Next up?

For bracketeers, today is sort of like April 14 is to accountants. Those folks who pretend to know what the guys in the room are thinking have been busy revising their forecasts. They don't really have any clue where Bucknell will go or who they will play. Their seeding predictions are probably in the ballpark, but that is more number manipulation than knowledge of the game.

Regardless, accurate or not, everybody wants to know what the "experts" are thinking. Here is a quick bracketeer summary as of around 4 p.m. Saturday.

Joe Lunardi, over at's Bracketology site says Bucknell will be a 14 seed in Worcester, facing a No. 3 Boston College. That one is interesting.

The boys at are saying BU in Okie City as a 12 against Utah.

One thing interesting about the seeding predictions at Bracketology 101 made a lot of sense. Bucknell and Niagara are both projected as 14 seeds. I don't know what the proper number might be, but those two were very even when Charles Lee's bucket with 0.9 left gave the Bison a 76-74 win in December in Lewisburg.

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Bison hold off HC charge, claim title

(Originally posted: Friday, 9:06 p.m.)

You cannot guard Chris McNaughton with one man. Not in the Patriot League, anyhow, where the 6-11 Bucknell sophomore has been all but unstoppable for two seasons when he manages to get isolated on a single defender.

Everybody in the league knows that, including Holy Cross, which threw two and three people at McNaughton every time he touched the ball in the two regular season meetings between the Bison and the Crusaders.

For some reason, though, the Crusaders somehow forgot about rule number one of defending Bucknell and paid for it with a 61-57 loss. It was only the sixth setback of the season for HC, but it probably was more costly than the other five combined. The loss snapped the Crusaders 16-game win streak, ending their dream of a Patriot League championship and in all likelihood their hopes of dancing in next week’s NCAA Tournament.

It should not be that way. As both coaches were quick to point out, you can certainly make a strong case for the Crusaders as an at large pick. But there are teams like that left out every year. The Patriot League has never gotten an at large bid, and the odds are probably against that trend changing this year.

Certainly HC will watch anxiously when the dance card is announced Sunday evening. But if they end up in the NIT, it will be because of McNaughton.

To be certain, McNaughton had a lot of help. Kevin Bettencourt (13 points) and Charles Lee (10) both reached double figures and Bucknell defended with the same intensity that got them to the final. After holding Lafayette and American to 34 and 35 points in the semis, the Bison played the same kind of defense in the final, especially in the first half, when they limited Holy Cross to 20 points and 21 percent shooting (6-of-28).

Bucknell’s three-game total of 126 points allowed is the lowest tournament total ever allowed by a Patriot League Champion that did not have a first round bye. It is only 5 points more than the league record for fewest points allowed by a champion, set by the 2001 HC team that got a pass in the first round back in the pre-American seven-team era.

“We defended every possession,” said Bucknell coach Pat Flannery.

All that defense, though, would have gone for naught if the Bison had not built the 20-point cushion that carried them when Holy Cross started pressing and trapping midway through the second half. Led by league player of the year Kevin Hamilton, who got four of his five steals in the second half, the Crusaders charged back, slicing Bucknell’s lead to 59-57with 58 seconds to go.

That 20-point cushion was primarily due to McNaughton, who took advantage of isolation on single HC defenders to score 17 points, including 12 in the first half when he went 5-for-5 from the floor.

“I got some good looks from my teammates. I got the ball where I could finish,” said McNaughton. “I was surprised they didn’t double me. They had the last two games. Today they didn’t come at me as much as they did.”

McNaughton didn’t just lead the Bison in scoring. His 7 rebounds were the game-high and although he wasn’t credited with any blocks, his presence in the paint altered a number of shots and caused others to be passed on completely.

Especially in the first half, when the Bison dominated the paint, outscoring HC 16-4 from close range.

It helped that Bettencourt, senior reserve Chris Niesz and freshman backup John Griffin combined for five three-pointers in the first half.

“We wanted to make sure we went inside out. We really shot the ball well, especially in the first half. That allowed (McNaughton) to get a lot of isolation looks,” Flannery said.

To Holy Cross’ credit, they never went away. Not even when Bucknell countered their 5-0 run at the start of the second half by scoring 9 of the next 11 points to push their lead back to 20, 47-27 with 15:20 remaining.

The Crusaders began to chip away, using a four three-pointers, including two by Hamilton, to cut the lead to 58-49 on a Hamilton trey with 4:28 to play. Hamilton finished with 21 to lead all scorers. Of those 21, 16 came in the second half as he led HC’s charge.

Then Holy Cross turned its already troublesome press up another notch. Hamilton made three straight steals, leading to four quick points, and with 2:18 left, it was 59-55. It was after the third steal that Bucknell’s Kevin Bettencourt made one of the big plays of the day, drawing a charge to give BU the ball back with 2:04 left.

Holy Cross was not done. After forcing a Bucknell shot clock violation to regain possession, Kevin Hyland put back a John Hurley miss to cut the lead to 59-57, with 58 ticks still on the clock.

“You knew that run was coming,” Flannery said. “They are a great team. We knew they were going to come.”

McNaughton’s only miss of the night followed, with Hamilton grabbing the rebound for a chance to tie. But Hamilton’s short jumper at the other end was off the mark, and Bettencourt rebounded for Bucknell, drawing a foul with 8 seconds left.

That was the wrong guy to put on the line for Holy Cross. The Bison’s top foul shooter, who ranks third in the league, made them both, finishing the night 7-for-7 from the line and sealing the Bucknell win.

The win was a payback of sorts for the Bison, though most of them were still in grade school when the loss they avenged took place. In 1993, Bucknell was the regular season champion with a 13-1 league mark and the homecourt in the finals, only to see Holy Cross come to Lewisburg and cut down the nets.

The one Bison who remembers that game was Bettencourt, whose brother Ted was on that Holy Cross team. Early in the game, some HC fans used that tidbit to taunt Bettencourt, yelling “Teddy was better.”

Maybe so. But in this night, in this gym, it was Bucknell that was better. How much better? The scoreboard said 4 points.

NOTES: The win was Bucknell’s first after four losses in previous finals . . . Bucknell’s last trip to the NCAA Tournament was in 1989, when Charlie Woolum’s Breakin’ Bison gained entry after winning the title in the old East Coast Conference . . . Lee was named the tournament MVP . . . McNaughton joined him on the All-Tournament team . . . Also on the all-tourney squad were Lehigh’s Joe Knight, Hamilton and Hurley, who had 11 points in the final
Box score | Daily Item | Sun-Gazette | Boston Herald | Boston Globe | Milford Daily News | AP story
  • Crusaders must cross their fingers(Boston Globe)
  • CBS Sportsline build-a-bracket (remind us to comment on this later)

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  • Deja Vu all over again

    Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. Back to 1993, when things were not as different from today as you might think.

    Back in 1993, Clint Eastwood won the Oscar for Best Picture. A 13-year-old boy accused Michael Jackson of hand checking and the Patriot League's regular season champion entered the postseason on a roll, having lost but one game in conference play.

    That loss, in the first half of conference play, came on the road and was soundly avenged at home at the end of the regular season, securing the home court throughout the tournament.

    Long time fans of the league know the rest of the story, how HC came into Davis Gym and embarrassed Bucknell in front of a packed house and a national television audience. To Holy Cross fans it is the tale of the Crusaders first league title. To Bucknell fans, it is the first of four that got away for a team that has shared more with the Buffalo Bills than a logo over the years.

    The roles are reversed this time. In 1993, Bucknell was the team that finished the regular season 13-1 in conference play, with a 112-99 win in Davis Gym avenging an earlier defeat at the Hart Center to give the Bison the homecourt edge for the tournament.

    That result does not mean HC will not have a homecourt advantage. In 13 Patriot League games played on a finalist's home court, the home team has a 10-3 mark. The Crusaders went 11-2 in the Hart Center this year, the last loss coming in December, against Vermont. They have won nine straight there since.

    That will not intimidate Bucknell, though. The Bison have road wins at Pittsburgh and Saint Joseph's this season, both places that might be even more inhospitable than Worcester.

    Those 112 back in '93 points are not the Patriot League record, by the way. That was set the year before when Holy Cross scored 116 in a win over Lehigh. If you are looking for a safe bet on Friday's final, put your money on that mark not being broken.

    If the odds are right, you might even bet the two teams combined won't score that many. They didn't in the first meeting, a 59-43 Bucknell win in Lewisburg in the opening game of conference play. And they barely bested that in Holy Cross' 69-54 win in the rematch at the Hart Center.

    That the game will be low scoring is about the only prediction that anybody can make with reasonable confidence. Both teams rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense. Holy Cross, ranked fourth, allows 55.7 points per game. Ninth-ranked Bucknell, thanks to two record-setting defensive efforts in the first two rounds of the tournament, comes in allowing 58.5 points per night. Only 11 teams in the nation allow less than 60 points per game.

    Predicting Bucknell avenging that 1993 loss by turning the table on a Holy Cross team that became just the third team in league history to go 13-1 in conference play is not as easy.

    "It's two teams that are deep, big, strong, physical, aggressive and really put a great emphasis at the defensive end of the court," said American coach Jeff Jones after his Eagles bowed out in the semifinals with a 53-35 loss to Bucknell. "They are tough to play against at that end of the court."

    In so many ways the two are mirror images. Like Jones mentioned, both have decent size and a strong bench. Both are 20-win teams with strong RPIs. Both, arguably, are deserving of a bid even if they lose. Neither will likely get one if they don't win.

    Both are playing well coming in-- Holy Cross rides a 16-game win streak, Bucknell has won three straight and seems to be past the "hiccups at midseason," as Bucknell coach Pat Flannery calls the stretch where the Bison lost three out of four, costing them a share of the regular season title.

    That midseason stretch, which coincided with medical problems that kept their starting four man and the head coach at of action, caused a lot of people to question the Bison. They seem to have answered those questions in the first two rounds.

    It is hard to say which problem caused the most trouble. It is easy to argue that Flannery's savvy, along with his fiery presence on the sidelines might have been enough to get Bucknell over the hump in a 4-point loss at Navy. It is harder to argue that he would have made a difference in the 9-point loss at AU and Flannery was back in action when Bucknell lost by three at Lehigh.

    John Clark's feet might have been a bigger problem. Clark's feet were hurting since early in the season. They became more than he could keep playing through in that lost weekend in the southern reaches of the league. Clark had three points, but not a single rebound at American. At Navy he had 2 boards, 0 points and 4 fouls in 11 minutes time.

    Flannery made the switch in his lineup the next game, starting Darren Mastropaolo in Clark's place. In the last three games, the 6-9 freshman has started to look at home in that role. Against Lafayette he grabbed 9 rebounds. Against American he played tough defense and scored 5 points.

    At the same time, former starter and one-time small forward Chris Niesz, has begun to exert himself off the bench, adding an offensive threat to the rotation at the four. The only senior on the Bucknell roster, Niesz won the senior night game against Colgate with a buzzer-beating three-pointer. Against American in the semis, he gave Bucknell a spark with 11 points off the bench.

    Donald Brown rounds out the three-headed four monster for Bucknell. He could be a key player in this game. In the first matchup between the two, Brown came off the bench and sparked the Bison with 12 high-energy minutes. At 6-6, with tremendous hops and quickness, Brown, who can slide comfortably between the three and the four, is the one Bucknell player HC does not have a match for.

    Brown is too quick for John Hurley and Kevin Hyland, too big and too strong for Greg Kinsey or any of HC's guards. If HC does not keep a body on him every time the ball goes up, Brown could cause havoc on the boards, and rebounds are precious in defensive, possession-oriented games like this should be.

    That, by no means puts HC at a disadvantage in the matchup at the four. Hurley is a double-double threat every night. The 6-7 Hurley is deceptively strong, sneaky quick and senior smart. What he lacks in athleticism he makes up for in guile, cunning and hard work. Kevin Hyland is a a 6-8 junior who does all the nitty gritty things off the bench, like solid defense, decent rebounding and the ability to finish now and again on the few opportunities he does get to score.

    Ralph Willard has also been known to slide 6-11 senior center Nate Lufkin into the power forward slot alongside 6-10 freshman Tim Clifford, who backs Lufkin at the five. It would not be a surprise to see Willard use that twin towers look at some point in the game.

    In the first meeting, Clifford impressed with his ability to use his 260-pound frame to force Bucknell center Chris McNaughton off the block down low. If Clifford can force McNaughton to catch the ball far enough away from the basket to need more than a dribble or two to get there, the HC guards will be able to provide double down help, which would free Lufkin, the school's all-time shotblock leader, to roam the lane to deter penetration.

    That also allows HC to pressure the ball, knowing if they get beat, Lufkin has their back.

    That is just one of the many chess game scenarios that could play out as the two coaches mix and match at the position that seems least likely to play to a stalemate.

    Everywhere else on the floor, the two teams line up very similar personnel. At the point, Bucknell's Abe Badmus, the league's defensive player of the year, and HC's Torey Thomas are two of the best penetrators in the league. The two freshmen they share time with, John Griffin for Bucknell and Holy Cross' Pat Doherty, the league's rookie of the year, are both more of a jumpshooter, preferring the three-pointer from the arc to the dribble drive and one three-point play. All four distribute the ball well.

    At the two, Kevin Bettencourt is a streaky, driveway shooter who can go off from the arc at any moment. He is also an outstanding defender, a fact he reminded folks of Sunday by shutting down AU's Andre Ingram, the league's leading scorer. Along with fellow junior Charles Lee, Bettencourt gives Bucknell one of the two best sets of wings in the conference.

    The other pair would be Keith Hamilton and Greg Simmons of Holy Cross. Hamilton, the league's player of the year, and Simmons, the sixth man who earned first team all-league honors despite coming off the bench, combined for an average of more than 27 points per game this season. Bettencourt and Lee averaged almost 26 per game.

    Hamilton and Bettencourt ranked 1-2 in three-pointers per game. Lee and Simmons were 2-3 in three-point shooting percentage. Hamilton and Simmons had more steals, Lee and Bettencourt were better on the foul line. In rebounding the two tandems are nearly even.

    At center, McNaughton and Lufkin are both 6-11 with similar frames. McNaugton is the better scorer, Lufkin the better shotblocker. They both average 4.7 rebounds. They both have been known to get in foul trouble. Matched they are a stalemate. One on the floor for a lot of minutes while the other sits much of the night with foul trouble would be a decided advantage for the team avoiding foul problems.

    Yes, Jones was right when he said, "There are some similarities."

    Back in our preview to that first game, we concluded by saying:
    If you were the betting type, and you could actually find a spread on Patriot League games, you’d probably be smart to take the points. A better bet, though, might be on seeing these two settle things, for this season anyhow, on a Friday afternoon in the second week of March.
    That still is pretty much how it looks to us. These are two extremely even teams, probably the best two ever to meet in the league final. And when it is all said and done, the only real difference will be that one team won on that second Friday in March.

    Patriot League scoreboards
    ESPN | CBS Sportsline | | Yahoo!

    (2)Bucknell vs. (1)Holy Cross, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2):
    HC notes | Bucknell notes | Daily Item preview | Tom Housenick's column | Patriot-News | Boston Globe | Game 1 box | Game 2 box | USA Today matchup | HC radio | Bucknell radio

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    On the Air

    We're hitting the airways tomorrow to talk about the championship final.

    Fans in the Springfield, Mass. area should tune into 640 The Zone (AM) around 3:20 in the afternoon, when we will talk Holy Cross-Bucknell with former Bucknell play-by-play man Bob Behler on his afternoon sports talks show. These days Behler is the voice of the UMass Minutemen.

    Then we are supposed to do a phoner with Eric Thomas of the Eric Thomas Sports blog, during his Gamenight show on ESPN Radio 1450, WMAJ in State College, Pa. The exact time for that is up in the air. Originally they said at the half, but the last e-mail suggested other options. If we get a definitive time we will post it, which will benefit only the couple of site regulars in the immediate State College area since WMAJ no longer streams live on PennLive.

    From the sounds of a statement on their Web site, it sounds like they are offline the same reason Behler's show is not streamed. Most of the stations content is ESPN Radio of from other rights holders who balk at local station streaming of syndicated content.

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    More on Navy recruiting

    Yesterday's post didn't convince you that Navy has been crying wolf about the trouble competing with scholarship schools, then check out this story from Thursday's Annapolis Capital. Pay particular attention to the bottom of the story, where, after they run down the skinny on some players that have committed already, they slip in this nugget:
    Lange said Navy may finish with a recruiting class of 10 players.
    You'll also notice Lange said of the six already committed to Navy, three will be redshirted . . . err . . . will attend Navy Prep School next season.

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    Hail their colors

    Congratulations to the Holy Cross women and coach Bill Gibbons, headed back to the dance after a 79-70 win over Colgate in last night's conference final.

    It's HC's 10th league title, the second for seniors Lisa Andrews and Maggie Fontana, who each had 16 in the title game win.

    After going 13-15 last season, the 'Saders first losing season in Gibbons 20 years a coach, the two seniors have led the team to a 20-10 mark headed into the NCAA Tournament.

    Having covered a number of HC women's games during their careers, it's nice to see good things happen to two good ladies who have both worked hard to overcome adversity. They have both had knee problems, and Fontana's knees, which have been operated on after each of the past two seasons, have probably cost her what might have been a shot at the WNBA.

    Fontana was the league's rookie of the year ger freshman season and first team all league (and tournament MVP) as a sophomore, when the only thing between her and player of the year honors was Bucknell's Molly Creamer, the only Patriot League player ever drafted by the WNBA.

    At that point in her career, the biggest difference between Fontana and Creamer was that Creamer was a senior and Fontana a sophomore. Talent wise they were very, very close. It was easy to project Fontana being a Creamer-like dominating force her last two seasons.

    Then came the knee problems. Even hobbled and often in pain, Fontana was better than most in the league. She was not the dominating force expected after her sophomore season, but she was still good enough to be a second team all-league pick as a junior and this season regained first team honors.

    Andrews was named the tournament MVP. Fontana joined her on the all-tournament team.
    Box score | Boston | Milford Daily News (almost the same story as the Herald) | Boston Globe

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    Different story now

    Remember all the talk during the last days of the Don Devoe era and the early days of this season about how Navy can't compete now that the league allows scholarships? Well apparently those tales of woe are only trotted out when the Mids need to explain a slump.

    Now that Navy has apparently turned things around with its second half of the season resurgence, Billy Lange is singing a different tune. In a Baltimore Sun story about first-year college coaches in Maryland, Kent Baker writes:
    Lange said he occasionally hears 'a little feedback" about players' reluctance to join Navy because of the five-year military commitment that ensues and the war in Iraq. "But that's not really a detriment."

    He said one player at the Naval Academy Prep School might be able to help next season and he has "'five or six commitments" from newcomers.
    Name the scholarship program in the league that can bring in five or six (or more, he's still recruiting) players each year, or that can stash folks at a prep school for what amounts to a defacto redshirt season.

    O.K., yeah, we know about Joe Knight and the Texas juco. But that is different, especially since Knight did not spend that year polishing his hoops skills and his grades at the same time.

    Contrast the Navy Prep scenario with Tom Housenick of the Daily Item's story about what Bucknell's Charles Lee went through as a freshman. When Lee needed to concentrate on his grades, it cost him most of his freshman season. Bucknell, like the rest of the scholarship schools, has no way to season kids for a year while they adjust to the academics.

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    Fingleton sighting

    From the e-mail inbox, an urgent bulletin. (So urgent it only took two days to get here):

    Sons of Spitler on the HC message board here.While you were getting your fill of the Bison eating MattB's heart out last Sunday, I was sweating one out in Worcester with Crusader Nation. After we officially dodged the bullet, a bunch of my college buddies who had made the trip from NYC to Worcester went out to eat at a great little hangout called Brew City on Shrewsbury St. About halfway through our meal, one of my buddies' faces almost goes white. I see the look on his face and turn around. Guess who? NEIL FINGLETON. I nearly choked on my chicken wing.

    MAN, do I wish I had one of those T-shirts on Sunday... Thought you'd enjoy the anecdote. Hope to see you Friday at the Patriot League Game of the Millenium!
    See what fun you miss out on when you don't purchase cool swag from your favorite Web site?

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    Bettencourt no Baryshnikov

    In a piece in his hometown paper, the Salem News, Bucknell's Kevin Bettencourt says he is not much of a dancer, but he is wiling to try. Said the Bucknell standout:
    "I don't think I have too much rhythm, but I'd like to find out."
    Some would argue that after scoring only 10 points in Bucknell's first two tournament games, Bettencourt will need to find his rhythm for Bucknell to get past Holy Cross.

    But Bettencourt does not sound worried about his scoring:
    "I got in foul trouble in the Lafayette game and didn't play a lot of minutes (just 23 in all). We had such a big lead in the second half that I didn't play too much. I started off 1-for-6 from the floor and then hit 2-of-3. I missed some shots, so I tried to do other things to help the team.

    "In the game against American, they face-guarded me the whole time. I took only four shots (0-for-4), and two of them came with the shot clock winding down. It was one of those games where I wasn't getting open, so I wasn't about to force anything. The guys who were guarding me didn't provide any help defense, so that worked in our favor (for Bucknell's inside game)."
    The story also points out that Bettencourt was the guy assigned to AU's all-league guard Andre Ingram most of the second game, when the league's top scorer was held to a 2-for-12, 5-point afternoon.

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    Jeff Jones job hunting?

    From a Monday column in the Charlotte Observer , this observation by Ron Green, Jr.:
    "East Carolina athletics director Terry Holland is in the market for a basketball coach. Jeff Jones' name comes to mind."
    Of course that is natural speculation since Jones worked for Holland at Virginia.

    ECU is looking for a new coach after firing Bill Herrion.

    But other than this mention, and some mostly negative posts about Jones on ECU boards, there seems to be little connecting him to the job. Interesting, though, there was a thread on that board in which former Holy Cross head coach and current UConn assistant George Blaney was mentioned by many as a good choice for the job.

    We will have to keep an eye on that job to see what develops.

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    Gotta have Hart

    If you didn't click on the Boston Globe's story about the Holy Cross women's title, you missed this description of HC's / Sports / College / Women's basketball / Holy Cross hangs on for bid:
    The Hart Center, little more than a high school gym with college-level scoreboards . . .

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    Million Dollar baby (a paid plug)

    Through he course of the season, we've received occasional e-mails asking us to plug this contest or that site. Since none of the previous ones offered to send us a check, we have always declined. This one is different, though. This one came with a chance to reach into the pockets of someone who has been reaching into our's all season (and even longer), Cingular Wireless. Not only have they promised to pay for this plug, it is actually something that looks worth a mention anyhow. It's the Cingular Wireless 'Shot at a Million' sweepstakes . Here is how it works:
    Text the word "PLAY" to 26222 on your wireless phone. Then answer 20 trivia questions for 21 chances to win. That's right, 21 for answering 20. You don't have to get any right, you are entered just for trying. But you get a bonus entry for each correct answer. One lucky
    winner will win a trip to the Men's NCAA Final Four in St. Louis to take a winning half-court shot worth a million dollars!
    You can enter each week until March 20. All the official rules are on the contest Web site.

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    One foot out the door

    Sounds like Army is on the verge of losing yet another player after his sophomore season. Guard Travis Owsley tells his hometown paper, the Marion, Ind. Chronicle Tribune he is thinking about bailing, in part it seems because he does not like the idea of the military commitment that kicks in if he returns for his junior year.

    Owsley tells the CT:
    "I'm not scared to serve my country. The issue with me is (the Army) becomes a big part of your life through your 20s, and that is a significant time in your life.

    Then there is the war in Iraq and (superiors) are telling us to be prepared to leave at any time. My (graduating) class is not going to dodge the war in Iraq."
    Owsley is not the first Cadet to face this decision. Players opting out are a fact of life at both Army and Navy, though it seems to be a bigger problem over the years for the Cadets.

    Part of that might have to do with the basketball. If the Cadets were winning, certainly the hoops end of the bargain would make staying a more attractive option.

    But Army has been horrible in both of Owsley's two seasons at West Point (and for many seasons before that). For kids that choose Army in part because it is a chance to play Division I ball, playing on a team that is consistently near the bottom of its league, and near the bottom of all D-I teams in the nation probably makes D-2 or D-3 hoops seem a little better.

    It certainly sounds that way in this case. In the story, Owsley admits:
    "In high school, it was all about Division I. But I've come to see basketball as basketball, and it's pretty competitive wherever it's played at."
    It is not like Army would be losing an irreplaceable player. Owsley played in 23 games this season, starting 14. But he left the starting lineup in Army's only win over a D-I this season (1-23 vs. Navy) and his minutes fell from there. He was a DNP in four of the last five games for Army. In the season's last two games, a pair of losses to Holy Cross, Owsley never got off the bench, even though 13 Cadets played in the regular season finale and 14 in the tournament opener. That would seem to be a sign of some sort from Jim Crews.

    In the story, Owsley refused to speculate why his minutes vanished, saying only:
    "It's just a combination of things. It hasn't been the season I hoped it would be."
    To be honest, it does not appear that losing Owsley would be a huge blow to the Army program. The "two-time Grant County scoring champion and 2003 Chronicle-Tribune Player of the Year" averages 4 points and 2 assists. But he was one of 11 guards 6-2 or smaller on the Army roster, all but one of which are sophomores or freshmen.

    It's more the symbolic loss that makes this a notable story. One of the keys to building (it's been down so long, rebuilding is not the right word anymore) the Army program will be retaining the players they do manage to recruit.

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    Silence almost broken

    Matt B. at the Patriot League Hoops blog has emerged from the fog of doom that surrounded him around the 11 minute mark of the second half Sunday to pen three lines on the Bucknell-American semifinal.

    Yes ladies and gentlemen, for what is believed to be the first time anywhere, it is Patriot League hoops haiku.

    Might we suggest that after checking out Matt's verse, you visit his board to post some nonsensical Japanese poetry of your own. We'll even start a thread.

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    Bits and pieces

    In the latest Mid-Major Top 25, Holy Cross holds steady at No. 16. Bucknell remains in the "others receiving votes" category with 12. That puts the Bison unofficially at No. 41. Two teams Bucknell beat this season are also getting votes, and are ahead of the Bison in the "others" category. Niagara checks in with 27 votes and Rider has 29.

    In this week's AP Poll, Holy Cross steady with two votes in the others receiving category

    The coaches like the Crusaders better than the writers. HC garnered 12 votes in this week's USA Today-ESPN poll. That makes HC unofficially No. 28.

    Interesting stuff on Ken Pomeroy's RPI site. According to Pomeroy's calculations, Holy Cross' RPI now stands at 45. Bucknell is at 61. Both teams benefit greatly from the reconfigured formula, according to Pomeroy's computations. Under the old formula, HC would be 19 spots lower at 64. Bucknell would be 95 (+34) under the old equation.

    Also interesting, Pomeroy says Bucknell's non-conference strength of schedule would be 28, its non-con RPI 36. Figure in conference play, though, and BU's SOS drops to 161. Likewise, HC's non-con SOS is 53, its non-con RPI 44. The Crusaders SOS drops to 202 when league play factors in.

    We won't pretend to know how to play with these numbers. But it would appear that if Bucknell had not had what coach Pat Flannery refers to as its "hiccup" at midseason, the Bison might actually have a better RPI than HC.

    In his conference RPI computations. Pomeroy has the Patriot League at No. 21.

    Of course the only polls or formula's that will really matter will be much easier to understand when they are posted on the Hart Center scoreboard Friday evening.

    Over on, the Holy Cross mentor talks about the difference between playing to win and playing to not lose. Against Lehigh in Sunday's semifinal, Willard says:
    "I was afraid we would adopt the 'protect the great season mentality' and unfortunately I was right."
    Trying to make sure the Crusaders do not play that way Friday is a major objective this week, he says.

    Gordie Jones delivers a Lehigh post-mortem in today's Morning Call. Mountain Hawks coach Billy Taylor told Jones:
    "We have the potential to be a really good team. Hopefully we can be ready to compete for a championship."
    It will not be easy. We don't want to get into a lot of looking ahead when this season is not over yet. But there is a lot of young talent in the league, especially on the two teams that are still alive.

    Here's a good deal: Bucknell is offering free fan buses to Worcester for Bison faithful who buy tickets for the Patriot League final. Considering that it is a close to six-hour haul from Lewisburg to Worcester, that is a real sweet offer.

    Joe Lunardi of ESPN still is picking Holy Cross to gain a 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament. What is interesting about this week's bracket projections is the grouping Lunardi suggests in the first round. Lunardi has (5) Villanova, (12) Vermont, (4) Alabama and HC gathering in Cleveland. That would set up the remote possibility of a Holy Cross-Vermont rematch if both pulled upsets in the first round. Lunardi lists Friday's BU-HC as one of his games of the week, adding: "Numbers notwithstanding, the Patriot will not be a two-bid league." Lunardi also says Vermont will not be an at large if it doesn't win the America East.

    Meanwhile, ESPN's Bubble Watch says this about Holy Cross:
    Holy Cross [24-5 (13-1), RPI: 45, SOS: 204] Barely escaped Lehigh but moves on to host Patriot finals against Bucknell. 1-3 vs RPI Top 50 and 21 wins outside RPI Top 100 probably mean tourney title is needed, despite good RPI.
    The folks at say HC should be an 11 seed, headed to Boise with (6) Charlotte, (14) Wis.-Mil. and (3) Arizona. They also list Bucknell as still on the board for an at-large big.

    To which our response is: Barkeep, bring us some of what they are drinking.

    Want to know more about the guys who will fill out the dance card? Thy also have a new Meet the Committee page on the Bracketography site.

    Read more!

    Bison dominate with defense

    (Originally posted: Sunday, 5:05 p.m.; Updated with links at 8:19 a.m.)

    LEWISBURG, Pa. – If defense truly does win championships, the Bucknell is definitely ready for a shot at the crown. Two days after setting a Patriot League Tournament record by holding Lafayette to 34 points, Bucknell turned in what was actually an even better defensive showing, knocking off No. 3 seed American 53-35 to gain a spot in Friday’s conference final

    The Bison clamped down on team coaches will tell you has the most offensive talent in the league, holding AU to its lowest point total since the Eagles joined the Patriot League. You would have to go back to February 21, 2001 to find a lower tally on the AU side of the scoreboard (32 in a loss at Richmond). The Eagles had not been held below the 51 it scored at Missouri all season.

    “It was a tough day for us,” said American coach Jeff Jones.

    And how. The Eagles shot 28 percent from the field, 23 percent in the second half. They actually had as many turnover, 13, as field goals.

    “We never got anything going offensively,” Jones said. “We had a lot of difficulty putting the ball in the basket.”

    To be fair, Bucknell was not exactly an offensive juggernaut. The Bison actually had more turnovers, 17, than field goals. But Bucknell got to the foul line 26 times (hitting) 19 and they outrebounded American 42-22, including a 14-6 advantage of the offensive glass.

    In the second half, after leading by just 18-16 at the break, Bucknell’s physical nature took over. Sparked by senior Chris Niesz, the Bison used a 16-5 run to take control.

    Run might be the wrong word. It was more like a slow grind, stretched out over a span of almost seven minutes. It started with a pair of free throws by freshman Darren Mastropaolo that put the Bison up by three and ended with a Mastropaolo layup off a Niesz assist that made the margin 36-24 with 12:02 to play. Niesz also assisted on the John Griffin three-pointer that put Bucknell up by 10 and scored 5 points of his own in that stretch.

    After that, it was all but over.

    “They just wore us down,” Jones said.

    Andre Ingram, AU’s first team all league pick and the league’s leading scorer, cut Bucknell’s lead back to 7 with a short jumper at the 11:44 mark and a trey 4:30 later that made it 36-29. But those were his only buckets of the game and he quickly returned to the side of the milk carton where he had spent most of the afternoon.

    It was the latest in a series of frustrating games against Bucknell for Ingram. His 2-for-12 afternoon was a repeat of his line in AU’s regular season loss at Sojka.

    “They do a good job switching up the way they defend me. That poses problems sometimes,” said Ingram.

    Only on days with a D in them, Andre. In three games against the Bison this season, the league’s leading scorer, normally a 42-percent shooter, has gone a combined 5-for-33 (13.5 percent).

    Matej Cresnik made sure American would avoid breaking Lafayette’s dubious mark with a three-pointer with 3:23 left that accounted for AU’s 34th point. Jason Thomas made sure they would not share the mark with a free throw two minutes later.

    Those were as close to offensive highlights as American could muster. Cresnik, who torched Navy for 30 points in Friday night’s first round overtime win over Navy, finished with 12 points. But that late three-pointer was his only trey all day, after stroking five of them against Navy.

    Even more telling was Thomas’ free throw, which accounted for his only point on an afternoon when the second team all-league pick went 0-for-7 from the field. Included in that total were 6 of the 13 three-pointers AU missed. Four more of those were in the line next to Ingram’s name.

    Niesz finished with 11 points, sharing team honors with Chris McNaughton, who also scored 11 despite spending long stretches on the bench due to foul trouble. Charles Lee added 10 and came within one rebound of a second straight double-double.

    Abe Badmus finished with 8 points, while dishing out a game-high 5 assists. Badmus also showed why he is the league’s defensive player of the year, coming up with three steals while hounding AU’s Linus Lekavicius into a 2-of-6 shooting night.
    box score | Daily Item | Patriot-News | Washington Post | Shamokin News-Item

    Read more!

    Survive and advance

    "Survive. That's the name of the game this time of year and we found a way to do it," Ralph Willard told the Express-Times.

    That pretty much sums up what happened in Worcester, where the top seeded Crusaders found themselves in a 7-point hole with 7 minutes to go Sunday afternoon.

    Three minutes later, after HC had cut the lead to 3, Lehigh's Erik Smith tried to sneak a pass to a cutter and HC's Kevin Hamilton was there to get a hand on it. Only instead of causing a turnover, the ball was delected into the hoop to push the Hawks lead back to 5.

    At that point, Willard told the Morning Call,"You've got to feel it's not your day."

    As it turned out, though, that was the last field goal Lehigh would manage. HC tied it on a Hamilton three and a pair of free throws by Keith Simmons, then won it at the foul line in overtime.

    All 12 points scored in OT (8 by HC, 4 by Lehigh) came on foul shots. Hamilton showed why he is the player of the year, hitting 6-for-6 at the line in OT (unlike some other pretenders to the throne who struggle in such situations).

    A tip of the hat to Mark Cofman of the Boston Herald, who was the only one to share this key tidbit aboiut the end of regulation in the stories we read this morning:
    John Hurley and Nate Lufkin came up with consecutive blocks of shots by Bryan White and Nick Monserez, sparking a brilliant Crusaders defensive stand in which the shot clock expired on Lehigh with 6.5 seconds left.
    Here are some interesting notes from the box score of a game with nine ties and 11 lead changes:
  • Lehigh's last field goal came with 3:45 to play in regulation
  • Juco Joe Knight, after a 45-point performance against Colgate, was 3-14, 3-9 from 3-point range for 11 points
  • No assists, 3 turnovers for the Lehigh point guard
  • HC point guard tandem Torey Thomas and Pat Doherty combined for 6 assists, 1 turnover
  • Jason Mgebroff, Lehigh's 6-10 center was a DNP. He also missed the Colgate game with a foot injury
  • In his stead, 6-9 junior Michael Fischman has 10 rebounds
  • John Hurley was a difference maker for HC with 11 points and 9 boards
  • Hurley played 40 minutes; Kevin Hamilton logged 42
  • Though the game was won at the foul line in OT, overall, both teams were even with 20 made free throws. The difference in the box score was Holy Cross' 16-14 edge in field goals
  • Hamilton, the league's player of the year, was 3-for-11 from the field, but his 8-for-9 at the free throw line helped him lead all scorers with 16 points
    Box score| AP wrap | HC recap | Boston Globe

    Read more!
  • Semifinals preview

    (Originally posted: Saturday, 3:16 p.m.; Updated: 9:30 a.m.)

    A quick morning update to add a few preview links:

  • Holy Cross keeps focus on Lehigh, from the Boston Herald
  • Lehigh aiming for some respect against Holy Cross, from the Morning Call
  • Keys to Bison's semifinal, from the Daily Item

    Patriot League scoreboards
    ESPN | CBS Sportsline | | Yahoo!

    (4)Lehigh vs. (1)Holy Cross, 1 p.m.: Holy Cross swept the season series, winning a close one at Lehigh and with ease in Worcester. This one shouldn't be as easy. Neither team is a stranger to the league semifinals. Lehigh is the defending champion and Holy Cross is led by three senior starters who have failed to get to the second round only once, last season, and have been a part of league championship teams their freshman and sophomore seasons.

    Despite those recent successes, this is the first tournament meeting of the two teams since 1991. Lehigh has never beaten Holy Cross in a tournament game and has not won in Worcester since 1998. Holy Cross is also riding a 15-game win streak.

    To break all those streaks, Lehigh will need a big game from Joe Knight and Jose Olivero. Knight need not score 45 like he did against Colgate, but he will have to be a factor. Ditto for Olivero. And they both will need to play both ends of the floor, since Holy Cross' Kevin Hamilton and Greg Simmons are easily as good a backcourt tandem as there is in the league.

    One problem facing Lehigh is its relative lack of an inside game. With 6-10 sophomre Jason Mgebroff nuring a bad foot and only no real depth at that position, The Hawks will find it tough to keep the HC guards from pressuring Knight and Olivero. If they get past their defenders, 6-11 shotblocker Nate Lufkin and the rest of HC's big men will be able to come to help, knowing there's not a lot of risk of the guy they leave causing a problem.

    Lehigh will try to keep the game close with its defense. In the game in Bethlehem, that, along with getting to the foul line, was what kept the game close and gave the Hawks a chance to win it at the end.
    HC notes | Lehigh notes | USA Today matchup | HC radio

    (3)American vs. (2) Bucknell: Andre Ingram has been a non-factor against Bucknell his entire career. There is no reason to expect that to change in this one. But Bucknell has to make sure it does not pay attention to Ingram at the expense of letting guys like Jason Thomas and Matej Cresnik go off from three-point range.

    Cresnik is the toughest matchup. He is 6-9, but shoots the three like a guard. Bucknell has to be certain to keep a hand in his face when he steps out.

    Since both 6-11 center Chris McNaughton and 6-9 freshman four man Darren Mastropaolo are big enough, and strong enough, to hold things down in the paint, it should not hurt the Bison's interior defense to have one of them step out when Cresnik has the ball at the arc.

    Bucknell will need to shoot the ball well from the perimeter to open things up inside for McNaughton. There's nobody on the AU roster that can guard the big kid in the post one-on-one, but if the Bison don't exploit the openings created when AU doubles McNaughton, that won't matter.

    A big factor in this one might be legs. AU's are not as fresh as Bucknell's. If the Eagles jump out early, the adrenaline will help overcome that. If Bucknell either jumps on the Eagles,or turns it into a grind it out sort of game, they will likely be able to wear down AU late in the game.
    American notes | Bucknell notes | USA Today matchup | Bucknell radio

    Read more!
  • Women's semifinals

    Colgate 65, Lehigh 60:Express-Times | Morning Call

    Holy Cross 72, Navy 62:Washington Post

    Read more!
    Saturday, March 12, 2005
    Next up?

    Bison hold off HC charge, claim title
    Friday, March 11, 2005
    Deja Vu all over again

    On the Air

    More on Navy recruiting
    Thursday, March 10, 2005
    Hail their colors

    Different story now

    Fingleton sighting

    Bettencourt no Baryshnikov

    Jeff Jones job hunting?

    Gotta have Hart
    Wednesday, March 09, 2005
    Million Dollar baby (a paid plug)

    One foot out the door

    Silence almost broken
    Tuesday, March 08, 2005
    Bits and pieces
    Monday, March 07, 2005
    Bison dominate with defense

    Survive and advance
    Sunday, March 06, 2005
    Semifinals preview

    Women's semifinals

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