CJ McCollum

Lehigh surprises Bucknell on the road without CJ McCollum

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Lost in the hullaballoo raised by Duke getting drubbed by 27 points and three other top 25 teams losing on Wednesday, one of the most important mid-major games of the season slid by, barely gaining notice.

Lehigh and Bucknell were the two favorites in the Patriot League heading into the season. They were also two of the best mid-major teams in the country, both expected to give whoever they ended up facing in the NCAA tournament a dogfight.

The other thing both teams had in common?

They’re led by a potential NBA Draft pick. CJ McCollum for Lehigh by Mike Muscala for Bucknell.

McCollum broke a bone in his foot earlier this month and will be out until, at the earliest, the Patriot League tournament, which led many to speculate that the Bison would have their way with the Mountainhawks in conference play.

Not so fast.

Lehigh went into Lewisburg last night and jumped all over Bucknell, taking a 27-12 lead midway through the first half and hanging on to win 65-62 when a three from Cameron Ayers fell short at the buzzer. What’s more impressive? Lehigh not only beat Bucknell on the road without McCollum, they did so on a night when both Mackey McKnight and Gabe Knutson struggled. Those two combined to go 8-27 from the field.

“I was really disappointed in the level of toughness of our team,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen told PennLive.com.

BJ Bailey led the way with 18 points for Lehigh, going 4-4 from three.

“Fortunately, we’ve been able to come forward with poise and resiliency,” said Lehigh coach Brett Reed. “This year’s team’s faced adversity. And they’ve shown tremendous togetherness.”

Lehigh is now sitting all alone at 4-0 in the conference, with Bucknell by themselves in second place at 2-2. The rematch will come Feb. 18th at Lehigh. Anyone else hoping neither team loses until then?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.