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Patriot League Tournament preview: Can Colgate end a 23-year drought?

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It’s the Raiders’ title to lose, but Bucknell and Lehigh might have different plans. Also, can Army make a legit run?

NCAA Basketball: Colgate at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

In a perhaps somewhat surprising turn of events, the regular season Patriot League race came down to the final stretch, with Colgate, Bucknell and Lehigh all making bids to take the crown.

With wins over Holy Cross and Lafayette to round out the regular season, Colgate won more than 20 games for the first time in school history and captured the No. 1 seed in the Patriot League tournament, giving them homecourt advantage throughout the next eight days.

Colgate hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in more than two decades, last going dancing in 1996. And while the Raiders are the favorites to win the Patriot League’s 2019 bid, the path there won’t be easy. Bucknell has a solid team again and is looking to make it three straight years in a row where they’ve appeared the NCAA tournament. Lehigh is hanging around too, and so are Army and Navy, who have looked decent recently.

Here’s what the tournament looks like for the conference once referred to as “The Last Amateurs.”

Bracket

The Patriot League

Schedule

The Patriot League Network will stream all first round and quarterfinal games. CBS Sports Network will air the semifinals and championship.

First Round (Tuesday, March 5)

Game 1: No. 9 Loyola (Md.) Greyhounds at No. 8 Boston University Terriers

Game 2: No. 10 Holy Cross Crusaders at No. 7 Lafayette Leopards

Quarterfinals (Thursday, March 7)

Game 3: Game 1 Winner at No. 1 Colgate Raiders, 7 p.m, (also shown on Stadium)

Game 4: No. 5 Navy Midshipmen at No. 4 American Eagles

Game 5: Game 2 Winner at No. 2 Bucknell Bison

Game 6: No. 6 Army Black Knights at No. 3 Lehigh Mountain Hawks

Semifinals (Sunday, March 10)

Game 7: No. 8/5/4 at No. 1/4/5, 12 p.m.

Game 8: No. 7/6/3 at No. 2/3/6, 2 p.m.

Championship (Wednesday, March 13)

Game 9: Lowest-remaining seed at Highest-remaining seed, 7:30 p.m.

The Favorites

Colgate: The Raiders were the Patriot League’s only team to win more than 20 games, finishing with a 21-10 overall and a 13-5 conference mark. They are also the highest Patriot League team on KenPom, checking in at No. 129. Offensively, the Raiders are 70th overall in efficiency, per KenPom. This squad is led by Rapolas Ivanauskas, a 6-foot-10 forward from Lithuania who was recently crowned Patriot League Player of the Year. He began his collegiate career at Northwestern before coming to Colgate. This season, Ivanauskas is fifth in the Patriot league in points per-game (16.3), third in rebounds per-game (8.1), fourth in three-point percentage (43.8) and ninth in free throw percentage (77.8). His teammate, Jordan Burns, is sixth in the Patriot League in points per-game (15.7) and third in assists per-game (5.7). To stop Colgate, someone will have to figure out how to stop this dynamic duo, and the Raiders’ last eight opponents have failed to do so.

Bucknell: Will it be three straight trips in a row to the NCAA tournament? The Bison certainly have the talent to do so, but have stumbled lately, losing three of their last five games to end the season, and one of those two wins came by just a single point over Army. Bucknell has wins over St. Bonaventure, Vermont, Rhode Island and UNLV this season, and lost to Ohio State by just two points. Leading the way are Jimmy Sotos, Kimbal Mackenzie and Nate Sestina, who all rank near the top in several Patriot League stats categories. The question with Bucknell this season isn’t about how good they are, it’s about what version of them we’ll get. Will we see the Bison team that beat Vermont and nearly topped Ohio State? Or will we see the one that lost to Navy by 11?

Lehigh: Like Bucknell, Lehigh has had its moments this season, but sputtered out near the end, losing two of its final three games. In the regular season finale, the Mountain Hawks were throttled by the Loyola Greyhounds, 92-73. Lehigh picked up decent non-conference wins this year over Princeton, Arkansas State, Siena and St. Francis (PA). The Mountain Hawks have four players averaging more than 13 points per-game. Per KenPom, Lehigh is 67th in offensive efficiency and 33rd in tempo. The Mountain Hawks can run and score in bunches, but they’ve proved many times this season that’s not always a winning recipe.

The Dark Horse

Army: Yes, the Black Knights have won one out of their last four games, but they almost beat Bucknell and they didn’t get blown out in any of those contests. There’s still hope for one of the original Never Made The Tournament Club teams. Army is a decent team defensively and they can play at a fast pace. Plus, they have Tommy Funk, one of the best point guards in the Patriot League, who averages 12.3 points, 6.1 assists and has an assist-turnover ratio of +2.1. Also, Matt Wilson leads the league in rebounding, grabbing 8.8 boards per-game.

Players to Watch

  • Andrew Kostecka – Loyola (Md.)
  • Sa’eed Nelson – American
  • Kimbal Mackenzine – Bucknell
  • Max Mahoney – Boston U.
  • Rapolas Ivanauskas – Colgate
  • Tommy Funk – Army
  • Kyle Leufroy – Lehigh
  • Hasan Abdullah - Navy

Prediction

Army makes a run into the final, and we start packing their bags and begin bidding them farewell from the Never Made The Tournament Club. But Colgate proves to be too much on their homecourt. The Red Raiders end a 23-year drought, win the Patriot League and head into the NCAA tournament riding an 11-game winning streak.