May 30, 2012
CENTER VALLEY, Pa. - Already well-known to Patriot League men's basketball fans, Lehigh's C.J. McCollum and Bucknell's Mike Muscala are garnering attention on a national level heading into their senior seasons.
McCollum has been named the top shooting guard in the nation by both Sporting News and Bleacher Report and was recognized as one of Ten Mid-Major guards to watch by basketball reporter Jon Rothstein. Meanwhile, Muscala has been named the No. 5 center in the nation by the Bleacher Report.
The standouts were recognized jointly by Andy Glockner of SI.com, who listed both McCollum and Muscala among a group of 10 seniors from outside the football-centric conferences who stand good chances of making an impact on the NCAA Tournament in March. NBCSports.com looks at the expected race for Patriot League Player of the Year honors between McCollum and Muscala in 2012-13.
Both players have enjoyed distinguished careers at their institution. McCollum was named Patriot League Player of the Year and led Lehigh to the League title in both 2010 and 2012, while Muscala was named Player of the Year and led the Bison to the League crown in 2011.
McCollum was named Patriot League Player of the Year for the second time in his career, and added the Patriot League Tournament Most Valuable Player Award while leading Lehigh to the League title with an 82-77 win on March 7 at Bucknell. He stands fifth in the country in scoring (21.9) and steals (2.6), and also ranks in the top five in the Patriot League in rebounds (6.5) and assists (3.5). McCollum earned six Patriot League Anaconda Player of the Week awards, tying his single-season record set last year. He earned national attention for scoring 30 points to lead the Mountain Hawks to one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NCAA Tournament, a 75-70 shocker for No. 15 seed Lehigh over No. 2 Duke on March 16. McCollum and the Mountain Hawks saw their season come to an end with a 70-58 loss to No. 10 seed Xavier two days later.
McCollum beat out players from the Atlantic Coast Conference, BIG EAST, Atlantic 10 and more to win the ECAC Player of the Year award in March. McCollum also earned an AP Honorable Mention All-American for the second time in the last three years.
Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News said of McCollum, his top-ranked returning shooting guard in Division I: "He plays in the Patriot League. No kidding. He also put in 30 on Duke in the Mountain Hawks' opening game of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Another season like the one he just had, and McCollum will crack the top 15 of NCAA career scorers -- with an opportunity to perhaps pass No. 13, a gentleman named Larry Bird."
Bleacher Report stated: "By leading 15 seed Lehigh to a win over second-seeded Duke by dropping 30 points, six rebounds and six assists, he etched his name into tournament history and booked his place atop the pantheon of Lehigh basketball heroes."
Rothstein was high on McCollum's stock for the NBA Draft next season, writing: "Now he's widely considered to be one of the elite players in college basketball heading into next season. With one more year to showcase his stuff for NBA scouts, look for McCollum to be drafted somewhere in June of 2013."
Muscala had another outstanding season for the Bison, who won the Patriot League regular-season title and advanced in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) with a 65-54 win at Arizona on March 14. The Bison saw their season come to an end with a second-round NIT loss by a 75-67 final at Nevada on March 18. Muscala is fourth in the Patriot League with 17.0 points per game and leads all players by a wide margin with 9.1 rebounds per contest. He had 16 double-doubles for the season, including a 30-point, 14-rebound effort in the League Championship loss to Lehigh. Muscala totaled 75 points and 38 rebounds combined in Bucknell's final three games. Muscala earned first-team All-Patriot League honors for the second straight season after also receiving the Player of the Year award in 2011.
Bleacher Report praised Muscala's all-around performance. "Muscala has a sneaky midrange game that makes him hard to follow for a more traditional big man," they stated.
Glockner had high praise for both student-athletes in his article on SI.com, stating: "We'll cheat a bit here as the Patriot League's two biggest stars return to duel for a fourth season. I tried to warn Duke fans in March about the explosive McCollum, but now the nation knows how good the multifaceted guard is. He wasn't good enough to win the league's regular-season title last year, though, and Bucknell cashed in its NIT berth by cashiering Arizona on the road.
Raphielle Johnson, who discussed the Player of the Year race on NBCSports.com, said: "Lehigh was able to make waves this past March as a 15-seed, beating Duke in the round of 64 in Greensboro with guard C.J. McCollum (30 points) leading the way. And with McCollum returning the Mountain Hawks will be one of the two favorites to win the Patriot League next season. But he isn't the only star in the Patriot League to keep an eye on as Bucknell welcomes back big man Mike Muscala for his final campaign. Tough to call who wins Player of the Year right now, but college basketball fans would be wise to keep an eye on these two throughout the season.
Each student-athlete was also recently featured, as McCollum's relationship with his brother, Errick, was chronicled on Eurobasket.com and Muscala's summer efforts to improve his game were discussed by Bill Bowman of the Sunbury (Pa.) Daily Item
The 2012-13 men's basketball season opens up in early November, with the Patriot League schedule set to begin on Jan. 12.