March 7, 2021 

Patriot League notebook: What to expect in the tournament; players to watch

Natalie Kucowski was named Player of the Year. Can she lead Lafayette to an upset win in the playoffs?

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Junior guard Taylor O’Brien leads the undefeated and top-seeded Bison into the playoffs. Photo credit: Marc Hagemeier

The Patriot League tournament kicks off this weekend. A shortened season that was set to be a sprint for the finish has evolved into an endurance run, as much mentally and emotionally challenging as physically demanding. Each team left standing has been impacted, directly or indirectly, by the pandemic.  Which team is emerging as the playoff contender with the strongest stamina for uncertainty?

The field is set, but it’s incomplete. Navy was removed from the playoffs this week due to a positive COVID-19 test within its Tier 1 group. The potential fourth-seed Mids’ absence compelled the league to eliminate its play-in game and bump all seeding up one spot. Lehigh and Lafayette benefit from the change, while Holy Cross lost its chance for a more favorable first-round game.

Let’s break down what to watch for this weekend and which players are the keys to each contest. Plus, the league announced its regular season awards. It’s playoff time in the Patriot League.

Graphic courtesy of the Patriot League

The playoffs are here. Check out the breakdown:

Tip-off is set for Sunday and it is Bucknell’s tournament to lose. Although the top-seeded team in the field didn’t play a game in the month of February due to coronavirus protocols, the Bison are poised to repeat behind the inside-out combination of guard Taylor O’Brien and forward Tessa Brugler — and a whole lot of experience.

As a result of Navy’s removal from the tournament, the league eliminated a planned play-in game between Loyola (MD) and Lafayette with the winner to face the top seed. How did the change impact the field?

Loyola (MD) moved into the eighth seed and now faces a tall task on the road in Lewisburg. The Greyhounds were swept by the Bison on opening weekend and are coming into the game with a 0-12 record. Loyola (MD) starting guard Devyne Newman has missed the last two games due to an ankle injury and her status is uncertain for the playoffs.

Graphic by Spencer Nusbaum

They’re a long shot, but there is an opportunity for the Greyhounds to capitalize on the long lay-off of the favored Bison. Rhythm and consistency have been elusive for teams due to the stops and starts of the season and Bucknell has been out of game action for 35 days. Game experience is a commodity in short supply and the Greyhounds have played seven games since the Bison took the floor in competition. Does Loyola (MD) have a chance?

Who benefited the most from Navy’s removal? Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks are now at home for a match-up with Holy Cross, a team they defeated twice during the regular season. The Mountain Hawks played just two games in February and looked out-of-sync in splitting recent games with Lafayette. They’ll need the home cooking to clear the Crusaders and sharpen their attack for a potential semi-final at Bucknell.

Lafayette, now the seventh seed, earned a road trip to two-seed Boston for its quarterfinal. The game is a chance for redemption, both for an underwhelming year and  losing a fourth quarter lead in a close loss to the Terriers during the regular season.

Despite being the third-seed, head coach Megan Gebbia and her American Eagles are still flying below the radar in the playoff mix. Winners of the South division, American faces off against an up-and-down Army team. The two have not faced each other this season and Gebbia’s squad swept two games a year ago. Will Jade Edwards—the league’s leading scorer at 18.8 points per game—lead her group into a potential re-match with Boston University in the semis? Or will the Black Knights ride the emotion of head coach Dave Magarity’s retirement announcement to an upset victory? Expect a close one in D.C.

Photo credit: (L) Emily McAteer via Loyola Athletic Communications (R) Tessa Brugler via Marc Hagemeier

No. 1 Bucknell Bison vs No. 8 Loyola (MD) Greyhounds

The key for Bucknell: A good start. They haven’t played a game since January and executing on those initial possessions is an important building block. The Bison have to get forward Tessa Brugler involved early against the Loyola (MD) zone and execute out of the double-teams. Keep your eyes on the Bison’s efforts to feed the ball into the high and low post areas. Their success rate in the interior is the key to their attack.

The key for Loyola (MD): Getting shots to fall early. Confidence is the key for the Greyhounds and they have to build off early conversions. They are overmatched in this game but have found creative ways to stay in games and they’ll have to here. Loyola (MD) doesn’t have a traditional back-to-the-basket post, but they have to find ways to challenge Bucknell in the paint and play off those touches inside.

Player to watch for Bucknell: Taylor O’Brien. The junior guard made a strong case for Player of the Year this season and has had an incredibly efficient season (16.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 50.5% FG, 91.3% from the line). She also has just seven turnovers on the year. O’Brien’s ability to attack the paint makes her the most difficult cover in the league. Can a Greyhound zone neutralize her?

Player to watch for Loyola (MD): Isabella Therien. The senior forward has been the comeback story of the season in the league. The former Rookie of the Year missed most of the last two seasons due to injury before returning to the court this season. She was named All-League third team. Therien will have to take the reins on offense and find success from the perimeter. She’s a capable shooter from behind the arc at 43.8% (14-for-32). Keep an eye on her early shooting performance and how head coach Joe Logan creates her scoring opportunities. The Bison didn’t see her when they met early in the season.

How Bucknell wins: The Bison are the heavy favorite in this game but the uncertainty that comes with 35 days between games is a factor in any one-and-done scenario. To win, Bucknell must attack on the offensive end and put the Loyola (MD) defense on its heels. The Greyhounds can find ways to dictate with their changing defenses and wrinkles so the Bison must take a more organic approach on the offensive end and not let their discipline work against them. Forwards Autumn Ceppi and Tessa Brugler will both be key facilitators.

How Loyola (MD) pulls the upset: The Greyhounds have to reach the 60-point mark to have a chance. They must consistently attack the paint and convert at the rim. They scored 44 points in each of their losses to the Bison and shot just 21.4% in their loss at home. They have to turn in their best shooting performance of the season and hope the lay-off has impacted the Bison’s shooters.

Where to watch: Loyola (MD) at Bucknell, 4:00p.m. on ESPN+

Photo credit: (L) Natalie Kucowski via Rick Smith/Lafayette Athletic Communications (R) Katie Nelson via Kevin Murray

No. 2 Boston University vs No. 7 Lafayette Leopards

The key for Boston University: Less controlled play on offense versus zone defense. In their only meeting this season, the Terriers had just 30 points after three quarters of play and trailed by eight to the Leopards. The Leopards’ zone defense stymied their attack and it was the same story in a surprising loss to Army in their prior game. The key for the Terriers is to allow their guards the freedom to find open space in the zone and attack gaps off their reads instead of looking for offense out of a rigid alignment. When they find Maren Durant or Riley Childs in the high post, the guards on the perimeter have to relocate or cut into open space and take those mid-range jumpers.

The key for Lafayette: They have to keep their turnovers in check and make transition defense their top priority. The Leopards give up nearly 17 turnovers a game — ninth in the league. In their game earlier this season, they allowed the Terriers a 22-10 edge in points off turnovers and a 16-6 edge in fast break points. If the Leopards can limit turnovers and focus on slowing the ball in transition, they’ll have Boston in a half-court game — right where they should want them.

Player to watch for Boston University: Forward Maren Durant. The 6’3 sophomore will be the rim-protector on the defensive end and a key facilitator on offense in the high and low post areas against the Leopards’ zone. Natalie Kucowski will challenge her inside. Will Durant get in foul trouble trying to contain the league’s Player of the Year? She had some early fouls in their previous meeting down in Easton. Keep a close watch on how she defends Kucowski and if she’s able to be effective against the Leopards’ zone.

Player to watch for Lafayette: Keep your eyes on Jess Booth. Kucowski (17.5 ppg, 13.2 rpg) is clearly a huge key for the Leopards and they’ll need a big game from her to compete. But to pull out a win, the player to watch is the sophomore ball handler. Her play in the last few weeks is a big reason Lafayette has taken a step forward heading into the playoffs. Over the last three games, she’s shot 18-for-32 (56.2%) from the floor, averaged 13.6 points a game, and kept her turnovers in check with just five in that span. She’s been more aggressive on offense down the stretch and her defense is vital on the perimeter. The Leopards will need Booth to continue her steady play. Is the sophomore in her first career college playoff game ready for the moment?

How Boston University wins: Attack. The Terriers have to be consistent in pushing the tempo and getting sophomore guard Sydney Johnson (10.1 ppg) the ball in the open court. She’s capable of scoring 20 points a game if she’s playing more open and free — and a transition attack suits her explosive skill set on offense. In the half court, it’s vital that the Terriers attack and relocate against Lafayette’s zone.

How Lafayette pulls the upset: First, they have to believe they can do it. Confidence in close games has been an issue with this team. They are capable of winning this game and their base zone defense strikes at the heart of Boston University’s biggest weakness—zone offense. Kucowski will deliver but she’ll need both Booth and guard Drew Freeland (17-for-38 and 44.7% from three-point line) to hit perimeter shots to get over the top versus the Terriers.

Where to watch: Lafayette at Boston University, 2:00p.m. on ESPN+

Photo credit: (L) Alisa Fallon via Army West Point Athletics (R) Jade Edwards via American University Athletics

No. 3 American Eagles vs No. 6 Army Black Knights

The key for American: Efficiency on offense. Despite cancellations and delays for both practices and games in this pandemic season, American’s motion offense has evolved apace. The Eagles are getting good shots, converting at a high rate (45.2% for second in the league), and scoring the ball (64.2 ppg). But the key to a winning performance will be limiting turnovers. The Eagles are last in the league, giving away 16.8 turnovers per game. If they can successfully address their issues with ball control, American is headed to the semi-finals.

The key for Army: Overcoming their time off. The Black Knights have not played a game in three weeks — a 65-53 loss to Boston University on Valentine’s Day. The last time they were in this spot with a three-week gap, they dropped a 76-67 decision to Colgate — the Raiders’ lone win on the season. It’s a rest versus rust dilemma, and rust is undefeated. If Army can overcome the continuity and communication challenges that usually arise from a lack of recent game experience, they’ll be in a tight game and have their chances.

Player to watch for American: Jade Edwards. The junior guard is having her best season and growing into an on-court leader who is learning when to take over the moment and when to get her teammates involved in the flow of the offense. She’s scoring 18.8 per game, grabbing 8.0 boards, and shooting 53.2% on the season. Edward’s ability to both seize the moment — and create for others — is on showcase in this game.

Player to watch for Army: Alisa Fallon. When Fallon is aggressive to the basket, the Knights are successful. Her ability to work free for her shot in the lane is vital for Army. She had 15 rebounds the last time these two teams met—a 67-62 overtime loss a year ago. If Fallon can rebound, the Knights can run and put pressure on the Eagles in transition. She’s scoring 12.2 points and grabbing 7.7 boards per game.

How American wins: If the Eagles can get consistent scoring outside of Edwards, they’ll be tough to beat. Forward Taylor Brown (10.4 ppg.) and point guard Emily Fisher (9.7 ppg.) have emerged as key scorers down the stretch. Brown is averaging 14.0 points a game over her last three contests, while Fisher has added 12.6 over the same span. American wins through offensive balance and Edwards being Edwards.

How Army pulls the upset: Beating American means disrupting their motion offense. Army pulled a big upset over Boston University this season playing predominantly zone defense and it seems like the best approach to this quarterfinal, too. If American has a weakness on offense, it’s three-point shooting. The Eagles are shooting just 30.7% from beyond the arc. If Army forces them to shoot outside shots all game, the Knights are primed for the upset.

Where to watch: Army at American, 4:00p.m. on ESPN+

Photo credit: (L) Avery LaBarbera via Holy Cross Athletics (R) Frannie Hottinger via Hannahally Photography

No. 4 Lehigh Mountain Hawks vs. No. 5 Holy Cross Crusaders

The key for Lehigh: Finding a rhythm on offense. The Mountain Hawks have played just two games in the last six weeks — a home-and-home with rival, Lafayette. They split those games and looked a bit out of sorts on each end of the floor. The key for Lehigh is finding the flow on offense that was missing in those two contests. Their high-powered, three-point focused attack puts a lot of pressure on teams and leads the league in scoring per game at 73.4. The key for the Mountain Hawks is finding the timing and pace that had made them one of the best and most diversified offenses in the league.

The key for Holy Cross: Finding balance with game speed. The Crusaders have pushed the pace all season but it will not serve them well against Lehigh. They dropped two fast-paced games to the Mountain Hawks this season, giving up 80+ points each time. The key here is to find balance and run when it’s right for the moment with regard to personnel or game situations. The Crusaders have to avoid playing Lehigh’s up-tempo game; they’re better at it.

Player to watch for Lehigh: Mary Clougherty. The 6’0 senior guard is Lehigh’s most aggressive player on offense and her attacking style makes her the one to watch in this match-up. Clougherty (12.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg) is a streaky shooter capable of converting a flurry of threes. She’s due for a break-out game and, if Holy Cross chooses to push the pace, she’ll have plenty of opportunity to score.

Player to watch for Holy Cross: Avery LaBarbera. The scoring point guard is the leader of their attack and her success will be the barometer for the Crusaders in this one. She struggled against Lehigh in their two previous games combined this year: 7-for-32 from the field, 6-for-20 from three-point distance, and just 11 points each contest. She leads Holy Cross with 14.1 points per game. She’s the only returning starter from last season’s playoff team. Expect a big performance from the junior this time around.

How Lehigh wins: Push the tempo. It won’t be easy to find a rhythm on offense given their lack of games over the last month, but what they can do is run and put pressure on Holy Cross to keep up. If the pace is fast, the Mountain Hawks have a huge advantage.

How Holy Cross pulls the upset: Slow it down. The high pace of the previous two outings versus Lehigh really wore down guard Avery LaBarbera. The Crusaders best chance of winning is making Lehigh play the game in the half court. Head coach Maureen Magarity game-planned her way to a big upset over Boston University by going to a 2-3 zone. That should be the go-to move here as well. Go slow, go zone, and go home with an upset win.

Where to watch: Holy Cross at Lehigh, 2:00p.m. on ESPN+

Final 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, 5-7)

South division

American (6-1, 6-3)

Navy (3-2, 5-3)

Loyola (MD) (0-6, 0-12)

*Colgate has opted out of the season. Schedule is complete.

Patriot League Player of the Week:

Natalie Kucowski, Lafayette, Senior Forward

  • Kucowski earned her 53rd of double-double of her career with 12 points and 13 rebounds in the weekend win over Loyola (MD).

  • Kucowski totaled 26 points and 22 rebounds in the Leopards’ sweep of the Greyhounds this weekend, marking the Leopards’ sixth-straight win over the Greyhounds and third-straight series sweep.

  • The senior made her 103rd start this weekend—tied for sixth in all-time career games started.

  • Kucowski led the way with a combined 26 points and 22 rebounds in a sweep of the Greyhounds over the weekend.

Patriot League Rookie of the Week

Makayla Andrews, Lafayette, Freshman Guard

  • Andrews totaled 14 points and eight rebounds in the Leopards’ weekend sweep over Loyola (MD) in a home-and-home.

  • She’s averaging 4.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game and attempted a career-high 10 field goals against the Greyhounds.

  • The New Jersey native tied her career-high eight points and had zero turnovers in the 70-45 win over  Loyola.

Bucknell head coach Trevor Woodruff has won back-to-back Coach of the Year awards in his two seasons in Lewisburg. Photo credit: Marc Hagemeier

2020-21 Women’s Basketball All-Patriot League Teams and Major Awards

The Patriot League announced it season awards this week. Bucknell head coach Trevor Woodruff was named the Coach of the Year for the second-consecutive year after guiding the 8-0 Bison to the top seed in the tournament.

Lafayette senior forward Natalie Kucowski was named the Player of the Year after posting 17.5 points per game and a league-leading 13.2 rebounds a contest. She was also named Defensive Player of the Year. She led the league in blocks with 2.9 per game.

Holy Cross forward guard Bronagh Power-Cassidy earned Rookie of the Year recognition. She averaged 10.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game reached double figures in seven games.

Player of the Year: Natalie Kucowski, Lafayette, Senior Forward
Defensive Player of the Year: Natalie Kucowski, Lafayette, Senior Forward
Rookie of the Year: Bronagh Power-Cassidy, Holy Cross, Freshman Guard
Coach of the Year: Trevor Woodruff, Bucknell

First-Team All-Patriot League
Jade Edwards, American, Junior Guard
Katie Nelson, Boston University, Senior Guard
Tessa Brugler, Bucknell, Senior Forward
Taylor O’Brien, Bucknell, Junior Guard
Natalie Kucowski, Lafayette, Senior Forward

Second-Team All-Patriot League
Sydney Johnson, Boston University, Sophomore Guard
Avery LaBarbera, Holy Cross, Junior Guard
Mary Clougherty, Lehigh, Senior Guard
Frannie Hottinger, Lehigh, Sophomore Guard
Jennifer Coleman, Navy, Junior Guard

Third-Team All-Patriot League
Alisa Fallon, Army West Point, Junior Guard
Maren Durant, Boston University, Sophomore Forward
Abby Kapp, Bucknell, Senior Guard
Isabella Therien, Loyola (MD), Senior Forward
Sophie Gatzounas, Navy, Senior Forward

Patriot League All-Defensive Team
Jade Edwards, American, Junior Guard
Tessa Brugler, Bucknell, Senior Forward
Autumn Ceppi, Bucknell, Senior Forward
Avery LaBarbera, Holy Cross, Junior Guard
Natalie Kucowski, Lafayette, Senior Forward

Patriot League All-Rookie Team
Lauren Lithgow, Army West Point, Freshman Guard
Bronagh Power-Cassidy, Holy Cross, Freshman Guard
Cara McCormack, Holy Cross, Freshman Guard
Makayla Andrews, Lafayette, Freshman Guard
Mackenzie Kramer, Lehigh, Freshman Guard

League news and notes

  • Senior forward Isabella Therien hauled in a career-best 15 rebounds in a 70-45 loss to Lafayette. Therien leads the Greyhounds in scoring (12.3 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg).

  • Sophie Gatzounas led Navy with 14 points in a 65-59 defeat at American. The senior guard was 4-for-6 from the field and 6-for-6 from the line in Navy’s season finale.

  • Junior guard Emily Fisher scored a season-best 16 points in the division clinching win for American over Navy. She also added season-highs with six rebounds and 5 assists.

  • Bucknell had an astounding 18.1 point margin of victory this season. The Bison accomplished the league-leading mark over eight games.

  • Forward Bronagh Power-Cassidy joins Holy Cross teammate, Avery LaBarbera, as a Rookie of the Year recipient.

  • Free-throw shooting improved dramatically this season, rising 3.6%. This year, there were seven teams that shot over 70.0% from the line, including two teams that shot over 80.0% (Bucknell and Lehigh). Last season, there were just four teams that converted more than 70.% and none over 80.0%.

  • Navy’s Jennifer Coleman and Kolbi Green were the top scoring duo in the league. The juniors combined for 30.4 points per game, just over half of their team’s 59.5 per game output.

  • Natalie Kucowski is seven rebounds away from becoming the league’s all-time leading rebounder. Katie Macfarlane, Army ’04, is the current leader with 1,143 total rebounds.

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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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