Posted on: March 7, 2012 9:18 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 10:08 pm

Tiny Dancers: Lehigh

A year ago, Lehigh lost on a last-second shot at Bucknell in the semifinals of the conference tournament. This season, the Mountain Hawks got revenge, going into Lewisburg, Pa. and knocking off the top-seeded Bison, 82-77, to win the Patriot League championship and getting an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Player of the Year C.J. McCollum went for 29 points and five assists, while forward Gabe Knutson had one of the best games of his career, finishing with 23 points and seven rebounds. The Mountain Hawks were able to speed up the tempo, and didn’t let Bucknell make it a half-court game.

Lehigh, coached by Brett Reed, has been consistent throughout the season, suffering only bad loss in the non-conference season and losing to no one outside the top four of the Patriot League. The Mountain Hawks won their final five games of the regular season, including a road game at Bucknell that gave them confidence heading into the title game.

This team pushes the tempo, but takes care of the ball and has several guys who can knock down 3-pointers. With McCollum leading the way, the Mountain Hawks won’t back down.

Lehigh went onto the homecourt of top-seeded Bucknell and won the Patriot League title game. (US Presswire)

Player to know: C.J. McCollum. A two-time Patriot League Player of the Year, the 6-foot-3 junior guard is one of the most productive all-around players in the country. He has scored at least 20 points in 11 of his last 12 games, and is also a tremendous rebounder for his size. McCollum also creates for others, too. In games against St. John’s, Iowa State and Michigan State, he averaged 18.0 points per contest. He is capable of carrying the Mountain Hawks.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 26-7 overall, 11-3 in Patriot
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2010, No. 16 seed, lost to Kansas 90-74 in the first round.
  • We’re thinking: 15 seed.
  • KenPom ranking: 88
  • Sagarin ranking: 97
  • RPI: 101
  • Best wins: Bucknell (2), Wagner
  • Worst losses: Cornell, Holy Cross
  • Notable stat: Lehigh could be tough in a close game. The Mountain Hawks rank second in the country in free-throw percentage, at 77.8 percent.

-- Jeff Borzello

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2012 1:25 pm

Championship game preview: Patriot

Despite so many upsets in conference tournaments this year, the Patriot League has remained immune to the Cinderella bug. The two best teams during the regular season – Bucknell and Lehigh – will meet in the championship game on Wednesday night, and rightfully so.

The two teams have represented the league the past two seasons in the NCAA tournament, with Lehigh getting a bid in 2010 and Bucknell winning the championship last year. The two best players in the league – and the last three Patriot League Players of the Years – will also battle it out, in Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum and Bucknell’s Mike Muscala.

It gets more intense. Bucknell and Lehigh split the two regular-season contests, with each winning on the opponent’s home floor. The title game will take place at Sojka Pavilion, on Bucknell’s campus.

The game will be a contrast of styles, as Lehigh would prefer to push the ball and get points in transition, while Bucknell bogs you down and plays a halfcourt contest. Lehigh gets a lot of its points by attacking the basket and getting fouled, so Bucknell needs to limit fouls and keep Muscala on the floor. The Bison also need to get out on Lehigh’s shooters. On the other side, Lehigh has to slow down Muscala on the inside, while also keeping an eye on Bucknell’s secondary options. It’s not all Muscala.

It could come down to whether Cameron Ayers can stifle McCollum. In the second meeting, McCollum beat him off the dribble and knocked down a game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds. What will happen in round three?

-- Jeff Borzello

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 21, 2012 1:10 pm

McCollum makes Lehigh Patriot league contenders

By Jeff Goodman

In the effort of full disclosure, my wife went to Lehigh University (I still wonder how someone so smart married me). However, that's not why I'm writing this blog on the Mountain Hawks. 

Brett Reed & Co. have put themselves in a position to win the Patriot League regular-season title. This was unfathomable a week or so ago, when defending champion Bucknell was undefeated and rolling through league play at 10-0. 

But Lehigh pulled out a huge win in Lewisburg on Feb. 16 and followed it up with a home victory against rival Lafayette. The Bison dropped one at Holy Cross this past weekend and Dave Paulsen's team now faces American, which is tied with Lehigh a game out of first place, on the road Thursday night. 

The regular-season champion gets a significant advantage with hosting the league tournament. 

"That win was good for us to get some confidence," Reed said of the victory over Bucknell in which star guard C.J. McCollum drained a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left. "To give us the feeling that even in a tough ballgame we were able to pull it out on the road." 

It was Bucknell's first league loss at home since 2010. 

McCollum is the best player in the Patriot League. Reed says he could play anywhere in the country, but he opted to go to Lehigh -- and he's had a stellar three-year career thus far. 

"He's such a complete player -- and is so clutch," Reed said of the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Ohio native. "He can score in so many different ways -- can shoot it, score off the dribble, get offensive rebounds or deflections and steals. It's hard to pin him down as a one-dimensional scorer." 

McCollum averages 21.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game -- and makes Lehigh a true contender to knock off Bucknell in the postseason and go to the NCAA tourney. Reed said that his star junior could probably break Daren Queenan's record of 2,703 career points, but that he's too unselfish and always puts the team first. 

"He's special," Reed said. 

Posted on: February 21, 2012 1:09 pm
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Posted on: October 18, 2011 12:12 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2011 12:14 pm

Lehigh's McCollum on verge of national attention

By Jeff Borzello

Quick: how many players are both the top returning scorer and rebounder in their conference? Just two.

And a follow-up: how many are 6-foot-3 or shorter? Only one: Lehigh junior guard C.J. McCollum, who posted 21.8 points and 7.8 rebounds last season.

“As his coach and someone who sees him day in and day out, I think he can play with anyone,” head coach Brett Reed said by phone.

While some are quick to discount his numbers because of the competition in the Patriot, McCollum is filling it up against some of the better opponents on the Mountain Hawks’ schedule.

He scored 42 against Kent State, dropped 32 on American, put up 29 on Bucknell his freshman year and had a stretch of 11 consecutive games when he did score below 20 points.

“He is just a very talented individual with unique attributes,” Reed said. “Those have been able to come to the forefront. His confidence his high, and he demonstrates it night in and night out, against top-flight competition.”

Interestingly, McCollum was vastly underrecruited in high school. He was only 5-foot-5 during his freshman campaign at GlenOak (Ohio), not really coming into his own until his junior and season seasons, when he led the county in scoring back-to-back years. During his senior season, he scored fewer than 20 points only one time.

Despite the prolific scoring numbers, many of the top mid-majors in the Midwest did not come calling. Bowling Green offered, St. Francis (Pa.) offered, as did some other Patriot and MAC colleges.

“I thought he was a mid-major player who could score but was inconsistent,” said Scout.com’s Brian Snow, who was based out of Ohio at the time.

To Reed, though, McCollum is the same player he was in high school – just better and more mature.

“Upon watching him the first time, I used the word ‘enamored’,” he said. “He had exceptional feel for a player his game, and he demonstrated the ability to score with some craftiness. Those two characteristics allowed him to make a transition to college quickly.”

Season tips Nov. 7

It wasn’t hard to tell how good McCollum was once his career began at Lehigh. He scored 22 points in his third game against Quinnipiac, and also had a six-game stretch where he averaged 27.9 points per game en route to an NCAA tournament berth for the Mountain Hawks. He scored 26 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the first-round loss to Kansas.

After two years in the program, McCollum has already established himself as one of the best players in Lehigh history.

“If I saw it coming, he wouldn’t be at Lehigh,” Snow said. “A kid with good grades, he would have been hyped to the point where some high-major definitely would have come forward with an offer, and probably numerous high-majors.”

This season, Lehigh heads into the year as the No. 2 team in the Patriot League, behind defending champion Bucknell. Moreover, McCollum – despite his numbers a year ago – was not the Player of the Year, losing out to Bucknell’s Mike Muscala.

If McCollum continues to improve his all-around game, though, he could put the Mountain Hawks on his back for three days in March and carry them to an NCAA tournament bid.

“In only the way C.J. could, he steps up where he is needed,” Reed said. “He recognizes the significant level of influence he has on our team.”

It’s about time everyone else does, too.

Photo: US Presswire

Category: NCAAB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com