March 6, 2023 

Everything you need to know about the Patriot League Conference Tournament

But were afraid to ask

A dominating Boston University team sits atop a wide-open field of Patriot League contenders that includes both old and new faces with hoop dreams of their own. In a season of unexpected outcomes, is there a Cinderella story about to be written?

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The Terriers have established themselves as a cut above the rest of the field but stumbled in their regular season finale, losing to Holy Cross and finishing conference play with a 17-1 mark. Can Boston avoid a letdown to ninth-seed Loyola in the opening round?

Second-seeded Holy Cross enters the tournament with a bounce in its step after its exhilarating win over the Terriers. Will there be a hangover from last year’s shocking exit at the buzzer in the quarterfinals to an eighth-seed Navy team? The Crusaders face an American Eagles squad that has struggled this season but brings a champion’s DNA to the match-up.

Lehigh and Bucknell renew their rivalry in Bethlehem in a clash of styles. The offensive-minded Mountain Hawks swept the Bison this season and will be looking to avenge last year’s quarterfinal loss on the road in Lewisburg. Can the Bison work their defensive magic and slow down the highest scoring duo in the league in Mackenzie Kramer and Player of the Year Frannie Hottinger? 

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Colgate hosts an Army team on a three-game losing streak in a showdown between the four- and five-seeds. The young and talented Raiders have won four in a row behind the play of second-team All-Patriot  sophomore, Taylor Golembiewski. 

It’s playoff time for the Patriot League and the quarterfinal round is set to tip.  Can your favorite team pull off a win? Let’s crunch the numbers and take a look at each match-up in today’s notebook:

A dominant Boston University opens with a playoff underdog

The Terriers dropped a 57-53 decision to Holy Cross on the road to cap a 17-1 regular season effort in conference play. Is the loss a wake-up call that fires up the team to claim Boston’s first banner in the Patriot League or did it show opponents the blueprint to beating the favored Terriers?

Loyola gets its chance to put its scout into action in Boston. The underdog Greyhounds were swept this season by the Terriers but in two very different outcomes. At home, Loyola dropped a 65-57 decision while its road loss was 100-57. 

Why the discrepancy? Two main reasons: Loyola sophomore forward Koi Sims had 16 rebounds in that first contest but was lost to a season-ending injury prior to the second; Boston made a season-high 16 three-pointers in the second game.

The Terriers can hurt opponents inside and out. The post tandem of senior Maren Durant and junior Caitlin Weimar presents a difficult matchup in the paint. On the perimeter, defenses face one of the best three-point shooting attacks in the nation. The Terriers are third in the country, shooting 39.2% from behind the arc.

Boston University’s Caitlin Weimar leads the Terrier attack on both ends of the floor. The league’s Defensive Player of the Year in leads the team with 45 blocks. Weimar and Loyola forward Lex Therien will square off in the paint in the quarterfinals. (Photo credit: Eliza Nuestro)

Players to watch: Loyola’s sophomore forward Lex Therien is a double-double machine and the most important player on the floor. Loyola can’t win without a big game from the second-team All-Patriot League star.

Therien is capable of the performance the Greyhounds need to succeed. She has 18 double-doubles on the season and is averaging 15.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.

The player to watch for Boston is Caitlin Weimar. The league’s Defensive Player of the Year (45 blocks) and Terrier leading scorer (60.7% from the floor) is at the center of the action on both ends of the floor. Weimar’s length and athleticism versus Therien’s physicality is the highlight of this clash.

The key stat: Rebounding. Loyola has outrebounded opponents in 20 of its 30 games this season while Boston has won that battle in 22 out of 29 contests. The Greyhounds need to edge the Terriers on the offensive boards and convert in the paint to keep it close.

Statistics provided by CBB Analytics

How Boston University wins: Attack the paint. The Terriers need to play through their posts and force Loyola to commit multiple defenders against Weimar (15.6 ppg) and Durant (7.2 ppg). Boston’s league-leading three-point attack will be unleashed if the Terriers are patient enough to play through their bigs and kick out off the double-teams or the collapse of the Loyola zone defense.

How Loyola wins: Zone up the Terriers and slow the pace. If Loyola can limit possessions and use zone defense to keep the Boston post players from finding their comfortable post-up spots, the Greyhounds can keep it close—if the Terriers are not proficient from three-point distance.

How important is inside play on both ends for the Greyhounds? Boston scores 32.1 paint points per game and won the category in both games this year. Loyola needs to win the inside game because they’re unlikely to win it from the perimeter.

Bottom line: Loyola needs to play its best game of the season to have a chance.

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Bucknell and Lehigh face off in a rivalry match-up

The Bison are finally healthy and finding more consistency, winning seven of their last ten. This rematch of last year’s quarterfinal in Lewisburg once again brings together two teams with opposing styles of play. The defensive-minded Bison go on the road this time around to take on the league’s top offense in Lehigh (70.5 ppg). 

Lehigh presents two of the toughest players in the league to account for in a defensive scheme—junior three-point specialist Mackenzie Kramer and the league’s Player of the Year in forward Frannie Hottinger. The two players combined to score 86 points in the squads’ two match-ups this year, accounting for 63.2% of Lehigh’s offense.

Players to watch: Keep your eye on Hottinger. The senior has had a dominating season and started all 29 games for first-year head coach Addie Micir. Hottinger has a career-high in minutes played this year and posted 20.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.

Bucknell’s senior post Emma Shaffer is the player to watch for the Bison. Shaffer has had an impressive season, nearly averaging a double-double (10.5 ppg and 9.4 rpg) and topping the team in assists with 68. Shaffer is a central facilitator in the Bison offense.

The key stat: Turnovers. Ball control is key for both squads. Although Lehigh attacks in transition and hunts threes throughout each possession, it is deliberate in the execution of its motion offense and has been efficient with the ball versus the Bison.

Did Lehigh hurt Bucknell with threes in its two wins against them? They were a combined 21-for-64, slightly below their average. The Mountain Hawks excelled in their ball control in each outing, committing seasons lows in turnovers in each game (just seven in a 64-51 home win, and only four in an 84-72 victory on the road).

Statistics provided by CBB Analytics

How Lehigh wins: The Mountain Hawks need to put pressure on the Bucknell defense with their transition attack and pace of play in the half court. Hottinger is a difficult match-up and finding her inside consistently will challenge the Bison to dig or double, allowing the perimeter kick-outs for the threes they prefer.

How Bucknell wins: The Bison need to slow the pace on offense and stay home on perimeter shooters on defense. It means living with the results of one-on-one coverage in the post for Hottinger and freshman Lily Fandre (6.4 ppg and 3.8 rpg). Bucknell also needs to find more consistency on offense when Shaffer isn’t on the floor.

Holy Cross hosts American looking like a championship contender

Holy Cross is better than it was a season ago—and that should have the league’s attention because it finished as regular-season champions last year. How are they better despite the graduation of Player of the Year Avery LaBarbera?

The Crusaders are a more consistent and versatile team than a year ago.

Two players that weren’t in the mix a season ago have been the key—freshman point guard Kaitlyn Flanagan and sophomore post Lindsay Berger. Both have been essential to the heart of Holy Cross’ success—its defense. The team is physical and it can guard inside and out. They are second in the league in both field goal percentage defense and points allowed. 

The second-place Crusaders host American as big favorites—a position they remember well from last year’s dramatic loss at the buzzer to eighth-seed Navy in the quarterfinals. The good news for Holy Cross is that Jennifer Coleman won’t be playing, but the bad news is that American is better than that Navy team.

American, despite its 9-21 record, is no pushover. The Eagles are battle tested and bring the confidence of a program that cut down the nets a season ago. Four starters from that team graduated, but the front line is anchored capably by forwards Lauren Stack and Emily Johns—a duo that combined for 29 points and 12 rebounds in the Eagles’ 67-65 road win in Worcester back in February.

Junior forward Bronagh Power-Cassidy is ready to lead Holy Cross on a playoff run. (Photo credit: Mark Seliger)

Players to watch: Johns stepped into the starting line-up and a leading role for American this season. How did the junior forward respond? She earned a spot on the All-Patriot League team and led her squad in scoring with 13.0 points per game. The New Jersey native is capable of scoring in bunches and her presence on the floor is the biggest key for American. If Johns can avoid foul trouble versus Crusader forwards Janelle Allen and Lindsay Berger, the Eagles could be in position to win it at the end.

The strength of Holy Cross this season is in its balance. The scoring responsibilities are evenly distributed and its top three scorers—Bronagh Power-Cassidy (13.3 ppg), Berger (10.3 ppg) and Allen (10.2 ppg)—are each capable of leading the group on any given night.

Power-Cassidy is the player to watch here. This quarterfinal round is about veteran play for the Crusaders. They’ll be thinking about last year’s playoff exit as tip-off approaches and the junior is the team’s best all-around player, built for this moment. Look for an aggressive performance from Power-Cassidy.

The key stat: Three-pointers. Holy Cross will attack the post early and often and success inside will draw American dig-downs and double-teams. Can the Crusaders capitalize on open looks off the kick-outs from their posts?

In American’s 67-65 win earlier this season, the Crusaders shot just 5-for-19 from behind the arc. Converting on open opportunities could be the difference in round three. Expect junior guard Cara McCormack and Power-Cassidy to be the difference-makers on the perimeter. 

American is eighth in the league in three-point shooting at 26.8%. Senior guard Sadie Stetson leads the team with 22 threes made.

Statistics provided by CBB Analytics

How Holy Cross wins: Apply a mix of defensive coverages both in halfcourt and fullcourt to force poor decisions in American’s offensive execution. The Crusaders need to make the Eagles a perimeter team and keep them off balance. Johns is a quick scorer when she gets touches inside, so Holy Cross will have to work to keep her from her favorite spots inside before she gets the ball.

How American wins: Win the turnover battle. The Eagles are also a physical team and they force a league-leading 17.2 turnovers per game. They have a tendency to play with less efficiency on the offense end and that leads to issues with their own ball control. American commits 18.6 turnovers per game—worst in the league. If American can gain the edge in the turnover battle, they’ll be in position for the upset.

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Colgate and Army meet in the middle

Army enters the game as the fifth seed and on a three-game losing skid to the league’s top three teams. While the Black Knights have impressive conference road wins over American, Bucknell and Holy Cross, they’re facing a Colgate team that has won four straight. The Raiders’ last loss? A 50-47 overtime defeat to Army.

However, the result is a bit misleading as Colgate played that game without its leading scorer Taylor Golembiewski, whose rim-attacking style paces the line-up at 12.5 points per game.

Fourth-seeded Colgate has found its identity as a defensive team, consistently dictating pace of play and bringing an athletic line-up that effectively employs a three-quarter court zone press and an improving man-to-man defense in the quarter court. They lead the league in scoring defense (55.5 per game), three-point defense (25.4%) and turnover margin.

The Raiders shut down Army’s starting guards in their last meeting, limiting the trio to a 2-for-16 shooting performance. Colgate didn’t shoot much better, converting just 33.0%. However, the presence of Golembiewski in this round should improve the Raider offense.

Army brings a strong one-two punch with its forwards, Sabria Hunter and Kamryn Hall. The seniors are the top two scorers for the Black Knights and will be the focus of the attack against Colgate. Hunter had a dominating performance in Army’s overtime win, posting 18 points and 16 rebounds.

Senior Alexa Brodie last reached the quarterfinal round as a freshman. Can her Colgate Raiders use that experience to make a playoff run? (Photo credit: Colgate Athletic Communications)

Players to watch: Hunter. The forward has been impressive for Army, scoring 13.4 points and hauling in 12.2 rebounds on the year. She’s adept at finding her spots inside and a strong finisher in the paint. The Black Knights need her to draw the attention of the Raider defense and create open looks for teammates. Can the guards convert from the perimeter this time around? Rookie of the Year Reese Ericson will need to step up and she’s more than capable of a big scoring game.

Tiasia McMillan has emerged as a key piece to the puzzle for Colgate. The 6’ junior forward has reached double figures in scoring five out of the last six games, averaging 11.5 points over that stretch—including a 7-for-9 effort from the floor and season-high 14 points in the last clash with Army. Keep an eye on McMillan and the way the Raiders utilize her to attack the Black Knight post players.

The key stat: Army’s three-point shooting. The Black Knights run hot and cold from deep. The team converts just 28.0% from the arc and combined to hit just 7-for-29 in the two contests versus the Raiders. They made 31 threes over a span of four games—all wins—in mid-February. Colgate comes into the showdown ranked seventh in the nation in three-point field goal defense. Can Army find the range from the outside and help its post players find some space down low?

Statistics provided by CBB Analytics

How Colgate wins: Playing with poise. Starting senior guard Alexa Brodie saw the floor for 12 minutes the last time Colgate reached the quarterfinals in 2019-20. The Raiders hosted Lehigh and entered the game at 19-10. This Raider group is deeper and has the leadership of a point guard that’s been in this moment. Brodie needs to use that experience to show her young team the way to the semi-finals.

The young Raiders need to expect to win and play with the confidence of a team that is one of the most talented in the league. 

How Army wins: Hall and Hunter need to have productive performances in the paint. The Black Knights are an inconsistent outside shooting team and face a Colgate group that is one of the best in the league at defending the perimeter. Success comes down to how much of the offensive burden the starting forwards can carry.

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Patriot League Final Standings

(League record, overall record)

  1. Boston University (17-1, 22-7)
  2. Holy Cross (13-5, 21-8)
  3. Lehigh (12-6, 16-13)
  4. Colgate (10-8, 16-13)
  5. Army (10-8, 12-16)
  6. Bucknell (9-9, 13-16)
  7. American (7-11, 9-21)
  8. Lafayette (7-11, 10-19)
  9. Loyola (MD) (4-14, 10-20)
  10. Navy (1-17, 1-29)

Tune in to Patriot League action this week

(Note: Unless noted, all games are streamed through ESPN+ for a subscription fee. Click here for the video link to all league competition. All times are ET.)

Quarterfinal Round March 6

No. 9 Loyola (MD) at No. 1 Boston University 6:00 PM

No. 6 Bucknell at No. 3 Lehigh 6:00 PM

No. 7 American at No. 2 Holy Cross 7:00 PM

No. 5 Army at No. 4 Colgate 7:00 PM

Semifinal Round March 9
No. 4/5 winner vs. No. 1/9 winner
No. 3/6 winner vs. No. 2/7 winner

Patriot League Championship Game March 12
Championship game @12:00p.m. (CBS Sports Network)                        

Written by Todd Goclowski

Todd Goclowski currently covers the Patriot League for The Next. Goclowski brings 25 years of coaching experience to his role as an analyst and writer, including 19 years of coaching women's basketball in the NCAA at the D1 and D3 levels.

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