No, really, what are the odds?
There are eight teams in the Patriot League in basketball. No team has been dominating the last four years. So you'd think that the chance that Lehigh would play the same first round opponent would be pretty small. Remember Probability & Statistics 101? 1/7 * 1/7 * 1/7 * 1/7 = a pretty damned small percentage.
Yet that's what's happened in the first round for the fourth straight year. Lehigh faces off against Army - a team that has beaten us whether we've been the No. 3 seed (2007, where we lost on a last-second layup with no time remaing on the clock, 47-46), the No. 4 seed (2008, when we lost 64-61 in overtime) or the No. 5 seed (2009, where we lost 53-30).
Now, we're the No. 1 seed. Will it be different this time? Everyone around the Lehigh basketball program is hoping that this time - and for the sake of the seniors - it will finally be different. (more)
If you take curses out of the equation, Army would seem to be a massive underdog going into the STAR tonight. 4-10 in the Patriot League, they have lost eight of their last ten games and haven't won a road game since mid-January when they beat Holy Cross 67-64. They haven't eclipsed more than 70 points a game since their season opener against VMI (which, incidentally, they lost).
But if Army manages to drag you into playing their plodding, physical, game - like they have the last three years in the playoffs against the Mountain Hawks - they can beat you. And while Lehigh is loaded with seniors like senior G Marquis Hall, senior F Zahir Carrington and senior G Dave Buchburger, Army's squad is the only one with more senior experience in their front four: senior G Cleveland Richard, senior F Eric Zastoupil, senior G Marcus Nelson and senior G Tyrell Thompson.
While Richard is the Knights' leading scorer (12.8 ppg), Army's forte is the type of things that don't usually show up in the stat sheet: defensive field goal percentage, boxing out, physical play. If Dr. Reed can control the tempo of the game and get Hall, freshman G C.J. "Jay" McCollum and "Z" Carrington into an up-tempo high scoring game early, I like our chances. But for three straight years I've seen Army lull us into their game and lose. A focused Lehigh team with the offensive firepower we've come to expect is what will bring us into the next round; if it's not, and Army is in this game late... everyone will be holding their breath about the "Army Curse".
One thing that will be key to an Army win is a big turnout, especially from the student section. All three years we have played Army at the STAR the Knights tend to bring more fans than the home team, and it shows. With some decent turnout - and some loud students - Lehigh will be much better poised to make the curse a thing of the past.
It's not just me who has noticed this either. Check out Michel Lore of the Express Times, who had this to say a few weeks ago about student attendance:
The official attendance is listed at 1,161, but if you saw the game, Bucknell supporters made up a large amount of that number. Opposite me behind the team benches, those in Brown & White were overshadowed and dominated by the sea of Bucknell blue and orange. Their crowd was loud at first, but once the game got out of hand, they were quieted.4:00 exams at Lehigh were given as an excuse for low student turnout at that game - which may be a fair criticism. But now that we're in the single-elimination portion of the schedule, it's time for everyone who is a Lehigh fan in the area - student, alum and Bethlehem resident alike - to show up and to give Army hell. The reversal of a four-year-old curse may hang in the balance.
Coverage will also be on Service Electric 2 sports at 7:05, featuring Mike Zambelli and Rich Baksa calling the action. The game will also be broadcast on AM 1230 and 1320 in the Lehigh Valley, starring Matt Kerr and audiocast on Lehighsports.com. The video will also be available on Patriot League All-Access. I believe it's for free tonight.