Bucknell shootaround report

Sequestered in the media room after AU kicked me out of its shootaround, I had lost track of the time waiting for Bucknell to take the floor.

Lacking an alarm clock, I was alerted instead by a different audio indicator, the squeak of basketball shoes on the hardwood. It was audible even behind the closed door of the media room, an early indicator of the difference in tempo and tone of Bucknell’s workout.

The Bison used their full two-hours of court time, and while they didn’t scrimmage or go hard the whole two hours, they had their moments. Working on their defense against AU sets and vice versa, after a couple half-speed walkthroughs, each time they went at an almost live pace two or three times before moving on to the next set.

It was a spirited workout, with far more bounce and energy than what I was allowed to watch of AU.

Any question of which team has the better legs was pretty obvious by the look of the players. While AU looked lethargic and tired, Bucknell looked energetic and ready to go. Another night of sleep will help AU. Jones kept things low key on purpose to gain more rest.

But you have to wonder if you can play catch up on that sort of thing at this point in the season.

Bucknell even ended its practice with some live loose ball drills, with players hitting the floor in pursuit of the rock.

I once had the pleasure of going through a similar drill with Coach Knight. It was before anybody other than hardcore hoops folks knew who the General was. I was in junior high. All I knew is some guy who was coach at Army was the guest instructor that day at camp and he was crazy enough to expect us to dive across the asphalt outdoor court if that was what it took to beat the other guy to the ball rolled across the floor.

Something tells me if Knight were in Sojka watching the way Bucknell players went after the ball, here at the end of the season, the afternoon after a game with a big one on tap tomorrow, he would smile and say they look ready to go.

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Paranoia strikes deep

PARANOIA STRIKES DEEP – About a half hour into AU’s shootaround Saturday, a cute little Patriot League official with a blonde ponytail came walking over to where I sat in the first row of the bleachers and asked who I was.

No, she was not flirting. When I said I was a member of the media covering the tournament, she informed me that shootarounds are closed and I would have to leave.

Interestingly, it did not become a closed practice until they noticed me taking notes as AU walked through some stuff in preparation for Sunday’s game. Also interesting, the guy doing the Internet radio broadcasts of AU games was not asked to leave.

I pointed out the inconsistency to the league type person, pointing out that if one member of the media is not allowed, then none should be. But someone from AU, a humorless little punk with a gel-slicked hairdo (from the pictures in their media guide, I think it was Associate AD Ed McLaughlin), told me the radio guy was OK because he was not media, but part of their travel party.

Of course Friday night the dude was wearing a media credential and sitting on press row. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is not a chicken.

The league posted the shootaround schedules on its Web site, with no mention of them being closed. But that argument did no good with blondie, who actually tried to be nice even as I bordered on belligerent.

I considered the fact that maybe Jones is pissed about the Grateful Dead T-shirt picture.

According to AU SID Shaun May, this is not atypical of Jeff Jones. In the preseason, they held a closed scrimmage at another DC area school. The other coach, a former Maryland assistant, had invited someone to watch. Jones made the guy leave.

I am flattered that Jones thinks I know enough about the game to prepare some sort of scouting report that would benefit Bucknell. I can assure you there is nothing I am going to notice and mention here that Bucknell’s coaches have not figured out from watching hours of tape.

Truth be told, though, I was watching more for personal than professional reasons. Being a youth basketball coach, I like to watch college practices when I get a chance as a learning experience. It also helps my understanding of the game and gives me some insight that helps make for better game stories.

I had no intention of posting anything that I picked up from watching the workout, other than little tidbits like how assistant coach Greg Lyons swished a halfcourt shot without even warming up first before the Eagles began their workout. Lyons also went on to sink 6 of 7 from three-point range in one stretch.

Other stuff I would have noted were things like how Andre Ingram was not wearing the protective mask over his broken nose in the shootaround. While there was little danger of reinjury – they were not scrimmaging – you do wonder if it might help him to be more used to it by wearing it to shoot in practice.

I also would make note of the fact that AU, with tired legs after being extended to overtime, did not show up until 11:30 for their scheduled 11 a.m. workout. One Sojka Pavilion staffer said they heard a coach mention Friday night that they were not getting the players out of bed that early after the OT game.

That is significant, obviously, because Jones himself has mentioned down the stretch how tired Ingram’s legs, in particular, were. Ingram’s 911 total minutes this season (heading into Friday’s game, in which he played 41), are 10 more than Kevin Bettencourt, who has logged the most time for Bucknell. Bettencourt’s 901 minutes, it is worth noting, are spread over 28 games, two more than the 26 AU played in the regular season.

You cannot help but wonder if fatigue has been a factor in Ingram’s struggles at the foul line late in games.

Only one player for Bucknell, Charles Lee (31) played more than 25 minutes Friday night. Four of American’s five starters played over 32. That could be a factor if the game is close down the stretch. Bucknell goes 10 deep, has fresher legs and has been sleeping in their own beds. It would not be a surprise to see the Bison wear American down in the second half.

We had not planned on mentioning anything we saw during the shootaround. But given AU’s attitude, we feel free to share what little we learned. The first thing Jones emphasized was getting his post players involved after the screen for Ingram on the baseline. Jones wants them to flash about eight feet from the hoop in the lane, looking for the ball.

Once they catch it there, it is either turn and shoot, or kick it out. He does not want them to try to put it on the floor to power past Bucknell’s big men, who he emphasized are bigger and stronger in the post. He also pointed out that the way Bucknell’s guards like to double down, putting the ball on the floor would be problematic.

Jones emphasized the idea of moving the ball on the perimeter, rotating it and finding the open man against Bucknell’s matchup zone.

After he covered that, we were asked to leave.

With a swim meet next door, and an open concourse at the top of the stands, it would have been easy to watch from above. But like I said, I was no there to spy, so instead I headed into the media room and pounded out this rant to pass time until Bucknell’s 1 p.m. workout.

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Bucknell 70, Lafayette 34

(Originally posted: Friday, 10:55 p.m., Links added: 7:42 a.m.)

LEWISBURG, Pa. – All Bison, all the time. That was pretty much the story of the nightcap in Sojka Pavilion, where Bucknell used its opening round game with Lafayette as a tuneup for the rest of the tournament, coasting to a 70-34 win over shell-shocked Lafayette.

It was total domination, start until finish, or at least until the starters took a seat to watch the far end of the Bison bench play out the final couple of minutes.

Bucknell started the game with an 11-0 run, holding Lafayette without a field goal the first 6:46 of the game. It was 18-5 at the 9:53 mark, when Jamaal Douglas scored Lafayette’s second field goal. And by the half, Bucknell had built a 34-16 margin.

Lafayette’s 34 points were the fewest ever scored in a Patriot League Tournament game, a mark that tells just how tenacious the Bison defense was. Lafayette made just five field goals in the first half (5-23, 21.7 percent) and only one more in the second (6-20, 30 percent), despite the fact that most of the second half was mop-up time, with Bucknell’s lead never below 16 the final 15:54 and never below 20 the last 13:14.

Maybe more telling is the fact that Bucknell scored 70 points, and won by 36, despite shooting below 40 percent (25-63, 39.7 percent) for the game.

Bucknell’s clampdown from the get go was by design. Though Lafayette won only nine games all season, three of those W’s had come in the last 4 games, including wins over American and Lehigh in games where the Leopards had lit up the scoreboard for 174 total points.

“We knew they had some confidence coming in,” said Bucknell coach Pat Flannery. “We thought if we let them get off shooting the ball that would hurt us.”

To say the Bison met that challenge would be an understatement. Lafayette was 0-for9 before it scored its first points.

“We got down right away and never recovered,” said Leopards coach Fran O’Hanlon. “They were better tonight. Right away they had us down 11-0.”

Sean Knitter, Lafayette’s leading scorer, who averaged 11.1 points per game this season, finally got the Leopards on the board with a short jumper at the 13:21 mark. It was Knitter’s only hoop of the night.

“They just play good post defense and they rebound real well,” Knitter said. “We didn’t get too many second shots.”

On this night, rebound well was an understatement. The Bison held a 30-13 edge on the glass in the first half and finished with a 46-28 advantage. Bucknell had 17 offensive rebounds to 6 for Lafayette.

“It seemed like every time they missed they got the rebound,” O’Hanlon said.

Leading the way was Charles Lee, who was within one rebound of a double-double at halftime and finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds and four steals.

“We focused on (rebounding) all week,” Lee said. “We knew we have to do the little dirty work come tournament time.”

Joining Lee in double figures was Bucknell point guard Abe Badmus. Badmus was 5-for-8 from the floor, including two three-pointers for 13 points.

Nobody else reached double figures. Nobody had to. Every member of the Bison roster saw action, all but one scored, including Kevin Bettencourt, whose three treys gave him 9 points and gave him 207 treys for his career, breaking Mike Bright’s school record of 206.

The win gives Bucknell its first 20-win season since the Charlie Woolum era. The last Bison team to do it was the 1992-93 squad that went 23-6, losing to Holy Cross in the league final in what was the last tournament game played on the Bucknell campus prior to this season.

Flannery said the 20-win mark doesn’t mean a whole lot to him as a personal landmark. “But it does mean we’re in the semifinals of the league,” Flannery said.

Bucknell will play American in that semifinal matchup at 1 p.m. Sunday in Sojka.

Box score | Patriot-News | Daily Item | Express-Times | Morning Call

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AU 85, Navy 83 (OT)

(Originally posted: Friday, 10:45 p.m., Links added: Saturday, 8:24 a.m.)

LEWISBURG, Pa. – It surprised a lot of people when American put the ball in Linas Lekavicius’ hands on two straight possessions with the game on the line and the clock ticking down in overtime of the Eagles 85-83 win over Navy.

With two all-league guards who average in double figures, including the league’s leading scorer, and a guy who had knocked down five three-pointers on the way to a 30-point night on the floor, Lekavicius, who only shot 43 percent from the floor all season, hardly seemed like the logical choice to anybody but Jones.

Jones, though, obviously knew what he was doing. Or at least Lekavicius made him look like he did, scoring a pair of driving buckets to advance AU to the semifinals of the Patriot League Tournament.

“He is our best one-on-one player,” Jones explained after the game. “He is the only guy that is comfortable putting it on the floor. Linas is the guy that can break down the defense.”

It’s possible there were other factors involved in Jones’ decision. Andre Ingram, that leading scorer we mentioned, was in the midst of a mediocre night in which he made only 5 of 13 from the floor. And certainly it had to go through Jones’ mind that the last guy he wanted on the foul line in that situation was Ingram, who continued his habit of choking on big free throws by missing a pair that could have sealed the game in regulation.

Then there was Jason Thomas, who justified our decision to leave him off the All Hoop Time team by having a 2-for-8 night in the Eagles biggest game of the season.

It also might have entered Jones’ mind that Navy simply had run out of people to guard Lekavicius after losing both the point guards in Billy Lange’s usual rotation, and a pair of other key players, to foul trouble.

Certainly that was what was on Lange’s mind at the postgame press conference. That and the no-call on David Hooper’s desperation three-point try at the end of the game.

“Four guys fouled out in an overtime game,” said Lange in disgust, shaking his head in disbelief as he looked at the final boxscore. “Four guys fouled out.”

And still Navy had a chance to win it when they got the ball to Hooper, who had caught fire for five second half treys to keep Navy in the game, even after Greg Sprink, who finished with 20 points, including three three-pointers, had fouled out with 4:44 to go in regulation.

Hooper appeared to be hammered on the shot, but no whistle was forthcoming and American escaped with the 1-point win.

“He should have been at the foul line,” Lange lamented. “I have no idea why they wouldn’t call it. It was a 26-foot shot for a kid who hit five threes.”

Hooper agreed. “I got hit,” he said with a sigh of resignation. “That is just how it goes.”

Early in the game, what was going was American’s Matej Cresnik, who hit four treys in the first half and was 5-for-7 from the field with 20 points at the break. Cresnik was the reason the Eagles had a 42-35 edge at the intermission.

Early in the second half, though, Navy went on a 14-4 run to take a 52-50 lead with 12:14 to go in regulation. Neither team led by more than 3 the rest of the way.

That was the spread with nine seconds to go in regulation when Ingram stepped to the line for two shots. But the first team all-league performer missed both shots.

At the other end, Navy freshman Corey Johnson’s 25-foot prayer from the middle of two AU defenders was answered, sending the game to OT.

Johnson, though, was not around to repeat his heroics at the end of overtime. He became the fourth, and final, midshipmen to foul out with 42 seconds to go.

With the win, AU advances to a semifinal meeting with No. 2 seed Bucknell, which romped to an easy win over Lafayette in the nightcap.
Box Score | Baltimore Sun | Washington Post

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Worcester pod results

Lehigh 77, Colgate 60: Joe Knight hit 10 3-pointers and scored 45 points -- both new tournament records -- as Lehigh defeated Colgate.

A closer look at the Knight line: 15 of 19 from the field, 10 of 12 on 3-pointers, 11-for-12 in the second half.

Back in the his days at High Point, before he became an academic casualty and spent a year at a Texas junior college, Knight scored 40 against Vanderbilt. It is doubtful that his showing for Furniture U. was more impressive than the one he put on for his new team last night, though.

Colgate coach Emmett Davis told the Express-Times:
"I coached David Robinson (as an assistant at Navy) and saw him get 50 in a game (against Michigan in the 1987 NCAA tournament), and it wasn't as dominant a performance as this one."
Hidden behind Juco Joe's big night, a disturbing, pardon another pun, footnote in Gordie Jones' Morning Call story:
Hawks center Jason Mgebroff played just two minutes because of a bad foot.
Lehigh had best hope he gets better in a hurry. Without the 6-11 Mgebroff, the Hawks are ill-equipped to handle the HC big men. Earl Nurse is simply no match for Lufkin, Hurley, Hyland and Clifford, and it is doubtful Knight can put up those kinds of numbers against the league's best defense.
Box score | AP wrap

Holy Cross 76, Army 42: The host Crusaders led by only two, 29-27 at the half, before blowing it open in the second.
Box score | AP wrap | HC recap | Boston Globe| Boston Herald | Times Herald-Record

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At the half -- AU 42, Navy 35

Key stats: American holds a 17-11 edge in rebounds, including 6 -3 on the offensive glass. AU also is shooting 56 percent (14-25) from the floor.

Let's play horse: Why not just let Matej Cresnik and Greg Sprink settle this one in a driveway. At the intermission: Cresnik -- 5-of-7 including 4-of-6 from 3-point range and 6-of-7 at the line. Already a season high 20 points, just 4 shy of his career best.

Sprink is 4-for-5, 3-of-4 at the arc, 5-of-6 FT for 16 points.

Masked man: Andre Ingram showed up in pregame wearing a clear plastic mask to protect a broken nose suffered in practice. Reports say it was broken by teammate Travis Lay, a 6-5 freshman who does not see much time for AU. That promoted one press row wag to remark:"Always nice when the last guy on upur bench breaks your superstar's nose."

The impact? Hard to say. Ingram is 1-of-5 at the half. But he has never shot well in Sojka. Earlier this season against Bucknell he was 2-for-12 here and last year he went 5-16. Combined 2.5 game totals: 8-of-33. That ouch you just heard was not just Ingram's nose.

More after the game.

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Let's get ready to rumble

The real fun begins tonight. We'll be in Lewisburg for the Bucknell pod, with full updates as often as we can get them posted throughout the evening.

If you are wise, though, you won't be home checking the computer. You'll be in the Hart Center or in Sojka Pavilion for what ought to be some pretty good hoops.

In the original print version of Hoop Time, we used the slogan "We'll see you at the game." No better time than now to roll that one back out.

By the way, there's still time to order your Hoop Time T-shirt to wear to next week's final. We just added a new look, the top of the line T with a hoop time logo on the front and a back that asks the question everybody wants the answer to.

Patriot League scoreboards
ESPN | CBS Sportsline | PennLive.com | Yahoo!

(4)Lehigh vs. (5)Colgate, 5:30 p.m.: These two split in the regular season and this should be another close one. Lehigh probably has a slight edge in pure talent, but Colgate has played harder on a more consistent basis all season. Two keys here: 1) Andrew Zidar inside. If Zidar can use his quickness to cause damage in the paint against taller, but slew-footed Lehigh center Jason Mgebroff, that could help open things up for the Raiders deadly three-point shooters on the perimeter. 2) Alvin Reed vs. Joe Knight. They might not be matched against each other, but whichever guard has the bigger game will have a lot to say about the outcome.
Colgate notes | Lehigh notes | USA Today matchup | 'Gate radio

(8)Army vs. (1)Holy Cross, 8 p.m.: Is there a danger of Holy Cross coming out flat and stumbling? Sure. There is also a danger of space junk falling out of the sky and landing on your head. If you have to choose which possibility to bet on, take the space junk, even if you have to give up points.
Army notes | Holy Cross notes | USA Today matchup | Gametracker | HC radio

(6)Navy vs. (3)American, 5:30 p.m.: They say it is tough to beat a team three times. We will see tonight when the up-and-down Eagles try for a sweep against the down-now-up Midshipmen. Navy is widely viewed as the most dangerous team in the first round of the tournament. Nobody wanted that matchup. Ironically AU got it by winning its regular season finale while Lehigh and Colgate were losing. The winner gets Navy, the losers ride a bus to Worcester. Hard to say who got the best of that deal.

If Ingram and Thomas are on, and the rest of the Eagles buckle down on defense, Au should advance. But Navy plus the points would be awful attractive if they actually placed a line on Patriot League games.
American notes | Navy notes | USA Today matchup | Navy Radio

(7)Lafayette vs. (2)Bucknell, 8 p.m.: Lafayette has gotten better late in the season. But it is doubtful they have gotten better enough to beat the Bison, who have given them more trouble than anyone, according to Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon.

The problem for Lafayette in this matchup is that they don't have the firepower to win in a run and gun affair against Bucknell and most of their success has come when they have managed to push the pace. Five of Lafayette's 9 wins have come in games they scored over 80 points. But Bucknell has allowed 70 or more only three times all season, none of those against Patriot League foes.

It's a lose-lose for the Leopards. Slow it down and play half-court, they can't score enough to win. Chuck and duck and the Bison's superior talent will outscore them, especially in Sojka.

This is, by the way, a good first round match for Bucknell. While not a walk-over like Holy Cross has against Army, it should give the Bison a chance to rev up the offense and get in sync after a week off while not taking too much out of their legs for Sunday's semi.
Bucknell notes | Lafayette notes | USA Today matchup | Bucknell radio

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Women's results

We won't get into any details, but here are some links to last night's first round women's action:

(2)Lehigh 54, (8) Bucknell 52: Player of the year Jess DePalo's putback with 0.4 to go lifts the Mountain Hawks.
Daily Item | Express-Times | Morning Call

(5) Navy 62, (4) American 40: The Mids go 12-for-12 at the line down the stretch to seal the win.
Baltimore Sun

(1)Holy Cross 74, (8) Lafayette 61: Maggie Fontana's knees were feeling good last night. A 17-point, 10-boards dub-dub for the senior from Chitown as the top seed advances.
Telegram&Gazette | Daily News Transcript | Express-Times

(6)Colgate 78, (3) Army 75: The defending champs hold off a late Army charge.
Colgate recap

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When worlds collide

Tom Housenick of the Daily Item echoes what we told you back in early January. Bucknell and Holy Cross appear to be on a collision course.

In his weekly hoops column, Housenick does what coaches and players don't dare to-- he looks ahead to that possible final.

A good piece, though we must disagree with Tom on one thing. He writes:
Holy Cross still doesn't have an established point guard to replace Meade as a coach on the floor and a captain. Sophomore Torey Thomas has been the starter when healthy, but freshman Pat Doherty, the league's rookie of the year, has been solid in Thomas' absence.
In Tom's defense, it is easy to think it looks that way from afar. Tom covers Bucknell. He has not seen HC since the first week of conference play. But the fact is, what looks like no established point guard is actually the emergence of two. Doherty and Thomas have been sharing time very effectively since Thomas got healthy and their differing styles of play allows Willard to shift gears by simply making a substitution.

Having two guys who are playing as well as these two at the point is quite a luxury. It is not at all unlike the performance Bucknell coach Pat Flannery has been getting from Abe Badmus and freshman John Griffin, who has been solid running the Bison when Badmus gets a breather.

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Corky does the Valley

From our man Corky Blake of the Express-Times, a look at Lafayette and Lehigh heading into tonight's tournament openers.

Plenty of good stuff on both teams, here.

The most telling quote comes from Lehigh's Nick Monserez:
"I think you saw in our comebacks that we're as good as anyone in the league playing under pressure. I know we'll be more focused because now you know if you lose you go home."
That is the problem. As Gordie Jones pointed out yesterday in the Morning Call:
Lehigh has perfected the art of the near-miraculous comeback.
The emphasis should be on the word "near."

Too often the Mountain Hawks have come out flat, then tried to turn it on as if they could just flip the switch when the mood strikes.

It just does not work that way. And at tournament time, facing what will be back-to-back quality opponents (if they make it to the second back), that is a formula that translates into "Hurry up and melt snow, we want to go golfing."

The reason the Mountain Hawks are 13-14 and seeded fourth is because despite having talent that should be competitive with anybody in the league, they have been woefully inconsistent. In games, and from game to game.

Back in non-conference play, we scratched our heads wondering how this team lost to Columbia and Cornell at home. The answer now is apparent.

This league is greatly improved. As Navy learned the hard way at West Point, even against the lowliest team in the league, you need to bring it for 40 minutes every night.

Another telling point from Corky's piece:
Lehigh's defense has fallen from midseason form when it was ranked high in a number of NCAA categories. The Mountain Hawks failed to yield more than 67 points in any one game and held four teams to less than 60 points through the first seven league games. During their four-game skid, the Hawks are permitting 74 points a game.
Folks, that is a very telling stat. This team didn't suffer a major injury that changed its personnel. Defense is not talent or athleticism, though athleticism sure helps. Defense is an attitude.

Can Lehigh suddenly recapture that attitude? Can the Hawks flip the switch and win three straight in the tournament? Especially considering one of the teams they would likely have to beat, on its own floor, has had that attitude all season long?

Maybe, but don't bet the mortgage payment.

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That answers that question

We had wondered about Colgate's small roster and the absence of a couple guys listed in the media guide but not on the bench.

In a Colgate preview in the Utica Dispatch, we finally found some answers:
"We lost the Chones brothers (Kyle and Kendall) before the season started (to academics), then lost (center) Marc Daniels to a broken foot," (Colgate coach Emmett) Davis said. "That's three potential starters right there. Andrew Zidar, a senior, and Alvin Reed, a junior, have played the most minutes for us, but beyond that it's freshmen and sophomores."
Guess the Chones brothers prove that despite the taunts the Raiders often hear on the road, Colgate is not such a safety school after all.

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Not quite enough

Ken McMillan of the Times Herald-Record looks at the Holy Cross-Army matchup from the Black Knights perspective:
Faced with the daunting task of playing regular-season champion Holy Cross on its home floor to open the Patriot League tournament today, the only thing going for Army is that school break has arrived on the Worcester, Mass., campus.
What Ken is too polite to point out is that these two could meet on a playground in Montana, the result would still be the same.

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Morning chuckle

From the Boston Herald's Holy Cross preview:
Senior center Nate Lufkin hit the weight room over the summer and emerged as one of the league's best rebounders and shot-blockers.
Shot-blocker? Absolutely. But "one of the league's best rebounders?" Lufkin ranks 16th in the league. Other than Chris McNaughton of Bucknell, who is about the same size as Lufkin (and ranks 13th), there's nobody ahead of him on the list that is within three inches of Lufkin's 6-11 height.

Nate is a good kid and one of the best quotes on the Holy Cross team. But he is as skinny as those Sammy Ninja stick figures on his Web site. He might have done some lifting, but there is certainly nothing about his physique that would make Ralph Willard wonder if his name is in Jose Canseco's book.

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Where have you gone (Nick we hardly knew ya edition)

From the Sports Network via ABC 7 News:
Stony Brook men's basketball coach Nick Macarchuk announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of the 2004-05 season.
The PL old-timers out there best remember Nick as the guy who had no respect for the flow of the game, running players in and out at every whistle while winning the league title the first two years of its existence in 1991 and 1992. Macarchuk also led the Rams to a share of the regular season title in 1994 before giving sportswriters around teh league a break by taking his team and his tough to spell name to the Atlantic 10 after the 1995 season.

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Ladies day

With the women's tournament tipping off tonight, here's some links to previews and features about the ladies:

In the Easton Express-Times, Corky Blake previews the Lehigh and Lafayette women's tournament openers.

Andre Williams of the Morning Call has a feature about Mary France Hynoksi's physical presence for the Lehigh women. And if he thinks Mary Frances is something, he should see her not-so-little brother Henry play football. Just a high school sophomore, Henry (actually Henry Jr., Henry Sr. had a cup of coffee with the old Cleveland Browns years ago) starred for a state championship team at Southern Columbia, breaking all kinds of rushing records, including what is believed to be the single-game mark for the state of Pa. (409 -- that is not a typo-- yards on the ground in a single game).

The Morning Call also has preview capsules of the first round matchups for the Lehigh and Lafayette men's and women's teams.

The Daily Item's Tom Housenick also previews the Bucknell-Lehigh first-round matchup.

From yesterday's Annapolis Capital, a preview of the Navy-American women's matchup and a feature on Navy point guard Lauren Skrel.

Jen Toland of the Telegram&Gazette took a look yesterday at the Holy Cross women heading into the postseason.

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Just rewards

Nobody who follows the league was surprised when Holy Cross' extraordinary sixth-man, Keith Simmons, earned first team all-league honors. Sure it is unusual for a guy off the bench to get that kind of recognition, but as Jen Toland points out in her profile of Simmons in the Telegram&Gazette, Simmons is not your usual reserve.

There's a lot of good stuff in this story. This morning the T&G site was very slow to load. If you encounter that when you click, don't give up, it's worth the wait.

The part we liked best was the talk about how hard Simmons has worked, in the gym and in the weight room, to get his game where it is.

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Missing link

Our old buddy Leroy Boyer, sports editor of Pat Flannery's hometown paper in Pottsville (one of our old haunts), has penned a nice piece on Pat's quest for the one thing that has eluded him thus far in his coaching career: A Patriot League title and a trip to the dance.

For some reason we can't find this on the Republican's Web site, so you'll have to suffer with the crappy z-wire formatting of the version that appeared in the Shamokin News-Item.

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Not quite left out

A very brief Navy mention in Kent Baker's Baltimore Sun story about Maryland mid majors entering conference tournament play:
Another first-year mentor, Navy's Billy Lange, is equally hopeful after his team played productive basketball during the second half of the Patriot League's regular season.

"I feel pretty good about what the guys did toward the end of the year," Lange said. "We've got a tough matchup against a team that had our number [American], but our kids started to play harder and gained more confidence. And we have three seniors who helped turn some close losses into some close wins. We came together."
That's everything he said about the Mids, so unless you long for news about Morgan State, Coppin State, UMBA and Loyola, save yourself the click.

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Tuning in

It has been a tough season for Holy Cross fans who don't get out to the games in person. The local Worcester TV station that used to televise a number of games cut its coverage to one women's game this season. Radio broadcasts have been bumped off the air by a soon-to-be-gone AHL hockey team, leaving some to be heard only on the Internet and some not broadcast at all.

In his Tuning In column in the Telegram & Gazette, Bill Doyle discusses those woes and outlines the complete TV, radio and Webcast schedule for the upcoming tournament.

A must read for purple people, especially out-of-towners trying to figure out how they can get their HC fix.

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The company you keep

They are up in arms in Richmond, were boosters and alums are evidently not eager for the Spiders to move their football affiliation to the Patriot League.

According to today's Times Dispatch:
Sources said that studies conducted by UR reflect no significant financial savings to the school if it chooses non-scholarship football. Rather than paying for 63 athletic grants-in-aid, UR would be paying roughly the same amount for players to attend school on need-based financial aid.

Operational costs wouldn't appreciably rise or fall. Academic requirements of players would remain static. The major motivation for a downgrade to non-scholarship football, according to a source at the school, is that UR would "rather be affiliated with Colgate, Bucknell, Holy Cross and Lafayette than larger public institutions' in a scholarship league."
That is interesting in a couple ways.

First, it might give those Holy Cross folks who want to leave the league some insight into the minds of college president types, who worry more about the overall reputation and image of a school than the athletic programs.

Second, if those studies are true, does that mean the reverse scenario-- Patriot League schools giving football scholarships-- would not cost more than the current arrangement? And if so, what is the hold-up? The desire to have that "We don't give jocks special favors" image? Isn't that already gone with the other sports getting them. Or is it a gender equity issue? Would giving football rides require far more scholarships for women's sports?

But the third, and biggest question we have is this: Why in the two stories we have read now about Richmond's consideration of the Patriot League, has nobody bothered to mention that the Patriot has become a pretty damned competitive league in I-AA even without the scholarships. I seem to recall a big blown-up picture hanging in the lobby of Colgate's gym from the snowy day not long ago that the Raiders beat A-10 power UMass on their way to the national final. Seems somebody should mention that the difference in play is not as great as it once was.

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get your fix

A good rant today by the Basketball Junkie about the mainstream media's attempts to justify leaving mid majors off the dance card despite strong RPIs:
The most galling aspect of the MSM bubble talk is that I've not seen a single one of these hacks or talking heads back their spurious claims about "RPI ridiculousness" spurred "by the off-season change to give more weight to road games" with actual evidence that a teams like Vermont isn't actually better than Boston College, who beat Boston University, Holy Cross, Kent State, and Yale by a combined total of 11 points. After all, the Catamounts beat Holy Cross 64-59 in Worcester while the Eagles, who had the advantage of playing the Crusaders at home, barely escaped with a 63-60 win. So, who really is the better team?
He also says if Holy Cross, and a few other mid majors don't make the Sweet 16, he will buy you a beer.

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From the mouth of Ralph

Ralph Willard recaps the Army game, looks at the tournament, and has this to say about at-large bids in his latest
posting on CoachRalph.com:
Though our rpi is still at 37 and we have received 10 votes in the USA/ESPN coaches poll which puts us at 29, we are approaching these games like they are the last game of the year. It's been a great year but we do not want to be talked about as one of the teams that had a great year but were left out of the tournament. Nothing quite like the pressure of being a mid-major. Redemption is always a game away for the BCS conference teams and oblivion is always a game away for the mid majors.
Have we mentioned that we love this site?

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Conspicuously absent

For a sign of how down the Lehigh Valley teams have been this season, look no further than Corky Blake's story on the all-league teams in the Express-Times.

Almost the whole story is about the Lehigh women honored, save for this one small, but very telling line:
Lafayette and Lehigh men's teams failed to win any postseason awards.
What Corky didn't mention was the fact that this was the first time in the history of the league that nobody from Lehigh or Lafayette made the all-league or all-rookie squads.

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Tom's take

Tom Housenick proves he is no homer in his story about the All-Patriot League teams.

Although he concetrates on the Bucknell picks, which is to be expected since he covers that beat, Housenick also has some good stuff on the Holy Cross trio of Player of the Year Kevin Hamilton, first-team pick Keith Simmons and Coach of the Year Ralph Willard.

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On the bandwagon

For some reason, the Boston Globe has pretty much ignored Holy Cross all season. Except for a few games against other Boston area schools, they have not run more than a paragraph or two from the AP on most Crusaders games, usually as part of an all-inclusive wrapup of all New England schools.

Today though, they have a story on HC's quest to earn an NCAA bid.

Wish we could find something in it that we think would be news to Hoop Time regulars, but it is really just a rehash of stuff that is pretty common knowledge to those who have followed the team, and the league, all season.

Nonetheless, we toss in the link above because we know that folks who drink the purple Kool Aid just cannot seem to sate their thirst for things Crusader.

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Recruitnix alert

Those folks who get all ga-ga about incoming recruits might want to head over to Towson University on April 10 for the the fifth Charm City Challenge.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Holy Cross signee Lawrence Dixon, a 6-foot-5 forward, will be a member of the Baltimore All-Stars, who will play the United States Stars at 5 p.m.

Guard Justin Castleberry, a Bucknell recruit, will play for the Suburban All-Stars against the Baltimore City Stars in a 3 p.m. preliminary game.

Dixon and Castleberry are teammates at Archbishop Spalding High School.

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Expansion plans?

An article today in the Richmond Times Dispatch says:
The University of Richmond is considering moving its Division I-AA football program to the non-scholarship Patriot League starting in 2007, several sources said. A Friday vote by UR's Board of Trustees will determine the Spiders' future football affiliation.
However, the story says it would be a football only membership, like Georgetown. The Spiders would stay in the Atlantic Ten for hoops and other sports.

Which is good since we sure don't need any of those mediocre A-10 teams dragging down the RPI *LMAO*.

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No cause for alarm

You might have heard about the NCAA's new Academic Progress Rate (APR) initiative, which, in a nutshell, is designed to punish teams that do not do a good job on the student side of the student athlete equation.

We won't pretend to understand it well enough to explain it in detail. Suffice to say, no Patriot League hoops teams appear in danger of losing any scholarships under the program.

The magic number for losing scholarships is 925. Score below that and you could be in danger. Here's an explanation of the 925 number from an Academic Progress Rate Q&A in the Washington Post:
Q: How is the APR computed, and what's the significance of 925?

A: Each scholarship athlete on a roster can score two points -- one for maintaining a grade-point average that keeps him or her on track to graduate; one for returning to school the next semester. The APR is the total points scored by the team, divided by the total points possible, and multiplied by 1,000.

Example: A soccer team has 10 scholarship athletes. One signs a contract with D.C. United and leaves school early, but in good academic standing; he scores one point. Another player gets a D-average and quits school; he scores zero points. Everyone else is in good academic standing and stays in school; they score 16 points. The team's APR is 17 divided by 20 (0.850), multiplied by 1,000 (850). Because 850 is below the 925 cutoff, the team won't be allowed to re-award the scholarship of the player who dropped out in poor academic standing for one year.

An APR of 1,000 is perfect. An APR of 925 equates to about a 50-percent graduation rate and is considered minimally acceptable. Anything below 925 subjects a team to possible scholarship reductions.
You can view the APR numbers for all NCAA schools. Here's a brief summary of the results for the Patriot League, listing the men's basketball number and any teams that are below 925:

American: 963 (men's soccer 897, wrestling 900, women's swimming 917)
Army: 957 (none below 925)
Bucknell: 929 (none below)
Colgate: 923
Holy Cross: 1000
Lafayette: 952
Lehigh: 904 (men's soccer 900)
Navy: 984 (none below)

Before anyone gets alarmed, or starts chanting taunts based on those below 925 numbers, you should realize that in every instance, league teams with scores below 925 all had a little plus sign next to their numbers. According to the NCAA, that means they "have an estimated APR upper confidence boundary of 925 or above, even though the team's actual APR is below 925. It is anticipated that some smaller squads that may be identified as underperforming in this year's reports will not be subject to penalty once the confidence boundary is applied."

In other words, nobody appears to be in trouble.

One big thing to understand is that being below 925 does not in itself cost scholarships. Players who leave school in good academic standing cost points under the formula, but as long as none leave in poor academic standing, their scholarship can still be replaced. But if you are below 925 and a student leaves the team in poor academic standing, that scholarship cannot be awarded for one year.

It is unlikely this will impact the league in terms of losing scholarships, given the conference's traditional ranking at or near the top of NCAA graduation rates.

What could become interesting though, would be any possible positive impact caused by the trickle down of good players due to high major schools losing scholarships.

While that could be possible, it is unlikely to happen at a high enough level to really make a difference. As the Post's Q&A points out, this whole thing is filled with loopholes.

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League awards

(Updated 12:46 p.m.)

Here are the league honors handed out during this morning's conference call.

Three of the four major awards go to Holy Cross folks:
Coach of the Year: Ralph Willard, Holy Cross
Player of the Year: Kevin Hamilton, Holy Cross
Rookie of the Year: Pat Doherty, Holy Cross
Defensive Player of the Year: Abe Badmus, Bucknell

All Patriot League
First Team:
Kevin Hamilton, Holy Cross
Keith Simmons, Holy Cross
Charles Lee, Bucknell
Chris McNaughton, Bucknell
Andre Ingram, American

Second team:
Matt Bell, Army
Kevin Bettencourt, Bucknell
Alvin Reed, Colgate
Andrew Zidar, Colgate
Jason Thomas, American

All-Rookie Team:
Pat Doherty, Holy Cross
John Griffin, Bucknell
Corey Johnson, Navy
Kyle Roemer, Colgate
Greg Sprink, Navy

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Polls and finger pulls

(Note: The league announces its regular season awards during a conference call today from 11 to 1. We will update as soon as possible.

In the latest Mid-Major Top 25, Holy Cross up two spots to 16. Bucknell gets 1 point in the "others receiving" category.

Two votes for the Crusaders this week in the AP Poll, just one point behind fading media darling Vermont.

Over on the Holy Cross board, some folks got mighty excited when a site called Warren Nolan.com projected the Crusaders as a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

A word of caution, a bracketology story in the Reno paper quotes Warren, and refers to him like this:
Warren Nolan of Oklahoma City, whose day job is as a software engineer working on the B-2 bomber
The Reno paper did not say if Warren would share what he was smoking.

Joe Lunardi, ESPN.com's resident bracketeer, still has HC as a 13.

Chris and Craig of the Bracketology blog calls HC a 10 seed. Hmm ... these guys been hanging with Warren?

Meanwhile, Bracketography.com sides with Lunardi, calling the 'Saders a 13 seed.

If you are looking for one thing they all have in common, it might be that they all claim to be the most accurate predictors of the field of 64 alive.

You might notice we didn't do anything with this week's official league release (pdf). There were no notes of any great interest worth sharing and no real news, other than the Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week.

Jason Thomas gets the POW nod, and deservedly so. He played well in two key wins for AU. Ditto for Bucknell's John Griffin, who earned rookie honors.

Hopefully winning the POW will in some small way make up for JT's disappointment at being left off our All Hoop Time roster.

Speaking of which, Matt handed out a round of his Bloggies yesterday over at the newly christened patriotleaguehoops.com. Matt's first round were for team MVPs. He promises all-rookie and all-league lists soon to follow.

Screaming Eagle also posted his all-league teams on his blog with the silly-ass name.

Both of their lists are pretty reasonable. I might not agree with all their picks, but I can understand how someone might see it that way and could make an argument for their selections if I were asked to serve as their defense counsel.

Check their lists and discuss them all on Matt's new board, which is a nice upgrade from the old one.

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2005 All Hoop Time Team

With great fanfare, the Patriot League will announce its all-league teams during a conference call tomorrow.

They used to do it at the banquet the night before the tournament, but with the new pod setup, that won't work, so they will do it by phone.

Rather than await the results of their stats based popularity poll, then criticize the omissions, we have decided to jump the gun and name our own squad.

Inevitably, our choices will differ from the league's official picks. Part of that has to do with our selection criteria.

Here is how our team has been selected. We began by choosing the starting five we'd most like to put on the floor. That meant paying attention to positions. No four guard lineups allowed. We then proceeded to fill out the rest of our 15-man roster. Again, we looked for balance. Depth at all positions was essential.

Are these the 15 best players in the league. Probably not. To list the top 15 would mean to put together a team of smallish guards and few big men. Face it, this is a guards' league.

Doing it our way meant leaving some very good players off the list. That is OK. Somebody else will say nice things about guys like Joe Knight and Jason Thomas. We're not taking anything away from the guys we left off our roster. You could probably take the guards we omitted, put them together with some of the frontcourt types we shunned, and give our team a decent game (but our team would win 8 out of 10).


Point guard: Probably our toughest choice on the starting five. Holy Cross' Torey Thomas is outstanding. He is top 5 in assists (3.58 per) and steals (1.96 and ranks first in assists-turnovers ratio (1.94).

Bucknell's Abe Badmus has numbers that are almost identical -- 3.15 assists, 2.08 steals and is No. 2 is assists-turnovers ratio at 1.44.

We will give the start to Badmus though. Here is why: Badmus has started every game for the Bison. Thomas has spent much of the season coming off the bench for HC. We have been very impressed with the way Thomas handled losing his starting job to freshman Pat Doherty after being injured in the middle of the season. Our biggest reason for starting Badmus is we know Thomas can handle sharing time off the bench.

Besides, as long as we have both on our roster, nobody else in the league will come close at the point. Sure Joe Knight scores more. But we have plenty of firepower. We want these two for their unselfish play and tenacious defense.

Shooting Guard: Kevin Hamilton of Holy Cross is an easy choice here. Sure many will argue for American's Andre Ingram, who leads the league in scoring at 15.7 per. But Hamilton is right behind him at 15.2 ppg, and we will gladly trade the half-a-point of offense for what K-Ham brings to the table beyond his points production, like 5.9 rebounds, 3 assists and a league leading 3 steals per game. Hamilton's assists to turnover ratio of 1.07 rivals the league's best point guards and he is also the league's top defensive rebounder. If we gave a Player of the Year award, it would likely go to Hamilton.

Small Forward: Charles Lee of Bucknell is an undersized three-man at 6-3, but he plays bigger and has easily been the top swingman in the league. Tenth in scoring (12.5 ppg) and fourth in rebounding (6.1 per), Lee is a tough defender and his ability to shoot the three (42.2 percent from the arc) and dribble penetrate makes him a dangerous man.

Power Forward: Andrew Zidar of Colgate is an undersized center for the Raiders. For us, he gets to play his natural position. A dependable scorer (12.5 per) and the league's number three rebounder (6.6 per), Zidar can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot the three and is also a deft passer, as evidenced by his 2.37 assists per game, tops among all big men.

Center: Probably the easiest decision in making out our lineup is Bucknell's 6-11 Chris McNaughton at center. The league's field goal percentage leader (57.5 percent) would score well above his 12.4 points per game average if opposing teams played straight man-to-man on him. McNaughton has shown in non-conference play that he can score against quality big men. There is not a center in the league that can guard him alone. He also grabs almost five rebounds a game.


In addition to Thomas and Ingram, three other guards make our team. Alvin Reed of Colgate can score (13.1 ppg), dish (3.3 assists) and defend (1.15 steals). Bucknell's Kevin Bettencourt can shoot the three, averaging 2.39 per game (second in the league) and is an 89 percent free throw shooter. That is important because Bettencourt has a knack for getting to the line. Among the league leaders in assists (2.21 per) and steals (1.68), Bettencourt is also one of the league's top defenders.

Our other guard is Keith Simmons of Holy Cross, who would be hands down the Sixth Man of the Year if we believed in individual awards. Simmons averages 12.6 points off the bench and his 52 percent field goal shooting is tops among the league's guards. Simmons' 43.7 percent mark from three-point range is second in the league.

Swingmen are in short supply in the league. Most guys playing the three are actually guards, with many true three-men forced to play the four. One prime example is Lafayette's Jamaal Douglas, a wide 6-6 sophomore who has been playing the four and even the five at times for the Leopards. Douglas averages almost 10 points per game and leads the league in rebounding (7 per). His 49.5 field goal percentage is sixth in the league and as he showed Saturday against Lehigh, his range extends to the arc.

Our other three on the bench is Lehigh's Nick Monserez, a 6-5 senior with 3-point range (40-percent) who has averaged 9 ppg for a Lehigh team that does not score a lot of points and has two guards-- Olivero and Knight-- who take most of the team's shots. Monserez is also a decent rebounder at 4.9 per.

Rounding out our roster are a pair of Holy Cross frontcourt men, John Hurley and 6-11 Nate Lufkin, and Navy's Matt Fannin.

Hurley, a 6-8 senior, is as good, if not better, than anybody starting at his position (the four) in the league. At 215 pounds, he does not have the widest body. But if he did, he would probably be playing for a major. Hurley only averages 7.8 points per game, but Holy Cross doesn't ask him to carry much of the scoring load. The nine games he reached double figures, including against Boston College, Vermont, American and Bucknell, shows he is capable of contributing offense when called upon. But Hurley makes this team because of his 6 rebounds per game, including 3 per on the offensive glass, second in the league, and his defense.

Lufkin's stats probably don't rank him with the rest of this roster. Aside from blocked shots, where he ranks first, he is not among the leaders in many categories. But his defense and his solid 4.6 rebounds per game make him our choice to back up McNaughton. In other words, he is the second best of a thin crop of five men in the league.

Fannin, at 6-7, is not the biggest power forward, but his 6.8 rebounds are among the tops in the league and his 3.08 offensive rebounds also leads the conference. A 45.5 percent shooter, Fannin averages 10.5 points per game.

Last guys cut: Laramie Mergerson, 6-8 Sr., Navy; Greg Kinsey, 6-4 Sr. Holy Cross; Sean Knitter, 6-8 Sr., Lafayette (if only he could play D); Jason Thomas, 6-3 Sr., American; Joe Knight, 6-1 Jr., Lehigh; Jose Olivero, 6-2 So., Lehigh.

Point: Corey Johnson, Navy
Shooting Guard: John Griffin, Bucknell
Swingman: Kyle Roemer, Colgate
Power forward: Darren Mastropaolo
Center: Tim Clifford, Holy Cross
Honorable mentions: Pat Doherty, Holy Cross (our Most Valuable Rookie, for the way he filled in after Thomas got hurt); Greg Sprink, Navy; Bilal Abdullah, Lafayette.

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Hoop dreams

In his weekly hoops column in the Morning Call, Andre Williams points out the beauty of tournament time:
. . .the best thing about March and conference tournaments is that everybody starts out 0-0. Though the Patriot League's No. 1 team, Holy Cross, and No. 2 Bucknell have played consistently throughout the season, they are not insurmountable levels above Lehigh and Lafayette.

So it's conceivable that Lehigh and Lafayette could meet again at 4:30 p.m. March 11 for the tournament championship at Stabler Arena.

All Lehigh has to do is beat Colgate Friday in Worcester, Mass., and then Holy Cross on Sunday. Lafayette must topple Bucknell Friday in Lewisburg, then beat the winner of the American-Navy quarterfinal matchup next Sunday.

Dreaming? Of course. But that's what March is for, and as we have witnessed each year, hoop dreams do come true in that month.
Yeah, but a Lehigh-Lafayette final? William Gates and Arthur Agee will be in the NBA before that happens this season.

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Umm, excuse me . . .

Isn't it about time clueless columnists find another league to pick on?

Here's what a guy named Joe Starkeywrote in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in an apparent effort to prove their sports columnists are as ill informed as the guys who write their editorial page. Talking about the mess that is the Duquesne program these days, Starkey said:
So, maybe it's time to scale down the basketball program. Maybe it's time for the Dukes to drop to another conference, such as the Patriot League.

You just wonder if the Patriot League would have them.
And maybe it is time for Joe to go to work for the Punxsutawney Spirit, if they would have him.

Apparently Joe is unaware of the fact that the Patriot League went 4-2 against the A-10 this season, including a win by the Patriot's No. 2 team, Bucknell, over the team everybody seems to think has been best in conference play in the A-10, St. Joe's. In the Hawks' own nest, we might add. Holy Cross also has two wins over A-10 teams, Fordham and Rhode Island and Lafayette beat Duquesne (the PL losses were Lehigh, by 6 at Xavier and AU's egg-laying demonstration against LaSalle).

Not that Duqesne would necessarily be a bad fit since they play non-scholarship football and would give the league a media presence in a nice sized market with two papers, one of which even knows what it is talking about.

Maybe we should swap them Army, which could probably get a few more wins in a weaker league.

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Poor Army

It's not bad enough that the Cadets have to cap their one-win season by playing the league's top seed in the first round of the Patriot League tournament. Now it seems they will have to do it with a split squad.

According to the official league page we linked toto in this spot earlier this morning, here are the first round matchups:
Friday, March 4
Patriot League Tournament - Quarterfinals
No. 3 AMERICAN vs. No. 8 NAVY (at Bucknell), 5:30 p.m.
No. 4 LEHIGH vs. No. 5 COLGATE (at Holy Cross), 5:30 p.m.
No. 2 BUCKNELL vs. No. 8 ARMY (at Holy Cross), 8 p.m.
No. 1 HOLY CROSS vs. No. 8 ARMY (at Holy Cross), 8 p.m.
Not only does Army have to play two opponents at once, apparently they will roll back the bleachers at the Hart Center and play both games simultaneously using the cross court baskets.

Not sure who will be more upset by this schedule, Army for having to lose twice at the same time or Bucknell for having to go to Worcester while AU and Navy play in Lewisburg.

We apologize for linking to that page. Obviously, like the league, we did not proofread it first.

Fortunately Kyle had the pairings right yesterday at Mid-Majority. We thank him for taking time out of his 100-game odyssey to point out the problem on the league's page.

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Bucknell 60, Colgate 59

(Originally posted: Saturday, 9:54 p.m.)

Holy Senior Day, talk about saving your best for last.

Down to the final second of his final regular season game in Sojka Pavilion, Bucknell senior Chris Niesz drained a three-pointer from the top of the arc to give the Bison a hard-fought 60-59 win over Colgate.

Niesz, the lone senior on the Bison roster, was once a rising star for the Orange and Blue. After a freshman season in which he saw action in 18 games, Niesz became a part-time starter as a sophomore, starting seven of the 23 games he played in, averaging almost 20 minutes a game down the stretch and scoring in double figures twice, including a career-high 18 against Navy.

That set the stage for what was expected to be a breakout season for the 6-8 forward, who is known as one of the best pure shooters on the Bison roster. But after starting the first 10 games of his junior season, Niesz broke a bone in his right hand. By the time he came back 11 games later, Bucknell was on a roll, having won 10 of those 11. With a rotation that was had solidified in his absence, Niesz’s minutes in the last seven games were limited.

With all those same guys back this season, Niesz found himself coming off the bench the first 26 games of his final campaign, though he has been averaging over 14 minutes per game. Being Senior Night, though, Niesz got the start, and turned in his best game of the season.

“What a way to go out,” said Bison coach Pat Flannery. “Honest to goodness, he is the first guy on that practice floor every day. Talk about good things happening to good kids.”

It wasn’t just his game-winning three-pointer, though that is the shot he will tell the grandkids about some day. Niesz also made his offensive presence known in the first half, hitting 3-of-4, including the only trey he shot, for 7 first half points.

It was a bookends kind of a night for the skinny kid from Middletown, N.J. Niesz scored Bucknell’s first points of the game, putting back his only miss of the night for a 2-0 lead. And he hit the last shot of the game, setting off a raucous celebration that saw the BU students storm the court as if the Bison had actually won a game that meant something.

Niesz’s game-winner accounted for the only points Bucknell scored in the last five minutes, a stretch that saw them squander a 10-point lead. It came after the Bison wasted three opportunities to score in the last 38 seconds and after Colgate’s Alvin Reed missed the front end of a one-and-one with 10.5 seconds to go that could have given the Raiders a 3-point lead had he made both shots. It was the only 1 of 8 free throws Colgate missed all night.

With Colgate playing a straight up 2-3 zone that Bucknell had problems adjusting to, the Raiders kept Bucknell frozen at 57 while they whittled away at the deficit. With 2:01 to play, Kyle Roemer hit a three-pointer to tie the game, and Andrew Zidar put ‘Gate ahead with a jumper at the :53 mark.

At the other end, Bucknell tried to go inside to Chris McNaughton, who had been almost unstoppable all night, finishing with 16 points. Niesz had the ball baseline on the right side and tried to spin the entry pass in to McNaughton, but the ball took a low bounce and went off McNaughton’s shins out of bounds.

The Bison got a break when Reed stepped on the sideline in front of the Bucknell bench trying to dribble through a trap. But Kevin Bettencourt, who had a tough night from the arc, missed an open three with 14 seconds left, his seventh miss in eight tries (including one with 1:25 to go when the score was tied at 57-57).

Alex Woodhouse got the rebound and got the ball to Reed, who was fouled in desperation near midcourt. Reed’s miss was gathered in by Abe Badmus, who hurried the ball up the floor and got the ball to McNaughton in the low post with good position on the Colgate defense. McNaughton’s baby hook from four feet away appeared to be heading downward toward the basket from the moment it left the 6-11 sophomore’s hand. But Woodhouse, who has springs that can jump right out of the building, swatted it out of the air and the officials ruled it was not goaltending.

Had Woodhouse guided the ball towards midcourt, the game would likely have been over for Bucknell. But his swat propelled the ball out across the right baseline, giving Bucknell one last possession with 1.9 on the clock.

We already told you what happened next. With McNaughton diving to the hole, and Badmus and Bettencourt sprinting to the corners, Niesz was left all alone at the top of the key when his defender went to help on McNaughton.

“I just floated to the top. I got it and I shot it,” said Niesz. “There were two seconds left. I knew once I caught it, I had to shoot it no matter what.”

The win wraps up an unbeaten conference regular season at home for the Bison, who enter next week’s first round matchup with Lafayette riding a nine-game win streak in Sojka, where they have not lost to a conference foe in 14 games, dating back to a Feb. 28, 2003 loss to Colgate.
Box score | Bucknell recap| Colgate recap | AP wrap | Daily Item story

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Lafayette 81, Lehigh 76

(Originally posted: Saturday, 4:55 p.m.)

EASTON, Pa. – We can’t take full credit for predicting this one. Yes we called it way back at the start of conference play, saying Lafayette looked like a team that would get better throughout the season and would knock somebody off in Kirby that would have a big impact on the standings.

After seeing the Leopards against Holy Cross at the end of January, we sort of backed off that prediction. Lafayette just didn’t look like it could take care of the ball well enough, or defend well enough, to get it done against the upper echelon teams.

Had we stuck to that call all season long, though, we’d sure be feeling pretty good about our prognostication skills right about now in the aftermath of Lafayette’s 81-76 win over Lehigh. After all, this one, along with last week’s Lafayette home win over American, certainly fulfilled our prophecy.

Truth be told, though, there is no way we would have predicted how Lafayette won this one. That it came as the result of big offensive afternoons by Sean Knitter and Jamaal Douglas is no big surprise. After all, they are Lafayette’s two top scorers.

That Douglas and Knitter shared scoring honors for Lehigh with 16 points each was no shocker. Where those points came from was. Especially for Douglas. Coming into the game, the 6-6 power forward had taken 37 three-pointers. Seven other Leopards had tried more from outside the arc, and all of them had a better percentage than Douglas’ 27-percent.

Maybe that had something to do with why Lehigh left him alone at the top of the arc late in the first half after the Leopards early 10-point lead had been erased. Lafayette had gone over eight minutes with just one field goal, falling behind 26-24 after once holding a 22-12 advantage. Even though a pair of free throws by Jamaal Hilliard and a bucket by Marcus Harley put the Leopards back on top, 29-26, the momentum had swung well to the Lehigh side.

Then Douglas caught the ball at the top of the arc, squared up and fired. Less than a minute later he did it again, this time pulling up off the dribble with :05 left in the half to send Lafayette to the break with a 35-26 lead.

“That was a great momentum builder going into the half,” said Lehigh coach Billy Taylor. “Back-to-back threes, 6 quick points and we go in down 9.”

Douglas was not done. Early in the second half, after Lehigh went on a short 8-0 run to cut Lafayette’s 13-point lead to 41-36, Douglas did it again, draining another three to stem the Mountain Hawks tide.

“That was huge,” said Knitter, who picked up where Douglas left off (more on that later).

“I was open. I took shots,” said Douglas who had never made more than two treys in one game before in his career. “I just took shots and luckily they went in.”

Douglas’ third three-pointer started an 8-2 spurt that pushed Lafayette’s lead back into double figures. The other 5 points came from Knitter, the last three on an NBA-range three-pointer. That was not a surprise. Despite being known more for his power in the paint, the 6-8 Knitter came in having made 28 treys, tied for second on the team and only Harley had put up more than Knitter’s 88 tries.

Knitter did it again a short time later, again pushing Lafayette’s lead back to double digits after Lehigh had gotten it down to 8. At that point, with Lafayette up 54-44, 10 minutes to go against a defense-oriented Lehigh team that has struggled to score 60 points a game this season, Lafayette seemed to smell the blood in the water. And when the Leopards built the lead to 70-56 with three minutes to play, some of the 3,500 in Kirby started filing out while the Zoo Crew serenaded Lehigh with the old “warm up the bus” standby.

Something warmed up alright, but it was not the bus, it was its passengers. Lehigh started pressing after every made bucket and Lafayette had a world of trouble closing it out. With 1:03 to go and a 75-65 lead, Lafayette seemed safe. Then the Mountain Hawks scored 9 unanswered points in less than 30 seconds and all of a sudden it was a 75-74 game.

Lafayette freshman Bilal Abdullah hit a pair of free throws with 35.8 on the clock to push the lead back to three, forcing Lehigh to go for a three-pointer to tie the game on its next possession. The Mountain Hawks got the shot they wanted. In fact they got it twice when Earl Nurse grabbed the rebound of Jose Olivero’s wide-open miss and got the ball back to Joe Knight, who had a good look from the top of the key.

But in a game where Lehigh made just 3-of-20 from three-point range, including 1-for-7 by both Knight and Olivero, it was not to be. And when Lafayette got the ball into the hands of Hilliard, a 90-percent free throw shooter, on its last two inbounds plays, the outcome was predictable. Hilliard made all four shots, wrapped around an uncontested Jason Mgebroff layup for Lehigh, sealing the win.

In many ways, the game was a microcosm of Lehigh’s season. Expected to contend for the league title, the Mountain Hawks have as much talent as anybody in the league, especially on the perimeter. But the Hawks’ effort in this one was inconsistent, as it has been all season long.

“We have played well in a number of games and a number of stretches during games,” said Taylor. “But we haven’t been able to put it all together.”

A perfect example of that is Lehigh’s scoring output in its last two games. After struggling offensively all season, the Mountain Hawks posted a season-high 75 points last week against Navy and bettered that by 1 in this game.

At the same time, though, one of the league’s stingiest defenses all season allowed Navy to score 76, the most Lehigh had given up before letting Lafayette to score 81.

After allowing just two teams to score 70 points in its first 23 games, Lehigh has now given up more than 70 in three of its last four. Predictably, the Mountain Hawks are 0-4 in that stretch.

The loss sends Lehigh to Worcester for the first round of the Patriot League Tournament. The Mountain Hawks are locked into the 4-5 game regardless of the outcome of any other Saturday games.

Lafayette will be In Lewisburg to face the No. 2 host Bucknell Bison in Friday night’s first round..
Box score | Lafayette recap | Lehigh recap | AP wrap | Morning Call story | Express-Times story

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Other Saturday games

American 84, Navy 77 -- AU finishes third and avoids the long trip to Worcester. These two will meet again in the first round Friday at 5:30 at Bucknell.
Box score | AU recap | Navy recap | Wash. Post story | Annapolis Capital story

Holy Cross 66, Army 49 -- The Crusaders held the Cadets to 14 points in the first half and coasted from there. These two also meet in the first round. Lucky Army.
Box score | HC recap | Army recap | AP wrap | Boston Herald story | T&G story

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Hoop Time notebook

(Last updated: 9:23 a.m.)

SOJKA MAGIC -- There is something about Senior Day and Sojka Pavilion. Wednesday night, the Bucknell women upset Holy Cross when senior Brooke Tomovich hit a game-winning free throw and made a game-saving block at the other end of the floor.

Saturday, the Bison men's lone senior, Chris Niesz, one-upped that by draining the game-winning three as time expired in Bucknell's 60-59 win over Colgate.

MORE SENIOR SUPERLATIVES -- In addition to Niesz's season-high 10-point performance for Bucknell, a number of other seniors had big days in their home finales Saturday.

At Lafayette, Sean Knitter, one of two seniors for the Leopards, scored 16 points, including two key threes, and hauled down 6 rebounds in the 81-76 win over Lehigh.

At American, Raimondas Petrauskas was 9-for-10 at the foul line, finishing with 17 points and 6 rebounds and Patrick Okpwae was 5-for-5 from the field, finishing with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in AU's 84-77 win over Navy. Fellow senior Jason Thomas had 4 treys en route to a 17-point day. AU's other senior, Matej Cresnik added 8 points.

Holy Cross started all five of its seniors, but nobody had big numbers for the Crusaders other than sophomore Keith Simmons, who put 18 on the board against Army. All the seniors, except walk-on Dab Brault, did score in their last regular season home game, as Holy Cross really spread the ball around-- Brault was the only one of the 11 guys on the roster who did not score -- in the easy 66-49 win. Senior Nate Lufkin added 6 rebounds and blocked 3 shots.

JUST A REMINDER -- Before writing Lehigh's title chances off completely, which is admittedly tempting to do, keep in mind that last year's league title team entered the postseason off two straight losses, then won three in a row to claim the crown.

Of course there are differences, and Austen Rowland is not the only one. That team was 10-4 in league play in the regular season. This team is 7-7. And that team won 10 out of 12 before the two-game skid, with one of those losses in overtime on the road. This team has lost four in a row and was only .500 (3-3) in the six games before the skid began.

And, to do that, Lehigh will have to beat Holy Cross in Worcester, something the Hawks have only done three times in 17 tries and only once (1998) in 11 seasons.

AGONY OF THE FEET -- Looking for a single difference between the Bucknell team that was on a roll when conference play opened and the one that lost four conference games after drilling since-unbeaten Holy Cross in the conference opener? It might just be sophomore forward John Clark's aching feet.

Clark moved into the Bucknell starting lineup after the Dec. 1 loss at Penn and was there throughout the Bison's 11-game win streak that followed. But after Bucknell's back-to-back midseason losses at American and Navy, he was replaced in the starting five by freshman Darren Mastropaolo.

Clark has not started since, and his playing time has dwindled significantly. Against Colgate he saw just three minutes of action. The first time the two teams met, he played 19 minutes.

The reason for his diminished minutes is a chronic foot problem. According to Bison coach Pat Flannery, Clark has some sort of bone spurs that make it painful to run, excruciating to land after jumping. After gutting it out through the 13-game stretch he was in the starting lineup, the pain simply was more than Clark could play through effectively, although he has still seen action in every Bucknell game.

Flannery said the career-threatening problem cannot be fixed by rest alone. It will likely require surgery, but there is no guarantee Clark will be able to play after having the foot operated on.

Clark's woes have forced Flannery to use the freshman, Mastropaolo, as his starter at the four. Niesz, the 6-8 senior, is more skilled offensively than the freshman, but his skinny frame invites opposing teams to attack the basket.

Flannery said using Mastropaolo as the starter gives the Bison a wider body in the paint to set the tone at the start of the game, deterring opposing players from driving, which helps keep Chris McNaughton out of early foul trouble.

MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN – How have Lehigh’s expectations changed over the course of the season? Just look at the Mountain Hawks press notes. Early in the season they ballyhooed the team being picked to finish second in the league, with three first-place votes in the preseason poll.

Now the notes made a big deal out of the fact that if Lehigh won against Lafayette, it would secure a third straight winning season for the Hawks, who entered the game 13-13.

Of course with the loss to Lafayette, Lehigh will need to win the league tournament for that to happen.

MAYBE IT IS THE PINK SHIRTS – Although Lehigh is only about 10 miles away, the Mountain Hawks student contingent was limited to the shirtless L*E*H*I*G*H boys and about 20 of their drinking buddies.

What they lacked in numbers, though, they made up for in voice. Despite being outnumbered, they were far louder than the Lafayette students, putting the once feared Zoo Crew to shame, even though Lafayette gave its fans plenty to cheer in the first half.

NOT HIGH SCHOOL LADIES – Lehigh’s cheerleaders also were on hand, though why, I couldn’t tell you. They sat in the first two rows of the bleachers behind the Lehigh bench and didn’t set foot on the court during any of the first half timeouts.

The Lehigh pep band was also there, though aside from a few drum beats, were pretty much unheard, too.

The band and the cheerleaders did make one token appearance around the 15 minute mark of the second half. But save a few tumbling runs by one intrepid Lehigh rah-rah, which were promptly answered by a Lafayette cheerleader, the shirtless guys were the only ones sparking much Mountain Hawk spirit.

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No place like away from home

In a profile of Holy Cross assistant coach Andy Sachs in the Annapolis Capital, writer Bill Wagner points out this is the first time Sachs has worked more than two hours from his Maryland home:
Yet the Chesapeake High graduate didn't hesitate when asked how he liked working in Worcester, Mass.

"We're 21-5 and have won 13 in a row. What's not to like?" Sachs said on Thursday.

What about the cold weather? What about being a plane flight away from visiting Maryland family members?

"We're 21-5 and have won 13 in a row. What's not to like?" Sachs repeated."
Yeah, but what about sitting next to Ralph and his smelly, sweat-soaked, old sport coat during games?

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Saturday, March 05, 2005
Bucknell shootaround report

Paranoia strikes deep

Bucknell 70, Lafayette 34

AU 85, Navy 83 (OT)

Worcester pod results
Friday, March 04, 2005
At the half -- AU 42, Navy 35

Let's get ready to rumble

Women's results

When worlds collide

Corky does the Valley

That answers that question

Not quite enough

Morning chuckle

Where have you gone (Nick we hardly knew ya edition)
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Ladies day

Just rewards

Missing link

Not quite left out

Tuning in

The company you keep
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
get your fix

From the mouth of Ralph

Conspicuously absent

Tom's take

On the bandwagon

Recruitnix alert

Expansion plans?

No cause for alarm
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
League awards

Polls and finger pulls
Monday, February 28, 2005
2005 All Hoop Time Team

Hoop dreams

Umm, excuse me . . .

Poor Army
Sunday, February 27, 2005
Bucknell 60, Colgate 59

Lafayette 81, Lehigh 76

Other Saturday games

Hoop Time notebook

No place like away from home

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