February 27, 2021 

Patriot League notebook: Navy could be done for the season; division champs decided

A playoff preview and details on the league's new anti-racism platform

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The Patriot League has decided to include all teams in its playoff tournament as the final weekend of the regular season arrives. Who benefits from the latest changes and what is the impact on seeding for the postseason?

Navy announced a positive test in its Tier 1 group on Friday. The Mids are currently the fourth seed in the tournament, set to begin next week. Is their season over? How will the league adjust the playoff format if they are forced to drop out?

In the North and South divisions, Boston University and American each claimed first place with big wins. The Terriers earned the second overall seed while the Eagles grabbed third. Those programs join the idle Bucknell Bison as division winners. One of those teams is set up for a first-round upset. Who is it and why?

The league highlighted its commitment to social justice this week by collaborating with student-athletes on an anti-racism initiative. Men’s and women’s players throughout the conference wore shooting shirts with an anti-racism message to affirm their commitment to addressing racial injustice. Which players are behind it and how does that dialogue continue?

Let’s dive in and take a look at what it all means moving ahead:

Will COVID-19 keep the Navy Mids from appearing in the Patriot League tournament? Photo credit: Phil Hoffmann/Navy Athletics

Is Navy’s season over?

The coronavirus continues to disrupt the season. On the last weekend of the regular season, all scheduled games were canceled on Friday evening due to COVID-19.

A positive test in Navy’s Tier 1 group canceled the Loyola (MD) match-ups with the Mids. Additionally, the Lehigh-American games were dropped due to contact tracing associated with a positive COVID-19 test from outside the Lehigh program’s Tier 1 group. The original slate of games had already been scratched due to a combination of the virus and Colgate’s opt-out.

If Navy is to follow a 10-day quarantine, its season is over unless the league adjusts the dates of the tournament. What is the next step for the league as the playoffs grow closer?

If Navy is not cleared to play, one option for the league would be to force the Mids to forfeit their quarterfinal game and move the bracket ahead as it’s currently constructed. Another option is to remove Navy and slide all the seeds up one position, eliminating the play-in #8/9 game between Loyola (MD) and Lafayette—which are set to meet for the third time in a row in the contest.

This weekend’s games were set to determine the order of the four-five-six seeds; all others are locked in position. If the league declares that the current seeding stands, its order of finish will look like this:

  1. Bucknell*

  2. Boston University*

  3. American*

  4. Navy

  5. Lehigh

  6. Holy Cross

  7. Army

  8. Lafayette

  9. Loyola (MD)

*Indicates division winner

The league hasn’t had a full weekend of play all season without impact from the virus, and every team has been affected. Looking ahead, can a conference champion make it to the NCAA Tournament without having a positive test in its Tier 1 group?

What happens if the league’s representative in the NCAA Tournament tests positive after the tournament field has been announced? According to the NCAA Tournament replacement policy, the Patriot League would have the opportunity to replace that team:

For any single-bid conference, the league may replace its automatic qualifier, if it is unable to participate due to COVID-19, with the league’s preapproved contingency replacement team if that team can produce seven consecutive daily negative tests prior to arrival. The replacement team from the conference will take the place of its fellow conference member in the same place on the bracket.

Will the league have two teams preparing for the NCAA Tournament after the league crowns a champion? Given the frequency of positive tests this season, it may serve the league—and its runner-up—to be ready.

Graphic courtesy of the Patriot League

League revamps playoff picture: Everybody in!

The Patriot League has announced changes to its championship tournament. The original plan was to include the top eight teams, with each division winner awarded one of the top three seeds by overall record. The second-place teams across the divisions were slated to be the four-five-six seeds, seeded by overall record as well. Two wild cards were then to be added to the mix. The rules also required a minimum of 12 league games played to be eligible for league playoffs.

What changed?

As the season unfolded, it became increasingly clear that a balanced schedule would be an impossible standard to meet. COVID-19 cancellations and postponements have wreaked havoc with scheduling, with teams ranging from as few as eight games completed to as many as 14. The original goal was to play 16 games in the regular season.

Here’s what the playoff format looks like today:

  • All teams are now eligible to compete in the tournament. This benefits Loyola (MD) (0-10), whose hard-luck season deserves a break. The Greyhounds will slide into the newly-created ninth seed and play Lafayette in a play-in game for the #8/9 teams. (Note: There is no tenth seed. Colgate opted out and its season has concluded.)

  • The league eliminated the 12-game minimum rule. This helps several teams: American, Bucknell, Lafayette, and Navy all would have missed the playoffs without this rule change.

  • Division winners are still seeded from one through three based on their overall winning percentage in league games.

  • After division winners, all remaining teams will be seeded based on their overall winning percentage in league games. Prior to Navy and Lehigh’s COVID-19 results cancelling this weekend’s games, the Mids, Mountain Hawks, and Crusaders were in a three-way battle for the 4-5-6 seeds heading into the last contests.

  • The playoffs are set to begin on Thursday, March 4th with #8 Lafayette hosting #9 Loyola (MD).

  • The quarterfinals will be played on Sunday, March 7th.

  • The semifinals will be played on Thursday, March 11th.

  • The championship will be played on Sunday, March 14th at 4:00p.m. ET. The game will be aired on CBS Sports Network.

Graphic courtesy of the Patriot League

Anti-racism messaging on the court marks a call to action by players

The Patriot League presented its anti-racism messaging during men’s and women’s basketball games last weekend.

Players wore shooting shirts to represent their commitment to support Black and Brown communities. The front of the shirt features a logo of a Black fist surrounded by 10 stars—one for each school—and the phrase “Pursuing Anti-Racism.” On the back, it has the words “Unity, Respect, Activism” to reflect the guiding beliefs and principles in the league’s pursuit of anti-racism.

The design was developed in part by student-athletes. The league’s Social Justice Coalition—a group of men’s and women’s basketball players—collaborated with the league office and its Anti-Racism Commission. The design was initiated by Lehigh’s Mary Clougherty and Katie Rice and Bucknell’s Abby Kapp.

In a league press release, Clougherty addressed the importance of taking action and continuing conversations on race, equity, and inclusivity through an initiative like the logo:

As athletes, we feel that this logo would be important for teams to participate in wearing to show our allyship and solidarity for teammates, coaches, and competitors of color.

The league’s embrace of activism and call for unity signifies an important first phase of change. What’s the next step toward action and how does that dialogue continue? Clougherty said:

We do acknowledge that wearing a logo is not the lone solution. There need to be conversations among teams. There need to be commitments made to education and understanding. There need to be actions taken. This logo is one step in showing our schools, athletics departments, and teams that we are committed to change.

The league’s Anti-Racism Commission was created last July to address systemic racism and what the league could do to impact change moving ahead. There are plans for the group’s messaging to be posted in arenas, promoted during game broadcasts, and presented on social media channels.

Patriot League Commissioner Jennifer Heppel addressed the student-athletes’ efforts to raise awareness:

Last summer, the Patriot League Basketball Social Justice Coalition identified opportunities to influence change, including an annual event that would be a visible representation of their continued dedication to social justice.

Graphic courtesy of the Patriot League

Input from student-athletes is the beginning. Actionable changes behind the messaging—and accountability for the league in support of the call for changes—are required for progress. In the Patriot League, the conversation continues.

Jade Edwards led American to the South division title and the three seed in the league tournament. Edwards currently leads the league in scoring with 18.8 points per game. Photo credit: American University Athletics

Champions crowned in all three divisions

Boston University claims the North division. Boston University completed its chase for the division title the same way that it opened it—with a win over Holy Cross.

The first-place finish in the North earns the Terriers the number two seed in the league tournament. How’d they do it?

An improved Terrier defense has fueled the team’s push to the finish line. Their scoring defense is tops in the league, giving up just 52.4 points per game. BU makes opponents play slower and is efficient on the boards, ranking fourth in defensive rebound percentage at 74.0% and leading the league by allowing opponents just 28.5 rebounds per game.

They are also swiping 9.5 steals a game, the best in the conference. Sophomore guards Sydney Johnson and Maggie Pina are fifth and sixth in the league, respectively, in steals per game. Pina has also been a spark on offense down the stretch and posted a team-high 17 points in the division-clinching 70-58 win over the Crusaders.

So why are the Terriers, a preseason favorite to make a run to the league championship game, the most vulnerable to a playoff upset? Two words: zone offense.

Following their win over Holy Cross to clinch the division, the Terriers dropped the next game at home. They saw a steady diet of zone defense from head coach Maureen Magarity’s squad on the way to a 60-52 defeat. BU shot 3-for-16 from deep and 38.1% overall for the game.

Boston will face Army in the first round of playoffs—the only other team to defeat them this season. The Black Knights employed a zone defense that stifled the Terriers to a 54-43 defeat. The Terriers were 5-for-25 from 3-point range.

Last season, three of the squad’s six losses in league play came against teams playing predominantly zone defense. Will the Terriers adjust? If they want to avoid an upset, they may have to tweak their approach to zone offense, both in scheme and execution.

American beats Navy in showdown game to win South division. The Eagles and Mids met on Wednesday in a battle for the South crown and with a top-three seed in the playoffs at stake. Four American starters reached double digits in scoring, and the Eagles claimed the division with a 65-59 win behind the all-around steady play of Jade Edwards and the point guard leadership of Emily Fisher. What does the win mean moving ahead?

It means that American is coming together at the right time. Head coach Megan Gebbia and her squad will be the three seed in the league championship tournament, earning a home game in the first round. The Eagles will face off with Lehigh, Lafayette, or Navy.

In the win over Navy, Edwards contributed 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists but struggled from the field, shooting 3-for-13. So how did the Eagles pull off their biggest win of the season with the league’s top scorer well below her average?

The emergence of Fisher is reason number one. The junior floor general, who missed time earlier this season with a concussion, scored a season-high 16 points on an efficient 6-for-9 performance from the floor and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. The offense is better with her on the floor.

The Australian native isn’t the star, but a playmaker who makes the American offense operate as a unit. Her presence on the floor means better ball movement, more scoring options opened, and favorable match-ups exploited. Despite shooting a pedestrian 30.7% from behind the arc as a team, the Eagles are second-best in the league in shooting with a 45.2% mark from the floor. While their motion offense is a work in progress in this shortened season, it’s finding its stride at the right time.

Fisher’s presence on the floor allows senior Indeya Sanders (7.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) to focus more on the defensive end of the floor instead of ball-handling duties. Sanders, an All-Patriot defensive team member last season, led a group effort in limiting the Navy guard tandem of Jennifer Coleman and Kolbi Green. The two Mids came into the game combining to average over 30 points a game and were held to 23 total points. Coleman, who never got untracked after early foul trouble, finished the game with just four made field goals—a season low.

The emergence of junior forward Taylor Brown is another big reason the Eagles earned the South division title. She’s averaging 14.0 points per game over her last three contests and is now the team’s second-leading scorer behind Edwards. If Brown can maintain consistency on the offensive end, American will be a tough out.

Bucknell is the Central division champion but has a positive COVID-19 test, faces longer layoff. Earlier this week, Bucknell revealed a positive COVID-19 test within the program’s Tier 1 group. Both scheduled games for this weekend versus American University were canceled. The team clinched the division back on January 30th and has not played since a January 31st 73-68 win over Lehigh. What does it mean for the Bison moving ahead?

They are still the favorite and the road to the championship goes through Lewisburg. As the tournament’s top seed, Bucknell will host a quarterfinal game on March 7th and remain at home through the playoffs. But the team has not played a contest in February, and when the ball tips for the playoffs, it will have been 35 days between games for the Bison. It’s an unprecedented scenario, but if any team can overcome the challenge of a long layoff, it’s the Bison.

They are the deepest and most experienced team in the field, led by the dynamic guard play of junior Taylor O’Brien (16.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and the inside presence of senior Tessa Brugler (13.4 ppg, 9.9 rpg). Bucknell is tied with Lehigh for tops in the league in scoring at 73.4 points a game. They are also second in points allowed (55.2 ppg) and the league’s best defenders, limiting opponents to just 33.8% shooting from the floor.

The Bison will face the winner of the #8/9 game between Lafayette and Loyola (MD). Bucknell swept a home-and-home series with each team and won those games handily. There may be an impact from both the rest and the rust of the layoff, but it will still take an incredible effort for an opponent to leave Lewisburg with a win.

Graphic courtesy of Spencer Nusbaum

Current standings:

(Division record, League overall record)

North division

Boston University (9-1, 10-2)

Holy Cross (6-5, 7-7)

Army (5-7, 6-8)

*Colgate (1-8, 1-8)

Central division

Bucknell (6-0, 8-0)

Lehigh (3-5, 7-5)

Lafayette (1-5, 3-7)

South division

American (6-1, 6-3)

Navy (3-2, 5-3)

Loyola (MD) (0-6, 0-10)

*Colgate has opted out of the season. Its schedule is complete.

Junior guard Laryn Edwards leads Loyola (MD) with 14 steals this season. Photo credit: Larry French/Loyola Athletic Communications

What’s the can’t-miss match-up of the week? Lafayette at Loyola (MD)

The Leopards and Greyhounds take center stage as the only teams in action this weekend. Currently, the two teams are scheduled to play in the #8/9 game in the playoffs next week, so the weekend home-and-home offers a playoff preview.

The player to watch for Loyola (MD) is forward Isabella Therien. The senior leads the team in scoring (12.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.3 rpg) and is fresh off a 16-point, 10-rebound effort versus American a week ago. Teammate Emily McAteer gives the Greyhounds another inside-out scorer to counter Lafayette’s zone defense. McAteer is posting 11.0 ppg and 6.0 rpg while shooting 40.4% from the floor. She leads the team in made threes (14) and had a career-high 19 points in her squad’s previous meeting against the Leopards.

The key for the Greyhounds is their approach on defense. They must keep Natalie Kucowski from receiving the ball too deep in the paint and limit the number of uncontested shots when they double-team the post. Last time out, Loyola (MD) allowed Lafayette to shoot 30-for-53 from the floor (56.6%).

Kucowski, who is just 29 rebounds away from becoming the league’s all-time leading rebounder, must assert herself on offense and demand the ball because she makes everybody on the floor better. The league’s preseason Player of the Year is averaging a double-double with 18.4 ppg and 13.6 rpg. The Leopards’ two best shooting games this season have come against Loyola (MD). Expect a high-scoring pair of games this weekend and plenty of zone defense.

The last meeting: January 10th, 2021. Lafayette won 76-69 and swept the season series. Natalie Kucowski had a career-high 36 points and guards Jess Booth and Drew Freeland added 10 points apiece. Makaila Wilson was a spark off the bench with eight points on 4-of-6 shooting. The Greyhounds placed four starters in double figures but shot poorly (9-of-27) from 3-point range and had a poor outing on defense.

Tune in to Patriot League action this week:

(Note: The Patriot League is no longer streaming games for free on the Stadium platform. All games are now streamed through ESPN+ for a subscription fee. Click here for the video link to all league competition.)

February 27th

#Army at Holy Cross (canceled)

*Colgate at Boston University (canceled)

^Loyola (MD) at Navy (canceled)

+Lehigh at American (canceled)

Loyola (MD) at Lafayette @1:00p.m. ET (added on 2/26)

February 28th

#Army at Holy Cross (canceled)

*Colgate at Boston University (canceled)

+American at Lehigh (canceled)

^Navy at Loyola (MD) (canceled)

Lafayette at Loyola (MD) @5:00p.m. ET (added on 2/26)

#Game canceled due to a positive COVID-19 test within the Army program’s Tier 1 group.

*Game canceled due to season opt-out for Colgate.

^Game canceled due to a positive COVID-19 test within the Navy program’s Tier 1 group.

+Game canceled due to contact tracing associated with a positive COVID-19 test in the Lehigh program’s Tier 1 group.

Patriot League Player of the Week:

Natalie Kucowski, Lafayette, senior forward

  • Kucowski had three double-doubles for the Leopards last week. She now has 51 career double-doubles.

  • She scored 27 points and pulled down 19 rebounds in Lafayette’s first win over Lehigh at Stabler Arena since January 22nd, 2011. It was the 100th meeting between the two programs.

  • Kucowski is second in the league in scoring with 18.4 points and the leading rebounder with 13.6 rebounds per game. She is just 29 rebounds away from becoming the Patriot League’s all-time leading rebounder.

Patriot League Rookie of the Week

Janelle Allen, Holy Cross, freshman forward

  • In her first game in nearly a month, Allen scored a career-high 15 points and grabbed 5 rebounds in a 70-58 loss to Boston University.

  • She played a season-high 20 minutes and added seven points in the Crusaders’ 60-52 win over the Terriers.

  • Allen is averaging 8.1 points per game and shooting 55.0% from the floor.

League news and notes

  • Jade Edwards averaged 19.0 ppg and 7.5 rpg last weekend to lead the Eagles to their second weekend sweep of the season against Loyola (MD).

  • Holy Cross junior guard Avery LaBarbera leads the league with 39 steals this season.

  • Freshman shooting guard Mackenzie Kramer has scored in double digits in seven of Lehigh’s 11 games this season.

  • Sam Schofield hit a team-high four 3-pointers in Navy’s crucial 55-53 win over Lafayette.

  • Sophomore guard Bri Rozzi scored a season-high nine points for Loyola (MD) in a 62-52 loss to American. Rozzi hit a career-high three 3-pointers.

  • Lehigh junior forward Emma Grothaus scored a season-high 17 points in a 71-57 win over Lafayette. Grothaus shot an efficient 5-for-6 from the floor and 6-for-7 from the line.

  • Boston University lost to Holy Cross 60-52 on its home court for the first time in 10 games—a streak that dated back to last season.

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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