At the top of the stretch

(Originally posted: Friday, 2:44 p.m.)

As the horse racing announcers always say, here they come off the turn and headed down the stretch.

It's still a race, too, though Bucknell is the only team with a chance to catch the leaders, Holy Cross, who have a two-length lead with three furlongs to go.

Unlike the ponies, the show horse does not pay in the Patriot League. But the team that places second gets a dandy consolation prize: two rounds of tournament play in its own barn.

These horse racing analogies almost make us miss the Show Place Arena.

No so-called national TV today, but Time Warner Cable will be in Hamilton, giving Colgate fans even less of a reason to bother coming out. We promise to wave if they point the camera our way during a timeout. Lafayette also has their usual local cable coverage, with a taped delay view of the AU-Lafayette game available on a limited basis outside of the Lehigh Valley. There will be cameras at the Navy at Lehigh game. But the telecast is local cable only, and on taped delay at noon Sunday.

As usual, you can follow the action with the scoreboards, or use the radio and Gametracker links where available.

Patriot League scoreboards
ESPN | CBS Sportsline | | Yahoo!

Holy Cross at Colgate, 3 p.m.: Easily the marquee matchup of the day. Colgate has lost just once at home in league play, by 2 points to Bucknell.

Holy Cross, on the other hand, has an 11-game win streak, but has looked vulnerable its last three road games, two 2-point wins and a third win in overtime.

The Raiders have four guys who can light it up from three-point range, including a trio of guards-- 6-1 Alvin Reed, 6-3 Kyle Roemer and 6-0 Jon Simon who each shoot around 40 percent from the arc. Center Andrew Zidar is also capable of stepping out to hit the trey. If even three of the four all get it going in the same game, Colgate can be a tough out.

Next to the 300 or so Colgate fans likely to be on hand, the folks rooting hardest for an upset will be Bucknell backers, who know the only realistic chance the Bison have of capturing the top seed for the tournament starts with a Colgate win here.
HC notes | Colgate notes | USA Today matchup | 'Gate radio | HC radio | Gametracker

Bucknell at Army, 1 p.m.: We will know a lot about Bucknell's mental state headed down the stretch by what happens early in this game. A month ago in Lewisburg, the Bison lacked focus in the first half and left Army stick around for 20 minutes before putting the Cadets away in the second half. In retrospect, it was the first sign of the troubles that cost Bucknell the driver's seat in the league race.

If the Bison are able to come out strong, and take care of business right from the start, it will show their heads are in the right place with the tournament approaching, regardless of what happens in Hamilton later in the afternoon.

On the other hand, should they come out sloppy and unfocused against the Cadets, it might be a sign that mentally the young Bison are still not mature enough to challenge for the league crown.
Bucknell notes | Army notes (pdf) | USA Today matchup | Bucknell radio | Gametracker

American at Lafayette, 1 p.m.: At the beginning of conference play, we boldly predicted Lafayette would surprise someone down the stretch, pulling off an upset in Easton that would spoil somebody's postseason plans.

After we saw the Leopards play, and talked to guys like Corky Blake, who cover them, we backed off that prediction. But if Lafayette wants to avoid playing one of the top two seeds on their own floor in the first round of the tournament, they could take a big step right here. It would not be the stunner we had so foolishly predicted, but it would be an upset and a big win for Fran O'Hanlon's young Leopards.

If this were the back end of a Friday-Sunday road trip for American, it might happen. AU is out of the running for one of the top two spots and the homecourt edge in the tournament, and though they could still end up playing spoiler for Lehigh should Bucknell falter, most likely the Eagles remaining three games will determine little more than what color jerseys they wear when they meet Colgate in the first round. If the combination of weary legs and lack of incentive were present, we'd be tempted to pick Lafayette. But with almost a full week of rest since Sunday's loss in Hamilton, AU's superior talent should prevail in this one.
AU notes | Lafayette Notes | USA Today matchup | Gametracker

Navy at Lehigh, 7 p.m.: There is no question Navy has the ability to pull off an upset here. The Mids 3-9 conference record is deceptive since they are 3-3 in the last six games with home wins over Bucknell and Colgate in that stretch. This is a very different Navy team than the one that lost by 5 to Lehigh in Annapolis a month ago.

The Mids, though, despite their resurgence since putting in a matchup zone on the defensive end, are still without a win on the road in conference play. Bethlehem is not a good place to try to change that trend. While there is little doubt that Navy ought to be able to keep Lehigh's oft anemic offense in check, there's tons of doubt about Navy's ability to score enough against the Mountain Hawks stingy defense to come out ahead on the scoreboard.

There is one factor that could play into this: scoreboard watching. This game is the lone evening tip on the schedule. If Bucknell beats Army and Colgate upsets Holy Cross in the afternoon, Lehigh would be eliminated from the race for the No. 2 seed. Should that happen, there's always the possibility the Hawks come out flat. Coversely, if Army would shock Bucknell in the afternoon, expect the Mountain Hawks to be sky high and Navy to be facing a buzz saw.
Navy notes | Lehigh notes | USA Today matchup | Navy Radio

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