By: Matt Doherty
In my Patriot League Tournament preview a year ago, I wrote this about the ninth seeded Holy Cross Crusaders.
“It was a regular season to forget for the Crusaders who won just five conference games including zero on the road. Freshman Karl Charles presents promise for Holy Cross in the future but a road game in the first round presents problems for the league’s worst shooting team (41%).”
We all know what happened next. Holy Cross went on a historic, once-in-a generation run, winning four road games in the league tournament including upsets over #1 Bucknell and #2 Lehigh to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Anything can happen in March, especially in the parity of the Patriot League. With madness ensuing here is a complete breakdown, or attempted breakdown, of the 2017 Patriot League Tournament.
#1 Bucknell (23-8, 15-3 PL)
The Bison won their sixth regular season title in the last seven years as they pretty much rolled through competition outside of Lehigh. Nathan Davis’ team is good, really good, and if they escape the Patriot League tournament, they can pull of a 13-4 upset and ruin everyone’s bracket. 6’11 center Nana Foulland (14.8 ppg, 793 rpg), who was tabbed Player of the Year yesterday, can play anywhere in the country and Zach Thomas and Kimbal Mackenzie are two of the better shot-makers in the league. They are even better at Sojka Pavilion (12-2) which is where they will be for the remainder of the season. Bucknell is the clear favorite.
#2 Boston University (17-13, 12-6 PL)
It’s been a rollercoaster of a season for the Terriers who own head-scratching losses (@ UMass-Lowell, @ Army, vs. Colgate) but impressive showings such as two wins against Lehigh and single digit losses to Connecticut and North Carolina State. Eric Fanning can be the best offensive player in the league at times, but without Cheddi Mosely and Destin Barnes available, it will be the play of the secondary cast of Justin Alston, Tyler Scanlon, and Kyle Foreman that will be key. Perhaps no one is more important though than Cedric Hankerson. The former All-Patriot League member is the x-factor of this team if they want to make the big dance for the first time under coach Joe Jones.
#3 Lehigh (18-11, 12-6 PL)
Tim Kempton is enough to win the tournament on his own. The two-time Patriot League Player of the Year has put together one of the most decorated careers in conference history and will look to finish it off with an NCAA tournament bid. The Mountain Hawks were supposed to be the runaway favorites of the league but a slow start set them back. However, they have now won six of seven and the recent strong play of guards Austin Price and Kahron Ross give the preseason favorites as good of an opportunity as anyone to cut down the nets.
#4 Navy (15-15, 10-8 PL)
The Mids dominated the conference in January going on an 8-game winning streak in the midst of a 10 wins out of 11 games stretch. But, a four-game losing skid to end the season has taken the wheels of the bus. Despite having one of the top defenses in the conference, Navy struggles on offense, especially in half-court sets. They are dangerous though if their defense can lead to easy buckets on the other end and if their length and athleticism can control the glass. It will be interesting to see which Navy team shows up.
#5 Holy Cross (15-16, 9-9 PL)
Bill Carmody’s squad is back for another magical go-around as they return four key seniors (Malachi Alexander, Robert Champion, Matt Husek, and Anthony Thompson) from last year’s miraculous run. This year they only have to win three games on the road. Do they have another run in them? My guess is no, but remember what I wrote last year.
#6 Colgate (10-21, 8-10 PL)
I want to draw the line after Holy Cross as the only teams to have a shot to win the tournament, but after last year, I just can’t. Colgate could have been the team from the bottom half of the league to make a serious run, but a first-round matchup at Lehigh is brutal. Rookie of the Year Will Rayman showed off his unique skill-set this year and Sean O’Brien and Jordan Swopshire present great scoring options for coach Matt Lengel. I think Colgate is still a year away but they can make shots with anyone in the conference. The defensive end will be key for the Raiders.
#7 Loyola Maryland (14-15, 8-10 PL)
The Greyhounds lost five of six down the stretch to fall-out of the first round bye and now have to win four games in a row. Loyola has a great player in guard Andre Walker (15 ppg) and a very good player in Jarred Jones. They are the only duo in the Patriot League to average more than 15 points per game, but the problem lies after them. Gigi Smith’s team really lacks depth and size. Walker and Jones can only take Loyola so far.
#8 Army (12-18, 6-12 PL)
Army graduated all-five seniors and lost head coach Zach Fox to Drexel, so a down year was expected at West Point. However, the Black Knights were a lot more competitive than people thought and freshman guard Tommy Funk and sophomore guard Jordan Fox impressed. Army can score with the best of them but they struggle defensively. A second-round matchup, if they advance, against Bucknell will be a walking mismatch.
#9 American (8-21, 5-13 PL)
American was one of the worst teams in the country last year, before they made their second-half run and advanced all the way to the tournament semifinals. This year, the second-half run never came but a two-game winning streak to end the season gives a blimp of hope. Freshman Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini are going to be special players down the road but this team is too young and inexperienced to do anything impactful this year.
#10 Lafayette (5-13 PL, 9-20)
The Leopards struggled mightily this year highlighted by a nine-game losing streak, where they went a month without winning a game. I’m not saying they’re a good team but they’re not as bad as their record shows. Every coach in the league is probably worried about Matt Klinewski (16.1 ppg, 2nd in PL) and Nick Lindner (38.5% 3FG, 1st in PL) when they play Lafayette and if they go off, the Leopards can play with anyone. But, Lafayette can’t play any defense and that is not going to fly when you’re trying to win four road games in a week.
Schedule and Predictions
First Round- Tuesday 2/28
#10 Lafayette vs. #7 Loyola Maryland
Pick: Loyola- It’s going to be a fun two-man matchup to watch between the duos of Lindner and Klinewski vs. Walker and Jones, but it will be too much Walker down the stretch.
#9 American vs. #8 Army
Pick: American- Two youthful teams face off at West Point Tuesday night. The Eagles have won two in-a-row and the young guns of Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini give American the road win
Quarterfinals- Thursday 3/2
#6 Colgate vs. #3 Lehigh
Pick: Lehigh- Tim Kempton isn’t losing in the quarterfinals of his final Patriot League tournament, especially at home.
#5 Holy Cross vs. #4 Navy
Pick: Holy Cross- Bill Carmody’s success in PL Tournaments continue as Holy Cross’ Princeton style offense slows the game down and forces a half-court game, something the Crusaders thrive in better than the Mids.
#7 Loyola vs. #2 Boston University
Pick: Boston University- The depth and inside presence of the Terriers outlasts Loyola at Case Gym. Look for All-Patriot members Eric Fanning and Justin Alston to keep their careers alive.
#9 American vs. #1 Bucknell
Pick: Bucknell- The Bison should not have a problem in this one as POY Nana Foulland will be too much for the young Eagles to handle.
Semifinals- Sunday 3/5
#3 Lehigh vs. #2 Boston University
Pick: Boston University- The Terriers have beaten Lehigh twice already, both rather easily, and Joe Jones has seemed to find a way to slow down Kempton. It’s a coin flip, but I think BU gets it done on their home floor because of their ability to matchup with the Mountain Hawks. It feels like BU has their number.
#5 Holy Cross vs. #1 Bucknell
Pick: Bucknell- In a rematch of last year’s epic quarterfinal game where the Crusaders used a Robert Champion buzzer-beater to force a second overtime and ultimately win the game, Bucknell gets a chance at revenge at Sojka. They end the Holy Cross run where it all began.
Championship- Wednesday 3/8
Pick: Bucknell- The Bison are the most talented team in the league and deserve to represent the Patriot League in the big dance. Nana Foulland, Zach Thomas, and Stephen Brown pace Bucknell as they avenge last year’s early exit as the top seed. BU falls just short in Lewisburg similar to what happened when these two teams met earlier in the season.