Patriot League Tournament Betting Preview: Can Anybody Beat Bucknell?

Patriot League Tournament Betting Preview: Can Anybody Beat Bucknell? article feature image
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© Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The power conferences better start paying attention because the Patriot League conference tournament kicks off today. The Patriot League Champion has pulled off a few massive tournament upsets in recent memory. I’m looking at you Kansas and Duke.

I will analyze the Patriot League bracket then provide ATS predictions for both of the following first round matchups today:

  • No. 9 Army at No. 8 Loyola Maryland (+1.5)
  • No. 10 American at No. 7 Lafayette (-7)

Patriot League Conference Tournament

Who

Where

Campus sites. The higher seed has each round, starting with R1 matchups on Tuesday Feb. 27 and ending with the Final on Wednesday Mar. 7.

Who Should Win

Bucknell -330

The Bison have won the Patriot League regular season seven of the last eight years. The reigning champs are deep, experienced, and battle tested. Bucknell’s offense starts with center Nana Foulland (pictured above), as only Oral Roberts runs more offense through the post. Not only is Foulland prolific in the post, but he’s efficient as well. Per Synergy, Bucknell has the 33rd most efficient post offense in the country.

What makes Foulland so difficult to defend is Bucknell’s offense typically forces teams to play him straight up. Thanks to 6’7 wing Zach Thomas, wings can’t dig down on Foulland. Thomas draws the most contact in the league, and is an incredibly difficult matchup for smaller Patriot League wings when he puts the ball on the floor. The Bison also feature a steady senior PG in Stephen Brown, who doesn’t turn it over, consistently makes big shots, and breaks down defenses in transition and off the dribble. He’s the complete package.

One issue of concern for the Bison is they did see their perimeter shooting inexplicably head south for the winter. The Bison’s dip in team three point shooting was embodied by Thomas, who shot a paltry 29.6% from 3 in league play after shooting 40%+ in conference his entire career. In Bucknell’s two conference losses, it shot a combined 15-54 (27.7%) from deep.

Defensively, the Bison limited conference foes to just .905 points per possession (ppp). The 6’7 long armed Thomas dominates in ball screen defense, and Brown is a solid perimeter defender. Foulland also provided the third highest block rate in the league, while significantly reducing his foul rate in his senior season.

However, Bucknell’s path to the title game isn’t without peril, as it will have to go through either Lehigh or Boston U in its half of the bracket. BU and Lehigh handed Bucknell its only two league losses. Before Bucknell gets to the winner of that matchup, it will first have to get past the winner of No 8. Loyola Maryland and No. 9 Army.

Army was expected to challenge Bucknell’s league supremacy, but the Black Knights finished the season by losing six straight and nine of 10. Army head coach Jimmy Allen has continued the uptempo, pressing style that Zach Spiker started at West Point, as the Black Knights extend full court pressure at a top 10 rate nationally. Loyola doesn’t have a generally strong press offense, but it does have two point guards in Andre Walker and Isaiah Hart who effectively broke down the press in the regular season series split. Loyola will also extend pressure with ball hawk Andy Kostecka, but Army has two outstanding ball handlers in Jordan Fox and Tommy Funk. Both offenses should thrive.

Army had the closest thing to success against Bucknell this year, taking them to OT at Sojka. However, the Bison came out sluggish in that game after exacting revenge on Boston U in the prior game.

If Not Bucknell, Then…

Colgate +525

Matt Langel (a Fran Dunphy coaching tree product) coaches a No. 2 seed Colgate team that can be an offensive juggernaut. The Raiders run a lot of inverted motion that effectively spaces their bigs away from the rim. At 6’7 and 6’8 respectively, Jordan Swopshire and Will Rayman can be a matchup nightmare on the perimeter. Colgate also runs out two point guards with Jordan Burns alongside Sean O’Brien. As a result, the Raiders turned the ball over at the lowest rate in the league.

While Colgate doesn’t run a lot of offense at the rim, it actually has the most efficient post offense in the entire country, per Synergy. It has been so efficient down low because its offensive scheme usually dictates that a guard ends up trying to front big men Malcolm Regisford and Dana Batts. Unfortunately for Colgate, Regisford is unlikely to suit up in the tourney with a knee injury.

I’m sure Bucknell would rather see anybody else but Colgate in the title, as the Raiders will want to atone for one of the biggest collapses of the year. Colgate improbably blew a 10-point lead with 55 seconds to play at Bucknell. Kimbal Mackenzie (who is questionable for this tournament with a groin strain) hit a 3 at the buzzer to complete the Bison comeback. That meltdown happened in a nationally televised game to boot.

Colgate’s path to a potential third meeting with Bucknell could get derailed if No. 7 Lafayette (100-1) gets past No. 10 American. The Leopards swept the Raiders in the regular season, as Colgate’s porous post defense couldn’t handle Matt Klinewski on the block. Klinewski totaled 42 points on 16-25 shooting in the sweep. Lafayette also went berserk from 3 (14-29) when Langel opted to double him in the rematch. American is always a tricky match up in a tournament setting. Its halfcourt pressure defense and methodical Princeton motion offense requires 40 minutes of focus on both ends, but Lafayette won both regular season meetings with ease.

Potential Sleeper

Boston (+3000) at Lehigh (+1400) winner

The winner of this Thursday 4-5 matchup will have already defeated Bucknell earlier this season. Lehigh enters the tournament as the league’s hottest team, having won eight straight. With an outstanding senior point guard in Kahron Ross looking to end his career on a high note, the Mountain Hawks are dangerous. Lehigh was the league’s most efficient offense, and shot the three at an absurd 44.7% in league play. Ross’ penetration and court vision is enhanced by Lance Tejada and stretch shooter Pat Andree, who canned threes against conference foes at 46% and 49%, respectively.

Lehigh and BU are actually incredibly similar teams. Both have major deficiencies in man to man defense, which forces each to play a lot of zone. However, after reviewing BU’s last two games (which it won after a five game losing streak), it went almost exclusively man to man. That’s an interesting switch, especially after Lehigh shot a combined 25-51 from 3 in the series split this year. BU is also healthy, as penetrating wing and solid rebounder Walter Whyte is back from an ankle injury. Also, oft injured Ced Hankerson is gutting it out through several nagging injuries.

Patriot League Final Prediction

No. 1 Bucknell over No. 7 Lafayette

Most Intriguing Matchup

No. 6 Holy Cross at No. 3 Navy

This Thursday matchup doesn’t set up too well for the Crusaders. Holy Cross head coach Bill Carmody and Navy head coach Ed DeChellis have a long history, which dates back to their days as Big Ten coaches. Carmody has never defeated a DeChellis team on the road. At Northwestern, he was 0-7 when visiting DeChellis at Penn State, and he has started off his tenure at Holy Cross with an 0-4 record at Navy.

In Holy Cross’ last four games against the Mids, it’s scored just .75 ppp. Both coaches are known for their extended 1-3-1 half court zone defenses and methodical motion offenses. That makes for some hard to watch contests. Carmody has had to deal with the suspension of three players, with the most notable being junior forward Karl Charles.

First Round ATS Predictions

Lafayette -7

Army -1.5

Photo via Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports