The hunt to recapture the throne: Men's basketball midseason report

By Greg Stevenson and Eric Brod

Senior Writers

Coming into a season as the defending league champion is tough for any team. But, the Bison men’s basketball squad has shined in the first half of the season, posting a 6-0 league record after their impressive 67-61 win over second place American Wednesday night.

The Orange and Blue posted an impressive out of conference record, going 10-6 with wins over Morehead Sate and Princeton. In their most notable game, the Bison played then-No. 1 Syracuse before eventually falling 80-61 at the Carrier Dome. At 16-6 overall, the Orange and Blue look poised to go on another memorable run to the NCAA tournament.

Despite losing last year’s starting point guard Darryl Shazier ’11 and sixth man star G.W. Boon ’11 to graduation, the Bison have relied on defending Patriot League Player of the Year Mike Muscala ’13 to carry the load. Muscala has continued to be a dominant force down low, averaging nearly a double-double a game with 15.8 points and 9.4 rebounds.

The team has also received tremendous contributions from super-sophomores Cameron Ayers ’14 and Ryan Hill ’14. Combined with the veteran leadership of defensive superstar and two-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Bryan Cohen ’12, who recorded his 1,000th career point Wednesday night, and the solid low post presence of Joe Willman ’13, the Bison remain the team to beat in the Patriot League.

Not far behind the Bison is last season’s regular season runner up the American University Eagles. With a 13-8 record (4-2 in league play), the Eagles still have a chance at winning the regular season title and making some serious noise in the league tournament. The Eagles have posted impressive wins against St. Joseph’s and Cornell in out of conference play, and have maintained consistency within league play.

Perhaps the most intriguing storyline, though, has been the struggles of Lehigh in its Patriot League schedule. Despite a few near upsets against top-tier competition in non-conference play, the Mountainhawks could not parlay that into early success against their Patriot League competition that includes losses to Holy Cross and the Bison.

In the matchup with the Bison a week ago, Cohen and Cameron Ayers ’14 held Lehigh’s star CJ McCollum to 14 points, leading to Lehigh’s lowest offensive output of the year and a loss. McCollum, seventh in the nation in points per game, may end up being the league’s Player of the Year at season’s end. But for this team to make up ground in the Patriot League standings, Lehigh must distribute its offense to more than just him.

After opening their league schedules with consecutive victories, two lightly-regarded teams, Holy Cross and Lafayette, have each cooled off and fallen back toward the middle of the pack of the Patriot League. Despite starting the year with a shocking upset over Lehigh, the Crusaders of Holy Cross took a major step backwards in competing for a league title with a 34-point loss to the Orange and Blue last Saturday night.

Lafayette, on the other hand, sits at 3-2 in conference, which still gives them an outside shot at a regular-season Patriot League title. However, the Leopards lack a notable conference win, as they have beaten three teams from the bottom of the standings.

At the bottom of the Patriot League standings are Army, Colgate and Navy, who have a combined three league victories. Still one of the deepest conferences in the nation, in which any team has a realistic shot of winning on any given night, the Bison and the rest of the Patriot League favorites should not sleep on these three teams. All three have the possibility of stealing a victory that could prove costly in determining the regular season champion.

With just half of the Patriot League schedule remaining, the time is now for all eight teams to make their move toward a conference title. Even though it is a three-team race at this point, the Orange and Blue must keep focused in each of their eight games remaining in order to secure another regular season championship.

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