The Patriot League has been best known in recent years as a conference that produces bracket busters come March. Few will forget the 2005 upset of the Kansas Jayhawks by Bucknell, quite possibly the biggest moment the conference has had in the last decade.
This afternoon the Bison will be playing for a chance to go back to the NCAA Tournament, facing off with Lafayette. Bucknell was expected to be here, running through the conference regular season while barely breaking a sweat. The Leopards on the other hand are the cinderella story of sorts, reaching the final game as a massive underdog and a six seed.
Continue on after the jump for a breakdown of each team and a final prediction for who is moving on to the Big Dance.
Bucknell Bison, #1 Seed, 24-8 (13-1)
Strengths: In the scope of the Patriot League it'd be easy to say everything for the regular season conference champs. Bucknell posted the best offensive and defensive efficiencies, the best three-point field goal marks for and against, the lowest turnover rate, the highest free throw percentage, and just for fun the best effective field goal percentages for and against. Clearly, this team dominated the Patriot League to a tremendous degree.
Delving into specifics though, the Bison excel in three specific play types, those being transition, spot-up plays and moving off the ball. Bucknell's adjusted pace may only be fifth in the conference according to Ken Pomeroy, but they rank as the 11th most efficient transition team in the country, ranking just behind the likes of Duke and Syracuse. According to Synergy Sports Technology they score better than 1.2 points per possession running the break on 54% shooting. Their propensity for perimeter shooting makes itself well known in spot-up plays as already mentioned, the Bison posted a 56% adjusted field goal mark in this setting.
Weaknesses: Even though the Bison were the Patriot League's top defensive team, they aren't without their holes at this end of the floor. Bucknell is well below average defending spot-up plays and entries to the low post. But beyond that, are among the worst transition defenses in the country (ironic given their success offensively). All told, opponents finished the regular season with a ridiculous 67% adjusted field goal percentage against Bucknell in transition, speaking not only to the ability of opposing teams to get to the rim, but the poor job the Bison do of findind shooters on the break.
Name To Know: Mike Muscala
The Patriot League Player of the Year, the sophomore big man led the Bison in scoring (14.8) and rebounds (7.5), while putting together some impressive individual performances during the year, including a 33-point, 10-rebound showing in a win over American. Not surprisingly he was responsible for nearly two-thirds of Bucknell's low post possessions this season where he finished at a respectable 40% clip. He proved to be most efficient finishing around the rim either on dump offs from teammates or fighting on the offensive glass.
Lafayette Leopards, #6 Seed, 13-18 (6-8)
Strengths: One of the more unexpected conference championship participants of 2011, Lafayette reached this point by virtue of a thrilling double-overtime win over American. The Leopards are pretty much a middle of the road offense across most metrics in the Patriot League, though they did excel scoring in the post and in transition. They do have considerable size for their conference and have utilized it to the tune of .97 point per possession on the block, which doesn't sound all that impressive until you consider that places them in the 92nd percentile nationally. They've been almost as good running the break where the Leopards look to find open shooters on the perimeter as exhibited by the significant jump from field goal to adjusted field goal percentage in this setting (54% to 64%).
Weaknesses: Lafayette struggles with interior defense mightily. The Leopards have the worst opponent offensive rebound percentage in the Patriot League, meaning they give up more second chance opportunities than anyone else in the conference. They're equally as bad defending the post, allowing opposing teams to shoot a tremendous 53% from the floor according to Synergy Sports, which puts them in the bottom 10% nationally.
Key Player: Jared Mintz
The senior forward was a First Team All-Patriot League selection after averaging nearly 16 points and 6 rebuonds while shooting better than 50% from the floor. The well built 6-9 upperclassman had eight 20-point games during the regular season, relying on his excellent touch around the rim. Using the point per possession metric, Mintz was one of the best low post scorering in country playing with his back to the basket and just finishing around the rim in general.
It's been a nice run for the Leopards, but Bucknell has been a juggernaut in the Patriot League this season, they'll be dancing.