By William Bowman
The Daily Item
No one said it better than Holy Cross coach Milan Brown.
“Everybody is hunting Bucknell and Lehigh,” the third-year Crusader coach declared Tuesday during the Patriot League’s Men’s Basketball Media Day at the SteelStacks in Bethlehem.
Following an historic season, in which three of the league’s eight teams reached the postseason and Lehigh and Bucknell each won more than 25 games, the other six teams are indeed chasing the last two league champions — and their stars — as the 2012-13 season approaches.
Lehigh, which beat Duke in last year’s NCAA tournament, was tabbed as the preseason favorite in a vote of coaches and sports information directors, grabbing 12 of 16 first-place votes. Bucknell, which won at Arizona in the NIT opener after winning the regular-season title, picked up the other four first-place votes. The two favorites were first or second on every ballot and combined for four of the league’s five spots on the preseason All-Patriot team.
Lehigh senior C.J. McCollum was, as expected, named the Preseason Player of the Year after winning the postseason honor twice in his career. Bucknell senior center Mike Muscala, the 2010 Player of the Year, was on the All-Patriot preseason team, along with teammate Cameron Ayers, Lehigh’s McCollum and Gabe Knutson and Army’s Ella Ellis.
Even though the Bison return the majority of their key components from last year’s team, coach Dave Paulsen said he likes to start each season with a fresh approach.
“We always kind of start from square one,” Paulsen said Tuesday after leading the Bison to 50 wins over the last two seasons. “You have to build your identity in terms of who you are, taking care of the ball and playing solid defense.”
“But we know in this league every night is going to be a dogfight, just like it was last year.”
Lehigh and Bucknell were followed in the preseason poll by American, Holy Cross and Lafayette (tied for fourth) Army, Colgate and Navy.
The Bison open the season on Nov. 9 at Purdue, then host George Mason in their home opener on Nov. 13. Bucknell’s Patriot League opener is Jan. 12 against Army.