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 27, 2012 11:00 am
Edited on: February 27, 2012 5:07 pm

What-to-know-conference previews: Patriot

For the second consecutive season, Bucknell will look to protect its regular-season title and get back to the NCAA tournament.

The Bison started the conference season 10-0, before losing two in a row and needing a strong finish to win the championship over Lehigh. Led by Mike Muscala in the post, Bucknell has a variety of scoring options both in the paint and on the perimeter. The Bison also control the defensive glass and like to force a slow tempo on their opponents. Moreover, they will get homecourt advantage due to winning the regular-season title. That came in handy last season, when Bucknell knocked off Lafayette in the title game.

Lehigh has won nine of its last 10 games, including a road win at Bucknell two weeks ago. The Mountain Hawks have one of the best mid-major players in the country in C.J. McCollum, a prolific scorer who led the league in scoring, ranked third in rebounding and fifth in assists. He's capable of carrying the Mountain Hawks to the NCAA tournament -- like he did two years ago. Throw in Gabe Knutson on the inside, one of the more efficient players in the league, and Lehigh is a tough out.

American is one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league and is difficult to beat when its shots are falling, but a team to watch could be Holy Cross. The Crusaders won six in a row to end the season, and have defeated Lehigh, Bucknell and American this season. Devin Brown and R.J. Evans form a good tandem, and the Crusaders really guard the perimeter.


Title game:
Wednesday, March 7 on CBS Sports Network (7 p.m. ET)


  1. C.J. McCollum, Lehigh
  2. Mike Muscala, Bucknell
  3. Charles Hinkle, American
  4. Gabe Knutson, Lehigh
  5. Devin Brown, Holy Cross

Conference RPI: 22

KenPom.com rating: 22

Sagarin rating: 23

NCAA Tournament Locks: None

NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams: None

Last NCAA Tournament Appearances

  • American Eagles: 2009, No. 14 seed, lost to Villanova 80-67 in the first round.
  • Army Black Knights: N/A.
  • Bucknell Bison: 2011, No. 14 seed, lost to Connecticut 81-52 in the first round.
  • Colgate Raiders: 1996, No. 16 seed, lost to Connecticut 68-59 in the first round.
  • Holy Cross Crusaders: 2007, No. 13 seed, lost to Southern Illinois 61-51 in the first round.
  • Lafayette Leopards: 2000, No. 15 seed, lost to Temple 73-47 in the first round.
  • Lehigh Mountain Hawks: 2010, No. 16 seed, lost to Kansas 90-74 in the first round.
  • Navy: 1998, No. 16 seed, lost to North Carolina 88-52 in the first round.

- Jeff Borzello

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 15, 2011 3:16 pm

Bucknell looks to write its own legacy

Posted by Jeff Borzello

This year’s Bucknell team wants everyone to know that it is not the same team from 2005 and 2006 – even though those two teams won their first-round games and put Bucknell on the college basketball map.

It might sound strange, but the Bison are looking to write their own story, not just pick up on one written five years ago.

“We acknowledged it but we’re creating our own legacy,” G.W. Boon said after last Friday’s 72-57 Patriot League championship game win over Lafayette. “Every player and coach is here because of the legacy, but you don’t want to lose focus.”

In 2005, Bucknell pulled off the one of the biggest upsets in recent memory, knocking off heavily-favored No. 3 seed Kansas in the first round. The next season, the Bison received a No. 9 seed and defeated Arkansas in the first round.

They have not been back to the tournament since then.

“I remember I was a Kansas fan when they beat Kansas,” Boon said. “When Bucknell came knocking on my door the next summer to try and recruit me, I automatically knew who they were, and I knew it was a team and a program that was about winning.

“I signed up to be a winner and write my own legacy with my teammates.”

Boon said the members of those teams came to practice and hung out with the current players, talking about what the hype surrounding the program and what it was like to win those games.

The former players were the first ones to dismiss the idea of carrying on a legacy.

“They hung out with us and I was saying we were following in their footsteps,” Boon said. “And they were like, “No, we did what we did.’ It’s our time.”

Head coach Dave Paulsen was not around for those NCAA tournament teams, taking over the program from Pat Flannery in 2008.

The core of this year’s team has been through three consecutive sub-.500 seasons, including a seven-win campaign in 2008-09. They went through a coaching change and the dark days of the program. Paulsen credits them with staying for four years and seeing the fruition of their hard work.

“It was important for me not to be Pat Flannery-light,” Paulsen said. “None of them chose me. But I chose all of them.”

On a senior-laden team, it was a freshman that played a major part in the conference championship game and could be a factor in the NCAA tournament against Connecticut.

Philadelphia native Cameron Ayers had interest from schools like Notre Dame, Clemson, Michigan and Virginia coming out of high school, but Ayers chose a struggling Patriot League program.

The decision seems to be paying off.

“It was one of the big things I looked for,” Ayers said. “If I went somewhere else, I might not have been playing as much as a freshman. I wanted to be part of something special.”

The Bison are confident heading into their first-round game against the Big East tournament champion Huskies. With Mike Muscala on the inside and Darryl Shazier running the show, Bucknell feels it can compete with anyone in the country.

And it has nothing to do with the program’s previous success.

“We haven’t arrived yet,” Boon said. “We’re going to go into our game on Thurday or Friday, whoever we play, and we’re planning on winning.”


More NCAA tournament coverage
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 11, 2011 6:57 pm

Welcome to the Dance, Bucknell Bison

LEWISBURG, Pa. –  This may not be the Bucknell team of 2005 and 2006, when it made back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, including an upset of No. 3 Kansas in 2005. The 2011 version will get a chance to make its own history, though, with the Bison’s 72-57 win over upstart Lafayette in the championship game of the Patriot League tournament. Mike Muscala went for 18 points, while Cameron Ayers came off the bench to contribute 12.

Bucknell, located in rural Pennsylvania, has now reached the NCAA tournament five times in its history. The Bison had one of their best seasons in program history, reaching the 25-win plateau for the second time in their history. They have won 10 games in a row, and 19 of their last 20. Bucknell didn’t have an NCAA tournament win before 2005, but it beat No. 3 Kansas that season and then knocked off Arkansas in the first round in 2006. Can this season’s defensive-minded group advance once again?

Player to know: Mike Muscala. The Patriot League’s Player of the Year, Muscala is a 6-foot-11 low-post player who leads the Bison in scoring and rebounding. He can finish with both hands around the rim and also hit face-up jumpers. Muscala blocks shots and corrals boards effectively on the defensive end. He also does damage from the free-throw line, shooting better than 81 percent. He was inconsistent down the stretch of the season, but went for 21 points in the title game. 

The Vitals:

  • Record: 25-8, 13-1 Patriot
  • Team colors: Orange and Blue
  • We’re thinking: 14-seed
  • KenPom ranking: 93
  • RPI: 85
  • Best win: Richmond (24-7)
  • Worst loss: Army (11-19)
  • Notable stat: The Bison are the nation’s sixth-best 3-point shooting team, knocking 40.6 percent of their outside shots.
  • Most recent tournament history: 2006. In the tournament as a No. 9 seed, Bucknell defeated Arkansas in the first round before falling to top-seeded Memphis.

Posted by Jeff Borzello

More College Basketball coverage
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 11, 2011 11:46 am

Patriot championship game preview

Because it is played on the home floor of the higher-seeded team, the atmosphere surrounding the Patriot League championship game always makes it an entertaining game. This season will be no different, as top-seeded Bucknell plays host to upstart sixth-seed Lafayette. Will it be the favorite or the Cinderella story?

Bucknell (24-8, 13-1) has lost only twice since November, falling at Boston College by four and to Army back in late January. The Bison rolled through conference play, although the tournament has not been without close calls. Bucknell avenged its lone loss to Army with an easy, 27-point victory. In the semifinals, though, the Bison needed clutch play down the stretch from Mike Muscala to hold off Lehigh.

The Bison have been doing it with defense this season, allowing 70 points just twice since late December. They force difficult shots in a half-court setting and don’t allow any second-chance opportunities. Muscala is the go-to-guy offensively, although he has been inconsistent down the stretch. Darryl Shazier is a playmaker at the point guard spot, while a variety of role players contribute. Freshman Cameron Ayers is coming on strong down the stretch.

Lafayette (13-18, 6-8) has been the surprise of the tournament. The Leopards lost four of their last five to end the regular season, stumbling to a sixth-place finish. They turned it around in the conference tournament, though, knocking off Holy Cross and No. 2 American on the road in back-to-back games. The semifinal game against the Eagles was a double-overtime classic that was decided by a Jim Mower 3-pointer in the waning seconds.

Jared Mintz is the leader for the Leopards, pacing the team in points and rebounds. He has stepped up his play late in the season, averaging 18.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in his last three games. Mower, the hero in the semifinals, is a 3-point marksman who can get hot in a hurry. Ryan Willen is averaging 15.0 points in his last four. Lafayette relies heavily on the 3-pointer at the offensive end, while the defense has been porous at times.

The match-up to watch in this one will be Muscala vs. Mintz down in the post. Both players are their team’s best scorer and rebounder, although Mintz is playing better down the stretch. Muscala is a tougher player on the boards and in the post, so it will be interesting to see if Mintz can bang with him. Defensively, Lafayette needs to keep Shazier from creating chances for himself and Bucknell’s numerous offensive options. The Bison need to guard the arc and not allow open looks for Lafayette.

Both teams needed clutch performances in the semifinals just to advance to the title game; are we in store for another classic? Lafayette might not have the defense to make that happen – the Leopards struggle at that end of the floor. Bucknell’s suffocating half-court defense will be a nightmare for Mintz and Willen and won’t allow Mower to get hot from deep. The Bison should advance.

Photo: AP

Posted by Jeff Borzello

More College Basketball coverage
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 1, 2011 2:40 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2011 2:44 pm

Patriot League Tournament Preview

The Patriot League was a two-team race for the first half of the conference season, before Bucknell (22-8, 13-1 in the Patriot) pulled away down the stretch to win the title by two games over American (21-8, 11-3). Bucknell hit a little bit of a lull in the middle of the season, losing by 20 to Army (11-8, 3-11) and then winning four of its next five by single-digits. The Bison still managed to win its final seven games, while American has won five straight heading into the conference tournament.

Holy Cross won only one non-conference game, going 1-13 outside of the Patriot League. However, the Crusaders went 7-7 in conference play. Lehigh, Lafayette and Navy all finished tied at 6-8.

The favorite is Bucknell, which beat second-place American in both head-to-head meetings, by a combined 21 points. The Bison are efficient at both ends of the floor, taking care of the ball and knocking down shots offensively and playing tough half-court defense. Player of the Year Mike Muscala is a load to handle inside, but he struggled down the stretch, averaging 9.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in the final four games. Bryson Johnson is an excellent outside shooter, while Darryl Shazier is the playmaker.

Arguably the most productive player in the conference belongs to American, which will be Bucknell’s biggest competition. Vlad Moldoveanu is a match-up nightmare, as a 6-foot-9 forward who can score inside and out. Moldoveanu had four games of at least 30 points this season. Interestingly, he averaged just 8.0 points against Bucknell. Stephen Lumpkins is another inside option, and former Georgia transfer Troy Brewer is the main outside threat.

Despite losses in three of its final four games, Lehigh might be the sleeper. The Mountain Hawks love to push the ball in transition and get to the free-throw line as well as anyone in the country. C.J. McCollum, last year’s Player of the Year, is capable of putting the defending champions on his back. Lafayette has taken both American and Bucknell to overtime, and the Leopards have plenty of offensive options. 

Patriot League Tournament Bracket

Top Three Players:

1. Mike Muscala, Bucknell
2. Vlad Moldoveanu, American
3. C.J. McCollum, Lehigh

  • Conference RPI: 27
  • KenPom.com Conference Ranking: 24
  • Sagarin Conference Ranking: 26

NCAA Tournament Locks: None

NCAA Bubble Teams: None

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance

  • American: 2009 (lost to Villanova, first round)
  • Army: 0 NCAA appearances
  • Bucknell: 2006 (lost to Memphis, second round)
  • Colgate: 1996 (lost to Connecticut, first round)
  • Holy Cross: 2007 (lost to Southern Illinois, first round)
  • Lafayette: 2000 (lost to Temple, first round)
  • Lehigh: 2010 (lost to Kansas, first round)
  • Navy: 1998 (lost to North Carolina, first round)

Photo: US Presswire

Posted by Jeff Borzello

More College Basketball coverage
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