The Patriot League Tournament kicks off today, with Bucknell as the favorite. Bucknell has won three consecutive Patriot League regular season crowns outright. Senior Mike Muscala is among the best low-post players in the country, and he’ll undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with as the tournament continues over the course of the next week.
There are four games today, all taking place at 7 P.M. EST. All tournament games take place at the higher-seeded team’s home court. The first one includes that Bucknell team facing off against last place Navy. Navy averaged 50.8 points per game in this conference, shot 61.4% from the line, and 35.5% from the field in league play, so that’s really all you need to know about them. Bucknell should win this game by about 30 points.
The second game is between the fourth-seeded Army against fifth-seeded American. Army won both of their games against American by 14 and 13 points respectively. Army led the league in 3PT% at 39.5%, and American finished last in 3PT% against at 42.2%, so Army should move on to get the right to lose to Bucknell in the semis.
The third game will be between second-seeded Lafayette and seventh-seeded Holy Cross. Lafayette started the season 2-7, but finished with a 9-2 stretch to finish tied for 2nd. Holy Cross has lost 9 of their last 11, and is 4-11 on the road this year. Lafayette should be able to win this game pretty handily.
The final game involves third-seeded Lehigh vs. Colgate. The biggest question for Lehigh is the status of future first-round selection C.J. McCollum. He won’t play today, but he has a chance to play in either the semifinal or final according to ESPN.com. If McCollum plays, Lehigh has a strong chance to win this conference and get an automatic bid. Basically, he’s so good that even though he only accumulated 12 games worth of stats, he still made the All-kenpom Patriot League team. If he doesn’t, it’ll be interesting to see just how far they can go. Either way, they’ll get past Colgate who has lost 6 of their past 8.
This actually creates the same final four as last year, albeit in different matchups. The first semifinal will probably see Army travel to Bucknell and face the Bison. Bucknell beat Army at home by 21 the first time these two teams met. It’s an interesting dichotomy in style, as Army has the highest-scoring offense in the Patriot, and Bucknell has the strongest defense — only giving up 56 points per game in conference. Bucknell is just a way better team than Army, and only gives up threes at a 30% level. They’re going to the final.
Lehigh at Lafayette is a tough game. If Lehigh gets McCollum back, they would be the clear favorite in this game. However, as it is, Lafayette swept Lehigh in their two regular season games by 21 points on the road and 8 points at home. Lafayette features a young team with four of their top five scorers being sophomores or freshmen. This older Lehigh squad has been in this game before, and should be able to come away with a win, with or without their star.
The final will involve Bucknell in some way, and hopefully it also involves McCollum. It’s not every day that the Patriot League has two future first round picks facing off against each other in basically a do-or-die game (Bucknell has an outside chance of an at-large bid, but probably not), so that would be an awesome showcase game on March 13 for the conference. My prediction for this final basically hinges on McCollum’s return. If he returns, I think Lehigh rides the wave of momentum and pulls the upset. If he doesn’t Muscala goes to the tournament and gets his chance to shine. Since it looks increasingly likely that McCollum doesn’t go, I’m choosing Bucknell to win the conference. KenPom gives Bucknell a near 70% chance to win this automatic bid, which seems somewhat high to me. But in the end, it will be something of a surprise if they’re left at the altar for the second consecutive year after winning the regular season title outright.