The Patriot League continued to have a little different look this year, notably in the standings. For a while, it was dominated by Holy Cross and Bucknell, but for the third year in a row a program other than those two won the title. Two years ago, they shockingly finished at the bottom of the league; last year, Holy Cross finished second while Bucknell tied for last; and this season, they switched places as Bucknell finished second and Holy Cross suffered through a disastrous 9-22 season.
Last year, Lehigh showed signs of contending when they made a great non-league run, but they didn’t get it done in league play. This year, the Mountain Hawks were the best team for much of the season, and they carried that into the league tournament with three wins for the title. A big reason for that was, oddly enough, a freshman. C.J. McCollum wasted no time becoming a star, as he won Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors, the first player in league history to do so. He was second in the league in scoring overall, but it was in league play where he shined the most as he led in scoring, was sixth in rebounding and field goal percentage, third in three-point percentage and seventh in assists and assist/turnover ratio.
McCollum is symbolic of something else that is different about the league, which is the young talent. Oftentimes, young players in a league like this take a back seat to the veterans, but the Patriot League had a lot of young talent this year. Five of the top ten scorers, four of the top nine rebounders and five of the top seven three-point marksmen were underclassmen. McCollum wasn’t the only freshman on his team to be a key player, as Gabe Knutson was also a starter and key player for the Mountain Hawks. Bucknell placed three players on the All-Rookie team, the first team in league history to do that, and all played significant roles for the Bison this season along with sophomore Bryan Cohen, an All-Rookie selection a year ago. Lafayette got to the final in no small part due to the work of sophomores Jim Mower and Ryan Willen. Holy Cross was at times carried by sophomores R.J. Evans and Devin Brown. Jordan Sugars was the main complement to senior Chris Harris at Navy. Stephen Lumpkins teamed with George Mason transfer Vlad Moldoveanu for a solid 1-2 punch inside for American.
While the league is looking different, the young talent is evidence that there is good basketball ahead for the league in the immediate future. The difference in the standings shows that teams have done their best to rise to the level that Holy Cross and Bucknell were at just a few years ago, and some have succeeded.
The story of the Patriot League Tournament was the dominance of eventual champion Lehigh, as the Mountain Hawks won all three games by at least 15 points. They took care of Army in the quarterfinals by pulling away late, while Lafayette and American won at home and Holy Cross was the lone road team to pull out a win as they knocked off Bucknell 67-64 in Lewisburg. The Mountain Hawks weren’t seriously challenged by American in a 79-57 semifinal win, while Lafayette won a back-and-forth battle with Holy Cross 66-63. That set up a championship game between two arch-rivals.
Lehigh led from start to finish, but was challenged in the second half by Lafayette. The Leopards made several runs at the lead, but could never tie the game. The final ten minutes were dominated by Lehigh senior Zahir Carrington, who took home the tournament MVP honors as he helped the Mountain Hawks pull away for a 74-59 win. Lehigh finished the game on a 12-1 run.
Player of the Year: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh
Rookie of the Year: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh
Defensive Player of the Year: Bryan Cohen, Bucknell
Coach of the Year: Fran O’Hanlon, Lafayette
Chris Harris, Sr. G, Navy
C.J. McCollum, Fr. G, Lehigh
Jared Mintz, Jr. F, Lafayette
Vlad Moldoveanu, Jr. F, American
Kyle Roemer, Sr. F, Colgate
- Marquis Hall, who had a fine freshman season of his own three years ago, finished his career most importantly with a Patriot League title, but also with a great accomplishment. The two-time Patriot League Scholar Athlete of the Year graduates as the only player in league history to surpass 1,500 points and 500 assists.
- Army got a lot of buzz in non-league play, as new head coach Zach Spiker was getting results right away. The Black Knights haven’t lacked talent in recent years, so their record before league play wasn’t a big surprise. They rode winning streaks of five and four games to a 10-4 mark.
- Vlad Moldoveanu made an instant impact for American once he was eligible in December after transferring from George Mason. He was third in scoring and rebounding in league games, as he didn’t play in enough games to qualify for the overall lead in any categories.
- Lehigh was eighth in the nation in three-point field goal percentage at just under 40 percent from behind the arc.
What we expected, and it happened: Bucknell was more like the Bucknell of a few years ago. The Bison were hit hard by injuries in 2008-09 and also had a coaching change to adjust to. With a year under Dave Paulson and a good freshman class, the Bison had some growing pains in non-league play but finished second in the league behind Lehigh.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Holy Cross was the pick of many as the favorite before the season, but they didn’t come close to that, finishing 9-22 and seventh in the standings, a game out of last place. The Crusaders struggled at the defensive end for much of the season, and it showed in the win-loss column. Sean Kearney lasted just one season as the head coach, replaced by former Mount St. Mary’s head coach Milan Brown.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Lafayette was in contention for the top spot and made it to the championship game. The Leopards won eight games a year ago and didn’t look the part of a contender coming in, but they were right in the mix for the top spot and gave Lehigh a good game in the final of the tournament before a late run put the game away.
Team(s) on the rise: Bucknell. The Bison are back and the likely preseason favorite next year after a good showing in league play. Four of their top five were freshmen or sophomores this past season.
Team(s) on the decline: Colgate. A couple of years ago, the Raiders were in the title game. Now Kyle Roemer and Ben Jonson are gone from a team that finished sixth in the league.
2010-11 Patriot League Outlook
With the younger talent in the league, the future is bright. Just about every team projects to be better next season, so the league should improve on its non-league mark in addition to having a hotly contested race for the top starting in January. Six of the ten all-league players return, and all of the All-Rookie selections should contend for spots on that team before long.
Lehigh will have a chance to repeat, but the early favorite has to be Bucknell as the Bison bring back a lot of young talent that will only get better. Lafayette should be in the mix as they also bring back a lot, while American had growing pains with a less experienced roster this year. Holy Cross and Army each have the personnel to potentially make a jump into the top half as well.
If the league has the kind of year it could next year, ultimately it would be safe to say that the rest of the league succeeded in getting better to catch up to Holy Cross and Bucknell. They had little choice but to do so, and having done so the Crusaders and Bison are certainly not dominating the league any longer and not because they have fallen apart.