No. 6 Colgate vs. No. 3 Lehigh, (at Holy Cross) 5:30 p.m.: Emmett Davis says his Raiders view the tournament as a chance to redeem themselves after what can only be described as horrible. The Colgate coach says he is encouraged heading into tournament play because his team played better at the end of the season, winning two of their last three.
But those two wins came against Navy, the only team, other than Army, Colgate has managed to beat in conference play. Toss Mississippi Valley State into the mix with the service academies and you account for the five wins over Division I foes that the Raiders have managed since the first week of December.
It is hard to remember a league team doing less with more. Which is why the Raiders could be a dangerous first round foe for a Lehigh team that suddenly finds itself on a two-game losing streak after winning 11 of its first 12 in the league. Colgate lives and dies by the jump shot. This season, it has mostly died. But Colgate has a bunch of guys capable of stroking threes and if more than one of them get hot at the same time, they could be a very tough out.
Of course if Joe Knight goes nuts the way he did when these two met in the first round last year, it will take an awful lot of three-pointers to beat the Mountain Hawks. If Knight scores 45 on them again, the only hope Colgate has is another NCAA intervention. That is not likely to happen, so as long as Lehigh doesn't get caught looking past Colgate to a potential rematch Holy Cross, the team it lost to in both the regular season finale, costing the Hawks the homecourt in the first two rounds, and the tournament semis last season. Lehigh notes | Colgate notes | USA Today matchup | 'Gate radio
No. 5 Lafayette vs. No. 4 American, (at Bucknell) 5:30 p.m.: This one is pretty simple: the team that shoots the ball best wins. American swept the regular season series, winning at Lafayette last week in a game where the Eagles shot well and the Leopards did not.
American has the edge inside, at least from a size perspective. Lafayette's Andrei Capusan is better offensively than any of American's big men, but rebounding has been a problem for the Leopards all season. The 'Pards have also had problems taking care of the ball at times. But Lafayette does have a bunch of guys who can shoot the ball, and if they get it going on the perimeter, American might have trouble keeping pace.
As if Lafayette, the only team in the league with no scholarships, doesn't have enough personnel problems, Corky Blake reports in today's Express-Times:
Junior guard Jamaal Hilliard, struggling with a broken finger on his shooting hand, broke a finger on his other hand. Sophomore swingman Matt Betley, who's been a rebounding machine of late, stepped off a curb near Kirby Sports Center and badly sprained his ankle.
The matchup to watch in this one is the two freshman point guards. AU's Derrick Mercer, the league's Rookie of the Year, is lightning in a half-pint bottle. What the Gary Coleman look-alike lacks in size, he makes up for in quickness and basketball smarts.
Lafayette's Andrew Brown joined Mercer on the All-Rookie team announced Wednesday. Brown is not big -- he's listed at 5-11 -- but Mercer is one guy he has a decided height advantage over. In the two regular season games, Mercer has had the edge, averaging 9 points and 5 assists against the 'Pards. Brown averaged 5.5 points and 4 assists in two games against American. But Brown did have a 7-3 edge in steals.
No. 7 Navy at No. 2 Holy Cross, 8 p.m.: There is a long history in comic books of masked men playing hero. If that tradition extends to the basketball court, Navy might as well keep the ship running, because its visit to Worcester will be short.
HC's Kevin Hamilton was fitted for a special mask Wednesday to protect his jaw, which was injured in Sunday's win over Lehigh. Earlier in the week, HC coach Ralph Willard was skeptical about Hamilton's prognosis. But in today's Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Jennifer Toland reports Hamilton returned to practice Thursday and is expected to play.
Willard said Wednesday that even if Hamilton could play, he did not know how effective the three-time all-league pick would be. But Hamilton, last season's league Player of the Year and this year's Defensive Player of the Year, even at 75 percent, is better than anybody in a Midshipmen's uniform. So are Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas.
No. 8 Army at No. 1 Bucknell, 8 p.m. The 8 p.m. start gives the Bucknell students an extra hour to "prepare" for the game, which should make the usually boisterous Sojka Psychos even rowdier. That could make for an intimidating atmosphere for a young Army team that has just one senior on the roster.
Not that the Bison should need an extra edge. The Bison are better at every position and that talent edge extends well down Pat Flannery's bench.
Bucknell is 12-3 all-time in first round PL tourney games. Army has not won a first round game since 1996, when the No. 7 Cadets upset No. 2 Navy. That was one of Army's two tournament wins in 15 seasons in the league. The other came the previous year, when the Black Knights beat Bucknell in another 7-2 upset. That was the last time Bucknell entered the postseason with at least a share of the regular season championship. The Bison tied with Colgate, both going 11-3 that season, but lost the top seed on a coin flip (the RPI was not a tiebreaker back then), then laid a first-round egg by allowing Army's Mark Leuking to go off for 43 points, a tournament record that stood until Joe Knight lit up Colgate last year.
That game, by the way, was on Army's homecourt. The first two rounds were played at a single, on-campus site back then and it was Christl Arena's turn in the rotation.
The coin flip was not without controversy. It was supposed to be held at the league offices, but a snowstorm forced then league executive director Connie Hurlbut to do it in her kitchen with no eyewitnesses present. Conspiracy theorists in Lewisburg theorized that the league wanted Colgate to get the top seed to protect Adonal Foyle, who was bringing the conference unprecedented exposure back then. Of course none of those folks dreamt the Bison would lose in the first round, they just were upset at the prospect of playing the final in Hamilton.
TICKETS UPDATE: Bucknell's allotment sold out in a hurry when they were placed on sale Monday. But a limited number of tickets returned from other schools will be available at the door beginning at 4 p.m. Friday. One reason those returns are limited is because a lot of Bucknell fans bought tickets by phone from the other three schools after BU's sold out.