Lehigh at American (Patriot League)
Bender Arena - Washington, DC
Saturday, 2:00 PM EST
Looking back at the first two months of our fifth season here at TMM, we've only referenced the Patriot League in passing, if at all. There are reasons for that; things have changed over the years. The Formerly Last Amateurs registered just a single Red Line Upset (1-14 against the top eight conferences), and glumly lost their annual Brain Explosion Series against the Ivy League -- by a slim 10-9 margin. Perhaps the best win for the league was Holy Cross' 73-69
thriller/chiller/spiller over Saint Joe's in a Catholic showdown/throwdown/hoedown. It was the Patriot League's only win over the A-14 in nine tries.
Three teams among the eight have winning overall records, and two will face off in the conference opener Saturday afternoon (11-4 Navy
couldn't make it). Lehigh's 10-4 mark is a reason for hope after two consecutive losing seasons, and the Mountain Hawks are easily the most improved team in the PL. Credit that to a defense that's held opponents to 38 percent shooting; it hasn't been the toughest schedule in the country by any stretch, but that number's still good for 19th-best in Division I. And one of those wins was the league's single RLU, a slog at Rutgers that ended with a 66-61 decision
. It was the conference's first victory over a Big East team since Bucknell beat Syracuse and DePaul in 2005-06.
As for the homestanding Eagles (8-6), they're just the Patriot champions. We'll always remember the first-round game against Tennessee, the anticipation as No. 15-seeded hung tight with the Vols for a half. The offense begins with 5-11 senior star Garrison Carr
, who's averaging 18.2 ppg and is submitting a season statline virtually identical to last year's. Point guard Derrick Mercer
, who made the all-PL second team last year along with Carr's first-team nod, is having trouble adjusting to the new 3-point line, but he's been putting in solid scoring and rebounding (9.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) to go along with his duties at the one. American is glad to get back into league play after a slate full of ACC and Big East teams, but come into this game on a three-game streak, including IvyBusters over Brown
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