Lehigh Hoops Ready to Kick Things Off At Baylor

lehigh G Mackey McKnight

By Andy Hoops

Special Contributor

College Sports Journal

 

BETHLEHEM, PA. — The 2012-2013 Lehigh Men’s Basketball Season is now one day away from kicking off its season at powerhouse Baylor.

 

Lehigh returns its core from last year’s championship team, including 81% of its scoring and 79% of its rebounding. The below preview breaks down the backcourt, frontcourt, and coaching staff.

Backcourt
Overall Analysis: The Lehigh backcourt remains intact from last year’s championship team, and is locked and loaded to lead Lehigh to new heights.

When you have CJ McCollum playing in your backcourt, it doesn’t take a lot of hard work to figure out that guard play is going to be a strength for the ’12-’13 edition of Lehigh Basketball. CJ will enter his final year in Bethlehem having already achieved some lofty accomplishments, and with many more in his sightlines. The two time Patriot League Player  of the Year currently ranks second in Lehigh history with 2,074 career points(627 away from Daren Queenan’s record) and third all time in Patriot League History(150 away from Holy Cross’ Rob Feaster).  The projected 1st Round NBA Draft Pick from Canton, Ohio is Mr. Everything for Lehigh, as the 6’3 McCollum led the Mountain Hawks last year in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and blocked shots. Truly a stat stuffer, CJ flirted with the idea of entering the NBA Draft after his junior year, before deciding to return to Lehigh to finish his degree and another season on the hardwood. In McCollum, Dr. Reed can feel confident that the best player on the court each night will be wearing number 3 for the Brown & White. CJ is a game changer because he does so many things well and is a scoring from everywhere on the court. CJ possesses deep range on his jump shot that extends beyond the college 3-point line, can create his own shot off the dribble by either taking the ball all the way to the tin or by stepping back off the dribble for a mid-range jumper, and has also proven effective in the post. CJ can also step in and take control of the offense by running point in late game situations or when returning starting point guard Mackey McKnight needs a blow. Look for more big things from McCollum this year, as he’ll once again be a dominant force for Lehigh.

Speaking of McKnight, when the chips were on the table in the five elimination games that Lehigh played in the Patriot League and NCAA Tournament, Mackey came playing for everyone’s money. Mackey was the engine that pushed Lehigh down the stretch by scoring double figures in all five of those elimination games, averaging 14.4 points per game. Mackey enters his third season as the starting point guard at Lehigh, after having started the first game of his collegiate career at the point. Mackey enjoyed a solid freshman year by anyone other than CJ standards, and he greatly improved his shot last year in his sophomore year. His overall field goal percentage rose from 33.7% to 43.5% and his 3-ball percentage rose from 31.7% to 35.6%, showing especially strong effectiveness from the corner 3-ball. Having a point guard who is battle tested in hostile environments and elimination games is critical, and Lehigh has a strong lead guard who has huge upside to the remaining two years of his career. With CJ and Mackey penciled in for 60+ minutes per game, Lehigh’s guard play will be tremendous in the upcoming season.

If Lehigh goes small and utilizes a three guard line-up to start the year, look for BJ Bailey to be starting alongside of Mackey and CJ. BJ, as many people are now familiar with his story, transferred to Lehigh from recent Patriot League addition Boston University, for the January 2010 semester. BJ sat out that semester and the entire 2010-2011 season before returning to the hardwood last year. A wiry strong, long, and athletic 6’3 guard, BJ got little playing time over the majority of the season as he worked himself back into basketball shape while waiting for an opportunity to prove himself in a game situation. In the first 25 games of the season BJ amassed a meager 45 minutes of action, but coming off the team’s late season loss to American where BJ didn’t play a single minute, BJ received 20 minutes of action in Lehigh’s next game against Colgate, and used a strong game on both ends of the court to springboard the remainder of his season. That Colgate game began a streak of 9 straight wins for the Mountain Hawks prior to the season ending loss to Xavier, and BJ played a large part in each of those W’s. In order to play basketball for Dr. Reed, you have to be able to defend the basketball, and BJ brings tremendous versatility on the defensive end of the floor as he is able to lock up opponent wings of different size and skill sets.  BJ is an excellent rebounder for his size, as he often helped clean up the defensive glass late in the season. A huge bonus for Lehigh down the stretch last year was BJ’s outside shot, as he went 12-22 on 3-balls in the final 10 games of Lehigh’s season. With a full offseason of training under his belt, it is reasonable to expect more on the offensive end of the floor from BJ as he has the ability to be more than a stand still jump shooter on offense, and he should become an integral piece to the team’s success.

Backcourt depth is a huge plus for Lehigh this year, as there is plenty of talent coming off the bench. Familiar faces returning this year include Anthony D’Orazio, Stefan Cvrkalj, and Corey Schaefer. D’Orazio is a junior two guard from Camden, NJ who has shown the ability to score the basketball in spurts over his first two years at Lehigh, especially against top Non-Conference competition (see Penn State two years ago and Iowa State last year). A freewheeling guard in the open floor, D’Orazio will be battling returning sophomore shooting guard Stefan Cvrkalj for backup two guard minutes. Cvrkalj, the now listed 6’5 shooting guard, is the Webster’s Dictionary definition of a sniper. Stefan commands attention the minute he crosses half court, as he has limitless range from 3. Stefan shot 38% from three in limited action, with many of those attempts coming off the bench ice cold late in a half or end of game situation. If Cvrkalj can earn the coaching staffs trust on the defensive end of the floor in ’12-’13 season, he should be able to earn more minutes and could be a real sleeper for Lehigh as an off the bench scoring threat. Corey Schaefer, will back-up Mackey McKnight at the point this year. Schaefer is the typical son of a coach, as he possesses an extremely high basketball IQ and has a great feel for the game. Corey has a smooth jump shot, despite low shooting percentages last year, posted an impressive 2:1 assist to turnover ratio as a true freshman last year. Corey has tremendous upside at the lead guard position, and Lehigh fans should be excited for what he will bring to the team over the coming years as he gets more experience and exposure at the college level.

An already deep backcourt should receive a boost from incoming freshman guard Devon Carter. The 6’3 lefty combo guard out of Cleveland, Ohio looks to follow in the footsteps of that other guard out of Ohio, CJ something or other! Devon was a highly ranked recruit who has a really strong mid-range/pull-up game, and has a college ready frame to compete instantly. Devon chose to enroll at Lehigh during the summer to workout with teammates and enroll in class, so that experience should help him push for minutes in a loaded backcourt from day one, and one should not be surprised if he ends up being a key member of Dr. Reed’s crunch time rotation by the end of the season due to his talent level and versatility.

In summary, the Lehigh backcourt is deep in talent, experience, and has a skill set that is unparalleled at almost any other mid-major basketball program in the country.

Frontcourt
Overall Analysis: The frontcourt lost 3 key contributors from last year’s team, and how the young and inexperienced members of this unit perform will determine how good Lehigh can be this year.

While Lehigh has the guard market cornered, it is the frontcourt that will determine how far the Mountain Hawks fly in ’12-’13. The frontcourt is led by the senior big man Gabe Knutson. Gabe returns for his senior year after having completed a stellar first three years at Lehigh, as the Urbandale, Iowa native has already eclipsed the 1,000 career point mark, becoming the 30th Lehigh player to achieve that milestone. Gabe was named a 2nd team All Patriot League Team member last year, after averaging 12.2 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game, almost identical numbers as he posted in his sophomore campaign.  While Gabe will never be accused of being a bruiser down low, he is extremely cerebral and crafty in the paint, using a variety of low post moves to create openings where he can finish around the rim with either hand. Knutson has a soft touch with his shot as evident by his 51% field goal percentage and over 80% free throw percentage last year. Like McKnight, Knutson played well with the season on the line, as he matched All Patriot League Center Mike Muscala shot for shot in the Patriot League Championship game, finishing with 23 points in that contest and then posted up a 17 point game against Duke in the game that put Lehigh on the map. Gabe will lead the frontcourt but will need a lot of help from classmate Holden Greiner.

Greiner is a 6’7 forward from Michigan who had what can be classified as a good junior year when looking at the end results. Holden averaged almost 9.5 points per game and 5 rebounds per game, in a little less than 25 minutes of action. However, final statistics do not really tell the full story of his junior season, as Holden was on pace for a great junior year until an ankle injury derailed his season. Holden was the 3rd scoring option over the team’s first 25 games, as he posted double digits in 17 of those, including 24 big points in his homecoming game at Michigan State. The ankle injury impacted Holden’s ability to play at the same level he exhibited over the first few months of the season, and his playing time and output was diminished when compared to pre-injury results. Holden is a key for this year’s team, as he not only has to be a steady 3rd scoring option but he needs to help Gabe down low on the defensive rebounding front. Expect big things out of Greiner in his last year at Lehigh, as he will be motivated to finish strong and end his career with both him and the team playing at a high level.

Outside of Gabe and Holden, the Mountain Hawks only have two remaining frontcourt contributors for 12-13 with the news that Jesse Chuku has been ruled ineligible, and they have a combined 142 minutes of college basketball experience. That entire 142 minutes of experience comes from sophomore Conroy Baltimore. The NY native is a 6’6 forward with a long wingspan who posted strong rebounding statistics in limited minutes last year, recording 49 rebounds (25 offensive) in 142 minutes. Lehigh does not need Conroy to contribute much on the offensive end, because this team should put up points in droves, but in order for Lehigh to be as successful as they were last year they will need Conroy to develop into a rebounding machine and defensive stopper to help alleviate pressure from Gabe and Holden.

The remaining frontcourt depth comes from the likes of 6’8 freshman forward in Justin Goldsborough. Justin Goldsborough is a forward from Maryland who Dr. Reed described as having “excellent length and size” and who “is a defensivein presence immediately upon entering our program with his shot blocking and rebounding ability”. Like his classmate in the backcourt Devon Carter, Justin took a summer class and worked out with the team to get a head start on his preparation for his freshman season. While there isn’t a lot of video of Justin from his high school or AAU teams, let’s hope that Dr. Reed’s description is spot on, because that is exactly what this frontcourt needs.

In summary, the Lehigh frontcourt has solid productivity and leadership from its two seniors, but for Lehigh to reach its ultimate potential, both of the 2 young forwards have to step up and take the opportunity by the horns.

Coaching Staff
Overall Analysis: Lehigh’s experienced and talented coaching returns to navigate Lehigh back to the promise land in ’12-’13.

Dr. Reed and his lieutenants from last year’s epic season will all be returning for the ‘12-’13 Lehigh Basketball Season. While there are some question marks for the Mountain Hawks as they try to repeat as Patriot League Champions, the coaching staff is not one of them. The good Dr. and his staff have proven that they know how to get the team playing their best basketball in late February and March when all the chips are on the line. The ’12-’13 campaign will mark Dr. Reeds sixth season on the sidelines as head man in Bethlehem, and his 94 wins ranks second all time at Lehigh, only 18 behind Tony Packer. With a strong nucleus returning this year it would be hard to fathom that Dr. Reed doesn’t end the ’12-’13 season as Lehigh’s all-time leader in wins. Having steered Lehigh to two Patriot League Championships in the past 3 years, Dr. Reed will be seeking his 3rd ring as lead man at Lehigh, and he’ll seek out to accomplish that with his entire staff returning alongside of him in Associate Head Coach Antoni Wyche, Assistants Ryan Krueger and Stephen Ott, as well as Director of Basketball Operations TJ Jordan. Success on the hardwood sometimes leads to defections when the staff is filled with as talented coaches such as these, so it is great news for all Lehigh fans that the staff returns in its entirety and is focused on hanging another banner at Stabler Arena.

In summary, the coaching staff has a talented group of players to work with, and the potential for this staff to take the team on another joy ride deep into March is extremely strong.

That concludes the 2012-2013 season preview of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, I hope you all are ready for some basketball!

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