March 9, 2023 

Patriot League Notebook: Will it be an all-Bay State championship?

Which team is on its way to punching a ticket in the NCAA Tournament?

The Patriot League Conference Tournament semifinal round is on deck and one team is just two wins away from punching its ticket to the NCAA tournament. How did we get here?

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Top-seed Boston University overcame an inspired Loyola team to keep the league favorite on the path to host the final. The Terriers played without starting forward Caitlin Weimar, who dressed but stayed in her seat on the bench, protecting an ankle injury. Can Boston continue its dominating season if Weimar is not fully healthy?

Next up for the Terriers are the Black Knights—the only upset winner in the quarterfinal round. Army will take the road trip to Boston after making itself at home against Colgate in Hamilton. Sabria Hunter posted another double-double and Reese Erickson scored a game-high 19 points to silence any challengers to her Rookie of the Year honors. Can Army find enough scoring punch to pull an upset?

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The other side of the bracket is all about legacy. Lehigh and Holy Cross have 15 championships between them and prepare to face off after convincing wins in the quarterfinal round. 

The Mountain Hawks clipped Bucknell 63-55 behind the scoring duo of Frannie Hottinger and Mackenzie Kramer whose 55 combined points matched the output of the entire Bison squad.

Holy Cross dumped a physical American team, 73-44, behind a season-high 60.9% shooting from the floor. Junior Janelle Allen led the way with 19 points and seven rebounds to bring the host Crusaders to the brink of their first championship game appearance since 2014.

Let’s examine the matchups, players to watch and what to expect at tip-off:

Can Army pull the upset over Boston University?

In the regular season, the Terriers swept Army, beating the Black Knights 68-52 on the road and 77-70 at home. Is Army capable of pulling off the biggest upset of the season? 

Army forced the Terriers to two of their worst three-point shooting performances of the season in their head-to-head meetings, limiting them to three makes in each outing. The problem? Boston dominated the paint.

In its most recent win over the Black Knights, Boston shot 64.1% on two-point field goals, converting 25-for-39 inside the arc. 

Sophomore sharpshooter Alex Giannaros showed why she is one of the top shooters in the league with a career-high six three-pointers for the Terriers in the quarterfinal round against Loyola (MD). Boston University hosts Army with a spot in the championship on the line. (Photo credit: Matt Woolverton)

Players to watch: Sabria Hunter continues to be the anchor of her team, adding another double-double in Army’s upset win over Colgate in the quarterfinal round. Hunter was an unstoppable force against the Raider forwards, providing 16 points and 13 rebounds in lifting her team to a 55-50 victory in a game it never trailed. The senior is averaging 13.5 points and 12.2 rebounds an outing.

In the Terrier lineup, it’s Sydney Johnson’s time to shine. She’ll be a focus of the Army defense as she was when the two teams played two weeks ago, a 77-70 win for Boston at home. In that game, the senior had just seven points on 2-for-8 shooting. Don’t expect to see those numbers again. The first team All-Patriot League star is the motor for head coach Melissa Graves’ squad and a dynamic performance is just a few crossovers away.

The key stat: Fouls. It’s not the spicy statistic you may be looking for in a game with one of the nation’s top three-point shooting teams playing on its home floor. But the numbers will be determinative. Army can’t afford to see Hunter on the bench in foul trouble. And if Boston limits Weimar’s on-court time due to her ankle injury, the Terriers can’t afford to see forward Maren Durant accumulate any foul trouble either. Each opposing post is familiar with foul issues.

The officiating of the action among the posts in the paint will be a focus in this game and foul trouble was an issue for Army in both its losses to the Terriers this year.

Hunter was 2-for-8 with six points in her last performance in Boston and it was a game in which she fouled out and played just 26 minutes. She played 32 minutes in the quarterfinal against Colgate.

Durant and Weimar avoided foul trouble last time out versus Army and posted a combined 46 points and 14 rebounds.

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How Boston University wins: Playing with patience and efficiency on the offensive end. The Terriers are on the edge of realizing their championship aspirations; it’s not time to rush or force the action. Boston is so incredibly difficult to guard because they have scorers all over the floor—Johnson (12.6 ppg), Weimar (15.6 ppg) and three-point specialist Alex Giannaros (10.5 ppg)—and they play with discipline on the offensive end.

Boston’s flexibility in its offense is a strength that Army cannot match. They have to find the sweet spot between playing with poise and playing with pace. They win by organizing, being patient with their screening action, and playing efficiently. However, their turnover rate is 19.5%–ranked 196 out of 361 teams according to HerHoopStats.

The Terriers are headed to the championship game if they can take care of the basketball.

How Army wins: On offense, freshman guard Reese Erickson has to have the type of game she just played at Colgate—7-for-14 from the floor, 19 points and just two turnovers. Hunter has to match that effort with a similar scoring performance inside.

Forward Kamryn Hall is a key piece to the puzzle when Durant is guarding her outside the paint. In their last matchup, Hall attacked off the dribble and looked for her mid-range jumper at every opportunity against the senior post to great effect, scoring 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting.

On defense, the Black Knights need to stick with their strengths: a physical man-to-man defense mixed in with some three-quarter court 1-2-2 zone pressure. To win, they’ll need to make the Terrier guards uncomfortable, pressing up, going over ball screens and running shooters off the three-point line. It means they’ll have to live with single coverage in the post most of the time and that Hunter and Hall will have to avoid careless fouls in those one-on-one battles down low.

Holy Cross versus Lehigh is a must-see March Madness matchup 

Lehigh just keeps coming at you on the offensive end. The Mountain Hawks are the league’s top-scoring team at 70.2 points per game and feature its top two scorers in Frannie Hottinger (20.7 ppg) and Mackenzie Kramer (17.7 ppg).  The team hunts three-pointers 27.7 times per game, good for seventh in the nation.

Holy Cross shares that relentlessness but is better suited to attack its opponents on the defensive end. The Crusader backcourt includes two-time Patriot League All-Defensive team member Addisyn Cross and freshman Kaitlyn Flanagan—who is second on the team in steals (1.1 per game) and was named to the All-Rookie Team. As a group, they allow just just 54.8 points per game, ranking 13th of 361 teams according to HerHoopStats.

The programs played two epic battles this season, each winning at home. In Worcester, the Crusaders came back from a 13-point third quarter deficit to win, 66-64. In Bethlehem, Lehigh mounted a late comeback to force overtime and came away with a 76-74 victory. Hottinger and Kramer accounted for 51 of the squad’s 76 points.

The wild card in round three is the lineup for each team. Lehigh’s Kramer and Crusader forward Janelle Allen each missed their team’s road loss. Everyone is expected to play in the semifinal. The roles and assignments might be tweaked a bit with full lineups available but this showdown is a must-see game.

Lehigh senior Frannie Hottinger is looking for her second Patriot League championship. She leads the league’s top offense into Worcester for a semifinal against Holy Cross. (Photo credit: Katie McNulty)

Players to watch: Lehigh forward Frannie Hottinger has been dominating this season. The Patriot League Player of the Year is playing her best basketball down the stretch of her senior season and she’s one of the toughest matchups in the conference.

Hottinger is shooting 44.8% from the field and her 9.6 rebounds per game leads the team. She’s the most important player on the floor for the Mountain Hawks. She shoots well enough to stretch a defense from distance, but her best work site is in the mid-range and low post. In the last five games, Lehigh is posting her up more often and finding her inside. 

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She’s physical and can score with contact. Keep your eyes on Hottinger. When she’s finding her space in the lane, the Crusaders will have to bring a double-team on her post-ups—and that’s when the fun begins for the Lehigh offense.

On the Holy Cross end of the floor, keep your eye on Addisyn Cross. She always draws the opponent’s toughest scoring guard so you’ll likely see her matched up with Kramer most of the game. She has a team-high 43 steals and her on-ball defensive success will be a large factor in the outcome.

Although Cross scores just 4.2 points per game, don’t discount the possibility of the senior putting up some points while the Lehigh game scout tilts its defense toward the Crusader post play.

The key stat: There are two key statistical categories in this game and they’re connected to the focus of each offense: three-point conversion rate and paint points.

Lehigh scores 38.9% of its points from behind the arc—that’s ninth in the nation. They need to score from distance and opponents need to stop them.

Holy Cross scores 58.8% of its points inside the arc and just 24.0% from three. The Crusaders need points in the paint and opponents need to stop them—or in Lehigh’s case, just score enough from distance to mitigate the Crusaders’ advantage in the paint.

How did it go in the two games they played this season? Holy Cross won the paint points 42-22 in each contest but split game outcomes. The difference was in Lehigh’s conversion rate from behind the arc.

In Lehigh’s loss in Worcester, the team came out on top from distance, totally 30 points to 21 from Holy Cross. In Bethlehem, they stretched that advantage to 33-18 and won.

The margins are tight in this one.

How Holy Cross wins: Attack the post. The Crusaders need to attack the matchup they prefer through forwards Allen and Lindsay Berger. They have to maximize their advantage inside and force Lehigh to bring a double-team to open up their perimeter attack.

How Lehigh wins: Push the tempo. If the Mountain Hawks are forced to defend a two-post lineup from the Crusaders, they need to increase tempo and hunt their shots from behind the arc early in transition. When they can’t get a look in transition, they need to post Hottinger as often as possible.

Patriot League Final Standings

(League record, overall record)

  1. Boston University (17-1, 23-7)
  2. Holy Cross (13-5, 22-8)
  3. Lehigh (12-6, 17-13)
  4. Colgate (10-8, 16-14)
  5. Army (10-8, 13-16)
  6. Bucknell (9-9, 13-17)
  7. American (7-11, 9-22)
  8. Lafayette (7-11, 10-19)
  9. Loyola (MD) (4-14, 10-21)
  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.)

Semifinal Round March 9
No. 5 Army at No. 1 Boston University 6:00 PM

No. 3 Lehigh at No. 2 Holy Cross 7:00 PM

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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