2019 Patriot League tournament preview: Red-hot Colgate seeks first Big Dance appearance since 1996
Rapolas Ivanauskas leads top seed Colgate into the Patriot League tournament/Photo Bob Cornell/Colgate athletics

2019 Patriot League tournament preview: Red-hot Colgate seeks first Big Dance appearance since 1996

The Raiders are the top seed in the conference tournament for the first time in 23 years.

john-lupo
John Lupo

Patriot League tournament starts on Tuesday with a pair of first-round games. Top seed Colgate won't see action until the quarterfinals on Wednesday, but the Raiders are riding an eight-game winning streak, including wins over second seed Bucknell and third seed Lehigh.

The Bisons tied with Colgate for the regular season title, but lost the tiebreaker for home-court advantage throughout the conference tournament as well as dropping three of final five games while the Mountain Hawks finished just one game behind the top two.

With a gap of three games between the trio at the top and the rest of the league, will anyone be able to topple Colgate, Bucknell or Lehigh?

Tournament schedule (all times Eastern)

First Round (March 5)

 #9 Loyola (MD) at #8 Boston University, 7:00 (Patriot League Network)

#10 Holy Cross at #7 Lafayette, 7:00 (Patriot League Network)

Quarterfinals (March 7)

Loyola (MD)/Boston University at #1 Colgate, 7:00 (Patriot League Network/Stadium)

 #5 Navy at #4 American, 7:00 (Patriot League Network/Stadium)

 #6 Army at #3 Lehigh, 7:00 (Patriot League Network/Stadium)

Holy Cross/Lafayette at #2 Bucknell, 7:00 (Patriot League Network/Stadium)

Semifinals (March 10)

Both semifinal games will be at the higher seeded team and will be shown on CBS Sports Network at 12 and 2PM.

Final (March 13)

Semifinal winners, 7:30 (CBS Sports Network)

Colgate has banner season in pursuit of NCAA bid

The top seeded Raiders (13-5, 21-10) cracked the 20-win mark for the first time in school history and are led by Patriot League Player of The Year Rapolas Ivanauskas. The 6'10" forward from Lithuania was fifth in the league in points per game (16.3), third in rebounds per game (8.1), fourth in three-point percentage (43.8) and ninth in free throw percentage (77.8).

Colgate isn't just a one-man show. Guard Jordan Burns is the ideal compliment on the perimeter to Ivanauskas, averaging 15.7 points and 5.7 assists per game, fifth and third in the Patriot, respectively. He also is tops on the team in free throw percentage at 82.7, giving the Raiders the league's best duo.

Burns is a terrific performer for the top-seeded Raiders/Photo: Bob Cornell/Getty Images
Burns is a terrific performer for the top-seeded Raiders/Photo: Bob Cornell/Getty Images

Bucknell, Lehigh lead challengers to top seed 

Second seed Bucknell (13-5, 19-11) seeks a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Bison are slumping heading into league tournament action and are probably not as good as recent editions. Still, guard Kimbal Mackenzie (16.9 ppg, 86.7% FT) and forward Nate Sestina (15.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 53.4% FG) are capable of getting Bucknell back to the field of 68.

Mackenzie looks to make it a hat trick of NCAA appearances for Bucknell/Photo: Marc Hagemeier/Bucknell athletics
Mackenzie looks to make it a hat trick of NCAA appearances for Bucknell/Photo: Marc Hagemeier/Bucknell athletics

Third seed Lehigh (12-6, 19-10) seem to have the most potential and are a very balanced offensive team. The Mountain Hawks have four players averaging in double figures: Lance Tejada (14.6), Kyle Leufroy (14.0), Pat Andree (13.6) and Jordan Cohen (13.1). Leufroy also leads the league in free throw percentage (91.7).

Tejada is one of a number of Mountain Hawks who can score/Photo: Lehigh athletics
Tejada is one of a number of Mountain Hawks who can score/Photo: Lehigh athletics

Army emerges as darkhorse to top seeds

The sixth seeded Black Knights (10-8, 13-18) have forward Matt Wilson (13.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 57.9% FG) and guard Thomas Funk (12.3 ppg, 6.1 apg) as steady, reliable presences. The duo lead Army in scoring in 20 of their 31 games while Wilson led the club in rebounding 27 contests and Funk was the leading assist man in 28.

Wilson is looking to lead Army to their first-ever NCAA Tournament/Photo: Hudson Valley Press
Wilson is looking to lead Army to their first-ever NCAA Tournament/Photo: Hudson Valley Press

What makes the Black Knights dangerous despite their overall losing record is that they are a good defensive team and share the ball well (15.7 assists a game, tied for first in the league). With all eyes on the top three, coach Jimmy Allen's team may be able to fly under the radar.

Who will win the tournament?

This feels like Colgate's year. They closed strong, have the best player in the league, home court throughout the tournament and are on the other side of the bracket from Bucknell, Lehigh and Army. The Raiders are not a lock, but they are clearly the best team in the Patriot League.

Bucknell and Lehigh could reprise their rivalry in the semifinals if the Mountain Hawks get past Army in the quarterfinals. All three teams can lay claim to challenging Colgate, but Bucknell has not been up to their usual standards, Lehigh has slightly underachieved all year and Army may be overwhelmed in a final.

The Raiders also feature Will Rayman, who is a threat from deep (42 percent), just another talented player they can throw at teams. This is their best team perhaps ever (as the school-record 21 wins indicate) and they'll make this outstanding season pay off with their first NCAA bid since Adonal Foyle wore the maroon and white in Hamilton.

Prediction: Colgate def. Lehigh

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