Patriot League Tournament Betting Preview, Bracket & Odds: Colgate to Hold Serve?
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: Keegan Records (Colgate)
There are certain pockets of college basketball fans that believe the excitement we see in the two weeks of conference tournaments surpasses that of the NCAA Tournament.
While I think that’s a bit of a stretch, for teams in low-major conferences, the next two weeks are the real climax of the season.
Nearly all of college basketball’s 358 teams will begin this month with a theoretical path to a conference tournament championship and the requisite NCAA Tournament bid. No matter how unrealistic that may seem for some teams, the path is there.
When the Patriot League Conference Tournament kicks off with its preliminary round on Tuesday, this is true for all 10 programs in league. While they are all chasing the heavy favorite Colgate, anything can happen in March.
This league knows that as well as any.
The Patriot League regular-season champion has won the conference tournament just three times in the last 10 years.
On top of that, the Patriot League knows the magic of March thanks to many NCAA Tournament close calls, and two of the most iconic upsets of the 21st century — Lehigh over Duke in 2012 and Bucknell over Kansas in 2006.
Patriot League Tournament Bracket & Schedule
You’d be hard pressed to find a team that has built a weirder season than this Colgate club. One might think a squad that went 16-2 in conference would have shown some indication of that record during the non-conference slate.
Colgate’s non-conference schedule was, however, very uninspiring. The Raiders had an exclamation-point performance in a win over Syracuse, scoring 100 at the Carrier Dome and ending a decades-long losing streak to the Orange.
Elsewhere though, Colgate lost games to Cornell, Harvard, Niagara and Northeastern.
After opening the Patriot League portion of the calendar with a loss to Lehigh (now KenPom‘s 304th-ranked team) on Jan. 4, Colgate sat at just 4-10 on the season.
Since then, the Raiders have been a buzzsaw. Colgate has lost just once since, and is currently riding an 11-game winning streak that dates back to late January.
With home court throughout the tournament — where the Raiders haven’t lost since their lone home loss in November — Colgate is a heavy favorite for a reason.
The Raiders shoot the fifth-best 3-point percentage in the nation. That stat comes on the back of five players, who have more than 80 long-range attempts and are all shooting better than 35% on those looks.
Ryan Moffatt (46% from 3) and Oliver Lynch-Daniels (52% from 3, second-best in nation) make for the perfect floor spacers for leading scorer Nelly Cummings to create offense off the dribble.
There really isn’t an Achilles heel for challengers to attack, either. Colgate should win this tournament, though the odds might not have the kind of juice to entice bettors.
If this past Saturday offered us a preview of the Patriot League title game, we have something to look forward too.
Second-seeded Navy played at Colgate and gave the Raiders a scare, losing by just five.
Navy doesn’t have the size to play in the paint with many opponents, including Colgate, but the Midshipmen are rangy and athletic. In space, they can force Colgate’s shooters to defend and battle for rebounds.
On the other end of the floor, Navy’s athleticism caused problems for Colgate. Eight different Midshipmen recorded a steal in the game.
When the two teams met in Annapolis, Colgate survived a 3-for-20 outside shooting night thanks to its size on the interior. Keegan Records — Colgate’s 6-foot-10 man-bunned center — dominated inside that night, scoring 25 points.
Navy doesn’t have a starter over 6-foot-7, or a rotation player taller than 6-foot-8. Records slipping into foul trouble was a big reason Navy hung around in the second meeting.
If you’re looking for value, I think these odds are a tad too low. The old adage suggests its hard to beat a team three times in a season, but Colgate has Navy’s number.
The Mids would suddenly become the heavy favorites if someone did them a favor and knocked off Colgate, yet that feels like asking for a miracle.
Lehigh didn’t win its second game against D-I competition until New Year’s Day, starting the season 1-10.
That made it particularly shocking when the Mountain Hawks topped Colgate in early January.
So, how did they do it?
Lehigh leads all of college basketball in a peculiar stat. No team allows its opponents to shoot a lower percentage of their field goals from outside the arc. The Mountain Hawks are going to close out and run you off the 3-point line, at all costs.
For a jump shooting team like Colgate, that was a challenge. In that loss to Lehigh, the Raiders attempted their second-fewest 3s in a game this season. It was by far the Raiders’ highest number of 2-point attempts this year.
When the teams met again on Colgate’s home floor, the Raiders’ defense smothered Lehigh, allowing 62 points on 0.9 points per possession.
If you want a road map for Lehigh, the path is there. The Mountain Hawks led the conference in 3-point percentage (in Patriot League games) by a country mile, sinking 42.2% of their bombs from the perimeter.
Keep that up and force Colgate inside the paint, and that could recreate the upset from earlier this season.
On top of that, if Lehigh moved on, there would be some optimism about the title game. Lehigh swept Navy this year. The Mountain Hawks went 3-1 against the clear two best teams in the league this season, and a measly 7-7 against everyone else.
If nothing else, they are high variance, and could get hot at the right time.
Why does the six seed have better odds than the four seed and significantly better odds than the five seed (Army at +3100)? There’s a few reasons it makes sense.
First off, Loyola (MD) would not have to meet Colgate until the conference championship, holding out hope that someone else could knock off the Raiders prior to that.
More importantly, Loyola (MD) has shown some flashes and had many close calls this season, suggesting it could be a sleeping giant in this bracket.
Since Jan. 30, Loyola is only 2-7, but those seven losses have come by an average of just five points. The Greyhounds split the season series with their first-round opponent, Boston University, with each team winning in the other’s building.
Loyola would relish a potential semifinal matchup with Navy, having lost its two games to the Midshipmen by a combined three points.
Lastly, Loyola’s style of play suggests the Greyhounds could create some chaos.
Loyola plays at the slowest pace in the conference, giving the Greyhounds a chance to steal a game or two. Both duels with Navy came in sub-60 possession slugfests.
In a tournament taking place on campuses across this week, that is not the kind of game a favorite wants to find itself playing.
Most smart bettors are looking for detailed breakdowns and analytics to make their picks. Sometimes, the narrative takes over.
The Patriot League tournament will be the final time we see Fran O’Hanlon at the helm at Lafayette after 27 years on the sideline in Easton. O’Hanlon played at Villanova back in the heyday of the Big Five before a professional career eventually led him to coaching the Leopards many years ago.
His teams have always played crisp, classic offense, hunting for backdoor cuts and open 3s.
This season, the 3s have simply not fallen. Lafayette leads the Patriot League in 3-point rate and 3-point attempts (24 per game).
The Leopards are, however, dead last in the conference in 3-point shooting percentage. Taking a ton of 3s but shooting a low percentage has made offense an uphill battle for Lafayette.
I won’t be jumping at Lafayette’s chances to win this tournament, but I certainly like the Leopards’ odds in the opening round against Bucknell. Both Bucknell-Lafayette games went to overtime, with each team winning once, though the Bison outshot the Leopards from long range in both meetings.
If Lafayette advanced, the Leopards would get a crack at Colgate. An upset there would be quite the long shot, yet it would be great to see Lafayette get red hot one more time for Coach O.
Pick: Colgate -185 or better
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