Patriot League Race is Right Down to the Wire
Looking for a wacky conference? Just take a look at the Patriot League standings.
With one game remaining for each team, the standings are no less clear now than they were before Wednesday night’s games. American and Navy are tied atop the league and assured of the top two spots, with the only question being who the top seed is. Navy has the tie-breaker by virtue of a sweep of the Eagles, so a Navy win or American loss on Saturday clinches it for the Midshipmen.
But the real fun begins after those two teams.
Entering Saturday, four teams are tied with 6-7 records and two teams are 5-8. Given the matchups for the final four games, it’s quite possible that the league ends with a six-way tie for third place, with all six teams being 6-8. All six teams still have a chance to finish in the third or fourth spot, which would earn them a home game in the quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament. The tournament is held entirely at campus sites.
How could this happen? An examination of the matchups shows how possible it is.
- Navy travels to Colgate on Saturday, and a Navy win leaves Colgate at 6-8.
- American hosts Lafayette on Saturday, with an Eagle win giving Lafayette a 6-8 finish.
- Holy Cross travels to Lehigh for a nationally-televised 9 p.m. game on Friday night. A Crusader win – they knocked off the Mountain Hawks earlier this season – puts both teams at 6-8 as Holy Cross enters the game at 5-8.
- Lastly, Bucknell travels to Army, a team that beat them earlier in the season, on Saturday. An Army win would make both teams 6-8, as Army enters with a 5-8 mark.
The Patriot League put out a release explaining all of the scenarios with the six teams that follow American and Navy. Suffice it to say that there is a lot to parse through in it with all of the possibilities. With six teams tied, the tie-breakers will eventually reach the Collegiate Basketball News RPI rankings on Sunday morning. Who would most likely benefit from this six-way tie? Entering the week, American had the highest RPI in the league, followed by Holy Cross, Lafayette, Colgate, Bucknell, Navy, Lehigh and Army.
Even the journey to get to this point has been interesting. The league looked to be more even this season since Bucknell and Holy Cross, who have led the way in recent years, both lost important personnel. In non-league play, neither team looked like a sure-fire contender although both had their moments. Instead, it was Holy Cross and Colgate who looked better than anyone in terms of non-league wins and losses, while American went 8-7 including a win at Maryland.
While American has been solid all along and Navy is riding a six-game winning streak into its place near the top, early on Bucknell looked like they would be the team to beat once again. The Bison were getting injured players back and improving, and a road win at Holy Cross added to it for a 3-0 start. But a four-game losing streak in the latter part of January dropped them down.
Lafayette started out looking like they could be the team to challenge Bucknell, starting off 4-0. Two of those wins came on the road in overtime. But a five-game losing streak to start February knocked them back in the standings.
Lehigh at one time looked like they might have a chance, as a four-game winning streak to close out January put them at 4-2. But prior to Wednesday night’s win against Bucknell, the Mountain Hawks had lost five of six.
Holy Cross looked to be in trouble with an 0-4 start and three of those losses coming at home. A three-game winning streak earlier in the month aided their comeback, and they could still finish as high as third place with some help. Army could finish there as well with a win and some help.
A curious thing to watch in the tournament will be how teams fare at home vs. on the road. American and Navy have reached their spots in the top two on the strength of excellent road records, with the Eagles going 5-2 and Navy entering Saturday’s finale with a 5-1 record away from home. No team will go better than 5-2 at home, and it’s possible that no team will even get to 5-2 since American and Lehigh could lose their final game. Holy Cross and Army will also finish the season with better records on the road than at home in league games.
While we should finally have some idea of how the regular season standings shake out around 5 p.m. on Saturday, it’s conceivable that we might have to wait a few more hours. One thing is for sure: given how streaky most teams in the league have been and the ability of everyone to win on the road, seeding and homecourt advantage is likely to mean very little in the next couple of weeks.