Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lehigh Weekend: From Exams to A Must-Win Game?

Lehigh returns to the hardwood this weekend after a twelve day layoff for final exams. On the men's side, the 3-5 Mountain Hawks (Real Time RPI: 198) have the quintessential trap game against 2-6 Dartmouth (Real Time RPI: 311) tonight at 7:00 PM at Stabler Arena (that will also be broadcast online courtesy of Yahoo! Broadcast).

LU65 on the Lehigh Sports Forum has done such a good analysis of the game, I'm just going to reprint it here:

There can never be a "must win" game in OOC play, right? Well, this one comes close. Lehigh has dropped its last three (one excusably to Dayton, one we could have had against Columbia in well played game and the other a truly awful effort in a 19 point loss to Stony Brook) after winning three in a row and beginning the year with two other losses to solid programs in Richmond and Rider. Now, it's time we got back on track and formed an identity - especially on defense - against a team who was picked to finish at the bottom of the Ivy League and is off to a 1-6 start (2-6 if you include their win five nights ago to D-II Lyndon State).

The Big Green can't score; we can, out-pointing the them 69.8 to 57.2 ppg. Dartmouth has broken through the .400 FG% barrier but once this season - that against Hartford. No one on the team averages in double digits. Their starting forwards, sophomore F David Rufful and sophomore F Josh Riddle, hit just 39% of their shots. Their starting center, 6'9" junior F Chris Weeden, connects on only 41% of his attempts. He bears watching, however, especially on the offensive glass where he has recorded nearly as many boards as on defense - fully 45% of his team-leading rebound total come while on offense. They seem to have but one three-point threat on their team and that's their 6'1" sophomore G Jabari Trotter, who strokes it at .423 from long-range. He has hit double-digits four times this year - including a 16 point performance against D-II Lyndon State - and certainly bears watching.
(If you follow this link, there is even more.)

No word if senior F Zahir Carrington, who has been nursing a leg injury, will be playing after missing the last three games. If he's not available, it will be up to senior G Marquis Hall (9.9 ppg, 6.4 apg) to try to carry the team on his back for the victory. Two revelations have been invaluable for the Hawks since Carrington's injury: freshman G C.J. McCollum (13.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg) and freshman F Gabe Knutson (6.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg) to make up the rebounding and scoring load. The silver lining is that Carrington's injury has allowed a bevy of underclassmen invaluable playing time - which might give Lehigh depth they haven't had in years.

But it's a "trap game" since Dartmouth, like Army, is a "mudder". Lehigh in the past has struggled against teams that have forced them to play plodding, low-tempo games - and especially Hall. Crucial to Lehigh's chances of victory is the ability to get Hall heated up - and playing at a higher tempo than the Big Green would like.

That's crucial, too, with a tough slate ahead. A-10 powerhouse St. Joe's (3-6, Real Time RPI: 113) looms this coming Sunday before a very winnable home game against Marist (0-7, Real Time RPI: 343) on Wednesday. It's important to come away 2-1 - and maybe, with a little luck, 3-0 - out of these three tough games in six days.

*****

The women's team, who are riding high after soaring to a 7-2 start (Real Time RPI: 50), hope to keep the good times rolling with a pair of games against sub-.500 teams. Quite simply, with wins over a Big East team (Villanova, 6-2, Real Time RPI: 91) and an Atlantic 10 team (Duquesne, 9-3, Real Time RPI: 119), these Lady Hawks are looking to build on last year's Patriot League Women's basketball title, not just compete. Considering both those wins came to preserve the Lady Hawks' 17 game home winning streak, you can't say Lehigh is padding the home schedule with patsies. (In fact, their only two defeats came on the road to Top 100 RPI programs: SEC powerhouse Vanderbilt (9-1, Real Time RPI: 55) and Ivy League leader Princeton (7-2, Real Time RPI: 87)).

Lehigh's amazing Lady Hawks are led by the incredible 1-2 guard combo of junior G Erica Prosser (17.1 ppg, 8 assists vs. Duquesene) and senior G Alex Ross (13.2 ppg), but that doesn't tell the whole story. Sophomore F Emily Gratch (10.2 ppg) , junior F Courtney Dentler (9.6 ppg, 5,1 rpg), senior G Tricia Smith (6.1 rpg) and sophomore C Alexa Williams off the bench (7.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg) give the Lady Hawks a deep team with a lot of rebounding to go with the high-scoring guards.

3-5 NJIT (Real Time RPI: 256) might have matchup problems with Prosser, though like Lehigh they have a credible outside scoring threat (junior G Jessica Gerald) and a fairly string inside presence with junior F Ivana Seric (9.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg). Still, with a (hopefully) raucous home crowd, one would hope that Lehigh can make it 22 straight at home.

On Sunday, the Lady Hawks will travel to Rhode Island to take on 3-6 Bryant (Real Time RPI: 314). Of course, statistics don't win basketball games, but with the top performers on the Lady Bulldogs being junior F Siamone Bennett (12.0 ppg, 7.7. rpg) and senior F/G Kelsey O'Keefe (10.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg), on paper, at least, the Lady Hawks look odds-on to win on the road once again.

All the home games will be broadcasting live video on lehighsports.com, and the Lady Hawks' game versus Bryant will be available through Presto Sports on Bryant's website (which may be for a fee, I'm not sure.) The Lehigh/St. Joe's clash will be available at least with live audio on lehighsports.com.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More All-American Nods for Lehigh Players

Two more All-American teams were announced with Lehigh players on them this year, one from the ECAC and the other from the Associated Press.

Senior LB Matt Cohen added to his Walter Camp All-American nod by making it to both the ECAC and Associated Press All-America Teams. The ECAC list, given to the best football players in the Eastern region, was a first-team selection, while the national AP list was a second-team selection. It's great to see the quiet Allentown, PA native get recognition for his great defensive performance as a member of the Mountain Hawks. Cohen wrapped up his Lehigh career with 177 total tackles, 18.5 sacks and 44 tackles-for-loss (which may not be an official Patriot League record, but it most likely is).

Senior DT B.J. Benning got his first all-America as a part of the ECAC team. This put Benning in such heady company as James Madison senior DL Ryan Moats and William & Mary senior DE Adrian Tracy, both in the running for the Buck Buchanan award for the best defensive player in FCS for 2009. The Maryland native ranked second in the Patriot League this season with 7.5 sacks and eighth in the league with 9.0 tackles-for-loss (right behind Cohen).

Finally, junior OL Will Rackley got third team all-America nods nationally as a part of the Associated Press all-American team. He's the first all-American on Lehigh's "O" line since C John Reese. He joins three FCS linemen on that all-American team that have a fighting chance to play on Sundays, like Harvard senior OL James Williams, Montana senior OL Levi Horn and Villanova junior OL Ben Ijanala.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cohen Gets All-America Nod

Senior LB Matt Cohen can now add something else to his trophy case: all-American.

Cohen becomes Lehigh’s first First-Team All-America since 2004 when DL Tom Alfsen and TE Adam Bergen garnered the accolade from various outlets. Cohen, who is a three time All-Patriot League selection, is just the 14th player in Patriot League football history to be named to the Walter Camp All-America Team, which is voted upon by the head coaches and sports information directors of the FCS schools.

Cohen was one of three linebackers from around the nation named to the Walter Camp All-America Team, joining J.C. Sherritt of Eastern Washington and Brandin Jordan of Southern Illinois. A native of Allentown, Cohen led the Patriot League in sacks (9.0) and tackles-for-loss (13.5) marking the second consecutive season he has accomplished that feat. A business supply major, Cohen was the first Mountain Hawk to win a major award from the Patriot League since PK Jason Leo in 2006 and the first Lehigh player to earn the Defensive Player of the Year honor since DB Abdul Byron in 2001.

The amount of all-American honors may just be starting for Cohen since there are several others that are forthcoming after the FCS championship game this Friday. Incidentally, one of the participants in that game is Villanova - Lehigh's opponent in Week Two this year - and I wrote a wrapup of the frigid game this past weekend.

I know I'm overdue for a wrapup of the Lehigh 2009 season - including postseason awards such as the "LFN Player of the Year" and such - but quite frankly it's been a difficult stretch to close out this football season. I had not one but two hard drive failures over the past two months, and while I was able to back up one of the drives, one just gave me the "click of death", which - of course - was the one I was using to record all the Lehigh games on the year. It took me a month and a half to completely recover from the failures - but, happily, with a replay of the 145th airing just this morning on FCS Atlantic, I was able to get nearly every televised game.

With the computer issues - and, of course, the decisions by Hofstra and Northeastern to drop football - it's been an unusually busy month, which has prevented me from doing my regular pivot to Lehigh's winter sports - namely, men's and women's basketball and wrestling.

The men's team (3-5, Real Time RPI 176) have played a pretty brutal schedule (Richmond, Dayton) and have a pretty disappointing record so far, but the Patriot League in general is no better. Only 7-2 Army (Real Time RPI: 121) has a winning record - and the league's best win, a 56-53 mudder against Harvard - but it's clear that this is still anyone's league.

The Lady Hawks (7-2, Real Time RPI 51) have simply gone from strength to strength after last year's Patriot League championship and NCAA tournament appearance. Better yet, while losing to perennial powerhouse Vanderbilt (9-1), and Princeton (7-2) the Lady Hawks' win on the road over 6-2 Villanova (Real Time RPI: 89) has to be a sign that Lehigh isn't going away any time soon as a force to be reckoned with.

Wrestling, meanwhile, has also had some good early success with a 6-2 dual record. The No. 12-ranked Mountain Hawks have three dual wins over Top 25 programs (Penn State, Michigan, and Nebraska), with only two dual defeats (at the hands of No. 5 Ohio State and No. 6 Maryland).

This Thursday, I'll start doing my weekend previews for the winter sports, and next week I'll probably have a wrapup of the 2009 football season. I may have some stuff about the latest meeting of the Patriot League presidents, more Hofstra/Eastern Football Realignment madness, and who knows what else. Assuming no more hard drives crash on me.
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