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
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 MikeMuscala 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 StephenTyree.
Player of the Weeks (Feb. 3-Feb. 16): BrysonJohnson, 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 MitchRolls has been one of the best shooters in the Patriot League during this stretch and YawGyawu—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 JulianSimmons. 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 DevinBrown 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.
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.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and America East Conference.
Current Standings (overall record):
Holy Cross 2-9
Army (3-0) — W 59-46 at Dartmouth, W 62-56 vs. Mount St. Vincent, W 54-46 vs. New Hampshire
The Black Knights continued their hot streak and are in the midst of their second four-game winning streak of the season. They finished the road trip with a record of 2-1 winning the final game at Dartmouth before handling Mount Saint Vincent and New Hampshire at West Point. This is the first season since 1978-79 that Army has put together two four-game winning streaks.
Vlad Moldoveanu Jr., American – 19 PPG and 4.7 RPG in 26.7 MPG
Moldoveanu has shined in his first three games since transferring over from George Mason. He scored 26 points in the upset victory over Depaul, the conference’s biggest win to date. Moldoveanu is shooting great from all over the floor: 45% from the field, 43.5% from downtown, and 84.6% from the charity stripe. It is going to be great to watch this 6’9 shooter during the conference schedule.
Thoughts on the Patriot League:
The Patriot League has gotten some national recognition over the past two weeks. The hottest team in the league received a vote in the Associated Press Top 25 for the second consecutive week and, for the second straight season, Marquis Hall was nominated for the Bob Cousy Award, an award given to the top collegiate male point guard across all divisions. Finally, an upset by a league doormat over a Big East team brings some legitimacy to the league.
Army already has their second four-game winning streak of the season going. In the streak the defense is giving up an average of only 47 PPG. A big reason for that is their ability to force turnovers. Seniors Cleveland Richard, Josh Miller, and Marcus Nelson are ranked 1-2-3 in the Patriot League in steals this year. Richard leads the way with 2.2 per game. They also are 2-4-5 on Army’s all-time list at 128, 124, and 122, respectively. The all-time record at Army is 143 steals held by George Tatum. The Black Knights have some consistent scorers, too. Richard has broken double figures in every game throughout the stretch. Sophomore guard Julian Simmons and backcourt mate Miller also have each reached double figures in two games during the streak.
The hottest team that does not reside in West Point is the Lafayette Leopards. They went 2-0 in the last two weeks before exams. Lafayette is riding a three-game winning streak into the holiday break. The next game is not until the 29th at Delaware. The last two wins came against two New York teams. First they beat Long Island at home by fourteen, followed by a five-point victory at St. Francis. In Brooklyn the Leopards shot 70% in the second half, but St. Francis managed to hang with them throughout the game. A seventeen-point lead turned into a four-point game with under two minutes to play. Sophomore guard Jim Mower led the way with 16 points off of 4-7 shooting from three-point range. Three other Leopards scored in double figures. Mower is shooting over fifty percent from downtown this season, good enough to lead the Patriot league.
Lehigh went 2-1 over the past two weeks. In the 66-55 win over Marist, Lehigh led by as many as 21 points in the second half. Marist made a run to pull themselves within seven with under nine minutes to go. Lehigh was then able to buckle down and stretch it back to 11, which ended up being the final difference. Seniors Zahir Carrington and Marquis Hall each scored in double digits with 12 and 16 points, respectively. Carrington also finished with 13 rebounds for the Mountain Hawks. Lehigh hit fewer field goals and threes than Marist, but got to the line 21 more times. That ended up being the difference in the game. In the loss to St Joseph’s the two seniors couldn’t have played any worse. Hall finished with only one basket and Carrington had ten turnovers. The Mountain Hawks as a team committed ten turnovers. Even with their early 10-0 lead, the turnovers were too hard to overcome.
Bucknell is in the midst of a five-game winning streak. The most recent loss was a 32-point thrashing by Notre Dame in South Bend. Bryson Johnson had 17 point and Stephen Tyree had his best game this year with 15 points and six rebounds. They had no answer for Notre Dame’s star Luke Harangody, with 20 points and 11 rebounds, or the Irish’s hot outside shooting. Notre Dame went 9-15 in three-pointers in the first half. Ben Hansbrough scored 14 points in the first half.
Navy is also suddenly on a serious slide losing the last four games in a row. The Midshipmen played Seton Hall close in the first half before getting blown out 66-34 in the second half in Newark. Senior guard Chris Harris was the only Navy player to finish in double figures with 12 points, but it took him 17 shots to reach that total. In the two most recent losses he has shot an abysmal 6-31 from the field.
Holy Cross lost their only game of the most recent session, an 82-79 setback to Sacred Heart. Sophomore guard R.J Evans led the way with 20 points and five rebounds. Holy Cross had a five-point lead at half and was up by as many as 11 points in the second half, but could not put Sacred Heart away. Sacred Heart regained the lead with under five minutes to play and never relinquished it the rest of the way. The Crusaders shot well from the field, 50% from three-point range. Holy Cross also out rebounded the Pioneers 47-34, but turned the ball over 23 times.
American picked up their second win of the year over Depaul. The win was huge for the Patriot League over the legendary Big East conference. Vlad Moldoveanu led the way with 26 points and eight rebounds in the 62-57 victory. Stephen Lumpkins added pulled down a career-high 14 rebounds inside and Nick Hendra scored a career-high 17 points. American led at half 32-24 and was able to hold on in the second stanza. The Eagles were down 57-56 with three minutes to play but scored the final six points of the game for the victory.
In the last version of Checking In on the Patriot League the key upcoming matchup was Colgate’s game against Dartmouth. It wasconsidered Colgate’s best chance at getting a win before the conference schedule started up. The prophecy turned out correct. Colgate was victorious against Dartmouth to break their nine-game losing streak, 63-44. It was a five-point game with five minutes to play, but Colgate allowed only one basket the rest of the way. It was the least amount of points they had held an opponent to since the 2008 Patriot League semifinals. Sophomore forward Yaw Gyawu led the way with 14 points.
Key Upcoming Matchup:
01.06.10 – Holy Cross at NC State – 7 pm.
With American’s recent victory over Depaul the Patriot League can start envisioning some more upsets over teams from the bigger conferences. American has Florida on December 28th, but the above game might be a better chance for the league. Sean Kearney is still trying to put together the parts to get this team playing how they should be. Will they have it together by the matchup in Raleigh?
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the America East Conference and Patriot League.
2009-10 Patriot League (Conference, Overall)
Lafayette (0-0, 4-1)
Army (0-0, 3-1)
Lehigh (0-0, 3-2)
Bucknell (0-0, 3-3)
Navy (0-0, 2-3)
Colgate (0-0, 0-4)
Holy Cross (0-0, 0-5)
American (0-0, 0-6)
Team of the week:Lafayette (4-1) - W 81-72 vs. Wagner, L 81-70 at Sacred Heart, W 88-77 at St. Francis (PA), W 69-52 at NJIT, W 86-82 vs. Hartford
Player of the week:Jared Mintz- Jr. Lafayette 18.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 68.8% FG, 1.0 spg
Thoughts on the AE.
Three teams are still looking for their first victory on the season, while one team has came out and surprised us all with their start by matching their non-conference win total from last year already. The top scorer in the league finally found his shooting touch last game and the preseason pick is looking like a mistake.
The surprise team so far this season is Lafayette. The Leopards have won four out of their first five, with their only blemish on the record an eleven-point loss at Sacred Heart. Offensively they look great. They are shooting over fifty percent from the field, and over forty percent from three-point range. When a team shoots as good as that it’s hard to beat them. The key to this team so far has been big man Jared Mintz. Mintz is averaging over 18 points on almost 69 percent shooting from the field. He has led the team in scoring and rebounding for four of the five games. This has opened up the floor for the shooters. Lafayette has three major contributors shooting over 44 percent from three-point range. Against Hartford, six players scored in double figures. Mintz led the way with 18 points, but it was the three-point shooting that helped Lafayette jump out to a big lead. Five different players hit a three-ball for the Leopards within the first ten minutes of the game. Lafayette was up by as many as 22 before allowing Hartford back into the game in the second half. If the Leopards keep it up they will be a hard out all year.