Patriot League Tournament Preview

3 Mar

Where: Campus site, hosted by higher seed

When: March 3-12

Bracket

Team to beat: Boston University. The Terriers won the PL regular season title in their first year in the league. They’re not the best offensive team in the Patriot, nor are they the best defensive team, but they’re solid across the board in both areas. They’re led by a great backcourt of Mo Watson and DJ Irving, essentially a two PG team. Watson is particularly impressive, he’s second in assist rate in the country, and 33rd in steal rate.

Their weakness…they don’t have great height and have to compensate with a lot of ball pressure. If you can beat the ball pressure, you can score. In their three PL losses, the Terriers allowed opposing bigs to go 17-25 inside. Offensively they can become very reliant on the 3, which ties back in to the lack of height. They did play a tough non conference schedule and traveled out west, picking up a win at UC Irvine (tons of height!), and that wasn’t even their most impressive win. They won at Maryland, took Harvard to OT, and played tough against St. Joe’s, UConn, and George Washington. This is a good basketball team.

If not Boston then… #4 Bucknell is the hottest team coming into the tournament, having won 6 in a row and playing more aggressively defensively and are tougher on the glass, plus they’ve been here before a lot in the recent years. Included in those 6 straight wins are wins AT the top two seeds, Boston and American. Dom Hoffman has brought some toughness on the glass with Ben Brackney out. With Muscala gone they’re more reliant on the 3, so an off shooting night can doom them. They’re also prone to losing to teams that can get hot from outside, because they sag defensively and are always among the lowest in country in terms of defensive turnover rate. Most encouraging about their win at American to close the regular season was that they did it with an off night from Cameron Ayers (PL POTY), but take it with a grain of salt, as American wasn’t playing for anything.

Sleepers: Tough to call second seeded American a sleeper, but they’ve faded down the stretch as the grind of the season caught up with their lack of depth, having lost 5 of last 8. Eagles are 336th in bench minutes. Mike Brennan did a phenomenal job in his first year implementing his Princeton style offense. Eagles are 342nd in pace, and SFA transfer Darius Gardner has been terrific replacing Dan Munoz at the point. It also helps that Brennan had a natural point forward in 6’10 Tony Wroblicky already on the roster. However, both are very turnover prone, and that has been the achilles heel of American all year for an otherwise very efficient offense that features some big shooters in Reed and Schoof for Wroblicky and Gardner to find. Defensively, they’re the best team in the league. They bring a lot of pressure but tend to foul a lot. A big plus, they know they can beat Boston, as they beat them by 30 this year at home.

Despite American being the two seed, I think whoever wins the Bucknell/Army game has the best chance of beating Boston, but that would be in the semi’s on Boston’s homecourt. Army has Tanner Plomb back, and he missed both games with Bucknell (a season split). He’s a big shooter who could give Bucknell some match up problems. The Black Knights play the fastest in the PL. Their first meeting with Bucknell, a win on their homecourt on national television, gives me some worries that they can get past Bucknell a second time. First, Josh Herbeck went 6-6 from three in that game. He’s hit 6 three pointers total in his last 9 games. Second, Kyle Wilson went to the free throw line 18 times that game. That won’t happen at Bucknell and it didn’t the second time they played them. With the way both teams sag defensively, it probably comes down to who hits more threes, and I trust Bucknell’s shooters and experience (and home court) in that situation.

The Rest: #3 Holy Cross hosts #6 Lehigh. It was a good year for the Crusaders. No bad PL losses except for maybe the home loss to Lafayette. They use 2 point guards with Burrell and Thompson and have a great big in Dave Dudzinski who can pop out and hit a 3. Not sure why they don’t apply more pressure defensively. They have the speed and athleticism on the perimeter, but they tend to sag and allow the 3. They swept Lehigh who comes limping in to the tournament, especially offensively. The zone defense actually hasn’t been that bad, but they don’t have a consistent scoring threat outside of McKnight, and when you’re best scorer is your point guard, that can be a problem. They’ve lost 5 of their last 6, but there is some signs of life, as 6’8 Jesse Chuku has been great the past two games with 18 and 17. If he has turned the light on offensively, he could be a matchup nightmare in this tournament. Some good news for Lehigh is that Holy Cross will be on spring break for this game, limiting the student presence.

#7 Colgate vs #10 Navy

Navy kind of got a bum deal with Colgate being their first round opponent. They weren’t decided as the 7 seed until Saturday, which left Navy no time to schedule a flight, so they have a 7 hour bus trip to Hamilton on short rest. It’s also a bum deal for Navy that they’re just not very good at basketball. They’ve lost in the first round of their conference tournament 12 straight years. That’s the longest streak in the country. Plus Colgate comes into the tournament hot, having won 3 straight, and all 3 were blowouts. Navy’s season took an early hit with the Dunbar suspension, but they did split the series with Colgate. Tillotson did struggle with Navy’s pressure, but Navy allows the most 3s in the conference, and that’s death against the stretch shooters of Burnatowksi and 6’11 Ethan Jacobs. The big man shoots 44% from outside. Navy just doesn’t have the height or athleticism to guard them.

#8 Loyola Maryland vs #9 Lafayette 

Fitting that these two play each other in the first round, as they each suffered the two injuries that had the most impact around the league. Lafayette was 0-10 with Seth Hinrichs out, now they’re 6-4 with him back, but they have lost their last two coming in to the tournament. The Greyhounds on the other hand are 2-6 since losing Dylon Cormier. He put up 25 and 7 in their win over Lafayette, which the Leopards didn’t have Hinrichs for. That score was reversed to 61-44 in favor of Lafayette when Cormier was out and Hinrichs was back. Loyola has gone over 1ppp just twice without Cormier, the first game without him (rally around the fallen leader situation) and last game vs a bad Navy team. Lafayette will shoot a ton of 3s and allow a ton of 3s. Loyola can’t shoot the ball, and in fact went 1-14 from 3 in last meeting. They have to find a way to get Latham involved inside, or else Lafayette will certainly score a road win in the first round of the PL tourney.

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