January 16, 2024
Patriot League notebook: American breaks out, Holy Cross gets defensive
Will a strong start make American a title contender?
The opening of Patriot League action has produced its share of fun surprises after a difficult non-conference stretch. Who’s sprinted out of the box early, and what does it mean for the conference favorites in Worcester?
American University is making its case as a championship challenger behind the play of a veteran senior class and its second-year head coach, Tiffany Coll. The Eagles have early wins over contenders Boston University and Lehigh, and sit at 4-0 along with Colgate and defending champion Holy Cross. Are they ready for a title run?
The preseason favorite Crusaders look poised to add to their championship legacy behind one of the nation’s top defenses and the improved play of sophomores Kaitlyn Flanagan and Simone Foreman. Does head coach Maureen Magarity’s squad have what it takes to run it back? Things are getting defensive in the Woo, and that’s bad news for the rest of the league.
It’s snowy in Hamilton, but that’s just how Colgate likes it for visitors to Cotterell Court, where the home team is 7-1. The Raiders are off to a 4-0 start in league play for the first time since the 1990-91 season. Keep your snow shoes handy and your eyes on Colgate.
Patriot League fans, take note: There are some familiar faces having significant impact outside the conference in the BIG EAST and Ivy League. Let’s take a look around the action and dive into the details of an exciting start.
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American zooms to the top of the pack in conference play
The Eagles enter the third week of league action undefeated and playing their best basketball of the season. Seniors Ivy Bales and Emily Johns anchor a streaking group that has found its rhythm in conference play after a difficult 2-9 non-conference slate.
Despite a challenging run to begin the season, the Eagles turned the page and embraced their process behind a veteran team that includes six seniors and a graduate student in forward Lauren Stack (8.2 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game and 15 starts). The team’s resiliency reflects its senior leadership.
How are they doing it? While the squad’s experience and maturity count, this is a versatile group with depth of talent. Aside from forward Johns (11.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg), there isn’t a player opposing defenses can key in on; they can all attack and score.
The Eagles have eight players averaging at least 5.1 points per game and just one, Johns, in double figures. Nine players have led the team in scoring through 15 games this season.
Bales epitomizes the group’s versatility and toughness. The senior (8.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg) brings elite defense and a physicality from the guard position that sets the tone when the Eagles need stops. She was named to the Patriot League All-Defensive Team last season and currently leads the Eagles with 31 steals.
Bales’ 14 points led four double-digit scorers in American’s 75-69 road win over Army to move them to 4-0 in league play.
American was fifth in the league’s preseason poll but did receive two first-place votes — just one of three teams to earn top tallies. Can the Eagles ride their depth and experience to a fourth conference title? Coll and her troops have the poise to make a run.
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Holy Cross is all in on the defensive end
It might be cliché, but the old adage “defense wins championships” is a mantra in Worcester. All those championship trophies can make a believer out of any help-side defender.
No team in the league looks as connected on the defensive end of the floor as the Crusaders. When Magarity’s squad is hitting its rotations on time and closing out to contain and contest the ball, it’s a nightmare for opposing offenses. Holy Cross is all in on getting stops; it’s the team’s identity.
What does that mean for opponents?
Frustration. Holy Cross held the offensive-minded Lehigh to a season-low 54 points in its 75-54 win to move to 4-0 in conference play.
The defensive habits are starting to click. The stingy Crusaders’ defense is allowing just 51.5 points per game, good for fourth in the nation; its field goal percentage defense is 33.3% — fifth nationally.
Holy Cross lost its defensive star, Addisyn Cross, to graduation, but the team hasn’t missed a beat this year. On the perimeter, the growth of sophomore guards Kaitlyn Flanagan and Simone Foreman has filled the gap that Cross left.
Foreman’s increased role is a key piece of the Crusaders’ early-season success. The 5’9 sophomore has started all 15 contests and is averaging 6.9 points and a team-high 9.1 rebounds an outing. Her game is explosive, and, when she makes her presence felt on the court, good things are happening for Holy Cross.
The Maryland native posted 18 points and 14 rebounds versus Lehigh and helped the defense limit the Mountain Hawks’ perimeter attack to a 6-for-26 effort and 23.1% from deep.
Point guard Flanagan’s consistency on both ends is itself a weapon, and she also leads the team with 23 steals. Starters Bronagh Power-Cassidy and Cara McCormack bring senior savvy to a very experienced defensive unit.
It’s an inside-out approach. Forwards Janelle Allen and Lindsay Berger continue to anchor the interior, denying preferred post position and navigating ball screen actions effectively. It’s tough to challenge the Crusaders in the paint: They lead the league in blocks with 4.67 per game.
If the path to the title goes through Worcester, challengers will have to crack the code of the Crusaders’ defense. Holy Cross is 8-0 at home and plays its best defense at the Hart Center.
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Familiar league faces having an impact
Fans may have noticed a couple of recognizable faces playing big roles for their teams in unfamiliar uniforms. COVID rules for eligibility and the era of increased player movement in the NCAA have provided new opportunities for several league players to explore new competitive challenges.
This year, former Lehigh star and 2022-23 Patriot League Player of the Year Frannie Hottinger joined Marquette University as a graduate transfer.
Hottinger has made 15 starts for the 23rd-ranked Golden Eagles, scoring 9.1 points and grabbing a team-leading 8.0 rebounds per game. She’s shooting 50.4% from the field. The Minnesota native has played 26.6 minutes a contest and helped Marquette to a 15-2 record and 4-2 mark in the BIG EAST. She had nine points and six rebounds in this weekend’s 78-47 win over DePaul.
Junior guard Cecelia Collins transferred from Bucknell to Columbia this offseason. The two-time Second Team All-Patriot League selection has fit right in with the Lions, starting all 16 games and helping her new team to a 3-0 start in the Ivy League and 12-4 overall.
The Pennsylvania native is averaging 12.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. She’s shooting 49.7% from the floor and posted 13 points and four rebounds in Columbia’s 88-52 win over Yale on Monday. The Lions have won 10 straight games.
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(League record, overall record)
- Colgate (4-0, 11-4)
- Holy Cross (4-0, 10-5)
- American (4-0, 6-9)
- Boston University (3-1, 11-4)
- Loyola (MD) (1-3, 6-9)
- Lehigh (1-3, 9-6)
- Lafayette (1-3, 6-9)
- Navy (1-3, 5-10)
- Army (1-3, 4-10)
- Bucknell (0-4, 3-12)
What’s the can’t-miss matchup of the week?
Colgate at Boston University
Saturday, Jan. 20 @ 2 p.m. ET
Is Colgate ready for its closeup? This early-season matchup between title contenders is going to reveal whether the veteran Raiders can make the leap this season.
A revamped Terrier lineup is off to an impressive 11-4 start overall and comfortably positioned in fourth place behind the play of Preseason Player of the Year Caitlin Weimar. The senior post has met the challenge of leading her squad and is averaging 18.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game on 53.4% shooting from the field.
The streaking Raiders have won six games in a row and sit in a three-way tie for first place with Holy Cross and American at 4-0 in league play. Colgate is led by junior guard Taylor Golembiewski, who has scored 13.1 points per game on 42.3% from the floor.
Expect a low-scoring contest. Colgate is holding teams to 53.5 points per game and 39.8% shooting. The Terriers are allowing 61.1 points but holding opponents to 38.0% from the floor and have the league’s best rim protector in Weimar, who leads her team with 31 blocks.
Can the Raiders slow down the inside play of Weimar? Forward Tiasia McMillan is having a solid season, but it will take a group effort to limit the Terriers’ post play. Keep your eyes on where and when Colgate springs its double teams down low and the effectiveness of its rotations on passes out of those doubles.
It’s a must-watch game between two of the league’s best teams — and it could be the first of three in this growing rivalry.
The last meeting: Jan. 25, 2023. The Terriers won 58-44 in Hamilton. Boston University used a 23-9 third quarter burst to flip a one-point halftime deficit into a comfortable road win behind 23 points and 11 rebounds from Weimar. The Raiders struggled from the field, shooting just 32.7%, and were dominated on the boards by a 42-24 margin. McMillan and Lindsay Blackmore led Colgate with 10 points apiece.
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League news and notes
- Lehigh has an eight-game winning streak against Navy. The Mids travel to Bethlehem this week; their last win on the road against the Mountain Hawks was on Jan. 18, 2017, in a 66-64 thriller. Navy’s Taylor Dunham hit a 30-foot 3-pointer on a sideline out-of-bounds play with .06 seconds remaining.
- Holy Cross is 8-0 at home this season.
- Navy freshman Zanai Barnett-Gay led Navy to its first league win in a 56-47 victory over Lafayette. The Maryland native posted 13 points, eight rebounds and four steals. It’s the 14th straight time Barnett-Gay has scored in double digits. She’s second in the league in scoring with 18.4 points per game.
- Colgate leads the league in 3-point shooting percentage, converting 70.3% from deep on 26-for-37 from the field in conference play. The Raiders were last in 3-point shooting in 2022-23, hitting just 23.3% from behind the arc. Sophomore guard Madison Schiller is a perfect 7-for-7 in league action.
- Holy Cross sophomore point guard Kaitlyn Flanagan leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.4. She has 65 assists on the season.
- Sisters Ava and Lex Therien have started all 15 games this season for Loyola. Ava, playing as a grad student, joined junior forward Lex in the lineup for the duo’s first starts together in their collegiate careers. Ava and sister Isabella Therien (’21) were teammates for the Greyhounds but never appeared in the starting lineup together.
- Remi Sisselman played a season-high 34 minutes for Lehigh in a 69-63 road win over Bucknell. The junior transferred from the Bison in the offseason and is currently averaging 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The Long Island native posted 13 points and seven rebounds in her return to Lewisburg.
- Boston University’s Caitlin Weimar leads the league in blocks with 2.1 per game and 31 overall.
Tune in to Patriot League action this week
(Note: All games are streamed through ESPN+ for a subscription fee. Click here for the video link to all league competition. All times are ET.)
Army at Colgate @ 11 a.m.
Navy at Lehigh @ 6 p.m.
Holy Cross at Lafayette @ 6 p.m.
Boston University at Bucknell 6 p.m.
Loyola (MD) at American 7 p.m.
Army at Navy @ 11 a.m.
Lehigh at American 2 p.m.
Lafayette at Bucknell @ 2 p.m.
Colgate at Boston University @ p.m.
Holy Cross @ Loyola (MD) @ 3 p.m.
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.