Given the lack of national television exposure available to the Patriot League it can be tough for some of its best players to receive the level of respect that they deserve.
Lehigh was able to make waves this past March as a 15-seed, beating Duke in the round of 64 in Greensboro with guard C.J. McCollum (30 points) leading the way.
And with McCollum returning the Mountain Hawks will be one of the two favorites to win the Patriot League next season.
But he isn’t the only star in the Patriot League to keep an eye on as Bucknell welcomes back big man Mike Muscala for his final campaign.
While McCollum won league Player of the Year honors and briefly flirted with the NBA Draft before deciding to return to school, Muscala was a first team All-Patriot League selection for the second consecutive season after winning Player of the Year in 2010-11.
And with the goal being to get even better and lead the Bison back to the NCAA tournament Muscala spent a couple weeks this off-season working out at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
A three-time All-Patriot League selection, Muscala said his time spent in Florida has been about much more than basketball. His day consists of two on-court, position-specific workouts in addition to one “athletic performance workout” each day under the supervision of the academy staff. In between workouts he has meetings with trainers, nutritionists and other specialists, including communication professionals and “mental conditioning,” according to IMG’s website.
“It’s been fun, but a lot of work,” he said. “We work on everything from agility drills to shooting and conditioning. When you get to go up against some of these guys who are getting ready for the draft, or the guys from bigger schools, you see things you need to work on.”
Muscala, who averaged 17.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game for the regular season champion Bison, also noted the nutrition tips he picked up and hopes to benefit from.
McCollum has spent part of his off-season working out with his older brother Errick, who plays professionally in Israel.
McCollum averaged 21.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game last season for the Mountain Hawks, and while some may not have been too familiar with him before the game against Duke he’s been getting the job done for three seasons now.
The question of who ends up winning Patriot League Player of the Year (and whose team wins the league) may come down to what happens in their two regular season head-to-head meetings.
McCollum scored 15 points in each of the regular season meetings while Muscala led Bucknell to a 68-61 win at Lehigh with 20 points and 12 boards.
But it was McCollum’s game-winning three that made the difference in the rematch at Sojka Pavilion on February 16th.
Tough to call who wins Player of the Year right now, but college basketball fans would be wise to keep an eye on these two throughout the season.