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Conference Spotlight: Patriot League

Just take the second door on the right and have a seat on the couch, Patriot League. You're the next conference up in our conference spotlight.

Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Conference Spotlight: Patriot League

Current League Standings:

Colgate 3-0 1-0 Bryant, Vermont, Lafayette ARV
Holy Cross 2-0 1-0 Fairfield, Loyola 19
Army 3-1 0-0 Massachusetts, VMI, Jacksonville Syracuse 14
Bucknell 2-1 1-0 Bryant, Navy Delaware
Lehigh 2-1 1-0 Furman, Boston University Marquette 20
Boston University 2-1 0-1 Mercer, Canisius Lehigh
Loyola 2-2 0-1 Penn State, Towson Virginia, Holy Cross 15
Lafayette 1-1 0-1 Wagner Colgate
Navy 1-2 0-1 VMI Maryland, Bucknell

All rankings based off of 2/23 Media Poll.

Wha' Happened?:

  • Holy Crosse Cross: Look: I'm not saying the last time the Crusaders were any good the actual Crusades were going down, but it's definitely been a minute (1988) since Holy Cross even finished the regular season above water. Hopping out the casket and getting a win against a solid Fairfield squad was quite impressive, but beating Loyola, the conference bully (at the RAC) was a statement win for a program that has had a dearth of them. In one fell swoop, Holy Cross got their first win EVER over a ranked opponent and handed Loyola its first ever loss to a Patriot League opponent. Not a bad little Saturday; I heard they even had time to squeeze in a trip to Home Depot on the ride back to campus.
  • Army: With victories over Massachusetts, VMI, and Jacksonville, Army was off to its best start since 2007 when it began the season 4-0. The Black Knights followed up their Jacksonville beatdown with an Oscar-worthy performance on Sunday, giving every Orange fan a severe case of heart burn in their 12-9 loss to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Coach Joe Alberici has his team focused and prepared this year, as the squad looks to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
  • Loyola: It's been an up and down year for Loyola. The Hounds shook off their early season overtime heart-breaker to Virginia with two convincing wins over Penn State and Towson. However, Holy Cross put the Hounds in their kennel in a wild and snowy game last Saturday. Blame it on the rain that was falling, falling wintry conditions or overlooking an opponent, but the fact remains Loyola is now .500 and the bulked up Patriot League won't be a cakewalk this year. With three games against top 20 opponents within the next three weeks, the 'Hounds must regroup quickly or their NCAA Tournament hopes will disappear like Keyser Söze after a big score.

Upcoming Games of Earth-Shattering Importance:

  • Lehigh at Loyola (February 28), Loyola at Duke (March 7), and Loyola at Army (March 14): The next few games are really going to test the Greyhounds' mettle. Loyola sandwiches an away game at Duke with two crucial Patriot League matchups against Lehigh and Army. While it is still early, the 'Hounds have heat on these games due to Patriot League Tournament considerations. Moreover, now that Penn State moved out of the rankings, a loss to Duke would do damage to Loyola's at-large chances for The Big Barbeque as the Greyhounds presently have only one top 20 win (Towson) on their resume. 
  • Colgate at Bucknell (February 28) , Boston University at Colgate (March 7), and Colgate at Cornell (March 17):  Colgate sits jussst outside the top 20 in the media poll this week. While neither Bucknell nor Boston University are currently ranked, beating both teams would give the Raiders a 3-0 record in conference play and put Colgate in an excellent position to potential avoid a Patriot League Tournament quarterfinals appearance. Moreover, beating Cornell in Ithaca on March 17th would give the Raiders a signature nonconference win and demonstrate they aren't just some halfway crooks but some real Raiders who ain't got no feelings.
  • Army at Holy Cross (March 7), Loyola at Army (March 14), and Army at Lehigh (March 21): On Sunday, Army kicked in the door, waved the .44, and had Orange fans screaming "Please don't hurt 'em no more!" The Black Knight haven't made the NCAA tournament since 2010 and must stay focused against Lafayette (February 28th) and Rutgers March 3rd) if they want those early March games against Holy Cross, Loyola, and Lehigh to really matter. If Army goes 4-1 or sweeps its next five games, they'll have crossed the Rubicon from nice early season story to genuine NCAA Tournament threat.
  • Navy at Holy Cross (February 28), Holy Cross at Delaware (March 3), Army at Holy Cross (March 7), and Harvard at Holy Cross (March 9): Holy Cross' game against Harvard was moved from February 23rd to March 9th due to weather conditions. #SpringSport, amirite? While beating Harvard was already going to be a daunting task for the Crusaders, moving the game to March 9th means that Holy Cross will now have to play four games in 10 days starting with Navy on the 28th. This 10-day stretch, which includes two top 20 teams within three days, isn't something I'd wish on my worst enemy (eh ... maybe Virginia and Syracuse). But I guess if you're looking to be the first Holy Cross team to make the NCAA Tournament since . . . well FOR-EV-ER, it might as well be a challenge.

"That Guy" Watch:

  • Sean Wilkinson (Holy Cross): Listen, kids: If you wanna be featured in our "That Guy" segment when you grow up, just follow junior Sean Wilkinson's lead -- bust out of the gates with back-to-back hat tricks in your first two games and help lead your team to its first ever victory over a ranked opponent. Holy Cross' 2014 Most Improved Player is all about that action again this year, leading the Crusaders in goals and assists. In only two games, Wilkinson already has more than a quarter of the number of goals he had in 15 games all of last year.
  • Cole Johnson (Army): The sophomore out of Bellevue, Washington had 10 goals and an assist in the 14 games he appeared in last year. Johnson has already surpassed both marks in his first four games this season. Johnson has been instrumental in Army's great start this year, having found the back of the net 13 times in 2015.  Johnson, alongside his fellow attackmen, form a formidable unit that will continue to bombard opponents.
  • Ryan Joseph (Bucknell): The senior and team captain out of Smithtown, New York is making the most out of his final year in a Bison uniform. In three games this season, Ryan has already scored nine goals and added a couple assists to his team-leading 11 points. To put that in perspective, Ryan had 10 goals and three assists in 15 games in 2014. The senior poured in four goals against Navy and either scored or assisted on three of Bucknell's final four goals in the Bison's 8-7 victory over the Mids. 

NCAA Tournament Prognosis:

  • League: I know exactly how many teams from the Patriot League (and which ones!!) are going dancing in May but I just want to hear everyone's thoughts on the subject first in the comments section before I let the cat out of the bag. Seriously though, things are crazy in the Patriot League right now. What looked like a one or two bid conference in December -- Loyola and/or Lehigh -- suddenly has four teams in the top 20, with another receiving votes. Chaos has struck the Patriot League and frankly it's so beautiful.
  • Loyola: The reasonable fan in me says, "LOOK BUDDY: Loyola lost an overtime game to Virginia and didn't lose to Holy Cross so much as the 'Hounds ran out of time as they had the ball down one and just weren't able to get a good shot off at the end (IN A BLIZZARD NO LESS!!). They are still the monster at the end of all Patriot League team's nightmares and they will be one of the chosen come May." Honestly, that's a pretty solid argument and I'm not just saying that because I posited it myself.
  • Holy Cross // Army // Lehigh: Why not? The only issue with the league's bid ceiling is the finite number of at-large teams that are eligible to fill the bracket. The beat on the league's bid count may turn on the volume of at-large bids the ACC and Ivy League corral, combined with THUNDERDOME! potentially getting more than one look.