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 Jordan Sugars 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:
- American: 9
- Army: 8
- Bucknell: 13
- Colgate: 8
- Holy Cross: 7
- Lafayette: 11
- Lehigh: 10
- Navy: 12
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).