When C.J. McCollum went down with a broken foot in a January non-conference game against VCU, it appeared one of the major storylines in mid-major basketball had gone down with it. But that’s not the way it turned out. Bucknell won the regular season championship outright, but Lehigh continued to play strong basketball, with Lafayette pushing toward the top, as well. How will the conference tournament turn out? Check out a preview below:
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Where: Site of higher seed
When: March 6, March 9, March 13
Final: March 13, 7:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Double-double machine Mike Muscala is at the center of a Bucknell team that went 12-2 in the Patriot League regular season and beat Purdue in the non-conference. As Muscala anchors the frontcourt, Bryson Johnson and Cameron Ayers make up one of the more formidable backcourt duos in mid-major basketball. Here’s a fact that speaks to how dominant Bucknell has been: Of the two league games the Bison have lost this season, Bucknell has lost by a combined four points. Four points.
And if they lose? Lehigh
Even with start guard C.J. McCollum “unlikely to play” in the tournament as Lehigh makes a push for an automatic bid, this Mountain Hawks team is efficient and effective. Yes, they have two losses to Lafayette, but without McCollum Lehigh still managed to beat conference leader Bucknell on the road on Jan. 23. The frontcourt duo of Holden Greiner and Gabe Knutson will continue to power the Mountain Hawks in McCollum’s absence.
The Leopards beat Lehigh twice this season, once by 21 points on the road and another by single digits at home. They don’t defend particularly well, but they can shoot the three-point ball, which helps them win games. Seth Hinrichs (highlighted below) is the centerpiece of the offensive attack with over 14.5 points per game.
– Mike Muscala, Bucknell: With McCollum sidelined for all of conference play, Muscala has gotten more of the Patrio League headlines and deservedly so. He is averaging a double-double of 19.1 points and 11.0 rebounds per game for the favorite to win the tournament title.
– Seth Hinrichs, Lafayette: Hinrichs averages 14.5 points and 5.0 rebounds, all while shooting 45 percent from three-point range. The Leopards will need his touch from long range, considering they do not defend particularly well.
– Ella Ellis, Army: Another quality Patriot League three-point shooter, Ellis hit the 30-point plateau in three of the final four regular season games, games in which Army was 3-1. He averages 18.0 points per game on the year and shoots 41 percent from deep.
CBT Prediction: With an automatic bid on the line and the prospect of CJ McCollum returning for the NCAA tournament on the table, Lehigh beats Bucknell in the championship game to punch its ticket.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_