Patriot League Championship: No. 6 Seed Lafayette Looks to Finish Cinderella Run

Jesse KramerCorrespondent IMarch 10, 2011

Lafeyette has already pulled off a pair of upsets to become the lowest seed to ever make the Patriot League Championship Game. With a win, the Leopards would be able to set one more record.

To get to this point, the Leopards won a pair of road games against No. 3 seed Holy Cross and No. 2 seed American. The win over American was won in true Cinderella fashion, with the Leopards winning on a three-pointer with a half-second remaining in double overtime.

They look to go to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000.

For Bucknell, it has not been the easiest road to the championship game. Although the Bison took care of Army easily in the quarterfinals, they were taken down to the wire by Lehigh, winning 66-64.

Bucknell has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2006, when the Bison advanced to the round of 32.

In the regular season, Lafayette took Bucknell into overtime when the Leopards hosted. When Bucknell had the home court, the Bison won 75-56. Regardless of the scoring margins, Bucknell swept Lafayette in the 2010-11 season.

Here is a preview for Friday's championship game, breaking down what each team has to do in order to win.


Keys for Lafayette

Defensive focus on the perimeter

Bucknell is the best three-point shooting team in the Patriot League at 45 percent. To the Bison's advantage, Lafayette's opponents shoot 44.7 percent from beyond the arc, ranking second to last in the Patriot League.

If Lafayette does not defend the three-point shot better than its average, it could be a field day for Bucknell.


Share the basketball

For Lafayette, this means two things.

First off, the Leopards average 15 assists per game, a Patriot League best. In their double overtime win over American earlier this week, the Leopards had 16 assists.

Second, Lafayette needs to get multiple players scoring. The Leopards thrive off of having multiple players who can score. They have three players averaging in double digits and four more players averaging five or more points per game.


Make your free throws. 

Lafayette is the second best free throw shooting team in the Patriot League.

In a championship game, free throws always become crucial, especially when you are on the road visiting a superior team. Taking advantage of free throw opportunities will be huge for Lafayette if the Leopards are going to pull off the upset.


Keys for Bucknell

Work it in to Muscala

Mike Muscala is the main part of the Bucknell team. The sophomore can use his size to his advantage against Lafayette, which is not strong in the defensive post. Muscala is coming off a strong performance against Lehigh, and the Bison should look to establish his presence early against the Leopards.


Control the glass

Lafayette is not a great rebounding team, but when the Leopards win the rebounding battle, they tend to play much better and have better results. When Bucknell blew out Lafayette in the first meeting between the two squads, the Bison outrebounded the Leopards 36-22.

If the Bison are not strong on the glass, it will just be a gift to Lafayette that would increase their chances of winning.


Make your free throws

Just as free throws will be huge for Lafayette, they will be huge for Bucknell.

If things play out as expected, Bucknell will most likely have a comfortable but small lead in the second half. If the Bison can make their free throws down the stretch, they should be able to come out as winners in the end.


Players to watch for

For Lafayette, look for Jared Mintz.

Mintz is a 6'9" senior who leads the Leopards in scoring with 15.8 PPG. The big man is a consistent scorer and has reached double digits in all but two games this year. Through the first two games of the Patriot League tournament, Mintz is averaging 15.0 PPG and 6.5 RPG.

Mike Muscala is undoubtedly the player to watch for on Bucknell.

Muscala may be a little goofy looking, but the 6'11" sophomore knows how to play basketball. This season, he is averaging 14.8 PPG and 7.5 RPG. In the quarterfinals he had 11 points and seven rebounds, and in the semifinals he posted a double-double against Lehigh with 17 points and 10 rebounds.


In Sum

Lafayette is a solid team, and it is always hard to root against an underdog. However, Bucknell is simply too good this year for any basically any team in the Patriot League to touch. The Bison are a step above the rest of the conference, and they will not be stopped in the championship game.

On a neutral site, Lafayette would stand a better chance in this game. However, this game is hosted by Bucknell, and the Bison have only lost once at home in the 2010-11 season. That loss came to Wagner back in November, and the Bison have won 12 straight home games since then.

My final pick: Bucknell 69, Lafayette 61

Tip-Off: Friday, Mar. 11, 4:45 PM EST on ESPN2 

Follow Jesse Kramer on Twitter @Jesse_Kramer for more college basketball news and information.