October 5, 2011

League preview: Patriot

We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we're working backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.

The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.

28. Patriot

By Steve Megargee

The Patriot League already boasted arguably the nation's best low-major player. Now the league has added a relatively big name to its coaching ranks.

Yet neither of those guys figures to win the league title this season.

Lehigh junior G C.J. McCollum has established himself as one of college basketball's most productive players, regardless of conference affiliation. He ranked ninth in the nation in scoring (21.8) and 12th in steals (2.5) while also ranking third in the league in rebounds (7.8) last season.

Navy's Ed DeChellis made the most surprising offseason move of any coach in the nation when he left the Big Ten for the Patriot League. DeChellis had coached for Penn State for eight years and led the Nittany Lions to the NCAA tournament last season.

[Megargee: DeChellis couldn't pass up Navy offer]

DeChellis could need a couple of seasons to build Navy into a legitimate contender for the Patriot League title. McCollum led Lehigh to the NCAA tournament two years ago and should have the Mountain Hawks near the top of the league standings again this season.

But both figure to join the rest of the Patriot League in chasing Bucknell all season.

Bucknell returns four starters from a team that went 25-9 and lost just one conference game on its way to the Patriot League title last season. Heading the list of returners for Bucknell is 6-foot-11 junior forward/center Mike Muscala, who actually was named the Patriot League player of the year over McCollum last season.

Who will emerge as Bucknell's top competition?

Lehigh remains a formidable contender as long as McCollum is on the roster. Lafayette has reached the league championship game in each of the past two seasons. And even though Holy Cross went just 8-21 last season, it went .500 in conference play and returns three starters.

ALL-PATRIOT FIRST TEAM
C/F Mike Muscala, Bucknell (6-11/232, Jr.)
F Yaw Gyawu, Colgate (6-5/219, Sr.)
G Devin Brown, Holy Cross (6-1/190, Sr.)
G C.J. McCollum, Lehigh (6-3/180, Jr.)
G Jordan Sugars, Navy (6-3/219, Sr.)

ALL-PATRIOT SECOND TEAM
F Ella Ellis, Army (6-5/187, Jr.)
F Gabe Knutson, Lehigh (6-9/220, Jr.)
G Troy Brewer, American (6-5/180, Sr.)
G Bryson Johnson, Bucknell (6-1/186, Jr.)
G Tony Johnson, Lafayette (6-0/162, Jr.)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
G C.J. McCollum, Lehigh
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
G Justin Burrell, Holy Cross

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Bucknell
2. Lehigh
3. Lafayette
4. Holy Cross
5. American
6. Colgate
7. Navy
8. Army

MAKING A LIST
Best frontcourt: Bucknell
Best backcourt: Lehigh
Coach on the rise: Bucknell's Dave Paulsen
Coach on the hot seat: None

FACTS AND FIGURES
New coaches: Ed DeChellis at Navy (had been coach at Penn State), Matt Langel at Colgate (had been assistant at Temple)
Regular-season winner last season: Bucknell
Tourney winner last season: Bucknell
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 25th in 2010-11, 28th in 2009-10, 26th in 2008-09
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2006, Bucknell as a No. 9 seed in the first round
2012 conference tournament: Feb. 29, March 3, March 7, campus sites

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