Friday, March 3, 2006

Patriot League Tournament Preview

Click here for a complete index of all the conference tournament previews.

The Patriot League was one of three conferences featuring an undefeated team at the top of the standings. Bucknell ran the table in conference play, going 14-0, finishing three games ahead of both Holy Cross and Lehigh. The Bison only had four conference games where their margin of victory was less than 10 points and no one came within five points of them. Lehigh lost their final two games and Holy Cross won their last four games to forge a tie for second.

Favorite: Who do you think it would be? Bucknell was a dominant team throughout the season and could have a resume worthy of at-large consideration should they lose in the conference tournament. The Bison have one of the best defenses in the country and they rank atop the league in several categories--on both sides of the ball. They have had the same starting lineup in nearly every game this season, which could be a reason for their success. Chris McNaughton is the best big man in the league, while Kevin Bettencourt provides all-around production from the perimeter. Charles Lee is an excellent inside-outside performer and Abe Badmus is a very good distributor and defender.

Contenders: The only other two teams to finish above .500 in the league are probably the only two teams that could potentially give Bucknell a run. Holy Cross has won 7 of 8 and 9 of their last 11 and are playing some of their best basketball of the year. They rank second in the conference (behind Bucknell) in nearly every important category, and they also lead the league in scoring offense. The Crusaders are led by the excellent three-man backcourt of Kevin Hamilton, one of top players in the league; Keith Simmons, an excellent defender and solid scorer; and Torey Thomas, a decent contributor in several categories. Tim Clifford anchors the post. Lehigh had won 13 of 14 games before dropping their last two games to Bucknell and Holy Cross. They are obviously one of the top three teams in the league. Similarly to Holy Cross, the Mountain Hawks are led by a three-headed backcourt. Jose Olivero, the league's leading scorer, leads the way, Joe Knight and Kyle Neptune also produce on the perimeter. The frontcourt players are inconsistent, but Bryan White and Michael Fischman can provide scoring and rebounding at times.

Sleeper: With the quality of the top teams in the conference, it is going to be hard for a lower-seeded team to make a run. The only other team that finished .500 in the league and also the only other team to have a positive scoring margin in conference play was American. Moreover, they are 7-1 against the teams outside the "Big Three" and have won 4 of 5 overall. Andre Ingram and Arvydas Eitutavicius comprise a solid backcourt that carries the Eagles. Brayen Billbe is the main option down low.

Prediction: There really isn't a question, in my opinion. Bucknell should easily win the conference tournament and the automatic bid that goes with it. They have the best overall team, both on the perimeter and in the paint. Additionally, they have one of the best defenses in the nation and a solid offense to go with it. Chris McNaughton is unstoppable in this league, as well. I don't see the Bison getting challenged much in the tournament, either. They are simply too good. As far as the other side of the bracket, I like Holy Cross over Lehigh in the semi-finals for the right to lose to Bucknell in the title game.

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