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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He's no Sal, that is for sure

(Originally posted: Friday, 2:43 p.m.)

Sal Mentesana was a good guy. Friendly, quotable and one snappy dresser. But while Sal's affiliation was a big plus for a tailor, it didn't do much for his basketball teams. Even with scholarship kids towards he end of his run, Sal's teams stunk.

Only Army and Navy coaches have lower career winning percentages in the league than Mentesana, whose teams went 43-125 overall, and 16-58 in league play during his six seasons at Lehigh.

On the other hand, Ralph Willard is anything but a clothes horse, yet his teams have made three trips to the NCAA Tournament (with a fourth a very real possibility) in his four-plus seasons in Worcester.

Just goes to show clothes don't make the coach.

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They still remember Jason Thomas

American guard Jason Thomas' hometown paper, something called the Mount Vernon Gazette, has a story about Thomas and another kid from that area who plays at George Washington and their hopes of playing in the NCAA Tournament this season.

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Times they are a changing

OK, this is not exactly what you'd call heaping on the accolades. But in a Mike Decourcy Sporting Newscolumn posted on, handicapping the chances of some big name schools to make the NCAA Tournament, Decourcy says this about Minnesota:
The best non-league win was over Holy Cross.
Like we said, it's a backhanded compliment of sorts. But it says a lot about the improved stature of at least the top of the league.

After all, when is the last you can remember anybody referring to a Big Ten team's win over a Patriot League team with anything but derision.

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More kind words for HC

From a college basketball games of the week piece in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
Holy Cross: The Crusaders have won 11 consecutive games and would be a team that no major conference school wants to play in the NCAA tournament.

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Where are they now (BU asst. coaches edition)

Most weeks, Tom Housenick's column in the Daily Item is strictly basketball this time of the year. But with two local professional athletes helping out a charitable cause and a local football player (who actually spent a season at Bucknell before transferring to D-3 Susquehanna) signing to play in NFL Europe, some hoops stuff got pushed down this week.

But read those two items, or just scroll past them, and you'll find updates on three former Bucknell assistants who are now head coaches elsewhere, as well as a review of the possible Patriot League tournament scenarios facing Bucknell's men and women.

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Where are they now (obscure AU assistant edition)

This note in the Philadelphia Daily News on former American assistant Billy Fox, who was on Jimmy Lynam's staff back in the '70s:
Fox on Monday became the winningest coach in (Philadelphia) Catholic League basketball history with his 542nd victory (542-268) at Father Judge.

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Not dead yet

No, the Hawk will never die. But last night in Philly, he sure as heck looked like he was only flapping one wing most of the night.

Saint Joe's won a 49-36 decision over Richmond thatRay Parillo of the Philadelphia Inquirer called:
. . . a helter-skelter game in which the two teams combined for more turnovers than field goals, and in which the winning team made only 31 percent of its shots, the first team to 40 won
Unlike those Patriot League national broadcasts on CSTV, this one was actually available (for free, I might add) on the local cable system. Having heard the Hawks being hyped of late as a potential at large NCAA Tournament team, I tuned in to see if they were actually that much better than they were when Bucknell beat them.

Tell you right now, had the Hawks played this bad against Bucknell, the final margin would have looked a lot like the licking Villanova put on the Bison the other night.

We'd love to tell you this was the result of good defense by both teams. But that would be a lie. These two teams even struggled to make free throws.

Anybody who says the Hawks deserve an at large bid is either a Saint Joe's alumor on drugs.

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From the desktop of Ralph Willard

In his latest team report on, the Holy Cross mentor talks about last weekend's wins over Lafayette and Lehigh and previews Saturday's game at Colgate.

Ralph's take on Colgate's puny crowds:
Most people would think because they don't draw well at home that they wouldn't have such a home court advantage. My take on it is that most teams have a tough time because it is such a different environment than most away games (mostly empty gym) . . .
We also would call your attention to a great post over on the Holy Cross message board by a dude who calls himself "HC93."

Seems '93 exchanged e-mail with Ralph. He has posted the coach's reply to a question about scheduling.

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Meet Matt, he's a recruitnik

We know you recruiting freaks are out there, and we have tried to humor you with occasional updates that we have stumbled across on some of the players expected to enter the league next year. But we have said repeatedly, we won't go out of our way searching for that kind of stuff. We're just not that into the whole recuiting thing.

Lucky for those of you who are, Matt, over at the Patriot League Hoops Blog is. In between his nessage board feuds with Holy Cross fans he took some time to "take a look at the PL class of 2009, at least, as much of it as I can piece together."

We didn't do any clicking. But he appears to have links to info on most of the known commits around the league.

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Worse than Savannah

You probably already know that Savannah State finished the season 0-28 to become just the second D-1 team in 50 years to go without a win.

Yet according to a column in the Oakland (Ca.) Tribune:
Tuesday morning's updated RPI ratings listed the Tigers just 327th out of 330 teams-- ahead of Maryland-Eastern Shore (2-21), Army (3-20) and Longwood (1-25). Army actually has beaten only one Division I opponent (Navy), and scored just 29 points in a loss to Holy Cross.

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My gosh they were good

(Updated: 8:13 a.m.)

Anybody who saw Villanova's game against Kansas knows what the Wildcats are capable of. When Nova is hitting from three-point range, they can put a hurting on anybody, and last night, against Bucknell, the Cats (15-6) did just that, blowing out the Bison 89-51 in front of 6,500 folks in the ski lodge.

It was not a rout from the start. Thanks to Chris McNaughton’s work inside, the Bison led by a point or two most of the first seven minutes of the game. Villanova focused on stopping the Bucknell guards, with McNaughton facing straight man coverage early.

McNaughton rarely sees straight man-to-man in the Patriot League. Most teams opt to double down on him, forcing the Bison (17-8) to score from the perimeter. The way McNaughton scored almost at will against Will Sheridan and Jason Fraser early, you could see why..

McNaughton hit his first six shots, including a bunch of sweet baby hooks and a dunk off a nifty feed from Kevin Bettencourt that tied the game at 17-17 with 12:49 to play in the first half.

McNaughton wasn’t the only one that was hot early. As a team, Bucknell hit six of its first eight shots, including an three-pointer by Charles Lee. Problem for the Bison: Nova was not missing many either. And ‘Nova was scoring from all over the floor. Especially outside the arc, where they connected six times (on 13 tries) in the first half.

“They shot the ball very well in the beginning and that got them going,” said Bucknell coach Pat Flannery.

Three of those treys came during the 18-2 run that Villanova used to break the game open, including two by Nardi, who scored 12 of his 14 points from the arc.

“We knew they were capable of this,” said Bucknell’s Kevin Bettencourt. “We knew if their shooters got going, we were in trouble.”

And then there was Allan Ray. That sleeve on his arm and the first name are not the only things about Ray that remind you of another Philly baller who spells it different but says it the same. Most of the game, Ray just seemed to be able to get his shot from wherever on the floor he wanted it. Ray was 7-for-15 from the floor, including 4-for-9 from three-point range. His one miss, on six foul shots, was the only one of 17 free throws Villanova missed.

Curtis Sumpter was another matchup problem for the Bison, who were clearly outmanned at four of the five spots on the floor. Bucknell could not solve him on either end of the floor. Sure he had a decent night on offense—6-for-11, 14 points, 6 rebounds a pair of blocks and an assist is a pretty good line for 28 minutes of playing time.

“Sumpter we knew was going to be a handful,” said Flannery.

But what was most impressive about Sumpter was the way he played defense, and his uncanny knack for finding a way to be matched up on Bucknell’s Kevin Bettencourt even though the Wildcats switch a lot on defense.

Sumpter is of a species that simply does not exist in the Patriot League. Six-foot-seven, quick as the mascot with plenty of hop, he was the difference in this game. Take Sumpter out of the equation and it is a different game. Not necessarily a Bucknell win; not the way Nova shot the ball. But certainly a better contest.

Matched against the 6-2 Ray and 6-1 Nardi, even 6-3 Randy Foye, Bettencourt and freshman John Griffin might have gotten some decent looks from outside, though Nova’s quickness and athleticism would still be a problem.

Foye, who averages almost 15 points a game, didn’t return after having his bell rung when he landed hard on a failed dunk attempt that was blocked by Abe Badmus with about 10 minutes to go in the first half. Badmus was called for a foul on the play. It was a good call on a hard, but clean play. Had Foye tried to lay it in, he might have landed more under control. In his defense, he seemed alone under the basket and with a step and four inches on Badmus, he probably never expected to be met at the rim.

The fact that it was a clean foul was not appreciated by the Villanova fans, who taunted Badmus with boos every time he touched the ball the rest of the night

Foye was hardly missed. Scoring was no problem for Villanova, who spread the floor and took Bucknell one-on-one, kicking the ball out for open threes or dishing underneath for easy buckets. Nova shot 58 percent (15-26) in the first half, and 53 percent in the second half, with most of the 14 misses (on 30 shots) coming well after the far ends of both benches had hit the floor.

With Sumpter in his face most of the night, Bettencourt never got a clean look at the basket and never came close to making any of the seven shots he took.

Bettencourt doesn’t see 6-7 guys with that kind of quickness in the Patriot League. In conference play, if he gets isolated with a 6-7 guy on the perimeter, he is quick enough to get past them off the dribble. If they lay back, he shoots the three over them.

Sumpter, though, was plenty quick enough to keep up with Bettencourt. “We don’t see guys like that too often in the Patriot League,” laughed Bettencourt. “And you can’t shoot over the guy.”

Bettencourt was not the only one who shot poorly for Bucknell. Take away McNaughton’s 8-for-13 night and the rest of the Bison shot 12-for-49 (24 percent).

“They were so quick,” said Bettencourt. “I don’t think we’ve seen anybody like that.”

“We didn’t have many open looks out there,” said Flannery.

It would be easy to point to Bucknell playing three games in five days as a factor. The Bison did appear to hit a wall around eight minutes in. Even free throws were short most of the night, a sign of weary legs.

Flannery said at one point he looked at his assistants and asked, “Are we that slow or are they that fast.”

But it would be wrong to use that as an excuse. With fresher legs, Bucknell still couldn’t keep up with Villanova’s quickness. Maybe they’d keep it closer for a half. But then again, maybe not, given the way Villanova was shooting.

After all, fresh legs didn’t help Kansas.

Bucknell will take Wednesday off, then begin preparation for Saturday’s trip to West Point.
Box score | Bucknell recap | Villanova recap | AP wrap | Patriot-News | Daily Item | Philly Inquirer | Philly Daily News | Delco Daily Times

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Bucknell-Villanova preview

Bucknell at No. 25 Villanova, 7:30 p.m.: Let's see: Bucknell beat Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh beat Syracuse and Syracuse beat Villanova.

If only things worked that way.

This is not the biggest game of the season for Bucknell. That will come on the second Friday in March, it it comes at all. But this could be one of the biggest games of the season for the Patriot League.

An upset win by the Bison over another ranked team from the Big East, and it would be awfully tough not to talk of the Patriot as a two-bid league if Bucknell and Holy Cross meet in the conference final, regardless of which team wins.

Ah, to dream.

Here's your wake-up call: This is not like the game against Pittsburgh. And basketball is more rock-paper-scissors than dominos. Things don't fall neat and orderly, A beats B, B beat C, A thus would beat C.

For starters, there will be no catching Villanova sleeping or looking past Bucknell, the way Pittsburgh might have been. If Bucknell's wins over Pittsburgh and 'Nova's Big 5 rival Saint Joes did not make sure of that, Villanova's loss Saturday to Syracuse did.

The Wildcats got thumped by the Orange, 90-75, on real national TV (CBS, not some backyard satellite network). The Cats' egos are bruised and they will be looking to use Bucknell as oinment.

That does not mean we expect a blowout. Bucknell's egos ought to be feeling a little tender these days, too. A month ago they were the media darlings, eating Cold Pizza for breakfast and reading about themselves on Now, after a little mid-season swoon on the road, they feel like a Rodney Dangerfield punchline. These days, everybody is talking about Holy Cross, a team that Bucknell handled with ease when they met in Lewisburg at the start of conference play.

A little healthy disrespect can be a powerful motivator. And Bucknell is talented enough to upset Villanova if the stars align just right. If Kevin Bettencourt is en fuego from the three-point arc. If John Griffin comes off the bench and hits a couple threes, too. If Chris McNaughton stays out of foul trouble. If Villanova's leading scorer, Allan Ray, has an off night shooting the three (he averages 17.4 ppg and is a 43.5 percent shooter from the arc). If all that, and more, breaks Bucknell's way, the Bison could win.

Matter of fact, we're going to be so bold as to make a prediction. Bucknell over Villanova -- next year, when the Wildcats visit Sojka for their part of the two-for-one deal.

That is the reality of the situation. For all the hype and excitement this Bucknell team has generated this season, it really is at least a year away. Bucknell's roster includes only one senior. There are four juniors, three of which play, two that start. The rest of the rotation is sophomores and freshmen. Only the sophomores and freshmen are scholarship kids.

There has been speculation that Bucknell's midseason slump was because of Pat Flannery's absence. And no doubt that played a role. But the bigger cause was more likely a simple lack of maturity. By next season, the kiddie corps will have been there, done that. They will be able to handle the successes they are bound to have if they stay healthy and don't flunk out.

You have to think Flannery himself was thinking that when he set up this year's ambitious schedule with all his twofers. Next season some of those people are coming to Lewisburg, where the welcome is certain to be anything but hospitable.

That is next year, though. Villanova is tonight. Even with Jason Fraser playing with a broken hand, these Wildcats are going to be a lot for Bucknell to handle.

For starters, Ray has incredible range. He shoots three like others shoot layups. The NBA line is a peep shot for him. That will really stretch Bucknell's matchup zone. If he gets hot, the Bison will be forced to go man, and then Curtis Sumpter becomes a huge matchup problem. Who does Bucknell have that can guard a 6-7 kid who can step out and shoot the three like Sumpter. American's Matej Cresnik is that kind of player, only not nearly as good, and he gave Bucknell fits in D.C.

Legs will also be a concern for Bucknell, playing its thrid game in five days.

Bucknell does have a couple things going for it. Villanova has only had one day of practice to prepare for this game. Unlike conference foes, who know the patterns the Bison run in the halfcourt, Villanova will not be nearly as familiar.

Likewise, the Wildcats will not have had a lot of time to prepare for Bucknell's matchup, which can give opponents fits.

In non-conference games, opponents have not tended to double on McNaughton the way Patriot League teams do. The 6-11 sophomore has shown that he can hold his own offensively against some pretty good big men.

So can Bucknell win this game? Well, sure, anything can happen. It is not as unrealistic a thought as it might have seemed when the schedule was announced.

But don't go visit your bookie with the mortgage payment in hand.
Villanova site | Bucknell notes | USA Today matchup | Bucknell radio | Gametracker

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Bracket nonsense

(Originally posted: Monday, 5:51 p.m.)

We're scratching our heads after looking at Joe Lunardi's latest bracket prediction over on We have no problem with showing Holy Cross up to a 12. But we have a real hard time understanding how he can include Saint Joseph's as a second team from the Atlantic 10, given their 12-9 record with no wins over any ranked teams and a home loss to Bucknell.

Yet Bucknell, with wins over Saint Joes and ranked Pitt, is not even on Lunardi's list of last teams out anymore.

Not saying Bucknell deserves an at-large bid. But if Saint Joes does, then we would have to argue so do the Bison.

The copycats at Bracketology 101 also have Saint Joe's in, as a 13 seed, though they also include Holy Cross and Boston University as 13s.

Boston U? Look at their schedule. What, other than a home win over Vermont, makes them an at-large team?

Sorry, we just don't get it. Vermont and Holy Cross are the only teams they have played that are even in the others receiving votes category of the AP Poll.

Of course it really does not make much sense to put a lot of stock in any of these predictions. Tournament play is still going to determine more about the lower seeds that get in than RPI will. Realistically, teams like Holy Cross, Boston University and Saint Joes are probably going to need to win their tournaments to get in, because somebody, someplace, ranked higher and expected to be a shoe-in to win their league, is going to get upset and the ripple effect will be felt throughout the bottom of the brackets.

In the Monday Musings column that runs on the sites, they don't do the full bracket projection thing, but they do handicap the race for bids conference by conference. Here's two excerpts that seem to reflect a more realistic look than the other bracketeers:
Atlantic 10—St. Joseph’s has the best conference record, but an RPI of 99 means they need to win the league tournament to get in. Ditto for Dayton. If George Washington wins the league tournament that could mean just one bid for this league. Projected bids: 2

Patriot- Holy Cross is the first place team in the league right now, but an upset to underrated Bucknell could create a dilemma for the Selection Committee since the Crusaders are 38th in the RPI. Projected bids: 1

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Imagine if

(Originally posted: Monday, 5:45 p.m.)

Interesting tidbit in a story in the Chicago Tribune about Vermont:
(Taylor) Coppenrath, who now has the size to rebound and the touch to knock down three-pointers, didn't make his varsity team at St. Johnsbury Academy until his junior season. Although he was named the state's player of the year as a senior, only Vermont, Bucknell and Albany were interested.
That was five years ago-- Coppenrath redshirted his first year at Vermont. Makes you wonder what might have been had Bucknell been offering scholarships back then, eh?

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What if they gave a game and nobody came

(Originally posted: Monday, 5:43 p.m.)

We knew Colgate games don't draw flies. But until we read this story in the student paper, we were not aware just how bad the crowds in Hamilton are:
In 2004, Colgate had fewer fans per game (404) than any other school fielding a D-I basketball program
The story does not say if it is actually all part of an elaborate plan to lure opponents to sleep, making them seasier to beat.

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Where are they now (Valentine's Day edition)

Former Lehigh player Eric Heil has not exactly set the world on fire since transferring to Penn. The 6-8 senior stringbean from Iowa averaged only 2.9 points per game for the Quakers last season and this season he has only appeared in 10 games, scoring 9 points (total, not average) and grabbing 6 rebounds.

None of that matters today though. Today is not about hoops; it's about hearts. And according to a story in today's Daily Pennsylvanian, this is "A special Valentine's Day for Heil."

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Wow, a plug for us?

Corky Blake's column is a little hard to find on his paper's Web site. It doesn't show up in the regular listing of sports stories, or on their page of Patriot League stories. You have to find the link to sports columnists and click on his name to find it.

We know that now, because we went looking for his latest column after he mentioned he would give Hoop Time a plug when we were BSing on press row during Sunday's Holy Cross-Lehigh women's game.

It's a little plug, down near the bottom (rightfully so) below his analysis of the possible tournament pairings and some recruiting news for Lafayette fans.

Thanks Corky.

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Maybe had he been there

Some Saint Joe's homer by the name of Jack McCaffery got all gushy about the Hawks in a column today in the Delaware County Daily Times:
the greater mystery was how the Hawks lost to Bucknell, not how they managed to recover once they did.
Had our boy Jack been at that game he would know how it happened. Plain and simple, Bucknell kicked their ass. In their building. A week before beating Pittsburgh.

For some reason, Bucknell's rough road trip to American and Navy, two losses in games without their head coach on the bench, and a close loss at Lehigh, have folks suddenly forgetting what it was about Bucknell that they all thought was so good a month or so ago.

As they showed this weekend in avenging thos two losses with convincing wins over AU and the Midshipmen, Bucknell is still very much a team to be reckoned with in the Patriot League. Especially considering the fact that they are likely to play at least two games in the tournament at home, where they have not lost to a Patriot League team in two seasons.

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Latest AP poll

No change in this week's AP Poll. Holy Cross remains in the others receiving category with a single point.

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HC, BU alone at 1-2

(Last updated: 9:17 a.m.)

Holy Cross 73, Lehigh 53: Torey Thomas returned to the starting lineup and dished out 11 assists and made five steals as the Crusaders mathematically eliminated Lehigh from contention for the regular season title. Any combination of HC wins or Bucknell losses adding up to 2 will clinch the top spot for HC, which can finish no lower than second.

The story in the Boston Herald makes it sound like Thomas regained the starting job because he is finally healthy after the shoulder injury. But I am not sure that is the case.

You'd have to ask Ralph Willard, but I think it was more a matter of him winning the job back from freshman Pat Doherty, who has played well in place of Thomas, but at times last weekend at Navy and American looked a little like a deer in the headlights.

It is not like this is the first Thomas has been healthy enough to play. He had been getting plenty of minutes off the bench. But based on some of Willard's comments after the Navy and American games, we're guessing that he just feels more comfortable with Thomas back in the starting role down the stretch.

Kevin Hamilton had 20 points for Holy Cross. Greg Kinsey (11) and Nate Lufkin (10), who missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, also reached double figures.

Matt Kalman, stringing for the Express-Times, summed it up pretty well:
The Patriot League's premier field-goal percentage defense sprung a leak for most of Sunday's 40 minutes of basketball and the result was Lehigh's elimination from the race for the conference's top seed.
The story, though, was the Holy Cross defense, which held Lehigh to 19 points in the first half on 5-of-20 (25 percent) shooting from the field. The second half didn't get much better for Lehigh, which finished the game 16-of-52 (30.8 percent).

In that Express-Times story, Lehigh coach Billy Taylor pointed out how much of Holy Cross' offense was the result of its defense:
We gave up 53 percent from the floor and that's just not acceptable. A lot of it was in transition off of blocked shots and steals ...
Lehigh's Joe Knight, coming off back-to-back 20 point games, had 8 points on 2-for-15 shooting. The only Mountain Hawk to reach double figures was Jose Olivero, who had 12 points to show for his 3-of-12 effort from the floor.

Box score | AP wrap| HC recap | Lehigh recap | Telegram&Gazette story

Bucknell 71, Navy 60: Charles Lee had 22 points and Abe Badmus added 10 points and 6 assists as Bucknell completed its weekend revenge sweep with a win over Navy. The Bison are the only team still mathematically with a chance of catching Holy Cross, though they will need some outside help to pull that off.

More realistic, Bucknell can clinch the No. 2 seed and homecourt for the first two rounds of the league tournament with any combination of Bucknell wins or Lehigh losses adding up to two.
Box score | AP wrap| Bucknell recap | Navy recap | Daily Item story

Colgate 67, American 57: The Colgate win leaves these two teams tied for fourth in the conference with three games to play. Right now, American holds the tiebreaker edge (Colgate has lost to Navy) and the Eagles still appear to have a scheduling edge in the final three games. Colgate must play Holy Cross at home, and at Army and Bucknell. American makes the Lehigh Valley trip (at Lafayette, at Lehigh) and has Navy at home. In the unlikely event of a tie, AU would likely wear the white jerseys in the first round by virtue of its higher RPI.
Box score | AP wrap | Colgate recap| AU recap |

Lafayette 76, Army 73: Lafayette pulls into a tie with Navy for sixth with the win over Army. Both teams play the same opponents -- Lehigh, American and each other-- in the final three weeks. The difference between sixth and seventh is significant. The seventh place team would will play the number two team on its own floor. The sixth place team will get No. 3 in a neutral site.
Box score | AP wrap | Army recap | Lafayette recap | Times Herald-Record story

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Don't ya just love it?

More two-bid talk from the mainstream press. This time it is :Elton Alexander of the Cleveland Plain Dealer arguing Bucknell's case:
Bucknell is 17-7, 8-3 in the Patriot League, off the pace for a league title, but a strong league tournament would carry weight, especially when coupled with an earlier win over No. 18 Pitt.
As unlikely as it is that either Bucknell or Holy Cross will get invited to the dance if they don't win the Patriot League Tournament, all this talk does nothing but help in raising the league's profile. In the long run, assuming the trend continues, that could really help elevate the league.

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Mid-Major Top 25

In the latest Mid-Major Top 25, Holy Cross is up to No. 20 while Bucknell has slipped to just three votes.

Two observations: 1) Based on the voting patterns we have seen the last few weeks, it would seem even though the poll is released on a Monday, most ballots must be filled out before Sunday's games. That would explain why Bucknell did not drop out of the Top 25 when it lost at American and Navy the other week and why they have lost votes in this week's poll after avenging those losses over the weekend. 2) We are baffled at how Boston University can be ranked ahead of Holy Cross when the Crusaders beat them on their own floor. It seems like the coaches voting in this poll are having a harder time getting used to the Patriot League's improvement than the media who keep talking about the possibility of two bids.

Of course reality is probably somewhere in between.

We also have to wonder how Penn cam rise into the Top 25 on the basis of winning games in the Ivy League if it did not deserve that consideration after its non-conference schedule. Not saying they don't deserve it; just wondering why the voters waited until now to decide they do.

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Lehigh (women) 73, Holy Cross 63

(Originally posted Sunday, 6:05 p.m.)

Special to The Telegram & Gazette

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- In a perfect world, a Lisa Andrews milestone would have been the story from Sunday afternoon’s Holy Cross-Lehigh women’s basketball game.

But the world is far from perfect, and in the aftermath of the Crusaders’ 73-63 loss, Andrews’ 1,000th career point was reduced to a footnote by a second Holy Cross milestone, coach Bill Gibbons’ first career ejection.

Andrews reached her milestone with 14:37 to go in the first half, scoring on a putback off a Shannon Bush miss to become the 21st women in Holy Cross history to score 1,000. Andrews went on to have an outstanding afternoon, finishing with 21 points, 6 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.

That should have been what everyone was talking about after the game; that, or the 20-point performance of Lehigh’s Jessica DePalo. Instead, though the hot topic in the postgame was not the performance of the ladies wearing purple or the ladies wearing white, but the three men wearing black and white.

Those three officials did more to determine the outcome than any of the players by calling 21 second-half fouls (29 overall) on Holy Cross (15-9, 10-1 Patriot League), including two technicals on Gibbons, who was ejected after the second with 4:40 to play and his team trailing 62-60.

“I don’t think me getting thrown out was the reason we lost the game,” said Gibbons. “I don’t want to take away from the way Lehigh (17-7, 9-2) played and use that as an excuse for why we lost the game.”

Gibbons might not want to blame the loss on the technicals, but then again, he didn’t witness what ensued after he was banished.

At the time of the second technical, Holy Cross trailed by just 2 with the ball. The whistle came when Gibbons argued what was, simply put, a blown backcourt violation call against Crusaders’ freshman point guard Laura Aloisi, who had retreated behind the midcourt stripe to chase down a loose ball that had been deflected by Lehigh’s Chantal St. Laurent.

Instead of it being Holy Cross ball, with a chance to tie the game, Lehigh shot two free throws, got the ball back and scored again to make it a 66-60 lead. The Crusaders never recovered from there.

The fact that Lehigh had a two-point lead at the time, or for that matter, that the game was even that close, also had much to do with the guys wearing stripes. After a first half in which Holy Cross was called for 8 personals while building a 36-26 halftime lead, the officials seemed to blow their whistles on nearly every Lehigh possession in the second half.

It started right after the break—Lehigh’s first four points of the second half came on free throws – and it went on throughout the half. By the time Gibbons picked up his first technical, with 11:25 to play, Lehigh was already shooting the one-and-one bonus while only having been whistled for two personals of their own.

Lehigh’s Sara Ellis hit both shots on the technical, which came after Gibbons merely remarked “That’s a disgrace” when the officials made the call that put Lehigh in the bonus. The free throws came in the middle of a stretch that saw Lehigh come from being down 45-43 to ahead 52-51 thanks to 10 straight free throws.

The Mountain Hawks reached the two-shot bonus 8:07 to play. In all, the Crusaders were called for 27 personals, 19 in the second half when Lehigh went to the foul line 34 times. Lest anyone think the disparity was the result of desperation fouling by Holy Cross in the final minute, only six of those free throw attempts came then.

Holy Cross only went to the line 16 times the entire afternoon in a game where most of the other statistics were fairly even. Often looking at where teams scored from the floor will offer a hint to such a disparity. Teams that take the ball to the hole will get to the line more than teams that settled for jumpers from the perimeter. But Holy Cross scored 28 points in the paint, Lehigh 32.

Andrews’ line was a perfect illustration of the difference in how the game was called at the two ends of the floor. The 6-3 center took 18 shots, most from close range, yet was fouled just once. Conversely, DePalo scored 10 of her 20 points from the charity stripe.

Making it more puzzling was the fact that aside from Holy Cross’ inability to get its transition game going in the second half, largely because of all the foul calls interrupting the flow, the defensive intensity on both sides seemed pretty much the same in each half.

“I thought it was the same game. It was just officiated much different in the second half,” said Gibbons, who had never before been ejected in the 488 previous games of his 20-year career. “They called it a lot tighter in the second half than they did in the first half. We didn’t adjust to that.”

Despite the loss, which snapped a 10-game win streak, Holy Cross remains in the Patriot League drivers seat with a one-game lead over Lehigh with three to play,

“We move forward. We have a three-game season,” Gibbons said. “No matter what Lehigh does, we win three games and we’re the number one seed and we get to host in the tournament.

“Then we get another three-game season, potentially all at the Hart Center. It’s not rocket science.”

That final three-game stretch of the regular season will begin Saturday when the Crusaders host Colgate. (Box Score)

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Sunday previews

If these were being played on Monday, we could use a catchy "Must Win Monday" theme. Lehigh and Bucknell are in must-win mode if they hope to keep Holy Cross from being the top seed in the tournament. American is in must win mode if it wants to even think about staying in the league's upper division, let alone getting a home game in the first round.

With three games to go after today, there's no more margin for error for anyone but Holy Cross. And even the Crusaders must win if they want to keep alive their slim hopes of an at-large NCAA bid should they get upset in the tournament.

Patriot League scoreboards
ESPN | CBS Sportsline | | Yahoo!

Lehigh at Holy Cross, 2 p.m.: This is a must-win for Lehigh. Though the Mountain Hawks have little realistic chance of repeating as regular season champs, they will be very much alive for the second seed and homecourt in the first two rounds of the tournament if they can end the Crusaders' 10-game win streak.

The two went to the buzzer two weeks ago in Bethlehem. Since that game was close in no small part due to some home court officiating that kept Lehigh marching to the foul line, it is tempting to give the Hawks little chance in Worcester. But there are two injuries that could make a difference this time. One, a foot injury that slowed Lehigh guard Joe Knight in the last meeting, is now healed and Knight has been on a tear the last few games, scoring 24 against Bucknell and 20 Friday night at Army.

The other injury is the one to Nate Lufkin's ankle. Tim Clifford is a capable replacement in the rotation. But Clifford is a freshman and Lufkin is a senior. In a game with as much on the line as this one, coaches like that leadership on the floor.
Lehigh notes | HC Notes | USA Today matchup | HC radio

Navy at Bucknell, 2 p.m.:Navy shocked the league by upsetting the Bison in Annapolis two weeks ago. They could do it again if Bucknell doesn't come out with the same intensity it showed Friday night against American. After beating AU, the Bison have the inside track on that important second place finish in the regular season, and because they still play Holy Cross again, they still have a chance of catching the Crusaders if they get some help. But for either scenario to play to Bucknell's favor, they will have to go 1-0 Sunday, as our friend Bill Gibbons would say.
Navy notes | Bucknell notes | USA Today matchup | Bucknell radio | Navy Radio

American at Colgate, 2 p.m.: Two weeks ago, American was contending for first place. Now, after two straight losses, the Eagles face a must-win on the road to stay in the league's upper division. This looks like a preview of the upcoming 4-5 game in the first round of the tournament. The question is, which will get to wear the white jerseys when that one is played.
AU notes | Colgate notes | USA Today matchup | Gametracker | 'Gate radio

Lafayette at Army, 1 p.m.: Lafayette cannot take this one for granted. Yes Army is bad. Very bad. But the Black Knights played Lehigh tough Friday night and beat Navy in West Point a few weeks ago. Even with a win, which could force a tie for last place, Army is likely to end up the No. 8 seed, since the tiebreaker is likely to be RPI and Army's is rock bottom.

That means Army is pretty much playing only for pride. But don't ever discount pride as a motivational factor for either service academy.
Lafayette notes (pdf) | Army notes (pdf) | USA Today matchup | Gametracker

Read more!
Saturday, February 19, 2005
At the top of the stretch

He's no Sal, that is for sure
Friday, February 18, 2005
They still remember Jason Thomas

Times they are a changing

More kind words for HC

Where are they now (BU asst. coaches edition)

Where are they now (obscure AU assistant edition)
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Not dead yet

From the desktop of Ralph Willard

Meet Matt, he's a recruitnik

Worse than Savannah
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
My gosh they were good
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Bucknell-Villanova preview

Bracket nonsense

Imagine if

What if they gave a game and nobody came
Monday, February 14, 2005
Where are they now (Valentine's Day edition)

Wow, a plug for us?

Maybe had he been there

Latest AP poll

HC, BU alone at 1-2

Don't ya just love it?

Mid-Major Top 25

Lehigh (women) 73, Holy Cross 63
Sunday, February 13, 2005
Sunday previews

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