Patriot League Tournament Overview: Holy Cross Faces Difficult Road

The Patriot League Tournament is upon us and for seven teams that means their season ending and the painful process of preparing for next year will begin within the next 10 days. With no hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, every team is desperate for one magical three-game run to get them to the Big Dance.

While the bottom four teams have slim to no chance of making it to the championship game, all four of the teams atop the standings have shown themselves capable of beating any of the other top contenders. Here's a look at each team, the top players in the conference and our projections for how the Patriot League Tournament will play out.

1. Bucknell Bison (22-8, 12-2): Outside of one bad three-day span, the Bison were unbeatable in league play. Bucknell won their first 10 games against conference foes and nine of the team's 12 wins came by double-digits. The defending champions can claim the two-time defending Patriot League Coach of the Year (Dave Paulsen), the three-time Defensive Player of the Year (Bryan Cohen) and arguable the conference's best big man in Mike Muscala (16.7 ppg, 9.1 rbg). And it doesn't hurt that they will host every round at the Sokja Pavilion where they are 10-2 on the season.

2. Lehigh Hawks (23-7, 11-3): The Hawks are just one of two teams to have beaten Bucknell this season and were the lone team to do it on the Bison's home floor. Junior guard C.J. McCollum earned his second Player Of the Year Award Monday and is the real deal. The Canton, Ohio native leads the league in scoring (21.7 ppg) and is in the top five in the league in rebounding (6.6 rbg) and assists (3.4 apg). With McCollum leading the league's best offense, the Hawks definitely pose the biggest threat to the Bisons.

3. American Eagles (19-10 ,10-4): After winning back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009, American is looking to get back to the title game for the first time in three years. The Eagles had just four losses in conference play, but all four losses came against the top four teams, including lose on the road against each team. Senior guard Charles Hinkle, a Vanderbilt transfer, has finally put it all together this season, as he's averaging 18.8 points, good for second best in the league. Former Boston University commit Daniel Munoz leads the conference in assists at 4.2 per game.

4. Holy Cross Crusaders (15-13, 9-5): After struggling to put it all together for most of the season, Holy Cross is the hottest team entering the league tournament with a six-game winning streak. The Crusaders win streak includes home contests against American and Bucknell and they can claim a win over Lehigh in their conference opener. Holy Cross' biggest problem all season long has been their play on the road, while they boast a 10-2 record at home, the Crusaders are just 4-11 away from Worcester. Guards Devin Brown and R.J. Evans are both among the top 13 scorers in the conference and freshmen guard Justin Burrell (7.4 ppg, 3.8 apg) earned the Patriot League Rookie of the Year.

5. Lafayette Leopards (12-17, 7-7): There's a serious drop-off in the league after Holy Cross and it starts with Lafayette. The Leopards have dropped four of their past five games and won just one of eight games against the conference elite. Despite making a magical run last season all the way to the championship game as the sixth seed, things will be a little bit more difficult for the Leopards who are just 6-10 on the road. Senior forward Ryan Willen claimed a spot on the conference's first team behind his 14.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

6. Army Black Knights (12-17, 5-9): Meet the least successful program in Patriot League Tournament history. Despite being a founding member of the conference, Army has made just five semifinal appearances in over 20 years and is still looking for their first championship game appearance, much less championship title. Army won just five games in conference play and four of them came against the two teams in the league's cellar. Junior forward Ella Ellis has been one of the few bright spots for head coach Zach Spiker. The star forward is averaging 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

7. Colgate Raiders (8-21, 2-12): Meet Colgate: the Raiders have just one win on the season against an above .500 team (15-14 St. Francis (PA) and a 3-13 record in 2012. Colgate along with Navy are automatic losses that you can take to the bank. In two games this season against first round opponent Lehigh, the Raiders lost by 22 at home and 30 on the road. While the Raiders only have one scorer averaging 10 or more points per game (Pat Moore), the team does have four players averaging eight points or more.

8. Navy Midshipmen (3-25, 0-14): Navy is one of just five teams nationally to have waded through a winless conference season and they hold the nation's longest active losing streak at 21 games. After winning three of their first seven games (including a win over a Division III Penn State Altoona), the Midshipmen haven't won a game in three months. There is some hope for the Midshipmen, as three of the team's top four players (J.J. Avila, Worth Smith, Isaiah Roberts) still have at least two years left on campus.

Projections:

Wednesday February 29

(1) Bucknell Over (8) Navy: This might not be as obvious as you think, the Midshipmen and Bison played Saturday with Bucknell only winning 64-55.

(2) Lehigh Over (7) Colgate: Sorry Raiders fans, but the 26-point average winning margin the Hawks had in the first two games is a pretty indicator of things to come.

(3) American Over (6) Army: American has made 10 straight semifinal appearances and that streak won't be broken this season against a wildly inconsistent Army squad.

(4) Holy Cross Over (5) Lafayette: This is by far the closest matchup, with both teams winning on the opponents home floor. Just two weeks ago Lafayette looked like a shoe-in for home court advantage but the teams have gone in different directions and the Crusaders have all the momentum.

Saturday March 3

(1) Bucknell Over (4) Holy Cross: Yes the Crusaders took down the Bison two weekends ago but that was in Worcester and a trip to upstate Pennsylvania will be a wildly different game. Bucknell's strength inside with two quality scorers and the team's fantastic depth will be a bit too much for the Crusaders.

(2) Lehigh Over (3) American: The teams split during the regular season, but the Hawks home-court advantage is just too much of a factor to overlook.

Wednesday March 7

(2) Lehigh Over (1) Bucknell: Yes the number one seed has won eight of the past nine tournaments but C.J. McCollum is a one of a kind talent. The nation's sixth leading scorer hit the game-winner at Bucknell in the team's 55-52 win but has averaged just 14.5 points in two meetings. If McCollum has a huge game he can lead Lehigh to their second title in three years.

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