Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Patriot League Tournament Preview

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

The Patriot League went pretty much as predicted. Holy Cross and Bucknell came into the season as the favorites and they didn’t disappoint. Both teams finished 13-1 in league play, with the lone loss for each team coming at the hands of the other. No other team came anywhere near the Crusaders or the Bison, as the next-best squad was only 7-7. The conference tournament should see these two play their rubber match.

Favorites: As mentioned before, Holy Cross and Bucknell are the clear-cut best teams in the conference. Holy Cross has won 15 of their last 17, with the two losses by a combined four points—at Bucknell and at Hofstra. The Crusaders are led by the best player in the conference, Keith Simmons. He is a prolific scorer and a very good rebounder for a guard. His backcourt partner, Torey Thomas, is one of the more underrated players on the mid-major level. He is a terrific defender and distributor who is also a very good three-point shooter. Tim Clifford provides balance up front. Bucknell didn’t start the season well, going 0-4 to kick off the campaign. However, they have won twelve in a row and are on a roll. They will be without leading scorer Donald Brown, who has been out the entire month. Center Chris McNaughton will have to pick up the slack. He is capable, averaging over 15 points and 8 rebounds in Brown’s absence. John Griffin is a solid guard, while Abe Badmus is one of the best point guards in the Patriot.

Contender: American could be the team to break through the Holy Cross-Bucknell contingent for the automatic bid. The Eagles have won four in a row since going through an awful stretch where they lost 11 of 15. AU took Holy Cross to overtime, and lost to Bucknell by a combined nine points. Their perimeter trio could be enough to get them on a run. Andre Ingram is one of the better guards in the conference, while Derrick Mercer is a very good distributor. Arvydas Eitutavicius is another double-figure scorer.

Sleeper: In all reality, there’s not another team that is playing well enough to win the conference tournament, but Lehigh has the nucleus to pull off an upset. They finished 7-7 in the league, but lost their last three and six of their final nine. Jose Olivero and Marquis Hall form a very good backcourt, while Kyle Neptune can shoot the three. 6-10 Jason Mgebroff missed 13 games but is back on the inside.

Prediction: This will be a two-team battle for the championship. Bucknell and Holy Cross split their regular-season match-ups, with both teams winning on their home court. The edge goes to the Crusaders, though, because the title game will be held on HC’s home court. The Crusaders won the tie breaker with Bucknell as a result of having a higher RPI. Their backcourt of Toey Thomas and Keith Simmons will be too much for the Bison, as Tim Clifford should be able to control Chris McNaughton down low.

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