Bethlehem, Pa.- One year ago, five teams were separated by 10 points for first place in the closest preseason poll in Patriot League history. With four starters returning, including the 2010-11 Patriot League Player of the Year, defending champion Bucknell made this year's outlook completely different by finishing as the unanimous first-place pick of opposing coaches and sports information directors in the rankings announced at Patriot League Men's Basketball Media Day at ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks on Thursday.
The Bison were placed first on all 14 ballots from the seven other schools in the Patriot League to take a unanimous first-place distinction from their peers with 98 points overall. Coaches and sports information directors were not allowed to vote for their own school. The Bison were picked in the top spot for the first time since the 2006-07 season, and were the first unanimous top choice of opposing schools since American in 2008-09.
Lehigh followed the Bison in the rankings, taking home the remaining two first-place votes and totaling 82 points overall. Holy Cross came in a solid third place with 73 points, and was followed by Lafayette (55), American (47), Colgate (44), Navy (34) and Army (15).
For the second year in a row, Lehigh junior guard C.J. McCollum was named the Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year by the voters. McCollum, who won the 2009-10 Patriot League Player of the Year honor, narrowly beat out Bucknell junior forward/center Mike Muscala, who was last year's Player of the Year recipient and Patriot League Tournament Most Valuable Player. McCollum becomes the third student-athlete to claim consecutive Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year honors and first since Bucknell's Chris McNaughton in 2005-06 and 2006-07.
Muscala joined McCollum on the Preseason All-Patriot League Team along with Holy Cross senior guard Devin Brown, Lafayette junior guard Tony Johnson and Navy senior guard Jordan Sugars. Four of the five players were All-Patriot League selections in 2010-11.
Bucknell (25-9, 13-1 Patriot League in 2010-11) comes off a banner season with nearly the same lineup as last year, with the significant exception of first-team All-Patriot League point guard Darryl Shazier. Muscala averaged 14.9 points and 7.3 rebounds in his Patriot League Player of the Year campaign, while Bryan Cohen won his second straight Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year award, Bryson Johnson made 99 three-pointers and took home second-team All-Patriot League honors and Cameron Ayers emerged late in the season and joined Muscala and Johnson on the Patriot League All-Tournament Team.
(Lehigh 16-15, 6-8) fell in a heartbreaker to Bucknell in last year's Patriot League semifinals, and appears to have a solid chance to challenge for its second title in three years this season. It all starts with McCollum, who is the top returning scorer in Division I after notching 21.8 points per game last year and also the leading rebounder back in the Patriot League following last season's 7.8 average. Gabe Knutson averaged 12.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game last year, while Mackey McKnight placed second in the Patriot League in assists as a freshman.
Holy Cross (8-21, 7-7) enters the second season of the Milan Brown era picked third in the Patriot League, the same place it finished last year. Brown averaged 15.4 points a season ago, while Mike Cavataio, R.J. Evans and Eric Obeysekere all boast successful track records.
Lafayette (13-19, 6-8) turned it on late in the season to make it to the Patriot League Championship game for the second year in a row. While the Leopards fell to Bucknell in that contest, they will try to take the next step behind a roster that includes Johnson, the Patriot League's returning assist leader, as well as seniors Ryan Willen and Jim Mower.
American (22-9, 11-3) has never finished outside of the top four in the Patriot League, but the Eagles have work to do to rebuild the roster with Vlad Moldoveanu, Stephen Lumpkins and Nick Hendra all departing. Troy Brewer is the lone returning starter after averaging 11.5 points per game last season, though the Eagles do boast 13 returning letterwinners for veteran Head Coach Jeff Jones.
Two schools with new head coaches come next in the poll, with Colgate (7-23, 4-10) now under the direction of Matt Langel and Navy (11-20, 6-8) led by Ed DeChellis. The Raiders have eight players that started seven or more games last season, including 1,000-point scorer Yaw Gyawu. Preseason All-Patriot League pick Jordan Sugars leads the Mids after averaging 16.0 points per game last season. Army (11-19, 3-11) is picked eighth in the poll but does have a pair of double-digit scorers back in Ella Ellis (14.6) and Julian Simmons (12.5). The 2011-12 season tips off on Nov. 9 when Lehigh visits St. John's in the 2K Sports Classic in a game that will be shown on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.
Patriot League play tips off on January 7, and will once again include regular-season games on CBS Sports Network. The Patriot League Tournament begins with the quarterfinals on Feb. 29 and continues with the semifinals on March 3, when both contests will be shown on CBS Sports Network. The Patriot League Championship is set for March 7 at 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network. All Tournament games are played at the higher seed.