Lehigh currently has six wrestlers ranked in Intermat's Top 20, among them senior 133 lb Matt Fisk (13th), senior 141 lb Seth Ciasulli (18th), senior 165 lb Matt Galante (18th), freshman 174 lb Robert Hamlin (18th), and senior 184 lb David Craig (15th). But it's the big guy - sophomore heavyweight Zach Rey (6th) - who really has people talking. His only official loss came to the 5th rated heavyweight in the country, Iowa State's David Zabriskie. (more)
Lehigh enters the dual as the 3rd seed, where they will face off against unranked UC Davis. Should they survive the Aggies, they could face off against No. 6-seeded Edinboro (PA), where Rey could face off against Chris Burcher (19th). Another ranked matchup would feature Galante or Hamlin facing off against Jarrod King (4th).
You have to like Lehigh's chances to be wrestling on Saturday morning, where they could be facing off against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State - or perhaps facing a rematch against Penn State, whom the grapplers already beat in dual action in November (beating them 23-15). If Lehigh does win, it would be their first win in the Virginia Duals since 2003.
At Stabler Arena this weekend, expect some fireworks at the kickoff of Patriot League play - and expect some frequent checks at the concession stands, where the Eagles game is likely to be broadcast starting at 8PM Saturday night.
But it's another set of Eagles - the 3-12 American U. Eagles (Real Time RPI: 338) - that invade Stabler this weekend. The two-time defending Patriot League champions are quite different than the senior-laden squad that played last year, with five underclassmen on the floor. The feature player, ironically, isn't even American: he's a member of the Romanian national team, junior F Vlad Moldoveanu. A 6'9 transfer from George Mason (yes, that George Mason), the ruddy Romanian is averaging 17.1 points per game and 4 rebounds per game. Triple-team him, and you have junior G Nick Hendra (10.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg) to worry about in the backcourt.
The Eagles are more dangerous than they look by their record: they have beaten DePaul (yes, that DePaul) on the road, so they're a chemical equation just waiting to happen. Key will be balanced production out of All-Consonant team that Lehigh head coach Brett Reed has selected (senior G Marquis Hall, freshman G C.J. McCollum, senior G Dave Buchburger, senior F Zahir Carrington, and freshman F Gabe Knutson) and, perhaps focusing a bit of perimeter defense: opponents average a torrid .426 field-goal percentage against the Mountain Hawks, averaging 70 points per game.
Make no mistake: this is a big one. While Lehigh has a five-game winning streak they're working on, their wins have come against teams with a grand total of ten Division I wins. A Patriot League-opening win at home against the defending champs, even if you need a scorecard to tell who's playing, could really start some momentum - or stop it dead in its tracks.
The women, who extended their winning streak to eight with an impressive 66-51 win over Penn at the Palestra, are now 13-2 and will travel to DC to face American in their first taste of Patriot League play. The 7-7 Lady Eagles (Real Time RPI: 180) will definitely be a tough test for the Lady Hawks - especially on the road. American prides themselves on defense - they held Maryland-Eastern Shore under 40% from the field in their final out-of-conference game last weekend - and also have the sort of balanced scoring, especially at home, that could cause Lehigh grief. Junior F Michelle Kirk (19.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and junior F Liz Leer (12.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) lead a frontcourt that will pose a defensive challenge for sophomore F Emily Gratch and sophomore C Alexa Williams to handle underneath.
Lehigh's "40 minutes of hell" defense will need to be in top form to pull off a big win in DC - and, of course, the usual inspired play by junior G Erica Prosser (16.3 ppg). As always, if senior G Alex Ross gets warm from outside (12.6 ppg, 33.6% from 3-point range), watch out.
Finally, the dilemna. As some of you may know, I'm a Saints fan, but my family are Eagles fans (and, not-so-secretly, I root for the Birds too). One thing that Saints fans share with Eagles fans is a pathological hatred for Dallas. If you think that puts me on safe ground for Saturday's playoff game at Dallas though, think again.
If Philadelphia beats Dallas, they would travel to New Orleans the following week to play the Saints. Aside from the family tensions that would arise from this repeat of 2007's playoff scenario, there is my own personal issues with any Ealges/Saints contest, where it's definitely a mixed blessing for me. (I already encountered this when I went to the Linc for the first time this year to see the Eagles/Saints clash.)
And yet - I can't root for Dallas. While it would be sweet to avenge the 24-17 debacle where the officials seemed to be blind to the Cowboys' constant violations of the Geneva Convention regarding Saints wide receivers, to have the Eagles' season ended by not one, but TWO, losses to the Evil Empire... that will not do.
So it's root for the Eagles this weekend - and then, hopefully, a week of mixed feelings to come.