BETHLEHEM, Pa.- The past two Patriot League champions have been picked to battle it out again in 2013, as Lehigh was selected first and Bucknell second in the Patriot League men's basketball preseason poll announced at the sport's Media Day on Wednesday at Arts Quest Center at SteelStacks.
The teams boast the past two Patriot League Player of the Year winners as well, and Lehigh senior guard C.J. McCollum came away as the Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year for the third consecutive season. McCollum, who won the Patriot League Player of the Year award as a freshman in 2010 and again last season, becomes the first three-time recipient of the Preseason Player of the Year honor as he was a unanimous selection of opposing coaches and sports information directors. He was joined on the Preseason All-Patriot League team by classmate Gabe Knutson, Bucknell senior forward Mike Muscala and junior guard Cameron Ayers, and Army senior forward Ella Ellis.
The Mountain Hawks had 96 points and 12 first-place votes to earn the top spot in the balloting, while Bucknell followed with 88 points and four first-place votes. Every voter put the Mountain Hawks and Bison either first or second in their poll. American came in third place in the poll with 66 points, while Holy Cross and Lafayette tied for fourth with 55 points. Army (47), Colgate (26) and Navy (15) completed the preseason poll rankings.
Voting was conducted by Patriot League men's basketball head coaches and sports information directors, who could not vote for their own team or student-athletes.
Lehigh (27-8, 11-3 PL) put together one of the best seasons in Patriot League basketball history in 2011-12, highlighted by an 82-77 win at Bucknell in the League Championship on March 7 and a 75-70 upset of Duke in the NCAA Tournament on March 16. The Mountain Hawks bring back the majority of last year's team, led by senior standouts McCollum and Knutson. McCollum has earned numerous preseason All-America honors after winning his second Patriot League Player of the Year award while leading the conference with 21.9 points and 2.6 steals per game last season. Knutson averaged 12.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest while shooting over 50 percent from the field. Holden Greiner (9.4 ppg) and Mackey McKnight (8.8 ppg, 3.6 apg) each return after strong seasons as well. The Mountain Hawks will play a tough non-League schedule that includes a season-opening trip to Baylor on Nov. 9 and games at Pittsburgh in the NIT Season Tip-Off on Nov. 12-13.
Not to be outdone, Bucknell (25-10, 12-2) beat Lehigh out for the Patriot League regular-season title and won 65-54 at Arizona in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) on March 14. Like Lehigh, the Bison bring back the core of last year's squad with three-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Bryan Cohen as the only significant departure. Muscala was fourth in the Patriot League with 17.0 points per game and led the conference by a wide margin with 9.1 rebounds per contest. Ayers added 11.1 points per game, while Joe Willman (10.7) and Bryson Johnson (9.3) also return as the Bison bring back the top four scorers from last year's squad. Bucknell takes on a daunting non-League schedule that includes matchups with four teams that made the 2012 NCAA Tournament: Purdue, New Mexico State, Missouri and Loyola University Maryland, which will join the Patriot League beginning in 2013-14.
American (20-12, 10-4) loses more than 30 points per game from last season with the graduation of Charles Hinkle and Troy Brewer, but the Eagles look strong in the frontcourt with Stephen Lumpkins returning to the floor. Lumpkins was a second-team All-Patriot League pick in 2011 with 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He had left the Eagles after that season to pursue a professional baseball career. He will be joined in the frontcourt by Tony Wroblicky (6.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg), with Daniel Munoz (8.0 ppg, 4.2 apg), last year's Patriot League assists leader, running the point.
Holy Cross (15-14, 9-5) loses top scorers Devin Brown and R.J. Evans, but the Crusaders have an inside and outside presence returning. Dave Dudzinski averaged 9.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game to occupy the paint, while diminutive point guard Justin Burrell put up 7.4 points and 3.7 assists per game to earn Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors.
Lafayette (13-18, 7-7) advanced to the Patriot League semifinals last season after consecutive appearances in the championship game, but the Leopards will have to do it again this season without last year's top three scorers as Ryan Willen, Jim Mower and Rob Delaney have all graduated. Senior Tony Johnson only played in 12 games last year due to injury, but still managed second-team All-Patriot League honors as he averaged 8.0 points and 4.3 assists per contest. Seth Hinrichs (8.5 ppg) and Dan Trist (5.7 ppg) each look to build on impressive freshman seasons. Head Coach Fran O'Hanlon enters his 18th season, and will coach his 500th game at the school in the season opener against St. Francis (NY) on Nov. 9.
Army (12-18, 5-9) has the only player outside of Bucknell and Lehigh that made the Preseason All-Patriot League Team, as senior Ella Ellis averaged 17.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game last year. He leads a team that brings back every significant player except second-leading scorer Julian Simmons. Josh Herbeck (10.3 ppg) and Maxwell Lenox (6.4 ppg, 3.2 apg) each come off solid seasons for fourth-year Head Coach Zach Spiker.
Colgate (8-22, 2-12) and Navy (3-26, 0-14) each look for improvement under second-year head coaches. Matt Langel directs a Raider team that brings back leading scorer Pat Moore (9.9 ppg) and Mitch Rolls (8.6 ppg, 2.3 apg), while Ed DeChellis fields a roster without any seniors at Navy. Isaiah Roberts (7.1 ppg) and Worth Smith (6.8) are the top returning scorers for the Mids.
The 2012-13 season tips off on Nov. 9 with seven of the League's eight teams in action. Patriot League play begins on January 12, and will once again include regular-season games on CBS Sports Network. The Patriot League Tournament begins with the quarterfinals on March 6 and continues with the semifinals on March 9, when both contests will be shown on CBS Sports Network at 2 and 4:30 p.m. The Patriot League Championship is set for March 13 at 7:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network. All Tournament games are played at the higher seed.