Saturday, March 12, 2011

Following Up: The Patriot League

Image via Rush the Court

Last July, I read and reviewed The Last Amateurs, John Feinstein's account of basketball in the Patriot League. My review is here: On the Coffee Table: John Feinstein. Inspired by the book, I watched not only the finals of the Patriot League Tournament this year, but also parts of the semi- and quarterfinals, thanks to the expanded coverage offered by the CBS College Sports network.

I watched parts of the two American University games: a bit of the quarterfinal against Colgate and most of the semifinal versus Lafayette. AU is, in fact, the closest Division I university to the house where I grew up. And yet, I've never paid any attention to the program until now. With Georgetown and the University of Maryland nearby, there was never much reason to follow the many other college teams in the area. Now, of course, it seems a shame. I can only imagine that tickets to AU games would have been a lot cheaper and the arena more accessible.

The Colgate game wasn't too exciting but the Lafayette game was another matter entirely. In fact, I would say that the double-overtime thriller is a serious candidate for game of the year. The Lafayette Leopards are quite a scrappy team, coming into the tournament with a losing record, but they found their groove. Clutch shooting by Leopards Jim Mower and Ryan Willen carried Lafayette through to the final.

I was a bit disappointed in Alaa Abdelnaby who handled color commentary for the game. He clearly had a man crush on AU's Romanian forward Vlad Moldoveanu and wasn't able to change gears when the game narrative shifted in favor of Lafayette. Moldoveanu is an impressive player and probably has a decent future in European pro leagues but it bothers me when announcers treat basketball, a team game, as an individual hero epic.

American will not play in the NCAA tournament but they did leave us this little gift on YouTube:

I didn't watch too much of the second semifinal but enough to see John Feinstein himself doing the color job for the Bucknell-Lehigh match - quite capably, too.

I had a difficult time deciding whom to root for in the final. In principle, I love underdogs and Lafayette certainly qualified in facing regular season champ Bucknell. But I don't like it when teams with losing records go to the NCAA tournament. It just doesn't sit well. Furthermore, in any league where only the conference tourney champ is likely to go to the Big Dance, it seems only right that the best team should go as the league's strongest representative. In the end, I found myself pulling for Bucknell, the ultimate winner. They were never seriously threatened en route to victory.

Photo via Bucknell University

The Bucknell Bison may not make it past the first round of the NCAA tournament but they're plenty good enough to give their opponent a good game. They move the ball beautifully and offer a balanced attack with multiple threats both inside and out. They defend and rebound very aggressively. The league shall be well represented on the big stage.

Unlike Abdelnaby, LaPhonso Ellis did an outstanding job as color commentator in the final. He is both insightful and articulate. I hope that CBS will use him in some tournament games. Plus, he has a great hair style at the moment. Sadly, the photo below does not offer a view of the pony tail in the back:

Photo via Vision Sports Group

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