Patriot League Tournament preview

March 5th, 2008

Patriot League Preview
American has home court, but will it matter?
By Raphielle Johnson

If you haven’t been following the Patriot League this season, you’d probably expect to see familiar faces Bucknell and Holy Cross on top of the standings. Unfortunately for those two schools, that isn’t the case as they actually inhabit the bottom of the table. American won the league’s regular season crown, and as a result they don’t have to leave home throughout the conference tournament. Navy finished one game behind the Eagles in second, and first and last (Holy Cross at 5-9) were only separated by five game. Of the four quarterfinal matchups, only one features a season sweep (Lehigh over Army), but both of those contests were five-point wins for the Mountain Hawks. So even though home court could play a role in who wins this tournament, it wouldn’t be a surprise if someone from the bottom half won the automatic bid either. Here’s a preview of the Patriot League Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Conference computer numbers (courtesy of RPI: 16th, Average non-conference SOS: 32nd, Average non-conference RPI rank: 21st.

Tournament Schedule (all games played at higher seed)
Quarterfinals: #7 Bucknell @ #2 Navy (Wednesday March 5, 7 PM)
#6 Lafayette @ #3 Colgate (Wednesday March 5, 7 PM)
#8 Holy Cross @ #1 American (Wednesday March 5, 7:30 PM)
#5 Army @ #4 Lehigh (Wednesday March 5, 7:30 PM)
Semifinals: 1/8 winner vs. 4/5 winner (Sunday March 9, TBA)
2/7 winner vs. 3/6 winner (Sunday March 9, TBA)
Final: Semifinal winners (Friday March 14, 4:45 PM on ESPN2)

#7 Bucknell @ #2 Navy (Annapolis, MD)

Category Bucknell Navy
Points per game 62.0 (6th in Patriot) 76.0 (1st)
PPG allowed 64.9 (4th) 73.1 (7th)
Field goal % 42.5 (6th) 40.8 (8th)
FG% defense 42.2 (5th) 43.4 (7th)
3PT% 34.2 (6th) 35.3 (5th)
3PT% defense 32.4 (2nd) 32.2 (1st)
Rebound margin - 1.9 (5th) - 2.8 (7th)
Turnover margin - 1.45 (5th) + 2.4 (1st)

Category Bucknell Navy
Points per game John Griffin (13.2) Greg Sprink (21.2)
Rebounds per game Stephen Tyree (4.8) Sprink (6.3)
Assists per game Tyree (2.83) Chris Harris (3.52)
FG percentage J. Castleberry (39.4) Harris (43.2)
3PT percentage Castleberry (37.8) Harris (42.2)
Assist/Turnover ratio Tyree (1.4) Harris (1.2)

Regular season meetings: Bucknell 85, Navy 77 (Jan. 11th, at Bucknell) and Navy 78, Bucknell 72 (Feb. 9th, at Navy).

This matchup is a prime example of just how much changed in the Patriot League this season. Normally it’s the Midshipmen who have to travel during conference tournament play, but this year they host Bucknell, a team used to playing in the friendly confines of Sojka Pavillion this time of the season. How did the two teams get to this point? The Bison have struggled at times on the offensive end, and they don’t have one guy that can just take over on that end of the floor. First-team all-conference selection John Griffin led the team in scoring, followed up by bench performer Justin Castleberry.

Part of that falls on their preference for offensive balance, and the other issue has been injuries. Of the ten players who average at least fourteen minutes per game, four (Darren Mastropaolo, Josh Linthicum, Jason Vegotsky and Rob Thomas) have missed significant stretches this season. With everyone now back and ready to contribute, maybe the Bison have one good run left. Also keep an eye on conference Defensive Player Stephen Tyree, who is also the Bison’s third-leading scorer.

As for Navy, it all begins with the senior Greg Sprink, Patriot League Player of the Year. Sprink led the conference in scoring and was also the Mids’ leading rebounder. Guard Chris Harris, a second-team all-conference selection, is adept at getting the ball to the right people in the right spots, leading the team in assists per game. League Coach of the Year Billy Lange leads a team that was one of the best in the nation in regards to knocking down the three-point shot, ranking 8th in threes made per game (9.5). Navy features a four-guard lineup with Kaleo Kina (14.0 ppg) and Romeo Garcia (4.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg) rounding out the quartet.

Mark Veazey starts at center, but the post is handled more by committee with players such as Adam Teague and Brian Richards being the first ones off the bench. While Navy leads the conference in points per game, they’re last in field goal percentage, but that tends to get overlooked as they play an up-tempo style. In order for Bucknell to leave Annapolis with a win, they’ll have to control the tempo of the game for forty minutes. The matchup of Sprink and Tyree should be fun to watch, as how well Tyree does in limiting the senior will go a long way in deciding which team moves on.

#6 Lafayette @ #3 Colgate (in Hamilton, NY)

Category Lafayette Colgate
Points per game 74.9 (2nd in Patriot) 66.2 (3rd)
PPG allowed 73.9 (8th) 65.9 (6th)
Field goal % 44.1 (3rd) 44.4 (1st)
FG% defense 44.1 (8th) 41.2 (3rd)
3PT% 39.4 (2nd) 38.0 (3rd)
3PT% defense 36.1 (6th) 34.0 (3rd)
Rebound margin - 2.7 (6th) + 0.1 (3rd)
Turnover margin + 0.48 (4th) - 1.72 (6th)

Category Lafayette Colgate
Points per game Andrew Brown (16.0) Kyle Roemer (15.3)
Rebounds per game Matt Betley (5.8) Alex Woodhouse (6.1)
Assists per game Brown (2.96) Daniel Waddy (3.03)
FG percentage Betley (47.9) Kendall Chones (58.3)
3PT percentage Bilal Abdullah (45.1) Roemer (39.2)
Assist/turnover ratio Michael Gruner (1.66) Waddy (0.83)

Regular season meetings: Lafayette 69, Colgate 68 in overtime (Jan. 16th at Colgate); Colgate 76, Lafayette 75 (Feb. 13th at Lafayette).

One game separated these two teams in the standings, and in each game one point separated the two. The visitors won both regular season contests, a good sign for Leopards fans if you want to look at it that way. Three players average double figures in scoring for Lafayette, led by junior guard Andrew Brown. The other two are a pair of seniors, Bilal Abdullah (who also leads the conference in three-point percentage) and Matt Betley. An interesting fact about Betley: he played on the same high school team as Rider’s Thompson brothers. Fran O’Hanlon’s squad likes to fire away from behind the arc, knocking down 9.97 per game. When making ten or more threes, the Leopards are 13-6. And when they make nine of less, they’re 2-8 this year. Pretty obvious what they need to do in order to win this one, but the Raiders are the third-best team in the Patriot League when it comes to defending the three, holding opponents to 34% from behind the arc.

As for Colgate, they look to junior Kyle Roemer on the offensive end. A second-team all-conference selection, Roemer led the team in scoring seventeen times this year. The only other Raider in double figures is senior forward Kendall Chones, who also leads the conference in field goal percentage. Emmett Davis’ team won’t run up and down the court, but they do understand the value of a good shot, leading the PL in field goal percentage. Other key contributors include senior guard Daniel Waddy, who leads the team in assists, senior swingman Tim Pounds, and freshman guard Mike Venezia (8.2 ppg). Venezia was an all-rookie selection this year, and it was Pounds who won the second meeting between the two teams with twenty seconds remaining, hitting a pair of free throws.

Just like the Bucknell/Navy quarterfinal, this one will be all about which team controls the tempo. If Lafayette can quicken the pace, they’ve got a shot to win on the road. But if Colgate makes the Leopards play one half court at a time, they can put the home court advantage to good use.

#8 Holy Cross @ #1 American

Category Holy Cross American
Points per game 61.5 (7th) 65.4 (4th)
PPG allowed 60.4 (1st) 62.4 (3rd)
Field goal % 43.5 (4th) 44.3 (2nd)
FG% defense 40.7 (1st) 41.2 (t-3rd)
3PT percentage 32.2 (8th) 40.8 (1st)
3PT% defense 36.2 (7th) 35.6 (5th)
Rebound margin + 5.5 (1st) + 2.4 (2nd)
Turnover margin - 2.0 (8th) - 1.76 (7th)

Category Holy Cross American
Points per game Tim Clifford (17.8) Garrison Carr (18.1)
Rebounds per game Clifford (5.4) Travis Lay (4.4)
Assists per game Pat Doherty (4.29) Derrick Mercer (4.1)
FG percentage Clifford (57.0) Mercer (43.9)
3PT percentage C. Cunningham (37.1) Carr (44.7)
Assist/turnover ratio Doherty (1.47) Mercer (1.40)

Regular season meetings: Holy Cross 66, American 64 (Jan. 26th at American); American 62, Holy Cross 46 (Feb. 6th at Holy Cross).

Just like the Lafayette/Colgate quarter, the road team won both regular season meetings. The Crusaders have one of the conference’s best big men in senior center Tim Clifford, but their fortunes this season have hinged on the health of point guard Pat Doherty. Their worst stretch of the season, five straight losses after winning at San Francisco, came primarily due to the fact that Doherty was nursing an Achilles injury at the time, leaving Ralph Willard without his floor leader. Holy Cross has dominated the all-time series between the two schools 14-4, with a 7-2 record at American. In both meetings this season senior Kyle Cruze reached double figures, and he could be a player to watch since Clifford is pretty much guaranteed to get his (24 points in the first meeting, 18 in the second).

Holy Cross is the PL’s premier defensive team, but they are only seventh in three-point percentage defense, which could be an issue considering that the Eagles are the league’s best three-point shooting team (in terms of percentage). Juniors Garrison Carr and Derrick Mercer lead the Eagle attack, with Carr being a first-team all-conference selection. Garrison set a conference record with 117 three-pointers this season and ranked third in the conference in scoring. The fact that the Eagles were second in field goal percentage is somewhat surprising when you consider that forty percent of their shot attempts came from behind the arc. Mercer, also a solid defender (what would you expect of a guard who played for Bob Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony?), led the team in both assists and field goal percentage and earned a second-team all-conference spot. In their six seasons in the Patriot League, the Eagles have advanced to the semifinals.

In regards to having championship experience, the edge would go to the Crusaders. However, I see a changing of the guard with Carr and Mercer leading the way in this one. But I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if the Crusaders pulled this one out.

#5 Army @ #4 Lehigh

Category Army Lehigh
Points per game 58.8 (8th) 63.9 (5th)
PPG allowed 61.8 (2nd) 65.4 (5th)
Field goal % 43.4 (5th) 41.5 (7th)
FG% defense 40.9 (2nd) 42.4 (6th)
3PT percentage 32.2 (7th) 36.0 (4th)
3PT% defense 34.8 (4th) 40.4 (8th)
Rebound margin - 3.0 (8th) - 1.1 (4th)
Turnover margin + 1.46 (2nd) + 0.93 (3rd)

Category Army Lehigh
Points per game Jarell Brown (18.5) Marquis Hall (14.0)
Rebounds per game Doug Williams (5.5) Bryan White (8.1)
Assists per game Josh Miller (4.0) Hall (4.4)
FG percentage Brown (43.1) Zahir Carrington (54.1)
3PT percentage Brown (41.5) Rob Keefer (44.8)
Assist/turnover ratio Miller (1.65) Hall (1.80)

Regular season meetings: Lehigh 57, Army 52 (Jan. 20 at Army); Lehigh 58, Army 53 (Feb. 16th at Lehigh).

For the second consecutive year the Mountain Hawks and Black Knights meet in the quarterfinals. Last year, Army pulled off the 47-46 road upset as the six seed. In regards to how they get things done on offense, the two squads couldn’t be more different. While Jim Crews does play a lot of guys, the Army attack begins with senior guard and first-team all-conference selection Jarell Brown. Brown, who is only three three-pointers shy of breaking the single-season school record, was second in the PL in scoring and led the team in both field goal and three-point percentage. Josh Miller runs the point and ranks among the conference’s best in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio. While they don’t light up the scoreboard, ranking last in points per game, Army is second in both points allowed and field goal percentage defense.

The Mountain Hawks have a more balanced offensive attack, led by second-team all-conference selection Marquis Hall, who led the PL in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio. Zahir Carrington and Brian White also average double figures, with White also leading the conference in rebounds per game. A key to Lehigh’s postseason could be guard Matt Szalachowski, who is currently mired in a shooting slump from behind the arc. Matt has only hit one of his last thirteen attempts from downtown. And while the Mountain Hawks rank 6th in field goal percentage defense and 5th in points allowed, they’ve only give up an average of fifty-four points per game in their eleven victories. For this reason, along with their 11-3 home record this year, I like Lehigh to move on to the semis.

My pick to win the tournament: American.