- Ky McKeon
3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: Sa’eed Nelson, Jr., American
Coach of the Year: Matt Langel, Colgate
Newcomer of the Year: Rapolas Ivanauskas, R So., Colgate
Freshman of the Year: Tucker Richardson, Fr., Colgate
1. A Tier Above the Rest
Colgate and Bucknell finished the season in a tie for first place at 13-5, while Lehigh trailed by just a game at 12-6. That’s a full four games better than the 4th place team (3 games better for Lehigh), underlining the dominance these three squads asserted on the league in 2018-19. Bucknell and Lehigh were more or less expected to be at this spot in March, but Colgate’s run to the top opened some eyeballs. While the Raiders were picked as a top-half PL squad in the offseason, few, if any, saw Northwestern transfer Rapolas Ivanauskas developing into arguably the best player in the conference and freshman Tucker Richardson notching the 6th most minutes in league play. Interesting fact? While Colgate and Bucknell split their season series at 1-1, Lehigh went a combined 0-4 against the other league powers, losing by an average of 12.25 ppg in those contests.
2. Parity Prevails
Aside from the trio at the top, the Patriot League was a conference defined by parity. The other seven squads in the league finished within three games of one another, making the conference the best its been since 2014, per KenPom. Lafayette and Navy both exceeded expectations; Army turned heads early in the year when it competed with Duke for a solid 30 minutes (and covered the outrageous 40-point spread); Loyola boasted one of the best individual performers in the PL with conference scoring champ Andrew Kostecka; Boston upended Colgate and Bucknell but failed to maintain consistency throughout league play; and American hinted at how dominant it could become in 2019-20 with seven of its top eight rotational players set to return.
The Patriot was one of the most accurate shooting leagues in the country this season, ranking 3rd in eFG%, 1st in 2P%, and 3rd in 3P%. Much of this could be due to the overall poor defense that was played in the conference, but credit is also due to the plethora of knockdown shooters in the league. Fourteen players shot over 40% from three, led by Lehigh’s Jordan Cohen (49.5%), and thirteen players notched a FG% over 50%, highlighted by Jehyve Floyd’s 67.9%. Also, if you hate the grind-it-out feel of a free-throw heavy contest, look no further than the Patriot League conference Tourney for something more your style - PL teams ranked 30th in the country out of 32 conferences in FT rate.
The PL Tourney is held on March 5, 7, 10, and 13 with the higher seed in each matchup hosting at their respective campus sites. All 10 teams are eligible for the tournament. The top six teams receive a first round bye.
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
It comes as no surprise that this Tourney should come down to Colgate, Bucknell, and Lehigh. These three teams are clearly the front runners, but the league doesn’t have an unbeatable juggernaut as in years past. Colgate fell to Navy, Army, Loyola, and Boston this season (all on the road); Bucknell lost to American, Boston, Holy Cross, and Navy (again all on the road); and Lehigh was upended by Holy Cross (at home) and Loyola (on the road).
Because of this, we could very well see an unexpected auto-bid representing the Patriot in the Dance (as a 16-seed). If any of the big three win, expect to see them as a 15 or 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Dark Horse Team
I chose Boston to finish 3rd in the league in the preseason and saw them as a squad that could compete alongside Bucknell and Lehigh for the top spot in the regular season. Alas, the Terriers endured a rough 2-6 start to league play and quickly fell down the ranks. Lately though, Joe Jones’ squad has been showing some life, winning three of its last four games to save a respectable 7-11 conference mark. As mentioned above, Boston has beaten 2/3 of the league powers, so seeing the Terriers take down the PL Tournament is a real possibility.
Another team to watch out for is Holy Cross, a squad that features one of the best players in the league and a squad that returned everyone from last season. Bill Carmody is a wizard of the zone defense and his slow style of play is a recipe for upsets in a Tourney setting.
(10) Holy Cross over (7) Lafayette
(8) Boston over (9) Loyola MD
(8) Boston over (1) Colgate
(2) Bucknell over (10) Holy Cross
(3) Lehigh over (6) Army
(4) American over (5) Navy
(4) American over (8) Boston
(3) Lehigh over (2) Bucknell
(3) Lehigh over (4) American
The Mountain Hawks fly high and clinch yet another NCAA Tournament berth where they likely draw one of the four powerful one-seeds and look to recreate UMBC magic.