew out Boston College?
- Lehigh vs. Bucknell —An early look at the Patriot League Championship? Hopefully fans in the Lehigh Valley realize what a great college basketball game this is and come out in droves for it—Stabler Arena has been empty far too often the past few years.
- Lehigh vs. American —Lehigh is tested early on in league play as three of their first four games comes against teams that look to challenge for the league. The match-up between C.J. McCollum and Charles Hinkle is one to keep an eye on.
- Army vs. Bucknell —The Black Knights gave Bucknell their only loss in the Patriot League last season as they blew them out 90-70. Army will have an opportunity to shock the Bison and the rest of the league once again as both teams kick off league play at West Point.
A Closer Look—Top Five Wins (+1) in the Non-Conference:
- American 66 St. Joseph’s 60 —Without a doubt, this was the Patriot League’s best win in the non-conference as St. Joseph’s owns wins over Georgia Tech, Tulsa, Penn State, Drexel, Creighton, and Villanova. Phil Martelli has one of his better teams in recent memory as St. Joe’s will be in the upper tier of the Atlantic 10 and may even contend for an at-large berth. Charles Hinkle was an absolute monster posting a career high in points (32) and three pointers made (5). What makes this result seem like a fluke win, however, are the ensuing results from both teams. American is 2-4 since the upset with bad losses to Mount St. Mary’s and St. Francis (PA). Meanwhile, St. Joe’s has knocked off Creighton and Villanova. If the Eagles can get back to playing at the level they were during their eight game winning streak, they are Patriot League contenders.
- Lehigh 70 Wagner 69 —At first glance, Lehigh’s win over Wagner appears to be out of place on this list as the Seahawks are not traditionally a very strong team. Thanks in large part to Dan Hurley, Wagner has turned the corner and become a force in the NEC. This is a team that has defeated Pittsburgh and owns a 10-3 record, which makes a Lehigh win on the road very impressive. Anthony D’Orazio’s clutch three-pointer with eight seconds left propelled Lehigh to the victory.
- Bucknell 79 Richmond 65 —Richmond isn’t the same team that advanced to the Sweet 16 a year ago, but this is a great win for Bucknell nonetheless—maybe their best “W” of the season. It comes as no surprise that this was without question the most complete game Bucknell has played to date as they shot 59% from the floor, were a perfect 21-21 from the stripe, outrebounded Richmond 31-19, and held the Spiders to 38% shooting.
- Bucknell 62 Princeton 56 —Similar to Richmond, Princeton is not as strong as they were last year, but the Tigers are still very much a formidable bunch. Princeton limped out of the gate getting off to a 1-5 start under first-year coach Mitch Henderson, but seems to have found their groove having won seven of nine. Mike Muscala had his best game of the season in the win as he scored 25 points on just 10 shots, while pulling down 12 rebounds.
- Lafayette 61 Penn State 57 —Behind Seth Hinrichs 14 points on 4-9 shooting from three, Lafayette upset the Nittany Lions—their first win over a BCS opponent in years—to move to 4-5 on the season. Since then, Lafayette has lost five of their last six games and will need to find the mojo they had against Penn State if they wish to see success in the PL.
- Holy Cross 83 Boston College 62 —In most years, this would be a banner win for HC and the Patriot League; defeating an ACC team by more than 20 points is something to beat your chest about. That is not the case this year as BC is the second worst team hailing from a BCS conference and is sandwiched in between San Diego and Army in the Pomeroy rankings (as of January 6th)—not exactly great company. Nevertheless, this is a victory that the Crusaders can be proud of as it is not too often they give their one-time big rivals this sort of drubbing.