By: Matt Doherty
It’s that time of the year again.
With the 2017-2018 Patriot League regular season coming to a close on Saturday, the conference tournament has arrived. Only one team will emerge victorious from the single-elimination week-long extravaganza. Bucknell is the clear favorite to take home the title for the second year in a row, but will there be an upset?
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the Patriot League Tournament, which begins Tuesday night.
- Bucknell Bison (22-9, 16-2 PL) – The heralded senior class of the Bison are in search of their second consecutive Patriot League Title and NCAA Tournament appearance. Coach Nathan Davis has the 2018 Player of the Year in Zach Thomas (21.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg), the 2017 Player of the Year in Nana Foulland (15.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg), and first-team All-League point guard Stephen Brown at his disposable. They have the most talented roster in the league as well as home court advantage throughout the tournament. It would be a shock if the Bison don’t make it two straight trips to the Big Dance.
- Colgate Raiders (17-12, 12-6 PL) – Matt Langel won the Patriot League Coach of the Year and it was well deserved. The Raiders exceeded expectations with a young core. Sophomore Will Rayman (14.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) was a second-team All-League recipient. Colgate has balance (4th in offense, 3rd in defense) and depth alongside Rayman in senior guards Sean O’Brien and Jordan Swopshire, and freshman Jordan Burns. All four players averaged 11.0 points per game or better. The Raiders are 11-3 at home and will have home-court advantage until the championship game.
- Navy Midshipmen (20-11, 11-7 PL) – Defense is the Mids calling-card and they led the league in points allowed per game at 65.9. Navy finished exactly where they were predicted at the beginning of the season. It’s an upperclassmen laided group led by seniors Shawn Anderson (13.5 ppg), Bryce Dulin, and Tom Lacey, and junior point guard Hasan Abdullah. The question mark for the Naval Academy is if they can make enough shots to win a high-scoring game against teams like Bucknell, BU, and Lehigh.
- Lehigh Mountain Hawks (16-13, 11-7 PL) – Speaking of Lehigh, they graduated one of the most decorated players in league history last spring in Tim Kempton, but put together a dominant second-half of the 2018 season. The Hawks are the hottest team entering the tournament, winning eight consecutive games after losing four in a row. Junior transfer Lance Tejada led the team in scoring with 14.7 ppg and shot a league-best 46.4% from behind the arc. Senior point guard Kahron Ross and sophomore Kyle Leufroy complement Tejada in a talented backcourt which hasn’t lost in a month and is seventh in the entire country in 3-pointers made.
- Boston University Terriers (14-15, 10-8 PL) – The Terriers have lost just one conference game with a healthy roster. Leading-scorer Cedric Hankerson missed five games with an injury and freshman Walter Whyte missed four games in February. BU lost five straight during that stretch but won their last two contests with a complete roster to conclude the regular season. The Terriers might be the biggest wild card heading into the tournament. It feels like BU is hitting its stride at the right time, but the Terriers will need someone other than Hankerson, Whyte, and Max Mahoney to step up if they want to make a run.
- Holy Cross Crusaders (11-18, 8-10 PL) – There’s definitely a drop off of quality teams after BU. Holy Cross lost their second-leading scorer, Karl Charles, due to suspension, but went 3-2 down the stretch including a one-point overtime loss to Bucknell. The Crusaders are the second best defensive team in the league (68 ppg) led by big-man Jeyhve Floyd, who won Defensive Player of the Year. But, Holy Cross is dead last in the PL in scoring, which will hurt them moving forward. They are 1-9 this season against the five teams above them in the standings.
- Lafayette Leopards (9-20, 7-11 PL) – The Leopards finished last in the league in 2017 and were predicted to do the same again this year. Coach Fran O’Hanlon’s squad, however, was a lot more competitive and better than expected. Lafayette has one of the best scoring duos in the conference in senior Matt Klinewski (16.4 ppg) and freshman and Rookie of the Year Alex Petrie (15.3 ppg). This team can score with the best of them but they’ll need their defense to step up in order to make an upset-run.
- Loyola Maryland Greyhounds (8-21, 6-12 PL) – It’s hard to believe this team won just six conference games. They have a great singular talent in guard Andre Walker (15.6 ppg) who was named to the first-team All-League. Cam Gregory (8.3 rpg) and Andrew Kostecka join him in the starting lineup but injuries to James Fives and Chancellor Bernard were key this season for Gigi Smith. The Greyhounds couldn’t defend anyone all year long, allowing a second-worst 74.6 points per game. On offense, they were one of the most inefficient teams in the league with a 43% field goal percentage. That’s not a good combo.
- Army Black Knights (13-16, 6-12 PL) – Army was 6-6 on February 3rd but they have dropped six in a row heading into the tournament. The recent tailspin ruined the Black Knight’s regular season. I think Army is a lot better than their record indicates though. They are third in the league in scoring, second in 3-point percentage, first in assist to turnover ratio, and fourth in scoring margin. Guards Jordan Fox and Tommy Funk are top five in the league in assists as well. Army is a dangerous nine-seed. It’s all about defense and rebounding for the Knights.
- American Eagles (6-22, 3-15 PL) – Mike Brennan’s squad was supposed to take a step forward with reigning Rookie of the Year Sa’eed Nelson as the leader. Nelson was great, averaging over 17.8 points per game, and freshman Sam Iorio (14.8 ppg) and transfer Larry Motuzis (14.7 ppg) created a formidable trio. But the rest of the team combined to average just 17.4 points per game which put American ninth in scoring. When you play at a slow pace and have a Princeton-style offense but struggle to score at an efficient rate, losses are going to happen. Outside of BU, American is 1-15 against the rest of the Patriot League.
Schedule and Predictions : Beat writers Matt Doherty and Greg Levinsky give their picks for the 2018 tournament.
First Round – Tuesday, February 27th
No. 10 American vs. No. 7 Lafayette
Analysis: American is due for some good games. Nelson is arguably the best guard in the league and Iorio was snubbed from an All-League team – Greg
The tough season for the Eagles comes to an end. Klinewski has a big performance in his final home game of his college career – Matt
No. 9 Army vs. No. 8 Loyola Maryland
Analysis: I know Army has been struggling but I think their offensive prowess shows up in this one. Loyola is too inconsistent – Matt
“Andre Walker” – Greg
Quarterfinals – Thursday, March 1st
No. 6 Holy Cross vs. No. 3 Navy
Analysis: These two teams play the same style. It will be low-scoring and ugly but Navy has more talent, more upperclassmen, and home-court advantage.
No. 5 Boston University vs. No 4 Lehigh
Matt: Boston University
Greg: Boston University
Analysis: By far the toughest game to pick of the whole tournament. They are two even teams and split this season. Lehigh has won eight in a row, but the Terriers are finally healthy.
No. 9 Army/No. 8 Loyola Maryland vs. No. 1 Bucknell
Analysis: The Bison beat Loyola by 41 points two weeks ago. Army lost in overtime the last time these two teams played and they have a better shot at pulling off the upset. But Bucknell will still roll.
No. 10 American/No. 7 Lafayette vs. No. 2 Colgate
Analysis: Colgate protects its home court against the lesser opponent – Matt
Upsets happen in the Patriot League and Nelson and Iorio pull off the shocker – Greg
Semifinals – Sunday, March 4th
No. 5 Boston University vs. No. 1 Bucknell
Analysis: This will be the toughest game Bucknell faces in the tournament. Both Lehigh and BU can score, which will give the Bison a tough game. Those are the only two teams who knocked off Bucknell this season. In the end though, Bucknell’s talent pulls away.
No. 10 American vs. No. 3 Navy
No. 3 Navy vs. No. 2 Colgate
Analysis: The leadership and veterans of Navy win a close game in the semifinals. The Mids defense and rebounding is the difference.
Championship – Wednesday, March 7th
No. 3 Navy vs. No. 1 Bucknell
Analysis: Bucknell’s real championship game is in the semifinals against either BU or Lehigh. The Bison beat Navy by 24 points on Feb. 21 and 20 points on Jan. 24. It’s just not a good matchup for the Mids because of their offensive deficiencies. Thomas, Foulland, and Brown capture their second straight championship.