By Eric Brod
After an eventful regular season, the Patriot League tournament kicked off this week with eight teams battling for the right to represent the Patriot League in the NCAA tournament. This year, the league features at least three teams with a legitimate shot of making the tournament in our very own Bison, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, and American Eagles.
With a win over Navy on Saturday, the Orange and Blue defended last season’s regular season championship and entered into the tournament as the clear favorite. After holding the longest conference winning-streak in the country before dropping back-to-back contests, the Bison concluded regular-season play with an impressive 12-2 Patriot League record.
While their late-season losses to Lehigh (at home) and Holy Cross (on the road) have removed the aura of invincibility from the Bison, they still posses the deepest team in the league and feature Mike Muscala ’13 (16.7 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game), and now-three-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Bryan Cohen ’12. Two-time Patriot League Coach of the Year Dave Paulsen also has the benefit of one of the deepest benches in the league with Bryson Johnson ’13 providing immediate offense and Steven Kaspar ’15 providing stability off the bench at the point guard position.
Second-seed Lehigh poses a tough match for any opponent. The Mountain Hawks, led by league-leading scorer C.J. McCollum (21.7 ppg), have surged late in the season behind their star, including a thrilling 56-53 victory at Sojka Pavilion earlier this month. Besides McCollum, the Mountain Hawks also have solid players in Gabe Knutson (12.1 ppg) and Holden Greiner (10.3 ppg).
American also poses a legitimate threat to upset the Bison in this year’s league tournament despite slipping to third in the conference this year. The Eagles are paced by leading scorer Charles Hinkle (18.8 ppg) and have solid leadership at point guard in starter Daniel Munoz.
With a first-round trouncing of Navy on Wednesday night, the Bison inched a little bit closer to their ultimate goal of repeating as champions. On Saturday, the Orange and Blue will meet Lafayette in a rematch of last year’s title matchup. A victory will allow them to host another championship game.