March 7, 2022 

Patriot League notebook: Playoff preview and game breakdowns

Is there an underdog that can pull off an upset in the quarterfinal round?

It’s playoff time for the Patriot League and the quarterfinal round is on deck as underdogs and favorites collide. Each game features a match-up with a regular-season sweep. So is there an upset on tap? Top-seeded Holy Cross marches into the post-season on a four-game winning streak behind Player of the Year Avery LaBarbera while defending champion Lehigh revisits rival Bucknell in a clash of league royalty.

American keeps sneaking up on teams and finds itself in a tough contest with an upstart Lafayette team. Will Boston University be able to push the reset button after losing its chance at first place against the Crusaders in Worcester? Army will test the Terriers; will they be ready? Let’s take a look at how your favorite team can pull off a win. We’ll break down the numbers and analysis in this week’s notebook:

Holy Cross begins its championship quest with Navy

The Crusaders capped an impressive regular-season campaign with an outright first-place title in a convincing 59-48 win over Boston University. The Terriers never got untracked and couldn’t solve a Crusader defense that jammed up the gaps and defused the ball-screen motion action by sliding under the screens and keeping Sydney Johnson out of the lane. Holy Cross now awaits a visit from Navy. This season, the Crusaders swept the Mids, including a 63-57 win in Worcester on Feb. 19.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: If you can manage to take your eyes off the dynamic play of Avery LaBarbera, focus in on the Crusaders’ Bronagh Power-Cassidy. The sophomore is coming off an efficient 13-point effort (5-for-6 from the floor, including three from distance) in the team’s dramatic win over Boston University. Power-Cassidy’s mid-range passing and shooting ability will be a focus versus the combination zones Navy is likely to employ.

Navy’s Jennifer Coleman is the one to watch for the visitors. Coleman has more points, rebounds, assists and steals than any other player in the league. The senior guard must have a big game for Navy to have any chance. Don’t miss her efforts to lift Navy to what would be the season’s biggest upset.

THE KEY STAT: Offensive boards. In their most recent match-up, Navy outrebounded Holy Cross, 36 to 29. On the offensive glass, the edge was 12 to six. The Mids will need to outrebound the Crusaders to have a chance and convert offensive boards into buckets. If Holy Cross can keep Navy from gaining a big edge on the boards, they’ll win big.

HOW NAVY WINS They’ll need more than Coleman. Sydne Watts has shown flashes of scoring punch throughout the season, including 20-points efforts against American and Boston University. If Watts and Coleman can combine for 40+ points for Navy, the Mids will have their chance.

HOW HOLY CROSS WINS: The Crusaders stay patient on offensive and find the weak points in the Navy zone. They exploit the high post area on offense and ride a defensive effort that can convert turnovers into transition scores.

Bucknell versus Lehigh is the clash of champions you shouldn’t miss

This quarterfinal match-up will be the eighth time the two teams have met in the last two years. Bucknell has won six of the last seven games versus the Mountain Hawks, losing only in last season’s semi-final round of league playoffs.

The Bison are streaking, finally putting the puzzle pieces together on offense and winning five of their last six contests. The game against Lehigh represents a clash of styles as Bucknell’s league-leading defense (54.5 ppg) meets the top-scoring team in Lehigh (69.6 ppg).

It’s been a challenge for Lehigh to find a regular rotation all year long. Starters Frannie Hottinger, Megan Walker, and Clair Steele have all been in and out of the line-up due to injury this year.

Will the winner move on to claim another championship? The last time a team not named Lehigh or Bucknell won the league was back in 2017-18.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Keep your eye on Bucknell’s sensational rookie, Cecelia Collins. The freshman has started all 29 games for head coach Trevor Woodruff and is the team’s second-leading scorer with 11.2 points per game. She can do it all.

Lehigh’s Frannie Hottinger has battled an ankle injury this season, but a return to the rotation and regular minutes in the last two weeks make Hottinger the one to watch. In her last two road games, the junior forward has totaled 31 points and 17 rebounds. She’s started the last four games. Senior post Emma Grothaus and Hottinger must win the forward battle for the Mountain Hawks.

THE KEY STAT: Three-point field goals. Lehigh has established itself as one of the most prolific three-point shooting teams in the country. The Mountain Hawks are ninth in the nation in three-pointers made and their ability to convert from deep is the core of the team’s offensive philosophy. Over the last four games, Lehigh has struggled from distance, shooting just 24-for-110 for 21.8%. If the defending champions can find their stroke, it’ll be a great one in Lewisburg.

HOW LEHIGH WINS: Hottinger and Grothaus have to win the battle down low and in the middle of the floor. Bucknell won the fight for points in the paint 38-24 in the Bison’s most recent win over the Mountain Hawks—a 56-54 thriller.

HOW BUCKNELL WINS: Letting Taylor O’Brien do Taylor O’Brien things. No one in the league has played better basketball than O’Brien over the last two weeks. The senior guard has stepped up and leads her team in scoring (16.2 ppg) and rebounding (6.7 rpg). Getting O’Brien into an offensive flow early is key for the Bison.

American is the sneakiest two-seed ever

American is the team in the corner of the playoff room, sitting quietly with sunglasses on and its hat pulled low. While Holy Cross and Boston University battled it out for first-place over the last few weeks, the Eagles snuck their way up the conference ladder. Head coach Megan Gebbia’s unassuming club won seven out of its last eight games and rolled up a 20-8 regular-season record, clinching the two-seed on the last day of the regular season.

Next up for the Eagles is a battle with the Lafayette Leopards. The Eagles shot 61.5% in the fourth quarter of a 62-48 win when the two teams met last week.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Emily Johns is an offensive spark off the bench for the Eagles and she’s been superb versus Lafayette this season. The sophomore forward averages 6.8 points per game on the season but has posted 18.5 ppg in two games against the Leopards. Johns shot 8-for-14 from the floor in each game. Johns and post Taylor Brown (10.3 ppg) will be key contributors and scorers in the mid-range inside Lafayette’s zone defense.

Lafayette has won three out of its last four games, falling only to American on the road. Freshman Abby Antognoli has added offensive flair for a team that has struggled to score. She’s averaged 12.8 ppg over the last five games, including a season-high 22 points versus Loyola (MD) in a first-round playoff game.

THE KEY STAT: Turnovers. In two games against American, the Leopards turned the ball over 42 times—22 more than the Eagles. If the Leopards give away that many possessions, they’ll have difficulty earning the upset. If the ball control numbers stay even, it’ll be a very interesting night in D.C.

HOW LAFAYETTE WINS: Plug the ball side gaps, go under the ball-screens and hand-offs, and make American play a perimeter game. The Eagles are last in the league in three-point shooting at 26.7% per game. The Leopards need to give space and invite the Eagles to beat them from deep.

HOW AMERICAN WINS: Ball and player movement on offense. Gebbia’s motion offense is always worth a watch when the Eagles are moving the ball effectively; they’re second in the league with 14.1 assists. The Eagles can wear down the Leopards with possessions that run deep into the shot clock and hunt the best shot from their movement.

The Terriers have a chance to reset

Boston University’s 59-48 loss to Holy Cross in a showdown for the top seed has put the team on the brink. Luckily for the Terriers, they still have the talent to win the league championship and the playoffs are the perfect chance to reset. Can they bounce back? Army comes to town for a quarterfinal match-up that has the potential to be a launching pad for a playoff run in what has been an up-and-down season in Boston.

Army enters the game as the sixth seed and has impressive conference wins over American, Bucknell and Lehigh; the team is capable of the big win. The challenge for the Black Knights is that all three of those wins came at home. The team does not have a road win against a team with a winning record and they face a tough test in Boston.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Freshman Alex Giannaros is the x-factor for the Terriers. The combo guard has incredible scoring ability and is shooting 39.6% from the three-point range. When Giannaros is finding the flow of the offense and the Terriers are getting out in transition, good things are happening for Boston. She’s the second-leading scorer for BU with 10.2 points per game and has the most three-point baskets made (38).

Army senior guard Alisa Fallon is the one to watch for Army. The senior guard scores 12.2 points per game and is her team’s leading scorer for the third consecutive season. If Army can pull the upset, Fallon and her leadership will be at the center of the action.

THE KEY STAT: The free-throw line. In their two games against BU combined, the Black Knights went to the free-throw line a total of seven times, converting three. That’s not enough to win on the road in the playoffs. If Army isn’t challenging BU inside and attacking the rim, it’ll have a difficult time getting to the free-throw line—and won’t pull the upset.

HOW ARMY WINS: A big day behind the three-point line. Only Lehigh has taken more three-point shots in the league than the Black Knights; they aren’t shy about the three-ball. They are sixth in the league at 29.2%, but volume shooting from behind the arc is not a new approach for Army. If they can convert enough to make BU feel the pressure of a tight game, the door to victory may open. Expect forward Kate Murray (31.6% and 43 made threes) to play a big role from the perimeter.

HOW BOSTON WINS: Finding the right post combination. It’s championship or bust for the Terriers and their approach to winning this game is about more than this single outcome; they need to find player combinations that work successfully for a run of three games. The right combinations and the rhythm of those line-ups need to come together now, specifically with the approach to the post.

If BU employs a two forward line-up, it must pair the low-post big with one that has perimeter shooting ability—or go small with one forward and four guards. Two low-post players in the line-up who are limited to low-post scoring has allowed defenses to play off one of those bigs on the perimeter and jam up the paint for post entries and the lanes for driving. The non-shooting forwards are also not an outside threat on their wing ball-screen action, which allows two defenders to jam up the dribble attack off that screen—very limiting to both Sydney Johnson and Giannaros.

Defenses have made the adjustment down the stretch and the Terriers are 3-5 in their last eight games. Boston wins this game, and maybe more, by making that change.

Final Standings:

(League record, overall record)

  1. Holy Cross (14-4, 20-9)
  2. American (13-5, 20-8)
  3. Boston University (12-6, 16-13)
  4. Bucknell (12-6, 21-8)
  5. Lehigh (11-7, 19-10)
  6. Army (10-8, 16-12)
  7. Lafayette (7-11, 12-17)
  8. Navy (5-13, 9-20)
  9. Colgate (4-14, 6-24)
  10. Loyola (MD) (2-16, 5-24)
Can a healthy Frannie Hottinger make the difference for Lehigh in its playoff match-up with Bucknell?
Photo credit: Hannahally Photography/Lehigh Athletics

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 EST.)

March 7th

No. 5 Lehigh at No. 4 Bucknell @6:00p.m.

No. 6 Army at No. 3 Boston University @6:00p.m.

No. 8 Navy at No. 1 Holy Cross @7:00p.m.

No. 7 Lafayette at No. 2 American @7:00p.m.

March 10th
No. 4/5 winner vs. No. 1/8 winner
No. 3/6 winner vs. No. 2/7 winner

March 13th
Championship game @12:00p.m. (CBS Sports Network)                        

Written by Todd Goclowski

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