2011 Patriot League Tournament Preview
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 21st annual Patriot League Tournament will tip off on Wednesday, March 2nd with Lehigh hoping to repeat as the event's champion. However, the Mountain Hawks will have some stiff competition from the likes of Bucknell and American University.
Bucknell claimed the top seed in the tournament by finishing with a 13-1 mark. It is the fourth time that a Bucknell team racked up at least 13 wins, and this year's squad has a great chance to return to the title game for the first time since 2007 when the Bison were defeated by Holy Cross. Bucknell was never really challenged on the season, but the Eagles of American were the clear cut number two squad in the conference, posting an 11-3 mark to enter this tournament as the second seed.
Holy Cross, which has the most success in this event claimed the third seed, but after Bucknell and American there was a large drop off, as the Crusaders finished just 7-7 in league action. The Mountain Hawks are trying to collect their second straight tournament title and third overall, but it won't be easy because Lehigh was nothing more than mediocre on the year, posting a 6-8 mark. Navy, Lafayette, Colgate and Army all have to go on the road in the Quarterfinal Round as they hauled in the bottom four seeds of the tournament.
The Bison will open the tournament at home against the eighth-seeded Army Black Knights on Wednesday. The Bison finished 13-1 in league play, but that lone setback came against the Black Knights, as Army pounded the regular- season champs by 20 points. Since that loss though, Bucknell has won seven straight games, including a 78-64 decision over Army in the regular-season finale. Bucknell has the second most wins in tournament play with 24, and have a good chance to win this event for the first time since posting back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006. If the Bison are going to reach the mountain top of the Patriot League they will need Mike Muscala, the league's Player of the Year, to lead the way. The biggest win for the Black Knights came against this Bucknell squad, but that was just one of the team's three league wins and since that victory the Black Knights have lost seven straight games. Army has not seen much success in this event, claiming just five victories in 25 opportunities.
Another quarterfinal game will place the reigning champion Lehigh Mountain Hawks against the Navy Midshipmen. The Midshipmen, playing as the fifth-seed, have won this tournament three times, but has not raised the trophy since 1998. The Middies, along with the fourth-seeded Mountain Hawks finished with a 6-8 mark in league action, but since Lehigh won both matchups against Navy, the Mountain Hawks earned the higher seed. It was the first season sweep for Lehigh against Navy since the 2005-06 campaign, and the success against the Middies is not common, since Navy owns a 44-19 edge in the all-time series. However, for Navy to extended its advantage over Lehigh, the Midshipmen will need to figure out how to tighten up defensively, as the team surrendered 72.2 ppg, and that does not bode well for Billy Lange's squad, especially since Lehigh led the Patriot League with 73.5 ppg. led by First Team All-Patriot League guard C.J. McCollum (21.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg and 72 steals), the Mountain Hawks are a fierce offensive team that could cause trouble if they heat up.
Quarterfinal action will also include the second-seeded Eagles of American against the seventh-seeded Colgate Raiders. American claimed the 2008 and 2009 tournament titles and has a solid chance to return to glory this year. The Eagles won their last five regular season matchups to finish 11-3 in league play, and one of those victories came against Colgate by a 69-60 margin. It was the second win against the Raiders on the season, and if American is going to make it three straight against Colgate this year, the Eagles will need to continue their tenacious effort defensively. The Eagles were a stingy group at that end of the floor and led the league by allowing just 63.7 ppg. The fact that American led the Patriot League in scoring defense does not bode well for Colgate, which finished last in the conference, scoring just 65.3 ppg. With their lack of success offensively, it will take a real turnaround for Colgate to claim its first title since 1996.
An intriguing matchup in yet another quarterfinal contests has Holy Cross against Lafayette. The Crusaders managed to enter this event as the third seed, despite having a miserable season. Holy Cross dropped 20 games on the year, but managed to finish 7-7 in league action. If Holy Cross plans to add to its league-best five tournament championships, the Crusaders will need the tandem of Devin Brown (15.6 ppg) and Andrew Keister (12.7 ppg and 9.0 rpg) to carry the team. Holy Cross might have history on its side since the Crusaders own a 32-17 edge over Lafayette in the all-time series between the two programs. However, the sixth-seeded Leopards have won three of the last four matchups with Holy Cross, including a 76-70 decision back in February. Lafayette struggled late with four losses in the last five games, dropping the team to 6-8 in conference action. Lafayette played the role of the bridesmaid last year, losing to Lehigh in the title game, but if the Leopards plan on returning to the championship match in hopes of their first league title since 2000, they will have to tighten up defensively after allowing 72.3 ppg during the regular season.
03/01 10:46:43 ET