Patriot League playoff preview; league award winners; and more news and notes

Lauren Manis. Mark Seliger Photography/Holy Cross Athletics
Lauren Manis. Mark Seliger Photography/Holy Cross Athletics /

Quarterfinals begin as the top four seeds host on Monday

Championship week gets underway Monday as the top four seeds in the Patriot League host playoff games. Top-seed Bucknell looks to defend their title against Army after a dominating 16-2 regular season. There’s only one team in the field that has a win against the Bison and that’s surprise second-seed Boston University. The Terriers host American University—last year’s runner-up. Let’s take a look at how all the match-ups break down and the keys to the game for each contender.

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Match-up: #9 Army (9-21) vs. #1 Bucknell (23-6)

Bucknell comes into the game riding an eight-game winning streak and claiming the top spot by the largest margin of games in eight years. The Bison have the eighth-best defense in the nation and are the second-best shooting team in the league at 43.3%.

Army has won four of its last six games and pushed second-seed Boston University in the regular-season finale for both. The youth movement at West Point is under way with three sophomores and a freshman in the starting line-up. Expect a physical battle but not a close contest unless the Black Knights have an extraordinary night from beyond the arc.

Season series: Bucknell sweep.

  • Bucknell 63, Army 52 on January 2nd.
  • Bucknell 77, Army 46 on January 29th.

Top scorers: Ellie Mack leads Bucknell with 15.2 ppg. Alisa Fallon paces Army with 11.8 ppg but Natalie Stralkus has the hot hand with 17.6 ppg over the last three games.

Key to a Bucknell win: Pushing their defense out to take away the three-point line. Army has attempted more threes than anyone in the league. They are 277-for 670 on the season for a 33.9% mark. They are volume shooters from distance and forcing Army’s perimeter players off their spots to drive into the teeth of the Bucknell defense will slow down the Black Knights and keep a streaky-shooting team from having a puncher’s chance.

Key to an Army win: A little more livin’ than dyin’ from three. If guards Sarah Bohn and Stralkus can get off to a hot start, the visitors just might be able to put a little pressure on the favorites.

Army’s best bet to slow down the Bison is to limit early offense in the transition game. The Black Knights are going to give up points–they are last in the league in scoring defense and eight of 10 in field goal percentage defense. But if they can force Bucknell to score by executing deeper into the clock in a half-court game, maybe they can hang around awhile.

Keep your eyes on: Bucknell guard Taylor O’Brien. The sophomore guard is playing her best basketball of the season. She’s logged 35.6 minutes per game over the last three games. While her athleticism and defensive energy make her a tough match-up to face on that side of the court, it’s her growing confidence at the offensive end that could add up to a break-out start to a championship week. O’Brien shot 15-for-31 in those three games while averaging 6.3 boards.

Match-up: #7 American (13-16) vs. #2 Boston University (17-12)

American is coming off back-to-back wins against Navy. The Eagles defeated the Mids 57-42 in their regular season finale and then topped them in their first round playoff game, 63-53. Sophomore guard Emily Fisher came off the bench to lead American with 18 points and help the team advance to the quarterfinals. Their last win before Navy? A 55-54 win over Boston University.

The Terriers enter as the two seed—the highest seed they’ve been in the Patriot League—and just completed their most successful season in conference play with 12 wins. It’s the second straight season BU has hosted a quarterfinal game. The team has shown an ability to finish close games with a win. BU has five wins in games that have been decided by two points or less—but also lost by a point to the Eagles. This one seems destined to come down to the wire.

Season series: Split.

  • Boston University 59, American 44 on January 5th.
  • American 55, Boston University 54 on February 22nd.

Top scorers: American is led by sophomore Jade Edwards at 14.5 ppg and senior Kaitlyn Marenyi with 13.3 ppg. Boston is paced by senior Katie Nelson at 12.5 ppg and freshman Maggie Pina with 11.6 ppg.

Key to an American win: They have win the battle of the guards. Edwards and Marenyi each must produce for American to win. Marenyi was in foul trouble in their loss to BU and must avoid a similar outcome.

American shot poorly in their loss to BU, going 13-for-50 from the floor for 26.0%. They didn’t shoot much better in their win, going 17-for-50 from 34.0%. But in their victory, they limited Nelson and Pina to 15 points combined. If American can limit the BU guards again, they’ll claim the upset.

Key to a Boston University win: Keeping turnovers down. Only Army (303) has committed more turnovers in conference play than the Terriers (281). BU will need to play more efficiently to get past American and make a run to the final this week. Both teams average 58.1 points per game and giving the Eagles more opportunities on the offensive end could cost them a spot in the semi-final.

Keep your eyes on: The coaches. American Head Coach Megan Gebbia and BU Head Coach Marisa Moseley are two of the best coaches in the league. The in-game adjustments and match-ups will be an entertaining backdrop to the battle of the backcourts.

The BU freshmen are also ones to watch. Moseley has navigated the conference slate expertly with three freshmen starters. At this point in the season, Pina, forward Maren Durant, and guard Sydney Johnson all have a full season of experience but playoffs are new territory. How they handle the pressure of being a second-seed against an American team with conference championship experience from a season ago will be a determining factor. If there’s going to big upset in the quarterfinals, it will come from this game.

Match-up: #6 Lehigh (18-11) vs. #3 Colgate (19-10)

This might be the most exciting game in the quarterfinal round. Lehigh seems reborn and played like a different team in their 86-70 win at Colgate to cap the regular season.  Mary Clougherty led a trio of Mountain Hawks scoring 20 or more points.

Clougherty’s 23 points—combined with 21 from Cameryn Benz and 20 from Camryn Buhr—helped Lehigh shoot 47.7% from the floor (21-for-65). They had nothing to gain or lose in the game while Colgate was potentially playing for a two-seed. Can the Mountain Hawks play with the same confidence when it’s ‘win or go home’?

Colgate wanted this moment and now it’s here. It’s time for this group to seize and celebrate the opportunity. They have a star in senior guard Rachel Thompson who can do it all on both ends of the floor and is among the league leaders in seven statistical categories. She was just named All-Patriot League First-Team and to the All-Defensive team. Will Thompson rise to the moment? No doubt.

The challenge for the Raiders is their collective commitment to the defensive end and winning the rebounding battle so they can run the floor. They need all hands on deck—and it’s those other hands that are going to determine Colgate’s fate in this game.

Lehigh has been playing with the pressure of expectation all season. Colgate has been playing with it for the last couple weeks of the season. Neither has handled it well. Now, the moment has arrived for each of them. This game is going to be a great one.

Season series: Split.

  • Colgate 82, Lehigh 73 on February 19th.
  • Lehigh 86, Colgate 70 on March 4th.

Top scorers: Camryn Buhr leads Lehigh with 12.8 ppg. Rachel Thompson paces Colgate with 16.9 ppg.

Keys to a Colgate win: What’s the key to beating Lehigh? A short memory. Colgate is on a three-game losing streak for the first time all season. They shot just 39.1% from the floor in their loss to them last week, 86-70. They also were eliminated by the Mountain Hawks in last year’s playoffs.

Colgate is hosting a quarterfinal game for the first time in program history and their 19 overall wins—and 11 league wins—are high marks for the team. It has been an amazing season in Hamilton for Head Coach Bill Cleary and his group. But it feels like a win is needed to avoid what may end up feeling like a lost opportunity. They are the top shooting team in the league at 43.8% and are 11-3 at home.

Their key will be a more consistent effort on the defensive end. They allowed too many uncontested opportunities in their last outing and their defensive urgency was inconsistent. On the offensive end, their read and react offense needs more patience and ball movement. In their 82-73 win on the road against Lehigh, they posted 21 assists. Last week’s loss produced just 10—an unusually low number for one of the best offensive teams in the league.

Keys to a Lehigh win: Less is more. Lehigh has moved to a regular rotation of six players with heavy minutes for that group down the stretch of the season—and they are playing as well as they have all year. They have the continuity and rhythm that’s been lacking most of the season. The key for Lehigh is to stick with the plan through the ups and down of the contest.

Over the last three games, they are 29-for-67 from three-point distance for 43.2%. The line-up is clicking and their rhythm on both ends has improved dramatically. Head Coach Sue Troyan has referenced her team’s struggle with confidence all season. If this current rotation is now playing with a newfound belief, Lehigh may reach the potential of their pre-season number one ranking.

Keep your eyes on: Everyone in Colgate’s line-up not named Thompson. Lehigh’s defense will again key in on limiting Thompson and the Raiders supporting cast will have to step up. Those other starters combined for just 18 points in their home loss to the Mountain Hawks a week ago. Although the bench has been productive all season, the starters will have to put up more points for a winning formula.

For Lehigh, the three-point shooting and point production of guards Megan Walker and Mary Clougherty will be the key. Over the final three games, the duo have combined to shoot 15-for-31 from three point distance.

Match-up: #5 Lafayette (15-13) vs. #4 Holy Cross (18-11)

Holy Cross is a mystery. Not an Agatha Christie type of riddle, more like a ‘Knives Out’ nothing-is-what-it-seems kind of a deal. They have talent, great post players, terrific shooters, and dynamic guard play. So why are they heading into the quarterfinals as a four seed? The unknowns and unpredictability of this team make them a very dangerous draw for any team they play—in any round.

Leading that talented group is forward Lauren Manis and playmaking guard Avery LaBarbera. Manis just eclipsed 2,000 points for her career in their final regular season game versus Loyola (MD). The Massachusetts native already had secured 1,000 career rebounds and is now the first women’s basketball player to achieve those scoring and rebounding milestones in Patriot League history.

Needing a win to clinch home court as the four-seed, Holy Cross played with purpose and focus in their finale, clinching the spot with a 66-48 win and dominating the boards. The Crusaders seem to have a little bounce in their step.

While everyone is looking up in the standings at Bucknell, Holy Cross should not be overlooked. They are still a top-three team in overall shooting and three-point percentage—and they are capable of dominating the backboards. Are they ready to turn the page on and up-and-down regular season and turn it up for the playoffs?

Meeting the challenge Manis presents is Lafayette’s dynamic forward Natalie Kucowski, who presents her own challenges. Kucowski has led the Leopards to their most overall wins since the 1997-1998 season. The Leopards get it done on the defensive end as the top overall team for field goal percentage defense at 35.6% and the second best in points allowed at 57.3 points per game.

Lafayette enters the playoffs after dropping their final regular season game to Bucknell, 57-47. Kucowski led her team with 21 points and 12 rebounds, claiming her 19th double-double of the season. The Leopards have played two close games versus the Crusaders and will need another great defensive effort to have a chance.

Season series: Holy Cross sweep.

  • Holy Cross 57, Lafayette 56 on January 8th
  • Holy Cross 57, Lafayette 49 on February 15th

Top scorers: Forward Lauren Manis leads Holy Cross with 18.6 ppg and 11.4 rpg. Natalie Kucowski tops Lafayette with 13.9 ppg and 12.9 rpg.

Keys to a Holy Cross win: Playing with discipline and to strengths—and that means post touches, and kick-outs. Holy Cross is regarded as one of the most talented teams in the league and has underachieved—but they are still the most dangerous team in the playoffs. Why? Lauren Manis.

Manis is the most difficult match-up in the league. Her presence on the floor changes defensive coverages. If the Crusaders are going to make a run to the championship this week, it will be due to how effectively they can utilize her with and without the ball in her hands.

The 6’1” Manis and 6’3” Megan Swords (11.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg) combine to form the biggest and most physical post tandem in the league. Early in the season, the guards played well off post action and Holy Cross became the top three-point shooting team in the country. Somewhere along the line the three-point shooting and post play became two separate attacks and not an offense executing together, playing off one another. Eventually, the three-point shooting dipped along with the belief in the number two ranking in the pre-season poll.

Playoffs are a second chance for these Crusaders. And their key to success will be to find the level of discipline and execution that matches their talent level. It all starts with Manis.

Keys to a Lafayette win: The Leopards are going to need guards Drew Freeland (9.7 ppg), Sarah Agnello (6.8 ppg) to score. Natalie Kucowski has to find her way to a big scoring game and avoid foul trouble while challenging the Holy Cross posts around the rim. The team is ranked next-to-last in points scored per game and will need to produce more offense to come out on top.

Keep your eyes on: Holy Cross point guard Madalyn Smith. She is an efficient distributor and is tied for tops in the league at 4.8 assists per game. But as the season has progressed her scoring output has slowed. Smith has reached double figures in scoring just once in the last 18 games but scored a high of 25 points in her game versus Rhode Island back in December. If Smith continues to find teammates and adds some scoring punch, this is a team that could be playing three games this week.

Final Standings

Bucknell (23-6, 16-2)

Boston University (17-12, 12-6)

Colgate (19-10, 11-7)

Lafayette (15-13, 11-7)

Holy Cross (18-11, 11-7)

Lehigh (18-11, 10-8)

American (13-16, 8-10)

Loyola (MD) (8-22, 5-13)

Army (9-21, 4-14)

Navy (7-23, 2-16)

Tune in to Patriot League quarterfinal action:

March 9th

#9 Army at #1 Bucknell @6:00p.m.

#7 American at #2 Boston University @6:00p.m.

#6 Lehigh at #3 Colgate @7:00p.m.

#5 Lafayette at #4 Holy Cross @7:00p.m.

League news and notes:

  • Holy Cross forward Lauren Manis reached the 2,000-point career scoring mark in her final regular season game versus Loyola (MD).
  • Lehigh Head Coach Sue Troyan earned her 400th career win for Lehigh in their win over Colgate. It was her 200th Patriot League win.
  • Natalie Stralkus led Army with 16 points in their first round playoff win over Loyola (MD), 72-65. Army shot 45.3% from the field.
  • Colgate’s Haley Greer knocked down three three-pointers against Lehigh. The senior guard’s surpassed the career total of her Assistant Coach Katie Curtis, who played for the Raiders from 2014 to 2017.
  • Morgan Taylor scored a season-high 21 points in Navy’s first round playoff loss, 63-53, to American University.
  • Lafayette’s 11 league wins are the most for the program since 1991-1992.
    Army leads the Patriot League with 7.6 made three-pointers per game.
  • Stephanie Karcz set a playoff record with nine steals in a Loyola (MD) 72-65 loss to Army in the first round of playoffs.

2019-2020 Patriot League Award Winners

Player of the Year:

Ellie Mack, Bucknell, Senior Forward

Bucknell’s Ellie Mack. (photo courtesy of Bucknell Athletics)
Bucknell’s Ellie Mack. (photo courtesy of Bucknell Athletics) /
  • Mack finished the 2019-20 regular season third in scoring (15.2 ppg), second in three-point percentage at 42.7%, and fourth in field goal percentage at 50.9%.
  • Mack led her team in scoring 15 times and scored in double-figures 26 times this season.
  • Helped lead her team to its second-consecutive 16-2 mark in league play.

Defensive Player of the Year:

Stephanie Karcz, Loyola (MD), Senior Guard

  • Currently leads D1 in steals with 452 and steals per game at 5.04.
  • Karcz is a two-time league Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Karcz finished her senior season with 10 double-doubles and two triple-doubles. She’s just one of two players in D1 with multiple triple-doubles.

Rookie of the Year:

Maggie Pina, Boston University, Freshman Guard

  • Pina averaged 11.6 points per game and was claimed Rookie of the Week honors five times this season.
  • The freshman is 15th in the league in minutes played with 31.4 minutes per game and has started 22 games.
  • Pina is second in the league with 69 made three-pointers.

Coach of the Year:

Trevor Woodruff, Bucknell

  • Woodruff led the Bison to a regular-season title in his first season at Bucknell with a 16-2 mark.
  • The seventh league coach to win coaching honors in his first season.
  • Bucknell won the league by a four game margin—the largest since 2011-2012.

First-Team All-Patriot League

Ellie Mack, Bucknell, Senior forward
Rachel Thompson, Colgate, Senior guard
Lauren Manis, Holy Cross, Senior forward
Natalie Kucowski, Lafayette, Junior center
Stephanie Karcz, Loyola Maryland, Senior guard

Second-Team All-Patriot League

Jade Edwards, American, Sophomore guard
Katie Nelson, Boston University, Junior guard
Abby Kapp, Bucknell, Junior guard
Avery LaBarbera, Holy Cross, Sophomore guard
Camryn Buhr, Lehigh, Senior guard

Third-Team All-Patriot League*

Kaitlyn Marenyi, American, Senior guard
Alisa Fallon, Army West Point, Sophomore guard
Maggie Pina, Boston University, Freshman guard
Tessa Brugler, Bucknell, Junior center
Abby Schubiger, Colgate, Senior forward
Mary Kate Ulasewicz, Navy, Senior guard
*Note: Due to ties in voting, additional players were selected.

All-Defensive Team*

Indeya Sanders, American, Junior guard
Maren Durant, Boston University, Freshman, forward
Rachel Thompson, Colgate, Senior guard

Lauren Manis, Holy Cross, Senior forward
Natalie Kucowski, Lafayette, Junior center
Stephanie Karcz, Loyola Maryland, Senior guard
Morgan Taylor, Navy, Senior guard
*Note: Due to ties in voting, additional players were selected.

All-Rookie Team*

Hope Brown, Army, Freshman guard
Maggie Pina, Boston University, Freshman guard
Maren Durant, Boston University, Freshman center
Sydney Johnson, Boston University, Freshman guard
Alexa Brodie, Colgate, Freshman guard
Emily McAteer, Loyola Maryland, Freshman forward

*Note: Due to ties in voting, additional players were selected.

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