When and where: Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday. Games played in the gym of the higher seed.
Last year: Bucknell won the regular season title, but were knocked off by No. 2 seed Lehigh who would go on to knock off Duke in the NCAA Tournament.
This year: For the 3rd straight year Bucknell won the regular season title. In the past three years they have 5 conference losses, though 2 of those have been at home to Lehigh.
The favorite: With three seniors leading the way including All American candidate Mike Muscala, it's no surprise that Bucknell is the heavy favorite to be dancing. They were 9-1 in their final 10 ten games, with their only loss being a 63-62 heartbreaker at Lafayette on a night when the Leopards attempted 26 free throws, which is the season high vs the Bison. Now the Bison can't face a team which has beat them this season until the Patriot finals.
6-11 Mike Muscala, who is No. 10 in Pomeroy's Player of the Year standings, enters the tourney off his only game this season where he's failed to score in double figures. He only played 23 minutes in a blowout of Navy and scored 9 points. Otherwise he's had 19 double-doubles and is averaging a ridiculous 19.1 points and 11.0 boards on the year.
The contender: Without CJ McCollum it's a toss up between Lehigh and Lafayette, and I'll go with Lafayette since they have two wins over Lehigh already this season. Fran O'Hanlon's squad had the Patriot's best offense this year and they were only held below a point per possession four times in league play (3 losses). After a home loss to Army on February 13th, they reeled off five straight to finish the season, including wins over the No. 1 and No. 3 seeds in this tourney.
Lafayette made over 38% of their 3s on the season and score more from the arc than all but 22 Division I teams. They have three guys who are making them at an elite rate in 6-7 sophomore Seth Hinrichs (45%), 6-0 senior Tony Johnson (45%), and 6-2 freshman Bryce Scott (44%). Hinrichs and Scott have been particularly deadly in the past nine games with Hinrichs making 53% of his attempts and Scott converting an even more impressive 59%.
The dark horse: I'm not picking Army just because my grandfather played there. This is Coach Spiker's best team since he arrived. After averaging 4 league wins in each of his first three seasons, the Black Knights went 8-6 this year. They open against American, who they've beaten twice this year, and then would most likely face Bucknell, to whom they lost by 2 in February. If it somehow ends up an Army vs Lafayette title game, they've beaten them twice as well.
5 (other) Players to Watch:
1. Ella Ellis, 6-7 senior, Army
The unanimous 1st team All Conference player is a threat from all over the court. He splits his shots relatively evenly (47% 2s, 53% 3s) and makes 49% of his 2s and 41% of his 3s. He also draws 7.4 fouls/40, which is the 5th best rate in the nation, and once he gets to the line he makes 85%. Entering the tournament he's averaged 27.5 ppg over the past four, and made four 3s in every one of those games.
2. Kyle Wilson, 6-4 freshman, Army
Playing alongside an experienced and high-volume senior like Ella Ellis, you wouldn't think that there would be that many shots to go around. But Wilson has attempted 304 shots to 319 for Ellis. He also makes a high percentage of his 3-pt shots (42%) though he only attempts them half as often as Ellis. Of players who used at least 20% of their teams possessions, Wilson was the only freshman in the Patriot League top 10 players in terms of offensive efficiency. So it's no surprise that he was named the Freshman of the Year.
3. Holden Greiner, 6-8 senior, Lehigh
Greiner was averaging 11.5 points when star CJ McCollum broke a bone in his foot. Since then he's averaged 14.7. He's improved his 3-pt% every season at Lehigh and has made 43% of his attempts this year. He's also only had 11 games where he turned the ball over multiple times.
4. Bryson Johnson, 6-2 senior, Bucknell
Someone has to make teams pay for double teaming Mike Muscala, and oftentimes it is Johnson. He's taken 44 more 3s than the next closest player, and he's made 41.5% of his attempts. He also leads the team in minutes played, and like most of the team he rarely turns the ball over (Bucknell is 5th nationally at taking care of the ball).
5. Tilman Dunbar, 5-10 freshman, Navy
Navy doesn't have much to brag about this season, having gone 8-22 (2-12), but freshman Tilman Dunbar has been a bright spot. He picks up an assist on 42% of the made baskets when he's on the floor and had a career high 11 assists (to just 1 turnover) early in the year vs Binghamton. Dunbar provides a glimmer of hope for the future as the Midshipmen's top six players in the rotation consist of 2 sophomores and 4 freshmen.