Chris Bengel (@clbengel)
Fresh off the biggest win in program history, expectations are even higher in the Lehigh Valley. Brett Reed is looking to take a hungry Mountain Hawk squad to a second consecutive Patriot League title and ultimately another trip to the NCAA Torunament. With their top three leading scorers returning, Lehigh has a chance to eclipse last year’s magical season.
Lehigh Mountain Hawks Season Primer
Coach: Brett Reed, 6th season (51-40, .560)
Last Year: 27-8 (11-3 Patriot League); Won the Patriot League tournament final (Bucknell, 82-77), NCAA Tournament 2nd round (Xavier, 70-58)
Key Loss: Jordan Hamilton (6.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
Despite the Mountain Hawks not losing much firepower from a season ago, Hamilton was one of only three Mountain Hawks to play in all 35 games during the 2011-2012 season. The Seattle native was the fifth leading scorer and a 40 percent shooter from the field. Hamilton was also one of five Lehigh players to shoot over 80 percent from the free-throw line.
New Faces: Justin Goldsborough (Fort Washington, Md./St. Stephens & St. Agnes School), Devon Carter (Cleveland, Oh./John Hay HS)
Lehigh already comes into the season with an abundance of veteran experience. Justin Goldsborough, along with sophomore forward Conroy Baltimore, figure to get some minutes in the low post. The Mountain Hawks have to replace big men Justin Maneri and John Adams and Goldsborough figures to help fill that void. The Maryland native is a decent shooter and has the ability to hit mid-range jumpers. He also is not afraid to bang bodies and mix it up down low. Devon Carter should prove to be a solid backup guard option for the Mountain Hawks. Carter is a very good shooter and has decent size at 6-4.
Starting Backcourt: C.J. McCollum (21.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Mackey McKnight (8.8 ppg, 3.6 apg), B.J. Bailey (2.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
The Mountain Hawks have one of the most talented backcourts around and that is partly due to the presence of one special talent. Point guard C.J. McCollum, the Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year, does it all for Lehigh. The senior guard can make any shot and isn’t afraid take the big ones. McCollum was also the Mountain Hawks leading rebounder which is very impressive for a guard.
McKnight really grew up last season as the competition got tougher. The New Orleans native played an integral part in Lehigh’s historic upset of Duke. McKnight netted 11 points including going 2-for-3 from three-point range. He also came up big in the next round in a loss at the hands of 10th-seeded Xavier. McKnight scored 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting including three 3-pointers. The sophomore guard also recorded 39 steals which was good for third in the Patriot League.
With the lost depth in the frontcourt, junior guard B.J. Bailey looks primed for a starting spot as the Mountain Hawks will likely use a three guard set. The Mays Landing (N.J.) native played well in limited minutes last season. In just 11.8 minutes per game, Bailey averaged 2.9 ppg and 1.7 rpg. He impressed down the stretch as he scored 50 of his 64 total points in the final seven games. Bailey netted 4 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in Lehigh’s NCAA Tournament loss to Xavier. Bailey transferred from Boston University after his freshman year with the school.
Starting Frontcourt: Gabe Knutson (12.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Holden Greiner (9.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
Even though the Mountain Hawks lost forwards Justin Maneri and John Adams to graduation, they still have plenty of talent in the frontcourt. Knutson was the team’s second leading scorer and rebounder and shot 51 percent from the floor. The Iowa native was also second on the team in blocks with 18. He is an inside presence that can alter shots and will take on an even bigger role with the team losing two big men from last year’s squad.
Greiner is a versatile player for Lehigh and can play in a few different spots. The Michigan native is primarily a wing player but is also a stretch-four and can play some minutes in the low post. Greiner is a very effective three-point shooter, shooting 35 percent from the beyond the arc and was second on the team with 42 made treys. His best game last season came on Dec. 22 against Michigan State in which Greiner scored 24 points and grabbed four rebounds in a 90-81 loss.
Bench: B.J. Bailey (2.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg), Corey Schaefer (2.8 ppg, 1.2 apg), Anthony D’Orazio (2.6 ppg, 1.0 rpg), Stefan Cvrkalj (2.3 ppg, 0.5 rpg), Conroy Baltimore (1.4 ppg, 1.7 rpg), Justin Goldsborough
The Lehigh gained some valuable experience a season ago and should be a huge lift this season. Bailey, Schaefer, and D’Orazio each averaged double digit minutes while Cvrkalj and Baltimore each averaged about five minutes apiece. Cvrkalj was one of Lehigh’s better three-point shooters last season as he shot 38% from beyond the three-point line. As coach Brett Reed has stated during practices this fall, Baltimore continues to improve and develop his game.
It’s unclear how deep Reed’s rotation will be but there is plenty of talent to relieve the team’s top weapons. With top talent like McCollum, Knutson, and Greiner, Reed will look to have them out on the floor as much as possible. With guys like Bailey and Schaefer playing double digit minutes a season ago, they should be able to find the same if not more playing time this season.
Three Games to Watch: @ Baylor (11/9), @ VCU (1/5), vs. Bucknell (2/18)
The Mountain Hawks’ first game of the season could be their toughest when one of the Big 12′s best teams in Baylor hosts Lehigh. The Bears did lose Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy to the NBA Draft but still return guards Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip. VCU is led by Shaka Smart and only returns one double digit scorer from a team that is a season removed from an NCAA Tournament appearance. Juvonte Reddic averaged 10.3 ppg and reached double digit rebounds in nine games last season. Bucknell is always the toughest pair of games on Lehigh’s schedule. Both the Bison and the Mountain Hawks return their top three leading scorers and were picked to finish one-two in the Patriot League preseason poll.
Three Keys to Success
1. Can C.J. McCollum duplicate last season’s success:McCollum was a virtual unknown to much of the basketball world until he helped the 15th-seeded Mountain Hawks take down the highly touted Duke Blue Devils in last season’s tournament. The Ohio native has gained even more strong accolades this season as he was named to the AP All-American First-Team. McCollum is also the Preseason Patriot League Player of the Year. McCollum did it all for Lehigh a season ago as he led the team in points, rebounds, and steals.
2. Taking care of the basketball: Lehigh had the 12th-lowest turnover percentage in all of Division I college basketball. They’re a team that really takes care of the basketball and limit their turnovers. As a team, the Mountain Hawks turned the ball over a total of 391 times. Reed preaches strong defense and protecting the basketball and it seems to be working wonders for the team.
3. Will the Mountain Hawks be able to overcome the losses in the frontcourt: Low post players John Adams and Justin Maneri were lost due to graduation. It will be a tall task to replace their presence down low. But the Mountain Hawks will have two senior leaders filling the roles in Knutson and Greiner. Each grabbed about five rebounds a game and averaged nearly a half a block per contest. If these two can elevate their play as they did a season ago, the sky is the limit for a tremendously talented Lehigh squad.
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